Russian riot police fired tear gas and hit protesters with batons in Bashkortostan on Wednesday after a rights activist was sentenced to four years in a penal colony.

Footage showed supporters of Fail Alsynov clashing with police – some throwing snowballs – near the court.

Alsynov was jailed for inciting ethnic hatred, which he denies.

One protester had a “smashed head”, and dozens were detained and injured, monitoring group OVD-Info said.

The trial, and protests, took place in Baymak in southern Russia, near the border with Kazakhstan.

Authorities have opened an investigation against some of those demonstrating under “mass rioting” charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

“I advise you to come to your senses and not ruin your life,” Bashkortostan’s Interior Minister Rafail Divayev warned protesters.

Local journalist Artur Asafyev told BBC Russian that the authorities were trying to make an example of both the protesters and Alsynov. The sentence passed on the defendant was tougher than that requested by the prosecutor.

“They knew that a harsh sentence would make people angry,” he said.

Some reports say there were a few thousand people at the demonstration, which went on for several days in temperatures of around -20C.

Mr Asafyev added people in Bashkortostan were already used to protests about environmental issues and had come from miles around to this remote town.

“People did not fear arrest and came out despite Baymak being five hours’ drive from [regional capital] Ufa,” he said.

Protesters were seen shouting their support for Alsynov, and there are reports that some tried to block the courthouse entrance after the sentence was announced.

Russian investigators said law enforcement officials were among those injured at the protests, and claimed demonstrators used “objects as weapons”.

Tear gas was reportedly fired and protesters were seen throwing snowballs at ranks of police behind riot shields.

The activist has now been driven away from the court to applause from supporters, who have started to disperse, OVD-Info said.

Alsynov is accused of insulting migrants at a demonstration against plans to mine for gold, but supporters said it was delayed revenge for his activism in preventing soda mining in what locals consider a sacred place.

He is said to have called Central Asians and Caucasians, who make up most of Russia’s migrant population, “black people”, considered a derogatory term in Russian.

But he insists the words he used in the Bashkir language mean “poor people” and were mistranslated into Russian. He intends to appeal against the verdict.

He told journalists as he was led away: “I do not accept guilt. I have always fought for justice, for my people, for my republic, so we will see each other again…

According to BBC