MOSCOW, December 26 (Marc Bennetts, RIA Novosti) – A lawyer for a leftist activist on his way to an East Siberian prison expressed fears on Wednesday that his client could face pressure – including torture – to implicate leading opposition figures in an alleged plot to overthrow President Vladimir Putin.
Left Front activist Leonid Razvozzhayev admitted to involvement in the plot in October, but later withdrew his confession, saying he had been tortured into doing so after being abducted by “masked men” as he sought UN protection in Ukraine. Russia’s Investigative Committee said Razvozzhayev handed himself in and was in his “right mind” when he signed a ten-page confession.
“There are many methods of exerting pressure,” lawyer Dmitry Arganovsky said. “Including physical violence. The Siberian pre-detention centre that Razvozzhayev is being sent to has an extremely bad reputation.”
He also said he had complained to investigators about what he said was Razvozzhayev’s “illegal” transfer.
The allegations against Razvozzhayev, Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, and another activist, Konstantin Lebedev, are based on grainy footage aired by the pro-Kremlin NTV channel that purports to show them meeting Georgian politician Givi Targamadze to discuss plans to destabilize Russia. All three men face up to ten years behind bars if found guilty of the charges, which they deny. Lebedev has also been in custody since October, while Udaltsov has been ordered not to leave Moscow.
Razvozzhayev was taken from the Moscow pre-trial detention centre were he has been held since October and put on a train to Irkutsk in East Siberia late last week. He is currently in a holding cell in Chelyabinsk, in central Russia, Arganovsky said. Additional charges of robbing an East Siberian businessman of 500 fur hats in 1997 were brought against Razvozzhayev last month.
“No one informed us or his family that Razvozzhayev was being sent to Siberia,” Arganovsky said. “And I have no idea why he they are taking him there. The statute of limitations on the fur hat case expired on December 4.”
Razvozzhayev also alleged in a post on Arganovsky’s Live Journal account on Tuesday that his transfer to Siberia was part of an attempt to force him to provide “false testimony.”
Investigative Committee officials were unavailable for comment as of Wednesday afternoon.
A number of opposition figures have been jailed or hit with criminal charges since Putin returned to the Kremlin in May amid violent protests. Investigators opened a new fraud case against protest leader Alexei Navalny on Monday, the third case against the anti-corruption blogger in less than six months. Navalny already faces up to ten years in jail on two other fraud charges.
Putin has denied however that a crackdown on dissent is underway, saying earlier this year that “everyone” must obey Russian law. He also vigorously denied last week that his rule had become increasingly authoritarian.