Russia accused the United States of hypocrisy on Thursday as a row grew over allegations that a political activist opposed to the rule of President Vladimir Putin had been abducted and tortured into confessing to a plot to spark mass disorder.
Leonid Razvozzhayev told human rights workers who visited him at pre-trial detention facility in Moscow on Tuesday that he had confessed to the alleged plot and incriminated leading members of the anti-Putin protest movement after masked men had seized him in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
Razvozzhayev said the men had snatched him on the street after he had stepped out of the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He said they had threatened to kill him and his children if he did not sign a ten-page confession. His lawyer, who was allowed to visit him for the first time on Thursday, said he had now retracted his confession and would press charges.
“There have been several authoritative reports on Leonid Razvozzhayev, including statements from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and from human rights activists who visited him in prison,” said a spokesperson for the US embassy in Moscow.
“We are deeply concerned with these reports and are following the developments closely. Today we expressed our concerns to the Russian government and have requested for the issue to be investigated thoroughly,” the spokesperson said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the statement “hypocritical.”
“Attempts by the United States to accuse Russia of a violation of its obligations on the international convention against torture are not only unfounded, but also hypocritical, given that the United States has yet to fulfill the promises of the Obama administration,” the statement went on.
“Not a single American soldier or member of the special forces guilty of the systematic torture of American citizens or foreign citizens in Iraq, Afghanistan, special CIA prisons or Guantanamo Bay has been punished,” the statement added.
Putin’s spokesman declined to comment on the case on Wednesday.
“This is hardly the kind of thing the Kremlin can and should comment on,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “This is a matter for investigation agencies, prosecutors, lawyers and human rights workers.”
The Council of Europe also called on Russia on Thursday to explain how Razvozzhayev had disappeared from Kiev on Friday only to turn up in Moscow on Sunday.
Russia investigators said Razvozzhayev had handed himself in and confessed to the plot and that they were probing media reports that he had been tortured.
International human rights organizations also called on Russia to account for Razvozzhayev’s disappearance.
“For an asylum seeker to simply vanish while lodging his asylum claims and then reappear in the country he fled is profoundly shocking,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “There needs to be a serious investigation to determine whether any Ukrainian officials were involved and to hold accountable any who played a role.”
A spokesperson for Ukraine’s Interior Ministry admitted that “foreign special services,” most likely Russian, had snatched Razvozzhayev. But spokesperson Volodymyr Polishchuk told Ukrainian media the ministry was unlikely to take the issue further as “criminals” had not been involved.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the case when contacted by RIA Novosti on Thursday.
The charges against Razvozzhayev stem from footage aired by the pro-Kremlin NTV channel earlier this month. The low-quality, grainy clip purported to show Razvozzhayev, Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov and activist Konstantin Lebedev meeting leading Georgian politician Givi Targamadze in the Belarusian capital of Minsk to discuss plans to seize power in cities across Russia, including the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.
Lebedev was also taken into custody last week. Udaltsov was released on a pledge not to leave Moscow. But his lawyer said on Wednesday that he could be taken into custody on Friday and that he may face additional charges of organizing the violence that marred a May 6 protest against Putin’s inauguration for a third presidential term.
Udaltsov has been unreachable since early this week, but his lawyer, Violetta Volkova, said on Thursday that he had no plans to flee the country.
“Putin is attempting to break the opposition to his rule by using the same methods employed in Belarus and Kazakhstan, where unrest was instigated by unknown people and attributed to political opponents, who were then jailed,” veteran Russian human rights worker Lev Ponomaryov told RIA Novosti.
“This is a serious test for society,” he said. “But today we have the internet and some kind of civil society, so I hope we will be able to resist and avoid a return to a totalitarian system.”
Russia’s newly-formed opposition council has pledged to take to the streets on Saturday and next week to protest what it called “the widespread persecution of dissidents.”
Some two dozen protesters gathered outside the headquarters of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on Thursday for a third straight day. There were no arrests, although police detained three protesters on Tuesday evening.
“It is impossible to stay silent in a country where they openly abduct and torture people,” said writer Viktor Shenderovich outside the FSB HQ. “But, unfortunately, Russian society has degraded in recent years and we have no tradition of protest.”
The Kremlin’s Human Rights Council said this week it would comment on the case when its representatives were allowed to visit Razvozzhayev.
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