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Arrests and police raids follow Russia's vote to let Putin rule for life

13:57 11 July 2020 Author :  

An opposition governor was detained and several activists had their homes raided by the police on Thursday as Russia’s latest crackdown on dissent gathers momentum.

The flurry of arrests and criminal inquiries follow last week’s vote in which nearly 78 percent endorsed constitutional amendments allowing Vladimir Putin to stay as president at least until 2036 when he turns 83.

Sergei Furgal, the governor of the Khabarovsk region in Russia’s Far East who beat a Kremlin candidate at the 2018 election, was arrested by camouflaged agents of Russia’s top investigative body on Thursday morning and put on a plane to Moscow.

The popular governor whose landslide win at the polls embarrassed the pro-Kremlin party, is accused of organising two contract killings as well as an attempted murder 15 years ago, according to the Investigative Committee, Russia's main federal investigating authority.

Mr Furgal has not been charged with any crime.

An unnamed source claiming to be linked to Mr Furgal says he has denied the allegations.

Mr Furgal had been in Russian parliament for more than a decade before he won the Khabarovsk election in 2018, which has raised questions about the timing of the charges brought against him.

Russians are going to the polls in September in several regions to vote for new governors and local legislatures, and Mr Furgal’s arrest appears to be a warning shot for opposition candidates in the running, analysts say.

That same morning, Russian police carried out raids on homes of at least five activists affiliated with the British-based organisation Open Russia funded by former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. All of them have been involved in the No campaign against the constitutional amendments allowing Mr Putin to stay in power for another 16 years.

Russian authorities formally banned Open Russia in 2017 as an “undesirable organisation” aiming to inspire protests and destabilise the country.

The raids are ostensibly linked to the 2003 investigation into Mr Khodorkovsky’s now defunct oil company Yukos even though most of the activists were merely teenagers when Yukos was hit with tax claims which led to its demise.

Thursday’s arrests are largely viewed as a new wave of repression unleashed after President Putin secured a new mandate for power in a voting that he on Thursday described in a conference call with Russia’s election chief as “highly democratic.”

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Thursday called the raids “yet another act of intimidation.”

“This is an attempt to demoralise those who oppose Putin and punish those who rallied against Putin’s amendments,” he said.

The detentions and police raids, covered extensively on Russian state TV, came two days after respected defence reporter Ivan Safronov was arrested on charges of treason for allegedly passing state secrets to the Czech intelligence.

A day earlier, a court in Russia’s north-west found a journalist guilty of “justifying” terrorism over a column and fined her £5,000./

The Telegraph

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