Armenia has granted asylum to a Russian anti-government activist who moved to the South Caucasus country in January after serving a four-year prison sentence in Russia, it emerged on Tuesday.
A document released by the Armenian Migration Service says that the activist, Vitaly Shishkin, could be persecuted for his political views if he is forced to return to Russia.
A spokeswoman for the government agency, Nelly Davtian, refused to elaborate on that explanation. She said only that an Armenian law on political asylum has never been invoked before.
“I have received the status of refugee in Armenia on the grounds that I am persecuted in Russia for my political views,” Shishkin told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The 47-year-old claimed that Russian law-enforcement authorities issued an arrest warrant for him after he left Russia in January. A spokeswoman for Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General insisted, however, that it has received no extradition requests from Moscow.
Shishkin was arrested in 2014 after calling for anti-government protests in Moscow. A Russian court subsequently sentenced him to four years in prison on charges of plotting “mass disturbances” and spreading hate speech.
The Russian human rights group Memorial recognized Shishkin as a political prisoner in 2015. It also referred to him as a “representative of the moderate wing of the Russian nationalist movement.”
According to the Interfax news agency, Shishkin headed a regional branch of the Russkiye Ethnic-Political Association. A Moscow court declared the nationalist group “extremist” and banned it in 2015.
Some Armenian anti-government activists and news websites claimed that Shishkin was also involved in anti-Armenian riots in 2013 sparked by a murder committed in the Russian city of Arzamas. Shishkin denied those claims, saying that they are spread by Russia’s FSB security service.
The activist said that last year’s “Velvet Revolution” was one of the reasons why he decided to seek asylum in Armenia.“I know that for Armenia Russia is a very acute issue,” he said. “Something must be done about, a lot must be changed in [Russian-Armenian] relations because Russia is a dictatorial country while Armenia has been building a democratic society for more than a year.”
Yerevan’s decision to grant Shishkin asylum came almost one month after the Russian authorities refused to extradite Mihran Poghosian, a former senior Armenian official facing corruption charges in Armenia.
Poghosian, who was an influential figure in Armenia’s former leadership, was detained in the northern Russian region of Karelia in April on an Armenian arrest warrant. He asked the Russian authorities to grant him asylum, saying that the charges brought against him are politically motivated.