Siberian shaman arrested on trek to exorcise Vladimir Putin
Alexander Gabyshev walked 1,700 miles across Russia before being held by police
A wandering shaman on a quest to “drive the evil spirit of [Vladimir] Putin from the Kremlin” has been arrested in Siberia by armed police.
Alexander Gabyshev had walked an estimated 1,700 miles from the remote city of Yakutsk towards Moscow, attracting an eccentric group of acolytes and appearing at rare protests in regional Russian cities, before his arrest on Thursday.
Police in Yakutia confirmed the arrest but did not say why he had been detained. Supporters believed he may face charges for his calls to overthrow the government.
Gabyshev’s march across the country became a viral online curiosity as anger over flawed elections triggered the largest protests in Russia’s capital for years. The arrest of his driver in the city of Ulan-Ude helped spark a demonstration by hundreds of people there, and hundreds more came to hear him speak in the city of Chita.
In his six months on the road, Gabyshev was shadowed by reporters and waylaid by an opposing group of shamans, who demanded he tone down his political messages. Shamans are members of religious and cultural communities, which are widespread in Siberia, who are perceived to have access to other levels of spiritual consciousness.
“God has told me to do this, nature has told me to do this,” Gabyshev said in an early interview, announcing his desire to perform an exorcism on Putin. “After that, Russia will be free.”
A tight-knit group of advisers and protectors formed around Gabyshev during the journey, bolstering speculation that he had created something of a cult. One former supporter in a salacious interview with the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper said some donations had been spent on Gabyshev’s family and “pornographic games”.
Gabyshev’s journey appeared to come to an end on Thursday when law enforcement officers stormed his tent camp on the M-53 highway.
Viktor Yegorov, a supporter of Gabyshev, said several dozen police officers carrying automatic rifles went straight to Gabyshev’s tent and threw him on the ground. “This is how terrorists, criminals and people dangerous to the government are captured,” said Yegorov in a video. “This is how they capture bandits.”
It is not clear what laws the shaman has broken. A terse statement by police from Yakutia said a man fitting Gabyshev’s description had been wanted for “a crime committed on the territory of the Sakha Republic”, the official name for the Yakutia region.
Amnesty International called for Gabyshev’s release and described the arrest as a “brutal suppression of human rights” that violated his right to religious freedom.
“The shaman’s actions may be eccentric, but the Russian authorities’ response is grotesque. Are they truly afraid of his magical powers?” Amnesty International’s Russia director, Natalia Zviagina, said. “Aleksandr Gabyshev should be free to express his political views and exercise his religion just like anyone else.”