In Russia, forgotten plight of jailed grassroots activists

Reutov, Russia, Sept 7 (AFP/APP):When anti-corruption activist Yevgeny Kurakin went to make an official complaint about authorities destroying a park in his sleepy town near Moscow, he was arrested in the prosecutor’s office. Three months later, he is still behind bars.

Kurakin regularly denounces the corruption of officials in Reutov — a city of some 100,000 in the Moscow region where he lives. He had planned to run in Sunday’s local elections.

Russian authorities have cracked down on mass protests calling for the elections to be free and fair, while the arrests of high-profile activists like Alexei Navalny have made international headlines.

But Kurakin has gained little attention, despite languishing in jail on fraud charges his family say are fabricated.

Investigators say the 42-year-old ran an embezzlement scheme in his apartment block through which he stole three million rubles that were supposed to go on building works and communal services.

Kurakin’s neighbours have stood by him, with 132 of them signing a letter saying the accusations are false.

Kurakin has exposed the controversial links between the city’s former mayor Alexander Khodyrev and a local real estate developer, TsentrStroy.

According to him, the alliance turned Khodyrev into a millionaire — allowing him to buy several villas, some exceeding 20 million euros ($20 million).

“He’s a very uncomfortable person for the authorities,” his wife Zhanna Bass told AFP. “He exposes the crimes that they commit.”

Kurakin’s case, lawyers say, is not unique. They say local authorities throughout the Moscow region have used such tactics to silence their critics.

Khodyrev’s personal office refused to comment, saying only that he is now mayor of another town. The current administration of Reutov also declined to comment to AFP.

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