Posts Tagged ‘arrests’
On December 20, 2010, a thousands-strong crowd was protesting against fraudulent Presidential elections in Belarus. After some 100 people tried to storm a government building, Lukashenko’s riot police attacked the crowd, many were badly beated, hundreds arrested. Criminal investigation started that allowed to prosecute the rally leaders. USA and EU swiftly condemned Lukashenko and implemented sanctions against his regime.
On May 6, 2012, thousands were protesting in Moscow against fraudulent Presidential elections in Russia. After several hundred tried to break through a police line, Putin’s riot police attacked the crowd, many were badly beaten, hundreds arrested. Criminal investigation started and two opposition leaders Alexey Navalny and Sergey Udaltsov questioned. In the following days, hundreds more were arrested. Meanwhile, American and European ambassadors took part in Putin’s inauguration. President Obama called Putin, congratulated him on the Victory Day, discussed military and economic cooperation, but didn’t mention human rights.
My interview for International Center on Nonviolent Conflict about Oborona and the Russian democratic movement in general.
Earlier this week, two Oborona activists were arrested in Moscow and later released without explanation. Head of the Information Department (i.e. official spokesperson) of Moscow police Col. Viktor Biryukov claimed that it was done to prevent some illegal protest action. He also added proudly that “the police learnt about preparation of this action while reading e-mail communications between Oborona activists.”
It’s not a news that the police monitors communications of the opposition, but it must be the first time it was officially confirmed by a high-ranking police officer. Apart from being antidemocratic and unconstitutional, it also violates the law, which puts rather strict limitations on this kind of activities.
Besides, immediately after Oborona issued a statement on this case and promised to arrange investigation of illegal activities of the Moscow police, Biryukov denied his own words. He said, “the Moscow police only work strictly within the law, and in the case of Oborona activists, their correspondence haven’t been monitored.”
The arrested Oborona activists are going to file a complaint to a prosecutor to demand investigation into Biryukov’s claims.
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.
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.”