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Three Russian Gamers Arrested On Terrorism Charges That Relatives Reject

Relatives say the suspects play airsoft, a team sport where participants engage in simulated combat similar to paintball, with high-powered air weapons that shoot plastic projectiles. (illustrative photo)

Three residents of Russia's Far Eastern island of Sakhalin, an oil and gas hub, have been arrested on terrorism charges that their relatives say are a case of a misunderstanding.

Yevgeny Balabas, the lawyer for the three men, told the Information Agency on April 6, that the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk city court approved the arrest of the three men on charges of the organization of a terrorist group and being members of such a group.

Balabas did not give more details of the case, but relatives of one of the three suspects told the agency that the men were detained on April 4 after their homes were searched by officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and an item that looked like an explosive device was found inside the home of one of them.

They added, however, that the device could attributed to the fact that the three men are airsoft players, a team sport where participants engage in simulated combat similar to paintball, with high-powered air weapons that shoot plastic projectiles.

The men also take part in locating missing people on the peninsula and were not involved in the planning of any type of terrorist act, they added.

According to the relatives, the charges may stem from chats on social networks about their activities in a case that has similarities to other recent high-profile cases against two youth groups known as Set (Network) and New Greatness.

Those cases have been challenged by rights defenders as trumped-up by the FSB to prevent potential protests against the government across the country.

In February, a court in the Penza region handed terms of between six and 18 years to seven young men who were accused of creating a terrorist organization known as Set (Network).

Investigators said the group planned to organize a series of explosions in Russia during the presidential election and the World Cup soccer tournament in 2018 "to destabilize the situation" in the country and to organize an armed mutiny.

They have all denied the charges in court, and most said they had been tortured while in custody with electrodes and beatings to extract confessions.

Members of the New Greatness Moscow youth activist group are on trial on charge of creating an extremist organization that planned to overthrow the government.

The group's members say they had turned their online chat criticizing the government into a political movement after the move was proposed by one of their members.

Later, it was revealed that the man who proposed the idea, wrote the movement's charter, and rented premises for the movement's gatherings was a special agent of the FSB.

Several rallies have been held in Moscow and other Russian towns and cities in recent months protesting the Set and New Greatness cases.

Sakhalin Island is in the Pacific Ocean north of Japan. Its oil and gas fields have attracted billions of dollars of investment from Russian gas giant Gazprom, Shell, and others.

With reporting by