A Russian court orders the arrest of a bestselling writer over his support for Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow court ordered the arrest Tuesday of a bestselling detective novelist and dissident on charges of “justifying terrorism,” two months after he was pranked by two pro-Kremlin activists into expressing support for Ukraine on a phone call.

Moscow's Basmanny District Court ordered Grigory Chkhartishvili, who is known under the pen name Boris Akunin and lives abroad, to be taken into custody once he's detained.

In December, Russian authorities added the Russian-Georgian writer to Russia’s register of “extremists and terrorists” over the call, in which two pranksters known as Vovan and Lexus posed as Ukrainian officials. A criminal case was opened against Akunin for “discrediting the army” — specifically for “justifying terrorism” and spreading “fake news” about the Russian military.

Discrediting the Russian military is a criminal offense under a law adopted after Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022. The law is regularly used against Kremlin critics — although it is unlikely that Akunin, who lives in London, will face detention.

After the authorities branded Akunin an extremist, one of Russia’s leading publishers, AST, announced it was suspending the printing and sale of his books. In an online statement, Akunin described his publisher’s move as “an important milestone,” saying that Russian writers had not been accused of terrorism since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's purges.

Also on Tuesday, the allies of top Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny reported that the politician and anti-corruption campaigner had been placed in a one-man punishment cell in the remote Arctic penal colony where he is serving out a 19-year sentence.

Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh did not specify the reason, but said that Navalny had already spent months in solitary confinement since he was jailed in 2021, facing the punishment over two dozen times over minor infractions such as failing to properly button his prison uniform.

Navalny, 47, has been behind bars since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. He has since received three prison terms, including on charges of extremism, fraud and contempt of court.

Navalny and his allies have rejected all charges against him as politically motivated, and accused the Kremlin of seeking to keep him in jail for life.