MOSCOW — The former mayor of Russia’s fourth-largest city was arrested Wednesday on charges of discrediting the country’s military as part of a crackdown on critics of Moscow’s military action in Ukraine.
Police arrested Yevgeny Roizman, 59, who was mayor of Yekaterinburg in 2013-2018, after searches his apartment and office.
Roizman told reporters he was being charged under a new law passed after Russia sent troops to Ukraine on Feb. 24. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
Russian courts fined Roizman three times earlier this year for similar charges, paving the way for a criminal case that the law allows for repeated violations.
A sharp critic of the Kremlin, Roizman is one of the most visible and charismatic opposition figures in Russia. During his tenure as mayor, he enjoyed great popularity in Yekaterinburg, a city of 1.5 million inhabitants in the Ural Mountains.
Shortly after his arrest, some local residents came to support him.
Cautious words of support also came from Roizman’s longtime political rival, the governor of Russia’s Sverdlovsk region.
“We used to be and are political opponents. The law is the law. But like everyone else, he deserves honesty and respect, and I hope he gets them,” Governor Yevgeny Kuyvashev said in a video statement to Telegram.
As police escorted him from his apartment, Roizman told reporters that he would likely be taken to Moscow for examination. Later in the day, his lawyer said the politician was officially detained for 48 hours.
Roizman said the criminal charges against him were caused by calling the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine an “invasion.” The Kremlin describes it as a “special military operation.”
“I said that everywhere, and I will say it now,” the politician added.
Days after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on Feb. 24, the Kremlin-controlled Russian parliament passed legislation banning belittling of the military and the dissemination of “false information” about Ukraine’s military operations.
Russian courts have increasingly handed out fines and sometimes prison terms to critics of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
According to Net Freedoms, a legal aid group that focuses on freedom of expression cases, there were up to 4,000 administrative cases charged with contempt of the armed forces in mid-August.
Another human rights group, OVD-Info, counted a total of 90 criminal cases on charges of spreading false information about the military in the six months since February 24. The group’s report, released Wednesday, also pointed to 16,437 arrests made for protesting the military. campaign over the past six months.
Pavel Chikov, a leading Russian human rights lawyer, said on Wednesday that Russian courts have so far heard 3,500 administrative cases for discrediting the military and found most of the defendants guilty. They could all face criminal charges like Roizman if they speak out against Russia’s operation in Ukraine again, Chikov noted.
Until his arrest, Roizman was one of the most visible opposition figures in Russia who had not been jailed or fled the country under pressure from authorities. Two other prominent opposition politicians, Ilya Yashin and Vladimir Kara-Murza, were arrested under the same law as Roizman and face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Similar charges were recently brought against eight close associates of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny. They have all left Russia after becoming the subject of multiple criminal investigations.
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