By Gabriela Baczynska
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian opposition on Wednesday called on President Vladimir Putin to stop hounding his political opponents, saying the authorities had resorted to using direct and illegal physical pressure against people they considered a threat.
The statement, from a newly-formed opposition body, followed the arrest of an activist whom the authorities have accused of plotting to foment unrest but who his supporters say was abducted, tortured, and forced to make a false confession.
"The Russian authorities have turned to methods of direct physical pressure on their opponents that boldly violate the norms of Russian and international law," the opposition Coordination Council said in statement.
"We demand that the state authorities and Vladimir Putin himself stop the practice of pressuring supporters of the opposition."
The Council was elected by opposition supporters in an Internet vote earlier this month and tasked with trying to mount a structured challenge to Putin, who assumed the presidency in May for a six-year term.
More than 81,000 people took part in the vote, underscoring the scale of the challenge the opposition faces in a country with a population of 142 million people.
The opposition says Putin has presided over a crackdown on dissent since his return to the presidency, and the detention of Leonid Razvozzhayev has caused an outcry.
His detention and alleged confession could have far-reaching implications for the opposition since one of the other suspects in the case is Sergei Udaltsov, who played a major role in organizing large anti-Kremlin demonstrations earlier this year.
Rights activists who spent time with Razvozzhayev in a Moscow prison late on Tuesday told a press conference on Wednesday that he had told them he wanted to withdraw his confession in which he said he was plotting mass disorder.
"He wants to disavow his statement and when I asked him what he wanted to disavow, what was not true in this statement, he said: everything, practically, everything I said," Valery Borshchyov, a prominent activist said.
"We are facing a new phenomenon, a new method, a new practice in the fight against dissent. What is taking place is the restoration of, the use of practices of the Stalinist era," Borshchyov told the news conference.
However, Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, said Razvozzhayev's case was purely a judicial matter.
"This is not a case that can be commented on from the Kremlin. This is a case that relates to investigative bodies, prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers and rights activists," he said.
(Additional reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Editing by Andrew Osborn)