MYTISHCHI (AFP): It took about a year for authorities to close in on 51-year-old musician and environmental activist Alexander Bakhtin, one of the thousands of Russians arrested for criticizing the Ukraine offensive.
Unlike the audiences of high-profile critics, the trials of ordinary Russians usually take place away from public attention.
Bakhtin’s audience was attended by one friend and by his mother. She was summoned to court as a witness in the prosecution against her own son.
“(Alexander) wouldn’t hurt a fly. He protects animals, he’s an environmentalist,” Lyudmyla Bakhtina told AFP with tears in her eyes.
The 79-year-old barely got to brush the arm of her son as he was led, handcuffed, into the courtroom.
She had seen him twice since his detention for spreading “fake information” about the Russian army — for which he now faces up to 10 years in prison.
The accusation is based on three social media posts from March-April 2022 in which Bakhtin talked about civilian deaths and blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the conflict.
A year later, he was suddenly arrested in his hometown of Mytishchi, in Moscow’s suburbs.
“Everyone in our neighborhood was shocked,” Bakhtina said.
At the stand, the elderly woman wearing a purple dress and cardigan told the court: “I signed my testimony without reading it.”
Bakhtina noted that the written statement seemed long compared to the interview she had with the investigator.
“Do you think that the Russian army is carrying out a genocide of the Ukrainian population?” the prosecutor asked her.
“I don’t!” she answered.
“What about your son?… And what’s his opinion on the president?“
“My son is a pacifist, he is against the war. So am I. You can arrest me too!“
The judge then invited Bakhtin to question his mother.
“When they interrogated you on March 6, did they tell you that you had the right to refuse to testify against me?” Bakhtin asked in a hoarse voice.
“No!” she cried out.
The audience was postponed until June 20, a standard procedure.
Bakhtin, who suffers from bronchitis and heart issues according to his mother, will remain in custody.
More than 20,000 people have been detained in Russia for protesting the conflict in Ukraine, according to a tally by independent rights group OVD-Info.
Thousands of people have been charged with publishing “fake information” on the offensive, others accused of army “discredit.
A few hours before Bakhtin’s audience, in another suburb of Moscow, 75-year-old Anatoly Roshchin also faced trial.
Lobnya City Court charged the retired aeronautical engineer with discrediting the army over some online publications.
He could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
“Such cases are becoming more and more common,” his lawyer Evgenia Grigorieva told AFP.
At the beginning of the conflict, Roshchin held a lone picket protest in front of the Lobnya city hall.
“My country, you have gone insane,” his sign read.
Most passers-by pretended not to see him.
“They were afraid,” he explained to AFP.
“If Russians weren’t afraid of going to the streets, there wouldn’t be a war. We are responsible for it,” he said.
Feeling “guilty” about Ukraine, Roshchin decided to keep posting on social media despite the ongoing trial.
“An opponent who whispers ‘Glory to Ukraine’ in his wife’s ear is not really an opponent,” he told AFP.
“I want Ukrainians to know that not all Russians are cowards.”