Fugitive Russian father convicted of insulting army is detained in Belarus

(Reuters) -A Russian man who was sentenced to two years in prison for discrediting the army and had his daughter taken from him has been detained in Belarus after fleeing house arrest, a lawyer said on Thursday.

Lawyer Dmitry Zakhvatov said Alexei Moskalyov, 54, had been arrested in the capital Minsk, most likely as a result of turning on his mobile phone and giving away his location.

“Apparently someone made a mistake, maybe it was due to him using a mobile phone,” said Zakhvatov, who had been in contact with Moskalyov. “Most likely it was due to him using a mobile phone improperly,” he told Reuters.

Moskalyov fled house arrest in the town of Yefremov, south of Moscow, in the early hours of Tuesday. Later the same day, a court sentenced him in absentia to two years in a penal colony for discrediting the armed forces under a law passed shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

It was not clear how he had made his way from Yefremov to Minsk, a distance of about 700 km (440 miles), or what further legal consequences he would now face.

Russian news outlet RBC quoted the Belarusian interior ministry as confirming the arrest.

“Citizen Moskalyov was detained by police personnel at the request of the Russian police,” it said.

Vladimir Biliyenko, a lawyer who has been representing the family, told Reuters he expected it would take several days to complete the formalities for Moskalyov to be sent back to Russia.

Moskalyov came to the attention of Russian police last year after his daughter Masha, then 12, drew an anti-war picture at school showing Russia firing missiles at a Ukrainian mother and child.

He was later charged in connection with separate anti-war comments he was alleged to have made on social media.

The case has resonated widely in Russia and abroad, particularly since Masha, now 13, was separated from her father and placed in a children’s home at the start of March.

Biliyenko told Reuters earlier he did not know whether staff there had told the teenager that her father was on the run. He said he was seeking to put her in the care of relatives and a hearing is due on April 6 where he will contest the decision to move her to the children’s home.

(Reporting by Reuters; writing by Mark Trevelyan)