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Germany

A Russian Refugee's Summer of Freedom

Earlier this month, German authorities granted political asylum to a Russian national for the first time despite Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's public praise for Russian democracy. DW spoke with the man.

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Oleg Liskin says he was in the wrong place at the wrong time

Oleg Liskin hasn't experienced a summer of freedom in four years -- he'd spent them all behind bars, first in Russia, then in Germany.

When Liskin and his attorney, Peter Strathmeier, visited Deutsche Welle in Berlin last week, Liskin played a video of a report on Russian regional television station purporting to show how he resorted to violence in support of a politician from the Russian opposition party Yabloko. Liskin's version of the incident is very different.

"I was just holding the camera and then they beat me," he said. "Every time the camera jerks, I've been hit. Just when I thought they were going to leave me alone, a member of the militia showed his ID and ordered my arrest.

"Members of a special forces unit arrived immediately, attacked me with batons and sprayed gas, and then handcuffed me and took me to the police station."

That was in 2001. Liskin said he was physically assaulted while in the Russian prison. In 2002, he was able to flee to Germany. Earlier this month, German authorities informed him that he had been granted political refugee status and could remain in the country.

The decision to grant Liskin political asylum offered grist for the mill of German opposition politicians, who said it revealed a glaring lack of credibility on the part of Gerhard Schröder's government coalition of Social Democrats and Greens.

"The Federal Office for Migration giving Russians asylum in Germany hardly fits with the chancellor's statement that (Vladimir) Putin is a 100-percent democrat," said Friedbert Pflüger, foreign policy spokesman for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Putin the democrat?

Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder, rechts, empfaengt den russischen Praesidenten Wladimir Putin, links, nach dessen Ankunft auf dem Flughafen Fuhlsbüttel in Hamburg am Montag, 20. Dezember 2004

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, right, welcoming Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, in Hamburg

Eager to maintain friendly ties between Germany and Russia, Schröder is known for being muted in any criticism of human rights abuses under Putin's rule. German Interior Minister Otto Schily defended his ministry's decision.

"This does not contradict statements that the Russian president is striving to achieve a democratic structure in his vast state," Schily said. "Everyone should consider that, in a transitional situation, it takes some time to convert from a totalitarian, communist structure."

Liskin has meanwhile become friends with his attorney, who sees a number of parallels with the case of Mikhail Khordokovsky, the Russian oil magnate who also supported the Yabloko party until he was arrested and jailed on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Critics say the case against him was politically motivated punishment from the Kremlin.

The Russian embassy in Germany regards Liskin as a criminal -- not a political refugee. Liskin said he is neither a political activist nor a criminal, but rather had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The human rights organization Amnesty International welcomed the government's decision, stressing the fact that it's the first time a Russian citizen has been granted political asylum in Germany.

"That's a sign," said Amnesty's Russia expert, Peter Franck.

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