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Tuesday 3 September 2019

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Russian opposition activist Vitaly Shishkin

YEREVAN -- Armenia has granted political asylum to a Russian opposition activist who spent four years in custody for his role in anti-government protests in Russia.

Vitaly Shishkin, an activist of Russian nationalist persuasion, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service in Yerevan on September 3 that he arrived in Armenia in January, days after he was released from prison.

Writing on his Facebook account on September 2, Shishkin said he was "grateful to Armenia for granting [him] refugee status as a politician who is being persecuted in Russia for political motives."

The Armenian State Migration Service confirmed that Shishkin had been granted refugee status, citing a "real and grounded risk" that he could be mistreated for his political views if he goes back to Russia.

In February 2015, a Russian court sentenced Shishkin, 47, to four years in prison for allegedly inciting hatred and calling for mass disorders after he had called on Russians to take part in anti-government protests.

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center recognized the activist as a political prisoner, saying his prosecution was conducted “exclusively in connection with the non-violent implementation of his right to free expression of his opinion.”

Shishkin told RFE/RL that he left Russia legally using a domestic identification document known as an internal passport.

Armenia allows Russian citizens to travel to the country with such documents.

"I could not go anywhere besides Armenia, where great events took place a year ago. And I thought that it is a different country here, not the one that used to be before," said Shishkin, referring to a change of government in Armenia following weeks of nonviolent street protests.

Dmitry Prokazov (right) and his wife, Olga, speak to press after a court session in Moscow on August 28.

A Moscow court has refused another prosecutor's request to deprive a couple of their parental rights and take their children from them for bringing them to a protest rally.

The Lefortovo district court denied the district prosecutor's motion late on September 2, rejecting claims that Dmitry Prokazov and his wife, Olga Prokazova, should be denied their parental rights because they put their 20-month-old son in danger and violated their parental duties.

Investigators said that the Prokazovs brought their son to a rally on July 27, where they handed the boy to an activist, Sergei Fomin, so that he could pass through a police cordon with the child in his arms to avoid arrest.

The couple said that Fomin was Prokazova's cousin and their child's godfather, and was helping them to take care of their son during the rally.

Fomin, who was charged with taking part in "mass riots," is currently being held in pretrial detention.

Earlier in the day, another Moscow court in the Nikulinsky district, rejected the district prosecutor's move to deprive another couple, Pyotr and Yelena Khomsky, of their parental rights and ruled that their three daughters must stay with them.

The couple and the three girls -- aged 3 months, 3 years, and 10 years -- were shown on state television channels during the August 3 rally.

Pyotr Khomsky was described as "a professional provocateur" and "a bodyguard of Aleksei Navalny," the Russian opposition politician and vocal Kremlin critic.

The cases against the two couples sparked harsh criticism among ordinary Muscovites and human rights organizations across Russia.

Several sanctioned and unsanctioned rallies have taken place in Moscow in recent weeks in which protesters have demanded that independent and opposition candidates be allowed to run in upcoming municipal elections.

Police detained more than 1,300 people at the July 27 demonstration to demand free municipal polls, and more than 1,000 people were detained during a similar rally in Moscow on August 3.

Dozens of protesters have since been fined or given jail sentences for organizing and participating in the unsanctioned rally.

Several others are facing criminal charges for taking part in "mass unrest" and allegedly assaulting police and are being kept in pretrial detention until at least September 27.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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