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“I was wrong to think that the international protection law works in all EU countries”: Croatia deports Russian activist Ruslan Abasov

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Croatian authorities have denied political asylum to Russian anti-war activist Ruslan Abasov and deported him to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Croatia also imposed a five-year ban on his entry to the European Union, citing his adherence to a “radical ideology,” as per Abasov's statement to The Insider. A copy of a document confirming the expulsion decision was made available to The Insider’s editorial board.

Motivating the refusal, the Croatian security services accused the activist of advocating the military invasion of Ukraine, possession of cold weapons, child pornography, participation in an extremist community and radical Islamism. Abasov was deemed a threat to the country's national security. “You are a violent and deviant person, prone to committing crimes against life and health, against public order and peace,” reads the interrogation file carried out by the country’s intelligence services on May 11 (copies of the documents were made available to The Insider).

At the same time, Abasov himself says he has no idea where these accusations came from, no evidence was presented to him:

“I asked them: ‘On what basis are you making these accusations? Do you have any evidence?’ To which they replied, ‘There is, but it’s classified.’ I told them, ‘You have to provide photographs, audio recordings, video recordings and correspondence or any other physical evidence.’ However, they did not provide the documents to us — neither I nor my lawyer can review them.
I told them that I have no knowledge of the origin of these bold and unfounded accusations. I cannot respond to them because I don't know what they’re talking about.
Upon further reflection, I suspect that the allegations of promoting the Russian invasion might be related to a photo I took in Belgrade, Serbia. In the picture, taken for my VK page, I posed against a wall with graffiti depicting the Russian flag and the words «Glory to Russia!» [Slava Rossii]. It’s more or less clear that this is a sarcastic photo to ridicule people who approve of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. There’s an explanatory comment to that post — as well as dozens of posts before it — all of which express my support for Ukraine and condemn the war. It’s evident that the photo was taken out of context deliberately, and they used it as the basis for false accusations of me spreading propaganda about the Russian invasion. Where they got the weapons, child exploitation and other accusations — I have no idea.
I do not possess any pictures of guns, children, or child pornography. The only related content that has anything to do with that are screenshots of weapon skins from [the online shooter game] Counter-Strike on Steam.”

In the comments to this post, Ruslan does clarify that he “was making fun of the Rashists.”

In December 2021, Abasov and activist Lev Skoryakin were detained in Moscow after a action by the group Left Bloc, during which its participants unfurled a banner reading “Happy Chekist Day” [Chekist narrowly means an agent of the Cheka secret police (ChK), the first Soviet secret police organization — The Insider] and lit torches in front of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) office in the city’s Southwest District. After the protest action, the pair was accused of “hooliganism on political grounds.” Skoryakin and Abasov were then sent to a pre-trial detention center, where they spent more than seven months, and then released after signing a pledge not to leave Russia. They were later placed on a wanted list.

In November 2022, Abasov fled Russia for Montenegro and later in February, he entered Croatia without a visa, seeking asylum. He was detained and spent three months in a deportation prison, where he awaited the results of a background check. During his time there, he encountered numerous foreigners, including illegal immigrants, from countries such as Russia, Pakistan, India, North Africa, and the Middle East.

“During those three months I spent there, I was interviewed as part of the procedure to get international protection. There was also an appeal, which I lost, but then after three months I was released by court order and I went to a camp for petitioners in the city of Zagreb,” the activist said.

According to Abasov, when he came out of the deportation prison, he was not given any papers: “They just opened the door, gave me all my things and said, 'Go wherever you want.'”

“I traveled alone, taking a bus to Zagreb and then a cab to the camp, where I arrived in the evening. They asked me, ‘Who are you?’ I showed them my papers and said that I was an asylum seeker. I was accommodated there, I had dinner, slept and in the morning the police came to our room, asked for Ruslan Abasov, told me to take my documents and passports and go downstairs with them. We went downstairs, waited for about an hour and were called to the office. Some people from the police came and told me that I was being placed back in the deportation prison. When I asked about the reasons, they informed me that they didn't have any specific information and were simply following the decision they received. Less than 24 hours after my release, I was taken back to the deportation prison on May 9th. I spent two more days there, and police inspectors accompanied by SOA officers — the Croatian National Security Agency — came to interrogate me. They interrogated me there and made these delusional accusations about weapons,” Abasov said.

Abasov spent May 9 to July 18 in deportation prison, and on July 19, he was deported from Croatia. According to Abasov, he was initially going to be deported to Kazakhstan, but “through much bickering and arguing, we managed to agree on Bosnia.”

The activist acknowledges that his decision to flee through Croatia and seek asylum there was a mistake, and he advises others not to take the same path.

“I made a mistake, because I thought that the law on international protection works in all countries in Europe, regardless of where I would seek protection. I am not the first, not the second year in politics, and I have not been involved in any schemes, neither in corruption nor in cooperation with the authorities,” he says. “I should have gone further [to other countries in Europe], but I don't have that right, because I requested asylum in Croatia. I understood that they could not legally give me a negative decision on protection, because I had every reason to get it, so they had to accuse me of this nonsense to recognize me as a national threat to their security.”

Abasov plans to take legal action against the Croatian authorities and contest their decision to impose a five-year ban on his entry into the EU:

“A five-year ban on [entering] the European Union is an inadequate measure for nothing at all. During the six months I was in deportation prison, nobody got a five-year ban, not even people who committed criminal offenses. Three years was the longest term.”

In early June, Russian nationals Lev Skoryakin and Alena Krylova were both detained in Kyrgyzstan and are currently awaiting decisions on their defense petitions in the pre-trial detention center of the State Committee for National Security in Bishkek.

Additionally, Alexei Rozhkov, a Russian anti-war activist accused of arson, was taken from Kyrgyzstan to Russia with the involvement of Kyrgyzstan’s special services. Upon arrival in Russia, he faced mistreatment by FSB officers.

In a recent conversation with The Insider, political analysts and human rights activists in Kyrgyzstan shed light on the reasons behind the local authorities' involvement in Russia's repressions.

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