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Russian Authorities Charge Opposition Leader Udaltsov


Russian opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov speaks to media after visiting the Russian Investigative Committee's office in Moscow, October 26, 2012.

Russian opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov speaks to media after visiting the Russian Investigative Committee's office in Moscow, October 26, 2012.

Russia's top investigative committee has charged opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov, 35, with plotting mass riots against the government. Udaltsov says the charges against him are false and further demonstrate the Kremlin’s intolerance of dissent.

Left Front party leader Sergei Udaltsov is the latest opposition activist to be charged with plotting crimes against the Kremlin. Russia’s State Investigative Committee says he organized mass riots in Moscow in May. Udaltsov was featured in a state television documentary in which he and others appear to be planning a coup funded by a Georgian official.

The charges against Udaltsov follow the detention last week of two other activists, including Leonid Razvozzhayev, who said he was abducted in Ukraine and tortured into confessing to plotting mass riots against the Russian government. Udaltsov says his so-called confession was written under intense psychological torture that included threats against his children. According to his lawyer, he later retracted that confession.

Speaking to reporters, Udaltsov said that the Razvozzhayev case is shameful, based on torture, and hurts Russia's image. Udaltsov added that no one would ever see him running across the border, he holds his head up and has not committed any crime. He noted that if arrested, he hopes society will not ignore it and mass protests will begin. Udaltsov added that he is fine and expressed hope that Russia will be free.

Udaltsov's aide, Konstantin Lebedev, was also detained and is in police custody, unlike Udaltsov, who was released and ordered to stay in Moscow. The three men face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Udaltsov says the charges against him are just the latest response from the Kremlin to crackdown on anyone who does not agree with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Udaltsov said that he has not planned or organized any mass disturbances, but supports peaceful protests. Udaltsov stated that he is acting within the framework of the law.

Last month, billionaire Alexander Lebedev, who owns a Russian newspaper critical of the Kremlin, was charged with assault and hooliganism for punching fellow businessman Sergei Polonsky on a television show last year. Lebedev says the charges are politically motivated because of his support of the political opposition. Lebedev said that he believes Putin thinks he is funding the opposition, a charge he denies.

Experts view the recent charges as part of a crackdown by Putin on the protest movement that has involved harsher punishments for public order offenses, a criminal investigation against charismatic opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and prison sentences for members of an anti-Kremlin all-female punk band Pussy Riot for a brief anti-Putin protest.

The Kremlin has consistently maintained that it is operating within the law and is merely taking action against violent, unsanctioned protests in an attempt to strengthen security and keep the public safe.
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