Russian authorities have launched a criminal case against Ilya Yashin, a critic of Russia’s war in Ukraine and one of the last opposition figures remaining in the country, for allegedly spreading false information about the army, his lawyer said.
“I got a call from an investigator – they are beginning to search his home,” lawyer Vadim Prokhorov said on Facebook.
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Prokhorov was later quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the investigation was launched because his client spoke of “the murder of civilians in Bucha” on his YouTube channel on April 7.
Russian forces have been accused of committing war crimes in Bucha, a suburb of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, after civilian bodies were discovered there following their withdrawal.
Another of Yashin’s lawyers, Mikhail Biriukov, said a search had been carried out at his home and that Yashin was taken out of prison to attend.
Yashin was due to be released after spending 15 days in jail on charges of failing to obey the police. Instead, the 38-year-old was charged under a new law making it a crime to spread false information about the military, said Prokhorov. It carries a potential sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
Yashin was arrested in late June in a Moscow park. Police said he grabbed one officer by the uniform and insulted them. Yashin said the police approached him while he was sitting on a bench with a friend and demanded he go with them without explanation.
Yashin has been a prominent opposition figure in Russia since the mass protests against President Vladimir Putin in 2011-12. He has denounced Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.
Russia has cracked down on those who criticise what it calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine, introducing legislation imposing prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading information deemed false by the Russian government.
Vladimir Kara-Muza, a well-known opposition figure, was arrested in April and charged under the same law.
In a statement on Wednesday, Amnesty International called on Russian authorities to drop the case against Yashin.
“The ugly repression of rights in Russia continues. Since the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities have become even more brazen in their attempts to silence the political opposition, activists and all those who disagree with the government,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“Ilya Yashin is one of the few opposition figures who until recently remained in the country and not behind bars. Now, he is also in arbitrary detention and facing prison for criticizing the conduct of the Russian military in Ukraine. He should be released immediately and unconditionally, and the shameful criminalization of freedom of expression must stop.”