A court in Russia ruled on Wednesday to hold a leading opposition politician in custody pending investigation and trial for his public criticism of Russia’s military actions in Ukraine.
Ilya Yashin is one of the few opposition figures who has not left Russia despite the unprecedented pressure the authorities have brought to bear on dissent. He has been charged with spreading false information about the Russian military, a new offense for which he faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Yashin, 39, rose to fame in the 2000s as an opposition activist and ally of assassinated opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. In 2017, he was elected chairman of a Moscow city council. He is also a vocal supporter of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The charges against Yashin were reportedly brought through a live YouTube video in which he spoke about the Ukrainians killed in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.
He was arrested in late June at a city park and ordered to spend 15 days in jail for disobeying a police officer. Police said Yashin grabbed an officer by his uniform and insulted him, but the politician said police approached him while he was sitting on a bench with a friend and demanded that he go with them without explanation.
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Yashin was due to be released from jail on Tuesday night, but was arrested again on new charges and his apartment was searched. The Basmanny District Court ordered Wednesday to keep him in custody until September 12.
Yashin in court insisted that the charges against him were “politically motivated from the first page to the last”.
“Don’t be afraid of these rascals! Russia will be free!” he told reporters and supporters in the courtroom after hearing the judge’s ruling.
The Kremlin has cracked down on people who criticize what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine. Vladimir Kara-Muza, a well-known opposition figure, was arrested in April and charged under the same law as Yashin.
Yashin’s colleague on the city council, Alexei Gorinov, was sentenced to seven years in prison on the same charges for anti-war comments, the first prison sentence handed down under the new law.
The law criminalizing the alleged dissemination of false information about the armed forces was adopted a week after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24 and amid a massive wave of public outrage over the invasion.
Thousands of people protested daily in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and hundreds of thousands signed online petitions opposing the attack on Ukraine.
But the Kremlin insisted its “special military operation” in Ukraine had overwhelming public support and moved quickly to suppress any criticism. Thousands of protesters were arrested, dozens of critical media outlets were shut down, and critics faced charges and prosecution.
As of Tuesday, the Net Freedoms legal aid group that focuses on free speech cases has counted 70 criminal cases involving alleged charges of false information.
In a post that appeared on his Facebook account after he was remanded on Wednesday, Yashin said he knew he would be arrested as early as February 24, the date of the Russian invasion.
“When the war started, I promised that I would not run away anywhere and would speak the truth out loud for as long as I could. And when I get arrested, I’ll take it with dignity. I keep my word,” the post read. “Don’t worry about me, folks. And I beg you not to let them intimidate you. I’m not afraid, and neither are you. Not to the war .”
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