July 7, 2020 / 12:30 PM / a month ago

Russia opens criminal case against activist for failing to declare dual nationality

FILE PHOTO: One of four intruders affiliated to anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot, Pyotr Verzilov, who ran onto the pitch during the World Cup final between France and Croatia, gestures during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian investigators on Tuesday opened a criminal case against Pyotr Verzilov, an anti-Kremlin activist and associate of the Pussy Riot punk group, for having allegedly failed to declare his dual Canadian citizenship.

Verzilov, 32, publisher of the private Mediazona news outlet, had just been released following a 15-day stint in jail after he was found guilty of petty hooliganism for swearing in public.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said it had discovered Verzilov held a Canadian passport while it conducted a search linked to his participation in unauthorised protests last year.

The committee said Verzilov had not notified the Russian authorities that he holds dual citizenship, an offence that can lead to a fine or compulsory labour.

Verzilov wrote on Twitter that he was already being questioned by investigators and called the criminal case against him “crazy”.

Global Affairs Canada - the Canadian foreign ministry - told Reuters it was aware of the situation and that consular officials were in contact with the local authorities in Russia.

Russia adopted legislation in 2014 requiring its nationals to declare their dual citizenship or face criminal prosecution. At the time critics said the law would place people with two passports under suspicion and expressed fear that its aim was to whip up nationalist fervour.

Verzilov was one of four Pussy Riot activists who ran onto the pitch wearing police uniforms during the final of the 2018 World Cup at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium, a stunt they said aimed to draw attention to human rights abuses in Russia.

Reporting by Anton Zverev and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Gareth Jones/Mark Heinrich

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