Posts Tagged ‘actions’
This was another rally at Triumfalnaya Square in a campaign for freedom of assembly (the campaign is called Strategy 31 after the paragraph 31 of the Russian Constitution that guarantees this right). Although the organizers fulfilled all legal procedures needed for arranging a demonstration, the Moscow government banned it for the seventh consecutive time. The pretext for the ban was a spoiler event organized by United Russia’s Youth Guard.
According to the media, 1000 to 2000 people came to Triumfalnaya Square despite the ban, which is more than at any of the previous rallies of this campaign. 140 to 170 of them were arrested. The protest was completely nonviolent; however the police actions were quite brutal. Most people including myself were arrested without a warning and dragged into special police buses (autozaks) by force. A lot of them were beaten and verbally insulted by the police at the time of arrest. Men and women were treated alike (at least we’ve got some equality). When I and other people at my autozak protested against our illegal arrest and cruel treatment, police officers beat us with batons and fists and strangled. I was lucky not to get only bruises and scratches; another detainee, Gazeta.ru reporter Alexander Artemyev, had his arm broken by the police at the custody. After we were already arrested, police used tear gas to disperse the crowd that remained on the square.
I was held at the autozak and then the police station for 9 hours (the law only allows for 3 hours of detention). I was charged with “participation in an illegal public event” and “disobedience to a police officer’s lawful orders.” The proofs were forged: police officers wrote false reports (their texts had been prepared by the Moscow police HQ and were similar for all the arrested) on my alleged offence; the reports were signed not by the officers who had arrested me. The penalty can be a fine and/or detention for up to 15 days.
I visited Belarus a few days ago with a group of Oborona activists. We were meeting with local opposition organizations and leaders, observing municipal elections and participating in an annual march dedicated to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster–Chernobylsky Shlyakh.
Belarussian elections are largely similar to Russian in their predefined outcome, persisting abuse of power by the authorities and even methods of fraud. Like in Russia, they use preliminary voting as a means to both increase turnout and falsify the results (since the bulletins are kept at administration offices till the election day). As much as 30% of Belarussian electorate voted preliminary, according to official data. This unbelievable figure is more than even some of the most scandalous elections in Sochi a year ago (when the Kremlin was ready to do what it takes to prevent opposition leader Boris Nemtsov from becoming the mayor). Most opposition candidates were denied registration, so they couldn’t even get on the lists–the same we see in Russia. In the end, in many district it looks like the electoral commissions didn’t count the votes at all: they simply wrote the target figures. No suprise, not even a dozen seats were won by the opposition out of 20,000+.
The rally was attended by some 1,000 to 1,500 participants including several activists of Oborona. The Chernobyl disaster caused incredible damage to Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and its consequences are still there. The march in Minsk has become a tradition since 1988; its demands concern environmental, social and political issues.
Alas, I didn’t make it to the march. I and two other Coordinators of Oborona, Maria and Alexey Kazakovs, were arrested an hour before the rally begun as we were leaving headquarters of an opposition party Belarussian People’s Front. A van stopped next to us, half a dozen spetsnaz (SWAT) troops put us into the van and left. Our friends and other eyewitnesses say that it looked more like a kidnapping than an arrest.
We were taken to the Sovetsky district police HQ and interrogated. The police were asking us, who we had met with, what was the purpose of the travel, what organization we were at, etc. etc. They threated to take us into custody if we refused to answer, but gave up after several hours. Then the infamous BT, Belarus state TV, tried to “interview” us right in the police, but were ignored. After 5-hour long interrogation police took our fingerprints, photographed us and even took DNA samples and let us go without any charges. A small crowd of Russian and Belarus activists greeted us at the police HQ doorstep.
No matter what Russian government says, the people are more and more willing to protest. Two weeks after the huge demonstration in Kaliningrad and another violent dispersing of a peaceful rally in Moscow, more cities join the protest wave.
Despite -15 C (5 F) temperature, about 2000 citizens of Irkutsk participated in a public meeting today to defend Baikal lake, the world largest reserve of freshwater. The protest was caused by a recent decree by Vladimir Putin that allowed a local papermaking factory, reportedly owned by oligarch Oleg Deripaska, to pour waste into the lake. One of the leaders of Solidarnost Vladimir Milov took part in the rally as well as environmentalists, NGO leaders and the head of Yabloko Sergei Mitrokhin. Along with environmentalist slogans, the protesters chanted “Down with Putin’s government!” and “Shame on United Russia!”
United Russia together with the factory’s owners tried to hold their own demonstration in support of the Putin’s decree simultaniously but only managed to bring several hundred participants.
In Samara, 1200 people demanded resignation of their regional governor Vladimir Artyakov. The demonstration was organized by local trade unions. Many protesters from other cities couldn’t make it to Samara because their coaches were stopped by the traffic police; this is a usual preventive measure against the opposition. The rally was held in spite of this, without serious incidents. The region experiences huge problems because the VAZ car factory, its largest enterprise, is close to bankrupcy. Artyakov, who was connected to VAZ, is accused by the people of being unable to cope with the situation. The protesters also demanded direct elections of governors and resignation of Vladimir Putin’s government (Artyakov was appointed by Putin in 2007).
Last weekend in Russia was really hot. 7,000 to 12,000 people participated in a protest in Kaliningrad on January 30. The rally oranized by Solidarnost was supported even by relatively loyal KPRF, Yabloko, LDPR and many civic groups. The action was dedicated to raising of transport tax and communal tariffs by the regional government but soon became a political event when participants demanded resignation of Vladimir Putin’s government. It was the largest protest in recent years.
The other day, Moscow and St Petersburg were protesting. Despite the smaller figures of participants, the actions were just as dramatic. About 700 Moscow citizens came to Triumfalnaya Square to demand freedom of assembly knowing that the police will be beating and arresting people. They were right: about 150 participants of the peacceful protest were arrested including Boris Nemtsov and winner of 2009 Andrei Sakharov Prize Oleg Orlov. Dozens were arrested in St Petersburg. Organizers plan next action for March 31 and claim that they won’t give up until the government begins to respect the right of association.
A few hours before, opposition activists were attacked at a Moscow metro station by mobsters armed with sticks. Several young people were injured but in the end they managed to hold a surprise march in the city center. About 100 people walked down Sadovoe Ring with opposition slogans and disappeared minutes before police showed up.
Another protest rally was dispersed Saturday night by Moscow police. The action was a part of the so called Strategy 31–a campaign in support of freedom of assembly guaranteed by paragraph 31 of the Russian Constitution. This basic right to hold peaceful demonstrations is routinely violated by the authorities: major opposition rallies are banned, often without any legal grounds, their participants get arrested and beaten by the police. The situation is particularly bad in Moscow where all government institutions are located and authorities are especially rigid (although legislation is the same in all regions).
As a part of this Strategy 31, several human rights and political activists (as different as prominent Soviet dissident and human rights defender Lyudmila Alexeeva and radical left-wing opposition leader Eduard Limonov, for example) decided to hold a demonstration at Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow downtown on October 31. The action was, as usually, banned; the authorities explained that some kind of a “military-patriotic celebration” was planned for the same time at the same place. In order not to provoke arrests, organizers called participants not to bring any flags or banners or chant slogans. “How long will the police stay there?” they asked, and suggested that people should wait until the police leave the square.
The government had different plans, however. In order to find a pretext to arrest participants of the action, members of Rossiya Molodaya (Young Russia), a Kremlin-aligned youth group (a part of the so-called Putinyouth), were used as provocateurs. They began lighting flares, chanting slogans and throwing leaflets (mocking the opposition) in the middle of the crowd. The police were ready: they arrested the Putinyouth and many regular participants around as well as Limonov. The provocateurs were soon released without any charge while Limonov himself may face up to 15 days imprisonment for “disobeying police orders.”
This provocation was also a signal to start a crackdown on the protesters, most of whom were standing steadily and silently according to the general plan. About 70 people were arrested. Police officers simply pointed at certain activists and they were immediately dragged into police vans. Many others were arrested for just being too close to the scene. Although no resistance was offered, policemen and soldiers beat people while dragging them. According to Russian bloggers, the police even went so far as to try to arrest an American diplomat, Vice-Consul Robert Bond who was observing the rally. Photos of Mr Bond surrounded by the police and showing them his ID card have been posted in many blogs.
I was arrested while trying to tweet what I saw. Apparently, one of the officers recognized me. Along with some 20 more people in the bus I was taken to a police station where we were charged with… lighting flares, chanting slogans and throwing leaflets–the ones that Putinyouth were throwing. As the police officers were filling in the papers with these fake charges, we looked at the walls of the police station’s lecture hall. Portraits of proud police officers as well as of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev hung there next to Yagoda, Ezhov and Beriya, the three heads of Stalin’s NKVD and Gulag.
As democracy and civil rights in Russia are diminishing with every year, the country is becoming more and more a police state. The voice of dissent is silenced by cynical and cruel country’s leadership. At the same time, Western public opinion and governments generally turn a blind eye to this trend in hope to buy Kremlin’s favour.
PS: Two days before the event, police SWAT had a drill in Moscow-nearby city of Balashikha. They were trained, according to the script, to disperse “a group of senior citizens who demanded social support and blocked a federal highway.” In order to do this, the whole arsenal was used by the police: water cannons, stun grenades and tear gas. The “pensioners” were blocked, many arrested. Bloggers called it ironically a “Russian welfare service.”
Yesterday, myself and two other activists of Oborona were arrested at a small action at the Moscow State University, my alma mater. We called students to participate in the Dissenters’ Day, which is planned for today. We had leaflets, a loudspeaker and a flag. The police arrested three of us and brought to the custody. Initially, they charged us with “a violation of the rules for conducting a public action,” which meant that we could be held in the custody for up to three hours and then be fined up to 1000 roubles (about $30).
While we were waiting for the police to prepare the documents, the maximum detention term expired. The police, however, didn’t want to let us go. One activist, Ilya Mischenko, managed to leave the police HQ unnoticed. They were upset and angry, blamed each other for this escape and feared sanctions from their bosses. By the way, leaving the police HQ before you are convicted by the court is not prohibited in Russian legislation.
I heard a phone call and s conversation of police officers that they’d received an order from somebody who they referred to as a “general”. They were told to detain my by any means for two days, so that I wouldn’t participate in the Dissenters’ Day (which I am an organizer of). After a short discussion, they decided to falsely charge me with “petty hooliganism,” an offence that allows them to hold a person for up to 48 hours before a trial and then to convict her to up to 15 days in jail. The police officers Mikhail Kotikov and Gennadiy Lemeshko wrote false reports that I had been swearing while conducting the action and a new charge was brought against me.
However, I was lucky enough to escape from the custody to the underground technical floor of the University and then outside and set myself free. I’ve been told later that the police were panicking, tried to search the huge building, failed to find me and were discussing who was going to be fired for the escape.
The second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev started on Tuesday. Putin’s goal is apparent: Khodorkovsky must stay in prison forever… given that Putin himself stays in power forever, of course.
The court of law was surrounded by riot police and plainclothes operatives since early morning, you couldn’t even freely enter the block where the court is located. Of course, it had nothing to do with terrorism. What the police was afraid of is just a small peaceful demonstration of Khodorkovsky’s supporters. They brought flowers for him, chanted “Freedom!”—and were arrested for that.
Two activists of Oborona managed to put a 10-meter-long banner “Free Khodorkovsky!” on a roof of Bohdan Khmelnitsky bridge opposite to the court. They were arrested minutes later.
Saturday was marked by new protests in Moscow and in other cities. Oborona together with other movements organized a march in the center of Moscow. It was banned by the administration but the police failed to stop it. But some 20 mobsters attacked the participants, both men and women. The protesters offered resistance but several participants of the rally were wounded seriously. The police refused to investigate the incident.
The witnesses and victims of the attack speak out (English subtitles):
Oborona held a field training for its activists in Moscow yesterday. It looked like a game, a city quest, the very popular genre of youth activity in modern Moscow. The participants were split into several teams and had to complete certain tasks in different parts of the city. The difference from such regular games was the nature of those tasks. One of them was, for instance, to hand a banner on a bridge. The banner read “31 January Dissenters’ Day”. This is how it was performed by the trainees:
Oborona with several other youth organizations held a protest action yesterday. Before it begun, an OMON (riot police) policeman tried to confiscate Oborona’s leaflets from our activist Alexey Kazakov. Eyewitnesses quote their remarkable dialogue:
Cop: You are going to tell with these leaflets that you don’t like the government of Russian Federation.
Alexey: Yes, I don’t like the government of Russian Federation.
Cop: This is a direct anticonstitutional act!
Alexey: You mean, I’m obliged to like the government?!