MOSCOW, January 24 (Marc Bennetts, RIA Novosti) - Prison officials in East Siberia are attempting to force a protest movement figure to implicate himself and others in an alleged plot to violently overthrow President Vladimir Putin, his lawyer told RIA Novosti on Thursday.
Leonid Razvozzhayev, a leftist activist, was transferredfrom Moscow to a pre-trial detention center in East Siberia’s Irkutsk late last year as part of an investigation into a 1997 armed robbery case. The statute of limitations on these charges, which Razvozzhayev denied, expired last December. The case was, however, only officially closed on Wednesday. But prison officials have insisted that Razvozzhayev remain in Irkutsk for a “medical examination,” his lawyer said.
“Leonid is afraid that he could be forced to take drugs that will weaken his will and make him more compliant and more likely to confess to the charges, as well as implicate other key protest movement figures,” lawyer Vyacheslav Ivanets said by telephone.
“He has stated in written form that he does not require medical treatment or observation in Irkutsk,” he added. “Partly because his access to lawyers will also be restricted in the hospital.”
“There is no reason to keep him here – and the only conclusion I can draw is that they are trying to break him,” Ivanets went on. He also expressed fears that Razvozzhayev could be subject to physical violence: “Pre-trial detention centers in Irkutsk have a horrendous reputation.”
The head of the pre-trial detention centre in Irkutsk, Igor Mokeyev, said Razvozzhayev was being hospitalized after he had complained of his "worsening" health.
Razvozzhayev made international news last October when he alleged he had been kidnapped by “masked men” while seeking political asylum at a UN office in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. He said he had then been tortured in an abandoned building for three days and forced to sign a confession into the alleged coup plot. He later retracted his confession.
The charges were based on grainy images aired by the pro-Kremlin NTV channel. The makers of the program also said the footage featured Sergei Udaltsov, a prominent leader of the anti-Putin protest movement, and another activist, Konstantin Lebedev. All three men deny the charges. Lebedev is in custody awaiting trial, while Udaltsov is barred from leaving Moscow. All three face up to ten years behind bars, if found guilty.
Udaltsov has dubbed the NTV footage “lies” and likened the program to the tactics used by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s secret police.
Razvozzhayev’s alleged kidnapping and torture sparked a diplomatic row between Russia and the United States, with Moscow labeling Washington’s concern over the reports “hypocritical” and “ungrounded.”
(This story was updated at 16:08 to include Irkutsk prison official's comments)