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Russia activist was tortured in custody, rights group says

Leonid Razvozzhayev says he was seized in Ukraine and taken to Russia, where he was forced to sign a confession, the group says. Authorities deny the claim.

October 25, 2012|By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times
  • Writer Viktor Shenderovich speaks to a Russian police officer outside the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the KGB. Shenderovich was demonstrating in response to an activist's reported kidnapping and torture.
Writer Viktor Shenderovich speaks to a Russian police officer outside… (Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles…)

MOSCOW — An opposition activist being held by Russian authorities says he was kidnapped from Ukraine, tortured and forced to sign a confession, a human rights group said Wednesday.

Leonid Razvozzhayev told five members of the Public Observer Commission on Tuesday night that he was abducted Friday in Kiev, smuggled back to Russia and subjected to ill treatment and psychological torment that compelled him to sign and read on videotape a 10-page confession of plotting to organize mass disturbances.

After meeting with the activist, commission leader Valery Borshchev expressed grave concerns that Russian authorities were returning to Stalinist methods of suppressing dissent.

"I am afraid our country is stepping into a new stage: the restoration of ways and methods of the Stalinist period," Borshchev, a dissident during the Soviet era, said at a news conference Wednesday in Moscow. "This kidnapping demonstrates that we are returning to the same system of persecuting dissent successfully used by the regime in the '30s and '40s, which is a very alarming signal."

Russia's Investigative Committee, which previously said Razvozzhayev had turned himself in and confessed voluntarily, denied Wednesday that he had been abused in custody.

"The Investigative Committee didn't receive any official statements from Leonid Razvozzhayev about torture, kidnapping or any other illegal activities," Vladimir Markin, the committee's spokesman, said in televised remarks, adding that the agency would investigate the activist's charges.

Razvozzhayev, together with opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov and another associate, Konstantin Lebedev, was accused this month in a documentary aired by the pro-Kremlin NTV television network of meeting with politicians from neighboring Georgia to discuss funding subversive activities in Russia.

Georgia is the only post-Soviet republic that doesn't have diplomatic relations with Russia. The two countries waged a five-day war in August 2008 over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, regions that have declared their independence from Georgia and have been recognized by Russia and a handful of other countries.

Lebedev was arrested last week, and rights activists said they believe Udaltsov will be arrested Friday.

On Wednesday, a United Nations official in Kiev said Razvozzhayev was in the Ukrainian capital on Friday seeking asylum and was told to speak to lawyers with a local nongovernmental organization.

The NGO's lawyers "got alarmed by his prolonged absence and tried to get in touch with him on his cell, which appeared to be switched off," Alexandra Makovskaya, a spokeswoman at the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Kiev, said in a phone interview.

Razvozzhayev surfaced in Moscow on Sunday afternoon escorted by guards in a district court to face charges. A video posted on YouTube featured him shouting out before being put into a waiting minivan: "They tortured me for two days after kidnapping in Kiev!"

Borshchev and his colleagues said at the news conference Wednesday that Razvozzhayev appeared anxious and spoke with difficulty when they met with him at Moscow's Lefortovo prison.

Borshchev said the activist told them he was on a Kiev street seeking food during lunchtime Friday when four men, three of them wearing masks, pushed him into a minivan, bound his wrists and ankles with handcuffs linked so that he had to bend over forward, and covered his eyes. The few words spoken by one kidnapper carried a Ukrainian accent, Razvozzhayev said. After five hours of driving, the van stopped somewhere, presumably on the Russian-Ukrainian border, and he was handed over to four other men in another van who took him to a nearby house.

Razvozzhayev told the rights group he was held in the basement for two days without food or a toilet, still handcuffed and chained, and was shoved around and subjected to psychological torture.

"The masked men told him, 'You are outside the law here,'" Borshchev said. "They told him that they will bury him and no one will know where his grave is."

Razvozzhayev told them his captors also threatened to kill his wife and two children unless he confessed in writing to the things they dictated, adding that he finally broke when they threatened him with an injection that they said would make him an idiot for life.

Borshchev said he expects the video of Razvozzhayev's confession to appear soon on federal television.

Said Zoya Svetova, the rights group's secretary, "I am very much afraid that now operatives and investigators will work with him again and try to persuade him to write that all he told us was untrue."

Later in the day, satirical writer Viktor Shenderovich picketed in front of the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the KGB, with a sign reading, "Chechnya is already here. You are in danger!" referring to the restive Caucasus republic known for kidnappings, beatings and summary justice exercised by law enforcement.

"The authorities deliberately aren't even trying to conceal that they are acting outside the law, thus making a clear-cut statement that yes, we will be kidnapping, beating, torturing and doing whatever else we like with you and there is nothing you can do about it," he said.

Moscow economics student Olga Pakhtusova, 19, joined him. An old woman stopped by to inquire what was going on.

"It is about political repressions," said Pakhtusova.

"What do you know about repressions?" countered the woman.

"More and more with every passing day," the student replied.

sergei.loiko@latimes.com

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