Russia: mass protest arrests show authorities' 'stranglehold' on free expression
‘The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, though you wouldn’t know it from the alarming scenes today’ - Denis Krivosheev
A crackdown on peaceful protests across Russia in which hundreds of people were arrested and numerous others beaten by police earlier today demonstrates the Russian authorities’ utter contempt for fundamental human rights, Amnesty International said.
Amnesty spoke to an eyewitness who described scenes of mass beatings by police in Moscow, as well as police cordons obstructing people’s movement and vehicles lined up ready to arrest protesters.
The anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny was also arrested this morning as he was leaving the block of flats where he lives, and charged with the administrative offence of repeatedly violating the rules of public assemblies (punishable by up to 30 days’ detention). Amnesty believes Mr Navalny was arrested to prevent him from joining protesters.
Protesters in Moscow had originally been given permission to stage a rally on Sakharov Prospect, a main street in the city. However, organisers were unable to hire stage or PA equipment for the protest, blaming this on intimidation of equipment hire companies by the authorities. In response, Navalny had called on protesters to rally at an area in central Moscow which had been designated for public holiday celebrations. The authorities characterised this move as a provocation and a call to unlawful assembly.
In Russia, public assembly requires the authorities’ express permission, which is often withheld on arbitrary grounds. However, public rallies protesting against corruption took place in cities and towns across Russia today. Amnesty is able to confirm dozens of arrests in Moscow, and there are credible reports of numerous arrests in St Petersburg, Vladivostok, Kaliningrad, Sochi, Tula, Lipetsk and Blagoveschensk.
Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director, said:
“The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, though you wouldn’t know it from the alarming scenes today.
“After trying to intimidate protesters into abstaining from these demonstrations with blackmail and harassment, the authorities in Moscow, St Petersburg and elsewhere have punished hundreds of those who turned up with beatings and arrests.
“The Russian authorities’ stranglehold on freedom of expression grows tighter by the day.
“Peaceful protest is a fundamental human right, not a privilege to be bestowed or refused on a whim. We are calling for all peaceful protesters swept up in these arrests to be immediately freed.”