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Russian Punk Rocker Who Defected To U.S. Cancels Tour In Russia

Fyodor Chistyakov plays at a concert in Kyiv in 2010.
Fyodor Chistyakov plays at a concert in Kyiv in 2010.

A prominent Russian punk rocker who defected to the United States following a recent Russian ban on the Jehovah's Witnesses has canceled plans to tour Russia in November, saying going to his native country would be like entering a burning house.

Fyodor Chistyakov, a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses since the mid-1990s, wrote on his website on August 23 that he could not go to Russia at the moment because he is not sure he would be able to get out again.

He cited the sharply curtailed visa operations at the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia, which the United States says it was forced to put in place following Moscow's demand for deep staff cuts at the missions.

Chistyakov also cited the prosecution of prominent Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov, who was placed under house arrest on August 23 on fraud charges he says are "absurd."

The case against Serebrennikov is "without any doubt a repressive one," wrote Chistyakov, who is known as Dyadya Fyodor (Uncle Fyodor) and has led the groups Nol (Zero) and the Fyodor Chistyakov Band.

He wrote that for him, traveling to Russia is like "a fire in your house when you do not know if you get out alive or not."

"My getting a visa to be able to return to the United States now is under a big question mark," he wrote.

He said the Russian demand for staff cuts at the U.S. missions was "a strike not against the U.S., but a strike against Russians."

After the U.S. Congress passed a bill strengthening sanctions on Russia and making it harder for President Donald Trump to ease or lift the punitive measures, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on July 28 that Washington must reduce its diplomatic staff at the U.S. Embassy and consulates to 455 people by September 1.

President Vladimir Putin later said that meant the United States must cut 755 of the roughly 1,200 staff members at the missions -- many of whom are Russian.

The U.S. sanctions bill, which Trump signed but called "flawed," was a response to Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election, its aggression in Ukraine, and its role in the war in Syria, among other things.

Chistyakov decided in July to stay in the United States, where he was on tour.

He said the reason was the Russian Supreme Court's decision to label the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist organization and ban it.

Freedom of religion is formally guaranteed in Russia but legislation sets out Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country's four traditional religions, and smaller denominations frequently face discrimination.

In recent years, there have been a growing number of reports of worshippers at Jehovah's Witnesses congregations being targeted for harassment.

Nol was popular in the Soviet Union, and then in its former republics, in the late 1980s and the 1990s.

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