MOSCOW — Russia's most outspoken and charismatic anti-drugs campaigner accused authorities on Tuesday of trying to close his rehabilitation center by falsely claiming it has abused patients.
For more than a decade, businessman and art historian Yevgeny Roizman has been waging a crusade against drug pushers and corrupt police in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg amid a drug epidemic that has made Russia the world's largest heroin consumer.
The center Roizman founded and partly funds is seen by many Russians as a model of community-driven rehab efforts, and his followers have helped police identify and arrest dozens of drug dealers.
But Yekaterinburg officials have accused Roizman's team of isolating patients without their consent and using violence and forced labor as part of therapy.
On Tuesday, a court in the town of Berezovsk near Yekaterinburg charged Roizman's deputy, Yevgeny Malenkin, with illegally imprisoning patients and issued an arrest warrant for him.
Malenkin left Yekaterinburg earlier this week after police tried to question him, Roizman said, adding that the charges against him were initiated after police pressured former patients to file complaints.
Roizman has accused police of using this tactic against his center before. He said police pressured former patients to file complaints in 2004, accusing him of illegal imprisonment at the center, but that all of them were dropped by 2007.
Roizman has claimed the campaign against him is part of the regional governor's attempt to boost his own anti-drugs credentials and to challenge the center's success and Roizman's allegations of corruption among local police.
Roizman has alleged that investigators sent from Moscow have tried to force their subordinates to secretly extort bribes from local drug pushers in exchange for immunity from persecution.
Dozens of Russian police officers have been convicted and jailed for accepting bribes from drug dealers or selling drugs directly.
"I was one of the few who talked about it out loud," the burly 50-year-old wrestling enthusiast said Tuesday.
In May, a senior narcotics officer in Yekaterinburg was sentenced to 17 years in jail for selling heroin.
In 2009, two narcotics policemen died of a heroin overdose in their office, although their superiors initially claimed food poisoning was the cause of death.
Some 2.5 million Russians are addicted to illegal drugs, and 90 percent of them use the heroin that has flooded into Russia from Afghanistan since the late 1990s, the government says.
The U.N. has said Russia, a nation of 142 million people, consumes 70 tons of Afghan heroin annually – more than a fifth of the drug consumed globally.
Yekaterinburg, a grim industrial center of 1.4 million people, has been hit hard by the heroin plague, while new drugs – such as highly addictive synthetic marijuana and a cheap and lethal concoction made of codeine pills known as "crocodile" – compete with opiates.
Roizman called the creation of his rehab center in 1998 "a riot against drug pushers, a genuine popular riot." The crusader owned a thriving jewelry workshop at the time and was writing a book on Russian icons in the Urals region.
He and his supporters violently confronted a group of mostly Gypsy and Central Asian drug dealers, driving them out or facilitating their arrest and conviction. Parents of heroin-deprived addicts responded by flocking to Roizman to ask for his help.
His rehabilitation methods have involved isolation, strict discipline and such unorthodox punishments as handcuffing addicts, but high recovery rates made Roizman a local hero.
"I am not holding pageants to select my patients. They are not Nobel Prize winners, and some parents brought them to me in their cars' trunks," he said. "What I am trying to do is to make them human again."