Putin and the art of choosing your words carefully

Loose lips sink ships went the old WW2 adage, and Vladimir Putin’s remarks that protestors in Russia who don’t have official permission can expect to be hit over the head can pretty obviously lead if not to sunk ships, then certainly to crushed skulls.

“Go without permission”, said Putin about the regular “Article 31” protests, “and you will be hit on the head with batons. That's all there is to it.”

What an earth is an experienced politician doing using language like this? (Similarly, what was Benjamin Netanyahu intending us to understand when he said Israel would hunt down the killers of four Israeli settlers “without diplomatic restraint”? Extra-judicial executions …?)

One report of the Putin remark I read translated his phrase as “you’ll get a whack on the bonce”* and it’s apparently this folksy style that Putin uses to try to align himself with the wider Russian public against a small number of human rights defenders and civil activists. (Beware the politician who comes over all colloquial …)

Anyway, right on cue, the Russian police reportedly reacted heavy-handedly yesterday to what were actually small-scale demos in a large country. As soon as protestors in Moscow and St Petersburg tried to unfurl banners they were charged by riot police and arrested in their scores. As Dutch MEP Thijs Berman said after attending the Moscow protest, "This is an amazing way of dealing with democracy, shocking.”

Actually the Russian authorities now seem to do this kind of thing as matter of course. The likes of Peter Tatchell, Garry Kasparov and even Amnesty people manning a modest stall at a U2 concert in Moscow have all been on the end of Russian police violence, arrest or some kind of harassment. As Amnesty has been saying for some time, the space for freedom of speech is shrinking alarmingly in Russia.

There are wider human rights concerns in Russia (including “disappearances” of people like Ibragim Gazdiev, as referred to in Anthony Larson’s interview on BBC Radio Sheffield on Monday: 43-min point forwards), but attacks on freedom of expression are, I think, crucial indicators of where the country is going wrong on rights.

Please get in touch with Amnesty Russia campaigner Graham Jones (ggwjones@btinternet.com) if you’d like to support the embattled human rights defenders of Medvedev-Putin’s increasingly authoritarian Russia.

Meanwhile, please choose you words carefully when commenting on this post. Because … er, loose lips sink blog posts. 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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