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The boy's father said his son has a speech defect and that his therapist advised him to recite literature in public, which is why he was reading Shakespeare on the street.

The heavy-handed treatment of a poetry-reciting boy in Moscow has become a lightning rod issue in Russia, where some are questioning his detention by police, and others are asking why the boy's parents were allowing him to perform on the street.

MOSCOW -- It's the latest viral sensation sweeping the Russian web: a video of police dragging a Shakespeare-admiring boy away screaming after reciting poetry in public.

The video, which follows police as they forcibly remove the boy from one of Moscow's most popular tourist areas to a waiting squad car, was posted on May 27 on Facebook and within days had been watched over 2.6 million times.

The chattering classes expressed shock over the police’s rough handling of the child, who had been publicly reading lines from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But others called into question whether his parents should have allowed him to perform publicly in the first place. And some, including a top United Russia lawmaker, even suggested the incident was an elaborate setup to tar the reputation of the police.

The boy, who RFE/RL is not identifying by name because he is a minor, can be heard loudly protesting his detention, shrilly screaming "Help!" as three police officers lead him away as the boy's stepmother shouts agitatedly at the police.

The police claimed they detained the boy because he was not accompanied by his parents and was begging. The video shows the boy’s stepmother -- who only identifies herself to police as his "acquaintance" -- filming the May 26 incident and calling on police to free the boy.

Ilya Skavronski, the boy's father, said his wife had her clothes ripped and her tablet broken while struggling with the police. She could face 15 days on misdemeanor charges for resisting the police.

The boy, who was taken to a police station, was eventually handed over to his father and released.

Skavronski told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that his son has a speech defect and that "his therapist advised him to recite poetry publicly" as part of his treatment.

On May 28, several activists filmed by the Meduza news site protested the boy's treatment by standing outside the local police station in Moscow's central Arbat district and reading lines from Hamlet and holding a sign saying: "I’m reading Shakespeare for free for Arbat’s police officers."



An online petition -- which has no political weight and is little more than symbolic -- is calling for the dismissal of the police officers responsible for the arrest and had garnered almost 22,000 signatures by the evening of May 29.

The Investigative Committee said on May 27 they would probe the incident, while Tatyana Solomina, a lawyer for the family, said the deputy head of the regional police had apologized to the father. Russian media reported on May 29 that there had been no apology.

Over the weekend, discussion raged online.

"The country has been horrified and, it seems, has started to think. The consequences of this two-minute clip are entirely unpredictable for the regime. Or rather, they are entirely predictable. Not now, but tomorrow," wrote Andrei Chernov, a poet, on Facebook.

Leonid Gozman, an opposition-minded politician, wrote on Facebook that he sees some good consequences of the episode: "The boy and the many others who hadn't yet realized will now better understand the country they inhabit. ... The cops obviously will be punished -- this was too big a scandal -- and others will be more careful."

A combo photo of Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov (left) and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny

Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov has fired a new salvo in a high-profile dispute with opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, announcing an online competition for "the best stickers, caricatures, parodies, videos, and memes" about the standoff.

Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov has fired a new salvo in a high-profile dispute with opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, announcing an online competition for "the best stickers, caricatures, parodies, videos, and memes" about the standoff.

Usmanov wrote on the social network VKontakte on May 29 that he will pick a winner each week and award that person an iPhone 7+ and a T-shirt with the winning meme and the tycoon's autograph.

Usmanov and Navalny have been sparring online since May 17, exchanging criticism linked to a defamation suit that the tycoon filed against the Kremlin foe and his Anticorrupotion Foundation in April.

A court hearing is scheduled for May 30.

The defamation claim stems from a March 2 report by Navalny's foundation that focused on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and included allegations that Usmanov gave expensive property to a foundation linked to Medvedev at no cost.

Usmanov is one of Russia's richest men and has warm ties with the Kremlin.

Navalny, a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, is trying to get on the ballot in a March 2018 election in which Putin is widely expected to seek and win a new six-year term.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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