Russian Opera Singer's Appeal Against Prison Sentence Denied

By RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities

An appellate court in the Russian city of Sochi has rejected an appeal filed by opera singer Vadim Cheldiyev and his two associates against prison sentences they were handed in July for their roles in organizing a massive rally against anti-coronavirus restrictions in their native North Ossetia region in 2020.

The court confirmed on November 15 the verdicts and sentences given to Cheldiyev, Arsen Besolov, and Ramis Chirkinov, who were handed 10 years, 8 1/2 years, and 8 years in prison respectively.

Cheldiyev's lawyer, Batraz Kulchiyev, said his client's defense team will continue to appeal the ruling.

In July, Cheldiyev was found guilty of the distribution of false information about the pandemic, extremism, hooliganism, the organization of mass disorder, and attacking a law enforcement officer.

His co-defendants were convicted of organizing an unsanctioned rally and mass disorder.

In August, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg registered complaints filed by Cheldiyev, Chirkinov, and Besolov against their sentences.

All three pleaded not guilty when they went on trial in October 2021.

On April 20, 2020, police in North Ossetia detained dozens of protesters when about 2,000 people gathered in the central square of the regional capital, Vladikavkaz, demanding the resignation of then-regional leader Vyacheslav Bitarov, accusing him of "unnecessary" anti-COVID restrictions.

The rally was violently dispersed by police.

The protest was initiated online by Cheldiyev, who permanently resided in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, at the time.

Cheldiyev was detained in St. Petersburg after the rally in Vladikavkaz and brought to North Ossetia, where he was arrested and charged.

The Federal Financial Monitoring Service added Cheldiyev to its list of extremists and terrorists at the time.

Dozens of participants in the 2020 protest have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms at separate trials since last year.