Dmitry Gudkov, a Russian opposition leader who was detained for two days this week, has accused authorities of detaining him and other Kremlin opponents on fabricated accusations in order to prevent them from participating in September’s parliamentary election.
The 41-year-old former member of parliament was freed by police in Moscow on Thursday, but he remains a suspect in a criminal case filed on suspicions that he failed to pay a debt on a rented home.
Gudkov, who denies any involvement with the property, told Reuters on Friday that the allegations against him were intended to limit his political ambitions.
“This was a decision not to let (me) run for a seat in the State Duma (lower house) and in elections made at the highest level,” Gudkov said, adding that police had searched his home and arrested his aunt during this week’s operation.
“I honestly didn’t expect they would take my aunt hostage,” said the former MP, who regularly appears at anti-Kremlin protests in the capital.
The Kremlin has said recent arrests of politicians such as Gudkov have nothing to do with politics, and denies trying to clear the field of political opponents.
Gudkov’s arrest on Tuesday coincided with that of Andrei Pivovarov, another opposition figure, who was removed from a flight about to leave for Poland.
Police questioned Pivovarov, searched his apartment and opened a criminal case against him for allegedly violating Russia’s legislation on “undesirable organisations.”
Pivovarov was the director of Open Russia, a now-defunct opposition organisation linked to exiled former oil tycoon and Kremlin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which ceased activities in Russia last month, claiming it wished to protect its followers from prosecution.
Gudkov noted Pivovarov’s detention, as well as the home arrests of several close associates of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, as evidence that the authorities were attempting to contain the opposition before it could make a fight in the September election.
Members of “extremist” organisations are barred from standing for government under a new law approved by President Vladimir Putin on Friday. The approval of the rule comes only days before a court considers making Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation and regional campaign organisations illegal on the grounds that they are extreme.
The measure essentially puts certain Navalny sympathisers’ parliamentary election campaigns on hold.
Gudkov, who is also due in court next week for his involvement in an unlicensed street rally in support of Navalny, expressed worry that he may be targeted under the new rule.
“I understand perfectly that this is not the end,” he said.