PARIS (AP) – French authorities are investigating death threats against a Russian human rights activist who denounces abuses in Russian prisons and claims he was the target of a possible assassination attempt at his home in France.
Vladimir Osechkin, founder of the prisoners’ rights group Gulagu.net, suspects the Russian security services of having tried to “shut up” him or prevent him from continuing his activism. His recent works have notably had links with the war in Ukraine.
While carrying a plate of spaghetti to his two children in the Atlantic coast town of Biarritz last week, Osechkin said he saw a red dot appear on the wall, tracking his movements. The family dropped to the ground and went to a secure room. He said police and neighbors heard gunshots in the vicinity. No one was hurt.
“My colleagues and I … are considered enemies of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, Putin’s regime,” Osechkin told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “He wants to destroy me.
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The Biarritz region prosecutor’s office issued a statement on Tuesday saying that a preliminary investigation into the death threats against the activist is underway as part of broader measures to ensure Osechkin’s protection.
“At this stage, there is no objective evidence to support the hypothesis of an assassination attempt which could have targeted Vladimir Osechkine last week,” the statement said.
Osechkin has been under French police protection for several months and first reported death threats to police in March. He was warned on September 9 of a possible new threat to his life.
He said the September 12 incident could have been a “psychological attack” to scare him or a failed effort to kill him. He said he hopes further investigation will clarify what happened and who was behind it.
Russian officials have not made public comments about him.
French local and national police and government departments did not comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Osechkin sought political asylum in France after fleeing Russia under pressure from authorities for his prison activism. Osechkin’s group regularly posts videos and accounts of alleged torture and corruption in Russian prisons, and it was among the first to reveal that the Russian military was recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine.
Gulagu.net also helped bring fugitive Russian paratrooper Pavel Filatiev to France last month. Filatiev served in the Ukraine War before he was injured, and later posted online accounts of what he saw, accusing Russian military leaders of betraying their own troops through incompetence and corruption.
While Osechkin described being used to pressure from Russian authorities, he said the September 12 incident made him consider for the first time quitting his job to protect his children. But he said giving up would only give victory to Putin and his allies.
“It’s very difficult for us and for our family, but I think we have no choice. We have to stop Putin and his regime,” he said. “This is not a battle against Putin. It is a battle against totalitarianism. And we have to do something to win, to protect democracy and human rights and the future of the Russian Federation.
Follow AP coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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