A man set himself on fire in a crowded street in central St. Petersburg on President Vladimir Putin’s 68th birthday Wednesday, the Moscow Times reported, the second self-immolation to take place in Russia this week.
The man, an unnamed 71-year-old businessman who has run a real estate firm for the past 30 years, was hospitalized with first- and second-degree burns covering around half of his body.
According to eyewitnesses, the man was heard screaming “something about President Putin’s birthday and a gift” before setting himself alight. The act is believed to have been carried out in protest, although it is unclear exactly what.
Video footage posted on social media showed a man writhing on the ground in pain, next to a half-burnt sign that read “Happy Birthday Mr. President.” Local police have since confirmed that the victim had been under observation at a psychiatric institution prior to the incident.
🇷🇺На Лиговском проспекте в Петербурге — попытка самосожжения. В руках у человека был плакат с надписью «С днем рождения, господин президент». Сообщают об ожогах 45% тела. pic.twitter.com/aWWmKENzIe
— Рустем Адагамов (@adagamov) October 7, 2020
The act is the second self-immolation act to take place in Russia within the space of a week. Last Friday, independent journalist Irina Slavina set herself on fire outside the Nizhny Novgorod police headquarters.
In a social media post before the incident, she told people to blame the Putin regime for her death. The previous day, local security forces raided her home in search of evidence of criminal activity while working with the political opposition.
“I ask you to blame the Russian Federation for my death,” the 47-year-old wrote on her Facebook page around an hour before her death. “They were looking for brochures, leaflets, invoices of [pro-democracy movement] Open Russia, possibly an icon with the face of [exiled oligarch] Mikhail Khodorkovsky.”
Although they did not find any incriminating evidence, Slavina added that authorities took most of her possessions and research away, leaving her “without a means of production” for her journalism.
“I don’t have any of this,” she continued. “But they took away what they found — all the flash drives, my laptop, my daughter’s laptop, the computer, phones — not just mine, but also my husband’s — a bunch of my notebooks that I scribbled on during press conferences. I’m left without a means of production.”
Russia has been subject to numerous protests over the course of this year against the repression imposed by the Kremlin and the Putin regime. In July, Putin successfully orchestrated a referendum that will allow him to rule the country until 2036. Numerous demonstrations broke out that same month following the arrest of the governor of Khabarovsk and Putin critic Sergei Furgal on dubious murder charges.