Chess king turned Kremlin foe Garry Kasparov was acquitted on Friday of holding an unsanctioned protest, although he still risks jail for allegedly biting a policeman during the Pussy Riot trial.
In a surprise verdict, a magistrate acquitted Kasparov, saying his guilt had not been proven by police witnesses, the opposition leader told media outside the court.
Kasparov had been charged under a law on protests that has been tightened under President Vladimir Putin’s third term as president, and could have been heavily fined or sentenced to up to 15 days in jail.
He called the decision “historic” after the judge refused to accept police evidence that he had been shouting out political slogans.
“For the first time the evidence of officers in uniform was not accepted by the court as happens every day in other courts,” Kasparov said, thanking journalists for providing video and photo evidence.
“This decision will help many people who find themselves in similar situations,” he said.
The unusual case against one of Putin’s most virulent critics came after police arrested dozens of protestors outside Khamovnichesky Court during the sentencing of the three members of Pussy Riot punk band to two years in jail.
Kasparov still faces the threat of far more serious criminal charges after the officer who arrested him said the chess star bit him on the hand once he was out of view of reporters’ cameras in the police van.
A conviction for assaulting a police officer could put Kasparov in prison for five years and only further chill already cooling relations between Russia and the West in Putin’s third term.
Kasparov has fought back, filing slander and illegal arrest charges against the arresting officer earlier this week.
The Moscow police department has handed the biting inquiry to the powerful federal Investigative Committee which is already looking into alleged actions by fellow protest leader Alexei Navalny and more than a dozen other prominent Putin foes.
Photo of Garry Kasparov by Andrey Smirnov/AFP