Russian opposition figure Yevgeny Roizman The popular former mayor of the Ural city of Yekaterinburg risks jail time for comments on Russia’s campaign in Ukraine – Copyright AFP/File Yuichi YAMAZAKI
Opposition politician Yevgeny Roizman, who went on trial on Wednesday, has been one of the latest vocal critics of the Kremlin and its push in Ukraine to stay in Russia and not behind bars.
But it seems that not for long.
The popular former mayor of the Ural city of Yekaterinburg risks up to five years in jail for his comments about Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Since President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine last year, Russia has stepped up its crackdown on opposition voices.
Most of the prominent critics are in jail or have fled the country.
Roizman, a tall and sporty 60-year-old, is a charismatic and sometimes controversial member of the opposition, known for his hard-hitting tweets.
He did not hold back when he spoke out against Russia’s campaign in Ukraine as soon as it was launched over a year ago.
“Something horrible is happening, evil is taking over. Suddenly, absolutely vile evil is prevailing before our very eyes,” she said in an interview with AFP last July.
Roizman’s weapon of choice was his Twitter account, where he posted hundreds of short satirical messages peppered with Russian swear words, while denouncing the actions of the Kremlin and state media.
“It’s short, brutal anti-propaganda,” he told AFP, saying he was inspired by the works of French Renaissance writer Francois Rabelais, known for his black humor.
Although he was not in police custody prior to the trial, Roizman was banned from using the internet and from giving interviews, effectively ending his Twitter campaign.
The charge against him is for “discrediting” the Russian military under legislation that criminalizes criticism of Ukraine’s offensive.
– ‘Without fear’ –
Born to a Jewish engineer father and a Russian mother who works in child care, he served a prison sentence in his youth for theft.
In the 1990s, he became a businessman when Yekaterinburg was the epicenter of gang warfare.
In 1999, he launched a campaign to fight against drug use. The group was accused of stigmatizing drug addicts and forcibly forcing them to withdraw.
Rights activists have questioned the center’s methods, which included handcuffing addicts to their beds and forcing heroin users to quit smoking cold turkey.
However, its supporters have reported a drop in drug-related deaths since the foundation was created.
Roizman was a lawmaker from 2003 to 2007. In 2013, he snatched the mayoral job from under the nose of the Kremlin, becoming Russia’s highest-profile opposition mayor.
In 2018, Russia abolished direct mayoral elections and Roizman resigned.
Determined to remain independent, Roizman did not officially join opposition parties or movements.
But he actively supported Alexei Navalny, who narrowly survived a poisoning attack in 2021 and was later jailed.
Roizman remained popular in his native Yekaterinburg, which observers say has shielded him from prosecution.
As many opposition figures and activists have fled or been forced into exile, Roizman said he would never leave the country where he was born.
Opposition politician Ilya Yashin was recently sentenced to eight and a half years for discrediting the army and Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza was jailed for 25 years on charges including treason.
But Roizman has told AFP that he knew he could be arrested at any time.
“I have no illusions. But I’m not afraid either.”