Former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov was turned away when he tried to visit and offer moral support to his old rival, Garry Kasparov, currently in detention for his role in an anti-Kremlin protest Saturday.
Kasparov is serving a five-day sentence at a city detention facility for leading a Dissenters’ March in central Moscow. City Hall had given permission for a rally but had barred demonstrators from marching. He is due to be freed on Thursday.
Karpov tried to visit Kasparov on Tuesday, but he was turned back by police, said Kasparov’s spokeswoman, Marina Litvinovich.
“Karpov is a member of the Public Chamber and has the right to visit those detained,” Litvinovich said. “All the same, they would not let him in. Karpov must have been seeking to extend moral support or see the conditions in which Kasparov is being held.”
Karpov became one of the Soviet Union’s most influential public figures after Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev personally branded him the “Chess King” when the young grandmaster became world champion in 1975.
Ten years later, his reign was over when he lost the title to Kasparov, who confessed eventually that by defeating Karpov he was also challenging the old communist system and fighting for a new, democratic Russia.
On Tuesday, the two men’s different political views seemed to matter little.
“A person is in trouble. Of course I’m not indifferent to that,” Karpov told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “In Russia right now we have, what, four world chess champions? And, of course, the fate of any one of them is important to other chess players, both in Russia and abroad.”
Karpov told the radio station that he must have spent more time at the chessboard with Kasparov than with any other player, including a grueling match that went on for four months.
“Generally speaking, I don’t share his political views, but that’s something different,” he said. “I didn’t come here to support him politically.”
Amnesty International added its voice Wednesday to others that have already condemned Kasparov’s arrest.
“Amnesty International considers [Kasparov] to be a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate release,” the rights group said in a statement titled “Russian Federation: Systemic Repression on Eve of Elections.”
Meanwhile, opposition supporters, including Union of Right Forces member Boris Nemtsov, held a rotating solo picket Wednesday at city police headquarters on Ulitsa Petrovka demanding Kasparov’s release; under Russian law, a one-man picket does not qualify as a demonstration needing permission.
Members of the vehemently pro-Putin youth group Nashi, however, encircled one of the picketers, Alexander Novikov, pretending to be his supporters and prompting police to arrest him.
A Nashi activist also was detained.