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Did you hear the one about Vladimir Putin? Why a Russian comedian has fled the country

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Russian President Vladimir Putin in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020.   -   Copyright  Emmanuel Dunad, Pool via AP
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A comedian says he was forced to leave Russia over jokes he made about Vladimir Putin and Christianity during a stand-up routine.

Aleksandr Dolgopolov, 25, will now monitor developments from abroad, his lawyer Leonid Solovyov has said.

Before leaving the country, Dolgopolov had been forced to cancel one of his performance in Moscow's “Big City” bar because an unknown man in civilian clothing appeared to be "persistently interested" about when the artist would arrive, his manager has said.

Dolgopolov has since released on Instagram an official request sent to the venue from Moscow's Ministry of Internal Affairs demanding to know more about a 2019 performance in which he joked that if Putin were to ask citizens to jump into lava, they would reply: "'Oh my god, where do we find lava? There is no lava in our garden, what should we do, wise leader?"

Another of his political jokes went: "Our population has split into two camps. On the one hand, there are those who support Putin; on the other, there are those who can read, write, and reach logical conclusions."

A local news website, Baza, also reported that complaints had been made regarding religious jokes Dolgopolov had made and that the comedian is now "suspected of insulting the feelings of believers".

The law criminalising blasphemy came into force in 2013. It was introduced following a protest by the feminist punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow's main Orthodox Cathedral and been criticised by human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

If found guilty of such an offence, Dolgopolov could be fined up to 300,000 roubles (€4,000), sentenced to forced labour or to up to one year in prison.

Dolgopolov has defended his set on social media and decried the Russian judicial system.

"Two years ago, village thugs were hunting me down, now the entire state is chasing me. Wow!," he posted on Instagram.

He also wrote on Twitter: "My wife was beaten by my father: the police are inactive. They threaten me: the police are inactive. My girlfriend is harassed by a maniac: the police are inactive. I tell jokes: FIND OUT ALL ABOUT THIS TERRORIST!"

Some prominent Russian comedians have rallied around him including Yuri Khovansky who argues that "each of us may have our own attitude to humour, but we must agree on one thing unanimously: you cannot pursue a comedian because of his jokes."

They have sent an official letter of support for Dolgopolov to the Interior Minister.