Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster-turned-Russian opposition politician, has said that he will not return to Russia in the foreseeable future as he fears arrest.
Mr Kasparov told reporters in Geneva that he thought he could be targeted as part of an investigation into disturbances at a rally in central Moscow in May last year, the day before President Vladimir Putin was inaugurated for a new term.
“I kept travelling back and forth until late February, when it became clear that I might be part of this ongoing investigation of the activities of the political protesters,” Mr Kasparov said. “Right now, I have serious doubts that if I return to Moscow I may be able to travel back. So for the time being, I refrain from returning to Russia.”
His announcement came as a court case related to the rally began in central Moscow, with 12 protesters, most of whom have been in jail for several months awaiting trial, facing charges of creating public disturbances. Some of them could be jailed for up to eight years, in what critics have described as the first mass show-trial in Mr Putin’s Russia. Unlike previous trials against prominent opposition figures, this is the first time that “ordinary” protesters have gone on trial. It appears to be part of a Kremlin tactic to scare Russians away from the protest movement, which at its peak brought 100,000 people on to the streets of Moscow but has since waned.
“Putin is cracking down harder than ever and is showing he is willing to create a new generation of political prisoners unseen since the days of Stalin,” Mr Kasparov said on Facebook.
The trial was a preliminary hearing for 12 of the 27 people who are facing charges over the rally. Ten of the defendants have been kept behind bars since their arrest and appeared in court inside a glass cage, while the other two sat on benches beside them. The court prolonged the arrest of those who are behind bars for a further six months, and the preliminary hearings are due to continue today. The defendants deny charges that they attacked police, and say that in fact it was police who assaulted them first.
Since Mr Putin’s return to the Kremlin last year, there has been a crackdown on dissent. Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger who was one of the leaders of the protests, is currently on trial for charges of embezzlement, which he says are fabricated.
Mr Kasparov says he has been questioned as a witness over the inquiry into the protests, and fears sharing the same fate as other witnesses who later become suspects.
Citing the same logic, the prominent liberal economist Sergei Guriev fled the country last week, saying he was being targeted by investigators after co-authoring a report into the jailing of the oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
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