Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday defended the jailing of an elderly rights activist over calls to protest, stressing he wants to prevent events like France’s “yellow vest” revolt.
The Russian leader was responding to an appeal to free 77-year-old Sergei Ponomaryov, a prominent rights activist who is serving 16 days in police cells for urging people to take part in an unauthorised rally.
As a result, Ponomaryov was unable to attend the funeral Tuesday of a longtime comrade, veteran rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, while Putin attended the memorial ceremony.
Putin told the presidential rights council, an advisory body, that he would ask Russia’s Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika “to look more carefully” at Ponomaryov’s case but added that it was “very difficult” for him to question the fairness of court decisions.
The president warned that calls to attend unauthorised protests such as those made by Ponomaryov could lead to unrest like that seen in France over the past month.
“We don’t want to have events in our country like in Paris where they are tearing up cobblestones and burning everything in sight,” Putin said.
“The country will then plunge into the conditions of a state of emergency,” he added.
Putin has previously warned against the risk of “colour revolutions” in Russia, referring to the pro-European uprisings in Ukraine and Georgia.
Ponomaryov, head of the For Human Rights movement, was sentenced last week to 25 days behind bars for repeated calls to protest, while a higher court in Moscow reduced his sentence to 16 days on Monday.
He filed a separate request to be allowed out to pay his last respects to Alexeyeva, who died on Saturday aged 91, but was denied permission.
Popular historian Nikolai Svanidze told Putin at the meeting of the rights council that it was “a shame and a disgrace” that Ponomaryov was in jail on the day of Alexeyeva’s funeral, which fell on the 100th anniversary of the birth of dissident writer Alexander Solzhnenitsyn.
In late October, Ponomaryov made a public call for Russians to take part in an unauthorised rally in Moscow to protest a growing crackdown on young people including teenagers suspected of extremism.
Eighteen people were detained for taking part in the rally, held near the building housing the FSB spy agency, successor to the Soviet-era KGB.