Jailed Former Chief Of Navalny’s Team In Ufa Says Fleeing Russia Would Have Been Worse Than Arrest

"I have always said, 'Do what you must do, no matter what,'" Lilia Chanysheva said.  

Lilia Chanysheva, the former leader of a regional organization for jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, says she is preparing for the worst in her trial on extremism charges, but believes it would have been “a bigger tragedy” had she opted to flee the country before her arrest last month.

"I have always said, ‘Do what you must do, no matter what,’" Chanysheva said in written answers to questions from RFE/RL on December 14. "Taking into consideration that I do not know even a single acquittal in politically motivated cases, I am preparing myself for the worst, but hope for the best."

Chanysheva was arrested in November in Bashkortostan’s capital, Ufa, on extremism charges in what legal experts have called an unusual prosecution that appears to target her retroactively for alleged crimes.

She was later transferred to a detention center in Moscow, where she is expected to remain in pretrial detention until at least January 9. In recent months, many associates of Navalny fled the country before they could be arrested. Navalny has been in prison since February.

Chanysheva and her husband, Almaz Gatin Chanysheva and her husband, Almaz Gatin

"First days after the detainment I felt some calmness, a sort of a feeling that something that was supposed to happen happened,” Chanysheva said. “But now it is hard to stand separation from my husband. I am concerned about my parents. I miss my younger brother and his family.”

The 39-yer-old also worries that if she receives a lengthy prison term it will deprive her of being able to have children. She and her husband had been hoping for a pregnancy for six months prior to her detention, she said.

Chanysheva headed the local unit of Navalny’s network of regional campaign groups until Navalny’s team disbanded them after a Moscow prosecutor went to court to have them branded extremist. A court later accepted the prosecutor’s appeal and labeled the national network extremist, effectively outlawing them.

Defense lawyer Vladimir Voronin said earlier that Chanysheva’s arrest was the first of its kind since the movement was banned. The charges appear to be retroactive since the organization she worked for disbanded before it had been legally classified as extremist, he said.

Chanysheva, who has maintained her innocence from the first day of her arrest, does not know why she was the first among former associates of Navalny to be arrested after Navalny’s networks were outlawed.

The case against her on a charge of "creation and leading an extremist group" is being investigated by the Investigative Committee’s Main Directorate.

Navalny and associates Leonid Volkov, Ivan Zhdanov, Lyubov Sobol, and many others are also suspects in the case. Volkov, Zhdanov, and Sobol have fled Russia.

Chanysheva added that she regularly receives letters from relatives, other Russian citizens, and people in Europe and the United States.

The letters come from students, teachers, pensioners, retired police officers, and journalists, she said, adding that it’s important to her that there are so many letters.

“Those are real people who express concerns about me and support me, help me feel that I am not alone and everything I did was right," Chanysheva said.

Chanysheva reiterated that she considers herself "a happy person" because she lives "in accord with myself" and she hopes free people “appreciate each moment of their lives and live in accord with themselves, too.”

She also expressed her thanks to everyone “for the support and for everything you do to free me.”

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