MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Siberian shaman detained by police while trekking to Moscow on what he said was a mission to drive President Vladimir Putin out of the Kremlin has been accused of extremism, an offence punishable by time in prison, a rights group said on Friday.
Alexander Gabyshev became a media curiosity when he set off in March on a more than 8,000-km (4,970-mile) walk to Moscow, a journey he said would culminate with him banishing Russia’s leader whom he described as a demon.
But his odyssey was abruptly cut short on Thursday after nearly 3,000 km when police in Buryatia detained him on a highway in Siberia over an unspecified crime in his native region of Yakutia.
Yakutia’s health ministry said in a statement on Friday that Gabyshev was taken to a psychiatric hospital where medical specialists planned to evaluate his mental health.
A video interview later surfaced online which appeared to show Gabyshev answering a series of questions from unidentified officials. In it he was encouraged to say he was okay and to tell his followers to calm down, which he did.
He said he had undergone medical tests and had been questioned and would soon go home while an investigation continued. “Everything has been done in the framework of the law,” he said repeatedly.
A local rights group posted on its Twitter page what it said was a legal order barring Gabyshev from leaving Russia because he called for people to engage in extremist acts.
Under Russian law, people found guilty of publicly calling for extremism can face up to four years in prison.
Amnesty International has condemned Gabyshev’s detention, saying that “the shaman’s actions may be eccentric, but the Russian authorities’ response is grotesque.”
Shamanism, a belief that it is possible to communicate with and harness the energy of what practitioners perceive to be the spirit world, is practiced in various parts of Russia.
Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Sonya Hepinstall