Russia: Detained Opposition Mayor Pleads Innocence

Yevgeny Urlashov file photo

(RIA Novosti – July 4, 2013) Yaroslavl mayor Yevgeniy Urlashov has pleaded not guilty to charges of extorting a bribe, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported on 4 July. He made the statement at a court session that had been convened to decide whether to keep him in custody.

Urlashov, who belongs to Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civil Platform opposition party, and three of his subordinates were detained in the early hours of 3 July and officially charged on the following day.

His arrest was interpreted by many Russian observers and opposition figures as politically motivated since Urlashov had openly criticized and campaigned against the ruling United Russia party. Prominent opposition blogger Aleksey Navalnyy called on Yaroslavl residents to stage a rally in the center of the city on 3 July in Urlashov’s support.

Some 200 local residents did gather for an unauthorized rally not far from the mayor’s office later on the same day, privately-owned Interfax news agency reported on 3 July, quoting deputy head of the press service of the Russian Interior Ministry’s directorate for Yaroslavl Region Marina Kokuyeva. She told the news agency: “If there are no violations of the law, the police will not disperse the people.” For its part, state-owned RIA Novosti news agency, also quoting local police, put the turnout at the rally at about 100 people, saying that that the gathering had brought together a diverse crowd of people, “from students to pensioners”.

In the meantime, state-controlled Channel One TV in its report on the latest developments in the Urlashov case on 4 July, chose to focus on complaints about the quality of the mayor’s work voiced by some local residents. It showed an event organized by local motorists where they adopted an appeal to the prosecutor’s office to look into Urlashov’s work on road repairs. Coordinator of the United Russia-sponsored Road76 project Mikhail Natarov was shown saying: “We all see the state the roads are in. They are full of holes, potholes, they are falling into pieces. There are bits of roads that fell apart after just one winter.”

Over video of a road full of potholes, presenter concluded his report by saying: “Chekhov street was repaired less than a year ago, however hardly anything remains of the new asphalt. At the same time the city administration has spent several dozen million rubles on road repairs. Motorists demand an inquiry into why officials from the city administration accepted into service roads after this kind of repairs.”