Bashkir ethnic activist Ruslan Gabbasov has left Russia for Lithuania, where he has asked for asylum, Gabbasov told RFE/RL's Idel.Realities on December 6.
Gabbasov said his decision was influenced by pressure from Russian authorities, who tried to connect him with criminal cases in Russia's Bashkortostan region.
According to Gabbasov, the authorities have been trying to incriminate him for his participation in the activities of the banned organization Bashkort. Before the organization was declared extremist and banned, Gabbasov was in the group's leadership.
The civil activist, who is a witness in one of the criminal cases, said more than 50 percent of the questions during interrogations concerned the Bashkort organization, and his name also appeared during the questioning within a Karmaskala case.
The authorities say there was an ethnic conflict between Bashkirs and Armenians, and Bashkort activists were allegedly instigators of the conflict.
Gabbasov, who is well-known in Bashkortostan, said he was summoned in September to the Center for Combating Extremism for interrogation as a witness in the criminal case, which he said he has nothing to do with.
"The investigator's questions mainly concerned the Bashkort organization: when it was established, what status I had there, the goals and objectives of the organization," Gabbasov told Idel.Realities.
He said he answered some questions but refused to answer others based on Article 51 of the Russian Constitution that says no one is obliged to testify against himself.
Gabbasov said he concluded from the questioning that the authorities' interest in Bashkort was an indication that he could be arrested.
“It is clear that these questions are not just being asked,” he said, adding that the situation in Bashkortostan remains unstable.
He noted that in November the former leader of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's headquarters in Bashkortostan, Lilia Chanysheva, was transferred to a detention center in the Moscow region, and activist Ramila Saitova in November was sentenced to three years in a colony settlement after a court in Bashkortostan found her guilty of calling for extremist activities.
Gabbasov participated in the Forum of Free Russia, which took place in Lithuania on December 2-3. He was a speaker of a panel that discussed federalism in Russia.