Russian President Vladimir Putin mockingly suggested on Tuesday that participants in unsanctioned protests were welcome to go to prison and "get shaved". In the latest in a series of interviews with state news agency TASS, Putin said opposition supporters who take part in unapproved rallies should expect to be given jail time.
"If you have not received (permission) and taken to the streets -- you are welcome to get shaved," Putin said, in reference to the practice of prisoners having their heads shaved. "Get some rest. Relax a little bit," Putin said.
"There are certain rules for everybody to adhere to," Putin told Andrei Vandenko, who is doing a series of interviews with Putin to mark 20 years since he first became president. "This is the law. And it must be obeyed. Otherwise, the country's stability will break down. Do we want to see cars torched in our streets?"
Police cracked down last summer on a series of unsanctioned anti-government demonstrations, with hundreds arrested and several protesters sentenced to long jail terms. Russia requires organisers of demonstrations to obtain prior approval from authorities and the opposition complains that permission is often denied without cause. Authorities imposed harsher penalties for organising unsanctioned demonstrations after large-scale protests in 2011-2012 sparked by Putin's return to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.
Single-person pickets are the only form of protest that does not require prior approval from Russian authorities. Putin has not shied away from using colourful or even foul language during his 20 years in power. In 2012 he used slang to refer to two-year jail sentences against three members of feminist punk band Pussy Riot and in 1999 famously vowed to "rub out (terrorists) in the outhouse.
Back in July last year, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was moved from jail to a hospital after his physician raised suspicions of a possible poisoning after he suffered facial swelling and a rash while in custody. In a blog post written in detention, Navalny said he may have been exposed to an unknown chemical agent while in custody. Navalny recalled how his face started to become swollen on Saturday and it worsened the next day: “I got up in the morning, and when my cellmate saw me, he said: ‘You need to see a doctor now.’"
Similar incidents have occurred in the past, wherein critics have been found poisoned or dead, thus raising suspicion among the international community. A pro-democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza was poisoned on two occasions--in 2015 and 2017. Alexander Litvinenko, an agent for the British secret service died in 2006 after allegedly ingesting polonium-201 in a restaurant with an ex-KGB contact. The British government had then stated that he was probably poisoned by the Russian government.
A Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot dead in 2015 near Kremlin, raising suspicion towards the Putin government. Oligarch and former Putin's aide Boris Berezovsky was found hanged outside his London mansion back in 2013. An investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who exposed the atrocities of the Russian government during a war was gunned down in 2006 in her Moscow apartment.
(with AP inputs)