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June 6, 2013 12:26 pm
Garry Kasparov, the chess champion turned political activist, has left Russia for the immediate future out of fear of prosecution.
Addressing a news conference in Geneva, Mr Kasparov suggested he could be the next in a series of opposition leaders to face criminal charges, with peers Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov already on trial.
“I kept travelling back and forth until late February when it became clear that I might be part of this ongoing investigation of the activities of the political protesters,” Mr Kasparov told reporters at the UN, where he was due to receive a human rights award.
“Right now I have serious doubts that if I return to Moscow I may be able to travel back. So for the time being I refrain from returning to Russia.”
Mr Kasparov’s comments come one week after Sergei Guriev, a liberal economist, declared he had fled from Russia to France because of fears he would be prosecuted in connection with a case against the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky who has been in prison since 2003.
Mr Guriev, who has links to opposition figures, said he was interrogated several times in April and that five years of email correspondence had been seized.
While President Vladimir Putin told reporters on Monday that Mr Guriev was welcome to return and that no one had been threatening him, the economist publicly declined. “I personally prefer to stay free,” he wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times.
An opponent of the Putin regime for nearly a decade, Mr Kasparov has long been critical of the current administration and spent five days in jail in 2007 after being arrested by police at an opposition protest. He was last detained at a rally outside the courthouse of the Pussy Riot trial last summer.
Mr Kasparov quit as a leader of the opposition party Solidarity in April but soon afterwards declared on Twitter that rumours of his emigration “had been greatly exaggerated” and he had no immediate plans to leave Russia.
Friends and colleagues, however, reported that Mr Kasparov feared being charged in connection with a May 2012 protest that turned violent. Ten people are on trial in Moscow in connection with the so-called Bolotnaya disturbance, while opposition leader Mr Udaltsov faces charges of helping to organise “the public disorder” and has spent the past four months under house arrest.
“He got wildly scared” about being a witness in the case, Vladimir Milov, another opposition leader, wrote on his blog in April.
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