MOSCOW, August 14 (RIA Novosti) – A senior member of Russia’s Left Front opposition party who helped organize recent opposition rallies in Moscow has fled Russia to seek political asylum in Sweden, Kommersant newspaper reported Wednesday.
Alexei Sakhnin told the paper he left after learning he was to be arrested in the so-called Bolotnaya case, an investigation into a protest on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square last May that descended into violent skirmishes between police and protestors. Opposition leaders claim the investigation is designed to intimidate Kremlin critics.
Dozens of activists have reportedly fled Russia fearing they could be detained in connection with the case. Sakhnin said that he was likely to have been charged with inciting mass riots, a crime punishable by up to ten years in prison, Kommersant reported.
Sakhnin’s apartment was searched by police last June who confiscated computers and other documents, and he has been questioned by investigators three times over the last year, Russian news website Gazeta.ru reported.
“I took apart my telephone and hid it to be sure that nobody could use it. Nonetheless, my parents were called from my number,” Sakhnin told Gazeta.ru. “It’s clear that investigators somehow used my number. They also used my accounts on [social networking sites] Facebook and Vkontakte to contact people. At the end of May I confirmed that there was a warrant out for my arrest. That means there were descriptions of me in police departments and on the border. At that point I left,” he added.
Sakhnin first fled to Belarus – there are no standard checks on the Russian-Belarus border – and then took a flight to Serbia, which does not require Russian citizens to have a visa, according to Gazeta.ru. After then obtaining a visa for Sweden, Sakhnin said he flew to Stockholm in July.
The Left Front movement, in which Sakhnin works as an organizer, unites a number of radical left wing groups. It has come under particular pressure in a recent Kremlin crackdown on the opposition, and was temporarily shut down by police in April because of alleged violations.
Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of Left Front, was put under house arrest in February and has been charged with inciting mass riots. Senior Left Front member Leonid Razvozzhayev, who claimed he was kidnapped in Kiev last year and transferred illegally into Russian custody, is facing the same charges. Konstantin Lebedev, another Left Front member, was jailed for two and a half years in April for allegedly taking part in a foreign funded coup to overthrow Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Another Left Front activist, Vladimir Akimenkov, is among 12 people currently on trial in Moscow, accused of participating in “mass riots” on Bolotnaya Square on May 6.
Sakhnin intends continue his political work and will try to raise awareness of the Bolotnaya case outside of Russia, he told Gazeta.ru. “I want to mobilize the support of left wing organizations so that they raise this question in national parliaments, in the European parliament and mobilize western organization in the support of the prisoners,” he said.
It is unclear, however, how long the Swedish authorities will take to process Sakhnin’s request for political asylum, and whether or not it will be successful.
Several activists have had similar asylum applications turned down. Ukraine has refused to grant political asylum to at least four Russian activists who feared they could be imprisoned in the Bolotnaya case. In January Alexander Dolmatov, an activist with the Other Russian opposition party who was wanted for questioning in the Bolotnaya case, committed suicide in Rotterdam after his application for political asylum was turned down by the Dutch authorities.