VYDRINO, Russia -- A Yakut shaman who has been walking for months to Moscow "to drive [Russian President Vladimir] Putin out of the Kremlin" has been detained in the Siberian region of Buryatia.
Buryatia's Interior Ministry said on September 19 that Aleksandr Gabyshev was detained overnight at a highway near Lake Baikal.
"Gabyshev is wanted in Yakutia on suspicion of committing a crime," the ministry said without specifying what crime the shaman is suspected of having committed. It added that he will be transferred to his native Yakutia soon.
Gabyshev's supporters told RFE/RL earlier in the day that several vehicles arrived at a camp set up by Gabyshev and his supporters near the town of Vydrino in Buryatia overnight and took away the shaman and his cart.
"The highway was blocked by special service units, they quickly surrounded our camp and directly went to the shaman's tent. There were probably several dozen people," one of the supporters said.
According to the shaman's supporters, it wasn't possible to determine who the men in uniform represented, as they did not identify themselves and gave no explanation for Gabyshev's detainment.
Gabyshev started his walk to Moscow four months ago. He announced that he planned to reach Moscow by foot in two years. He said he considers Putin "a creation of dark forces" and only a shaman can stand against him.
He has covered 2,000 kilometers on foot and during his walk has talked with hundreds of truck drivers and others as he gained notoriety. Videos of the talks have shown up on social media with millions of views.
“The shaman’s actions may be eccentric, but the Russian authorities’ response is grotesque. Are they truly afraid of his magical powers? Aleksandr Gabyshev should be free to express his political views and exercise his religion just like anyone else,” Amnesty International’s Russia Director Natalia Zviagina said.
“What sounds like a tale from Russian folklore has become, in today’s Russia, just another act of brutal suppression of human rights. Since Aleksandr Gabyshev started his epic journey, he has committed no offence and his detention is arbitrary and may amount to an enforced disappearance,” she added in a statement.
Earlier in September, when Gabyshev reached the Siberian region of Buryatia, local shamans from the religious organization Tengeri, tried to stop him, saying that he would not be considered a shaman if he continued to walk to Moscow.
Gabyshev did not enter Buryatia's capital, Ulan-Ude, but continued his walk, even as police detained some of his supporters in the city.
On September 9, three-day rallies started in Ulan-Ude at which protesters demanded the release of Gabyshev's supporters and challenged the results of local elections, complaining that they were rigged.
In July, upon reaching the city of Chita, Gabyshev gathered some 700 people under the slogan "Russia without Putin!" The shaman said that "God told me Putin is not a human, but instead a demon and has ordered me to drive him out."
Gabyshev said that for time being his methods will be peaceful, namely through public rallies, but added that "if that will not help, I am ready to undertake other methods."
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 19 that the Kremlin was not aware of Gabyshev's detainment.
"The Kremlin cannot follow criminal investigations of all citizens of the Russian Federation. It is simply impossible, and it is not the Kremlin's prerogative," Peskov said.
Shamans have served as healers and diviners in Siberia for centuries. During the Soviet age of "science and reason," the mystical figures were harshly repressed. But in isolated regions of Siberia, they are regaining importance.