Europe

Russian comedian who joked about President Putin flees country

Comedian Aleksandr Dolgopolov, 25, performing stand-up Image copyright Stand-Up Club #1/YouTube
Image caption Aleksandr Dolgopolov's lawyer confirmed the comedian had left Russia

A Russian comedian who made jokes about President Vladimir Putin and Christianity says he has fled the country over fears for his safety.

Aleksandr Dolgopolov, 25, said he became concerned after learning that police were investigating footage from his stand-up performances.

Authorities said they had received a complaint that Dolgopolov had been "insulting the feelings of believers".

The interior ministry in Moscow confirmed police were investigating.

"Police officers are conducting an audit, the results of which will be decided in accordance with the law," the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Dolgopolov posted a photo on Instagram along with the caption: "We arrived! We are safe, bye. Thanks for the support!"

As part of a stand-up performance at a small bar in St Petersburg last February, Dolgopolov made a joke about Mr Putin and his supporters.

"Our population has split into two camps," he said, adding: "On one hand there are those who support Putin; on the other, there are those who can read, write, and reach logical conclusions."

In footage of that performance, which was uploaded to YouTube, he also joked about Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Under President Putin, Russia has implemented strict anti-blasphemy laws to protect religious beliefs and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Dolgopolov later shared an image on social of what he said was a formal letter sent from Russia's interior ministry to the HopHead bar in St Petersburg, asking event organisers to confirm his February performance.

He told Russian broadcaster Current Time that he was recently forced to cancel a performance in Moscow moments before taking to the stage after learning that someone had entered the venue and was questioning members of staff about him.

"I didn't plan to be persecuted simply for joking," he said.

'I'm just a kid'

Speaking to the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Moscow, Dolgopolov said he feared being jailed over his material.

"I'm just a kid, I tell jokes, read comic books and play video games... how can it be that I'll be in jail!? It's totally insane and I'm scared to death," he said.

"I can't share where I am right now because I'm afraid it can make things worse for me in some way. I will come back only if there will be a guarantee that I won't be imprisoned because of my beliefs.

"I totally didn't see this coming, because it's told by the government that we in Russia have freedom of speech," he added. "I just want to do the only thing I can, and that's to make people laugh."

The comedian's lawyer, Leonid Solovyov, confirmed that his client had left the country, but did not give further details.

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