Russian opposition figure Dmitry Gudkov released without charge

Police held Dmitry Gudkov for two days for an allegedly unpaid debt on a rented property dating from several years ago.

Russian opposition activist Dmitry Gudkov gestures speaking to the media as police search at his country home outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, June 1, 2021 [Daniel Kozin/AP]

Russia’s police have released prominent opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov from custody in Moscow on Thursday after holding him for two days.

Gudkov, a former legislator, was arrested for an allegedly unpaid debt on a rented property dating from several years ago. His father has said his son had nothing to do with the property.

Shortly after his release Gudkov posted a photo of himself on Twitter with the caption “Freedom!”

“Thank you all for your support. This is only thanks to you,” he told well-wishers in a separate tweet.

Gudkov’s attorney, Mikhail Biryukov, said it was not clear whether his release meant the investigation was still active, according to Russian news reports. Gudkov could face up to five years in jail if charged and found guilty, the state TASS news agency has reported.

Russia’s opposition says that authorities have in recent months stepped up a campaign of intimidation against dissenters before a parliamentary vote in September, allegations the Kremlin has rejected.

Police also conducted searches at Gudkov’s country house outside Moscow, as well as the homes of his allies and relatives.

The Kremlin critic was released as the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum, often called the Russian Davos, started on Thursday in Russia’s second city.

President Vladimir Putin is set to address the forum – the country’s main showcase for investors – on Friday.

Gudkov’s unusual release came after a Russian court on Wednesday ordered that another well-known Kremlin critic, Andrei Pivovarov, be held in pretrial detention for two months.

Pivovarov, the former executive director of Open Russia, a recently disbanded pro-democracy group, was pulled off a Warsaw-bound flight on Monday as his plane was taxiing towards takeoff.

Police searched his Saint Petersburg apartment overnight and a criminal probe was launched against the activist for cooperating with an “undesirable organisation”. Pivovarov faces up to six years in prison if convicted.

Open Russia, founded by self-exiled Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, announced last week it was shutting down to shield its members from prosecution.

The group was designated an “undesirable” organisation in Russia in 2017 in line with a law targeting foreign-funded groups accused of political meddling.

‘Politically motivated’

The European Union had earlier called for Gudkov’s release.

“The detention of opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov is politically motivated,” EU’s lead spokesperson for external affairs Peter Stano tweeted.

He said the Russian state “must allow and promote conditions for real political competition”.

Despite Gudkov’s release, prominent opposition figure Alexey Navalny remains in prison serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence. The Kremlin critic was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, accusations that Russian officials reject.

His arrest led to protests across Russia that proved to be the biggest show of defiance against the Kremlin in years.

Source: News Agencies