Russia charges protest leader in riot probe
Russia on Friday charged protest leader Sergei Udaltsov with plotting mass riots in a controversial probe that has seen the detention of another activist who claims to have been tortured into confessing.
Udaltsov was charged after obeying a summons to the Investigative Committee for questioning over an alleged plot to hold mass riots with international funding to topple President Vladimir Putin.
Two men have already been charged in the probe, including Leonid Razvozzhayev, an aide to an opposition parliamentary lawmaker, who has retracted a confession that he said he made under pressure after being kidnapped by Russian security agents in Ukraine.
Udaltsov, 35, the shaven-headed leader of the radical Left Front movement, has been one of the most prominent organisers and speakers of mass protests against Putin and has been detained numerous times for public order offences.
He walked into the Investigative Committee’s office for questioning, wearing his trademark jeans and black bomber jacket and holding up his hands in a gesture acknowledging his supporters.
“This is a case of torture, a disgraceful case,” he told journalists.
“I am not to blame. I am going in proudly with my head held high.”
Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told Russian news agencies after the questioning that Udaltsov was formally charged with plotting mass riots.
“He did not admit his guilt,” the spokesman said.
Udaltsov will remain under travel restrictions that prevent him from leaving Moscow, which were imposed earlier this month when he was named as a suspect in the case, Markin added. He was, however, not placed under arrest.
Russia launched a criminal probe after pro-Kremlin national channel NTV this month showed a documentary with hidden camera footage that alleged that Udaltsov and others were planning an uprising funded by a Georgian lawmaker.
Udaltsov, who has had his apartment searched in the probe, has rejected the allegations as the “delirium of a lunatic”.
His aide Konstantin Lebedev has already been detained and charged.
Razvozzhayev has told rights activists who visited him in prison that he was kidnapped by masked men in Ukraine who held him prisoner until he signed a confession.
One of his lawyers, Anna Stavitskaya, told reporters he would be questioned on Friday on his statement that he gave testimony under pressure and that there would be a formal investigation, but she did not expect it to confirm his account.
“Today he will be questioned about his statement that he was interrogated under pressure. They will carry out a check. Of course no one is going to establish those circumstances... No one is going to admit he was tortured.”
Another lawyer, Mark Feigin, said on Thursday Razvozzhayev had drawn up a statement to investigators withdrawing his written and videotaped confession, saying that it was made under pressure.
Markin, said on Friday that Razvozzhayev’s retraction of his testimony would not affect the case as investigators had enough evidence.
“If Mr Razvozzhayev and his associates think that their testimony or denial of their testimony are a key factor in the case, I can disappoint them,” he told the RIA Novosti news agency.
“The investigation has enough other clues and proof, received and checked through investigation and operations,” he said.