Russia’s newly formed opposition council accused the Kremlin on Wednesday of a concerted crackdown on political opponents amid a growing row over a left-wing activist who said he had been kidnapped and tortured into confessing that he had conspired to spark mass disorder.
“The widespread persecution of dissidents is continuing in Russia,” the opposition’s Coordinating Council said in a statement. “The authorities have responded to mass protests with police provocations and direct pressure against its opponents by the security forces.”
Human rights activists said on Tuesday that activist Leonid Razvozzhayev had told them that “masked men” had kidnapped him outside a UN building in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and later threatened to kill him and his children if he did not sign a ten-page confession to plotting to trigger mass riots as part of foreign-funded plot to destabilize Russia.
Razvozzhayev, a member of prominent protest leader Sergei Udaltsov’s Left Wing movement, also told rights workers when they visited him in a Moscow pre-trial detention center that he had been kept without food or water in the basement of a residential building for three days before being brought to the Russian capital. He said he had not been beaten.
The Coordinating Council, which was formed after some 80,000 people voted in online polls last weekend and is headed by anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, also said it would take to the streets on Saturday in support of “political prisoners.”
President Vladimir Putin said last year Russia has “no political prisoners.”
Russia’s Investigative Committee said on Monday that Razvozzhayev, an aide to opposition lawmaker Ilya Ponomaryov, had turned himself in to its Moscow office and confessed to plotting unrest.
A probe into the alleged plot was launched earlier this month after the pro-Kremlin NTV channel aired what it said was footage of Udaltsov, Razvozzhayev and another Left Wing activist, Konstantin Lebedev, meeting leading Georgian politician Givi Targamadze in the Belarusian capital of Minsk to discuss plans to seize power in cities across Russia, including the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.
Lebedev was also taken into custody last week. Udaltsov was released on a pledge not to leave Moscow. But his lawyer said on Wednesday that he could be taken into custody this week.
“This is all revenge for our recent protests,” Udaltsov told journalists on Saturday. “Everything is clear – this is a challenge to society and an attempt to launch a new wave of repression. If we don’t stop it, we will face a long, political winter.”
Razvozzhayev, who strenuously denied the charges in a blog post last week, had vanished from Kiev on Friday after seeking political refugee status at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kiev, his lawyer, Violetta Volkova, said.
The UN agency on Monday said it was “deeply concerned” about Razvozzhayev’s disappearance and the European Union has asked Ukraine to investigate.
A spokesperson for President Vladimir Putin told journalists on Wednesday the Kremlin would not comment on the case.
“This is hardly the kind of thing the Kremlin can and should comment on,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “This is a matter for investigation agencies, prosecutors, lawyers and human rights workers.”
Investigative Committee spokesperson Vladimir Markin said on Wednesday that Razvozzhayev had not filed a formal complaint, but it was probing torture allegations reported by media outlets.
Some two dozen people picketed the headquarters of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on Wednesday for a second straight evening to protest what they called an increasingly brutal crackdown on anti-Putin activists. There were no arrests, although three people were detained on Tuesday.
“I read about Stalin-era repression when I was a child, but I never thought it would return,” Coordinating Council member Yevgenia Chirikova told RIA Novosti at the protest.
A former aide to President Boris Yeltsin said on Wednesday that Russia was facing a return to “1937,” a reference to the height of the Stalin-era terror.
“Stalinist terror consisted of a chain reaction of confessions, where one tortured person gave up others,” wrote Georgy Satarov, who also heads Moscow’s InDem think-tank, in a blog post. “If we do not stand up now for Razvozzhayev, if we do not all stand up to be counted, then we will all suffer.”