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.