Russian Activists Warn Putin Will Use Terrorist Attack to Tighten His Grip on Power

Geneva — Russian activists are warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the deadly terrorist attack on a concert hall outside Moscow to tighten his grip on power and further repress society.

“It truly scares me how this regime uses terrorism,” said Evgenia Kara-Murza, a human rights activist and wife of political prisoner Vladimir Kara-Murza.

Addressing reporters a press conference in Geneva, she warned that Putin would likely use Friday’s horrific event “to start new aggressions against our neighbors.”

“And, of course, the fact that the terrorists were caught near the Ukrainian border raises many questions as to whether it is a provocation or whether the terrorist attack is being used as such,” she said.

Though the militant Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 137 people and injured some 182 others, the Kremlin has been trying, without any evidence, to link the attack to Ukraine.

Kara-Murza said she doubts that Putin will even investigate the attack, noting that there were no investigations into previous attacks that occurred after the Chechen war in 1999 and the Beslan school massacre in 2004.

In a report on the Beslan attack for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Leonid Velekhov, a former aide to Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, reported that the official investigation “ignored any question of responsibility on the part of federal authorities or the local command center for the high price paid for the liberation of Beslan’s surviving hostages.”

Kara-Murza also said she was scared by calls by members of Putin’s regime to bring back the death penalty following Friday’s attack on the concert hall.

“If the death penalty were reinstated, it would first be used against those people who were being accused of terrorism.

“People accused of terrorism in today’s Russia include activists or just regular citizens who were trying to set conscription centers on fire,” she said, referring to 28 arson attempts on Russian military enlistment offices in Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea between July 29 and August 2.

Kara-Murza said the lives of political prisoners are at risk, and that she fears for her husband, who is serving a 25-year sentence for treason, charges he denies.

Sergei Davidis, head of the political prisoners support program at the Memorial human rights center, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022, said that pictures of the four men accused of the concert hall terror attack showed signs of severe beating, indicating that they had been tortured.

He observed that mass torture of those charged with terrorism and other crimes has been a common occurrence in Russia. However, what is different this time is that for the first time, this practice of torture “was made public,” he said.

“They think, I am sure, that they will be supported by the people. … They decided now that there is no reason to conceal their methods. They are not limited by the European Court of Human Rights now. They just were honest this time because they decided it was possible,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is rather a bad sign.”

Davidis expressed concern that a more emboldened Russia would likely increase the hardships and levels of cruelty and brutality to which political prisoners are exposed daily.

According to Memorial, around 700 people are imprisoned in Russia for exercising their human rights and freedoms; among them are at least 250 people imprisoned because of their anti-war stance.

“Those people who support Ukraine are actively aggressed” by the authorities, he said. “Any expression of opposition, any statement that contradicts official propaganda narratives, are ground for the deprivation of liberty.”

OVD-Info, another human rights project, provides data on 3,679 people subjected to politically motivated criminal prosecution in Russia.

Violetta Fitsner, a lawyer with OVD-Info, said, “All these people are in danger, especially those who have poor health and are punished for their activities.”

Citing Navalny, who died in prison February 16, Fitsner said, “About 70% of prisoners deprived of liberty on political grounds, who have poor health, are denied medical care,” adding that many have serious physical and mental issues.

“We demand the immediate release of political prisoners whose health and lives are in danger,” she said.

Davidis said Russian prisons are teeming with prisoners of conscience, including people trying to evade conscription into the army and thousands of religious minorities who are deprived of their liberty for practicing their faith.

“The prosecution and deprivation of liberty is the foundation of Putin’s regime,” he said. “The release of Russian political prisoners must become a condition of any easing of sanctions against Russia, and of any peace settlement for Ukraine.”

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