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A Russian doctor who has criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government for the way it has handled the coronavirus outbreak has been detained after trying to deliver protective supplies to a hospital in need.
Anastasia Vasilyeva of the Alliance of Doctors union was arrested in the Novgorod region outside of Moscow on Thursday after she and her colleagues attempted to bring more than 500 masks, sanitizers, hazmat suits, gloves and protective glasses to a facility in the area.
“By keeping her behind bars, they expose their true motive — they are willing to punish health professionals who dare contradict the official Russian narrative and expose flaws in the public health system,” Natalia Zviagina, Russia director of Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Vasilyeva’s group was accused by police of violating self-isolation regulations, currently in place in many regions, including Moscow and Novgorod. They were taken to a police station and held for hours, and the activists had to ask hospital workers to come to the station to pick up the gear instead, according to The Associated Press.
After a night in custody, Vasilyeva appeared in court Friday on charges of defying police orders. Two long court hearings later, she was ordered to pay fines totaling the equivalent of $20.
“It was not about the money for them, it was about breaking me," Vasilyeva said afterward. “But I'm even more convinced that we're doing the right thing, and we will definitely keep on doing it.”
Just two weeks ago, Russia reported only a few hundred coronavirus cases and insisted the outbreak was under control. As the virus spread and more infections were reported this week, however, residents of Moscow and other cities were ordered to stay home.
Vasilyeva, who has become a vocal critic of the Kremlin's response to the virus, accused authorities of playing down the scale of the outbreak and pressuring medics to work without sufficient protection.
“We realized that we can't just sit and watch; otherwise it is going to be too late,” she said in a tweet Monday.
Video posted on Twitter by activists shows a dozen police officers gathering around Vasilyeva and two of them dragging her into a police station. The arrest has elicited outrage from other activists.
“Why are they harassing this person, because she brought masks for the doctors? Bastards,” tweeted opposition politician and Putin critic Alexei Navalny, who supports the Alliance of Doctors and works closely with Vasilyeva.
Ivan Konovalov, a spokesman for the Alliance of Doctors, told the AP that Vasilyeva was physically assaulted in the process and even fainted briefly. “We thought we may run into some difficulties, but no one could even imagine anything like that,” he added.
Doctors' unions say shortages of protective equipment is one of the most pressing problems amid the outbreak. Konovalov said the Alliance of Doctors has gotten about 30 requests for protective gear from hospitals and medical facilities across Russia, and 100 more generic complaints about lack of protective equipment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.