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‘If I disappear, it means they killed me’: Russian activist accused of ‘discrediting’ the military vanishes, friends say

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his address to the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow on Feb. 21, 2022. (ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

On December 10, Russian activist and punk musician Aikhal Ammosov posted an Instagram photo of himself calling for the release of a Yakut shaman being held in a psychiatric clinic after staging high-profile protests against President Vladimir Putin.

Ammosov, whose real name is Igor Ivanov, was set to appear in court in the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk three days later to face charges of “discrediting” Russia’s military — charges that could result in a five-year prison sentence if he is convicted.

But Ammosov, 30, did not make it to court. And his friends and fellow activists say he has disappeared, even though he had been preparing to attend the December 13 hearing.

“Yes, he was going to court,” Ammosov’s fellow activist, Kyundel Ottuyev, told RFE/RL’s Siberia.Realities. “I asked him back in the fall if he wanted to leave the country; he refused. Many advised him to run away; he always refused. He said, ‘I’m not a coward and will go to the end.’ He wrote that he was not afraid of prison.”

Ammosov’s associates say they fear for his safety and that shortly before he went silent a day after his December 10 Instagram post — his final to date — he warned on social media that he might disappear.

“As for the [recent] threats to Aikhal, I don’t know, honestly,” Ottuyev told Siberia.Realities. “I have absolutely no idea where he might be…. Maybe they’ve killed him already or are holding him in a basement and torturing him.”

Hundreds of thousands of Russians are believed to have fled the country since Putin launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February, due both to the increasingly repressive political environment and to avoid conscription.

But Ottuyev said Ammosov was unlikely to have fled the country.

“He himself wrote on social media: ‘If I disappear, it means they killed me,'” Ottuyev said.

RFE/RL was unable to locate this alleged social media post, though another associate contacted by a reporter said they had seen a recent Instagram Stories post by Ammosov indicating that he might disappear. The associate said they forgot to make a screenshot of the post, which is no longer available.

‘Yakutian Punk Against War’

The December 13 court hearing at which Ammosov was set to appear involved the criminal charges following his arrest in August for allegedly attempting to raise a banner in Yakutsk that read: “Yakutian Punk Against War.”

Under a law signed by Putin shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he could face up to three years in prison for “public actions” allegedly “aimed at discrediting” the Russian armed forces.

The leader of a punk group called Crispy Newspaper, Ammosov has twice been previously convicted of “hooliganism” for anti-war graffiti.

In an interview with Siberia.Realities in May, he said that following his detention, he had been held in solitary confinement for five days and threatened with a taser and a gun.

“They tried to break me, mentally,” he said.

Ammosov told Siberia.Realities that he began stealthily carrying out his anti-war protests after Russia launched its invasion on February 24.

“I even quit my job…in order to fight against the war full-time,” he said. “They searched for me for two months, more or less. I was in hiding, staying in different places every night.”

In his guerrilla protests of the war, Ammosov has lit candles at a memorial commemorating Kyiv as a “hero city” in World War II to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine and staged a picket with a sign showing a coffin and a caption reading: “The groom has arrived.”

“The scary thing is that these cases against me are being used to shut up everyone who is for peace,” Ammosov told Siberia.Realities in May. “They catch people like me, and everyone in Yakutsk becomes afraid. We are too far from Moscow and St. Petersburg. There is no protection here…. There are practically no human rights defenders at all.”