Russian activist victim of alleged kidnapping

Thu, Oct 25, 2012, 01:00

THE COURTYARD behind the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in Kiev, a law firm that works with the United Nations refugee agency on asylum cases, is a good place for a kidnapping.

A five-storey building separates it from the main road, and trees hide most of it from anyone who might walk along the lane that runs beside it, or glance down from a nearby apartment block.

The silent fall of autumn leaves on to the cracked, wet concrete is also regularly shattered by a cacophony from a music school that shares the building with HIAS, which might be loud enough to mask, for example, the sound of security agents bundling an anti-government activist into a van.

That is what Leonid Razvozzhayev claims happened to him late last week, as he stepped out of the lawyers’ office for a break in discussions on how he could apply for asylum in Ukraine, to escape the political persecution that he believed awaited him back home in Russia.

He says four men forced him into a van with Ukrainian number plates and took him to the border, where he was transferred to another vehicle and taken to a derelict house in Russia.

There, he was kept in a cellar for two days, with hands and legs tied and a mask over his face, and denied food, drink and the chance to go to the toilet.

He was told that if he did not confess to being part of a plot to instigate mass anti-government unrest in Russia, then his children would be killed. He was also allegedly threatened with a “truth drug” that would make him talk and might leave him disabled. So, Mr Razvozzhayev says, he “confessed” to something he never did.

Russian police insist he returned freely from Ukraine and turned himself in, admitting without duress that he and other opposition figures had conspired with a Georgian politician to instigate mass riots against the rule of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Sergei Udaltsov, a leader of recent – almost entirely peaceful – protests against Mr Putin, has been summoned for questioning in the case. His aide, Konstantin Lebedev, has already been charged on the same grounds as Mr Razvozzhayev, and they could face 10 years in jail.

The office of the United Nations refugee agency in Kiev says Mr Razvozzhayev (39) contacted them last Thursday for advice in seeking asylum, and he visited HIAS lawyers on their recommendation last Friday morning.

“He was interviewed by our legal partners and, during a short break, he went out to a cafeteria that is in the same building but has a different entrance,” said the UNHCR’s Oleksandra Makovska.

“The lawyer heard some sort of disturbance outside and tried to call him. His phone was off, he was not in the cafe and he had left his bag in the lawyers’ office,” Ms Makovska said.

It appears he never reached the cafe. Ukrainian police say they are investigating why.

“We do not know what happened,” said Ms Makovska. “We know a person was receiving legal counselling. And then he went outside and disappeared. That’s all we know for sure.”