Russia: Bolotnaya protest anniversary marked by new repression

News
May 4, 2014

Russia: Bolotnaya protest anniversary marked by new repression

The Russian authorities are doing all they can to scupper any protests to mark the second anniversary of the Bolotnaya Square demonstration on 6 May 2012, said Amnesty International.

In the last two weeks independent media have been targeted and websites blocked. Moscow’s authorities have refused to authorize a public event on or anywhere near Bolotnaya Square to commemorate the demonstration, where hundreds of peaceful protesters were arrested and scores injured.

“The Russian authorities are suffocating the right to freedom of expression and crushing freedom of assembly. The uncompromising reaction to the recent spate of peaceful demonstrations in Moscow has exposed just how difficult and dangerous it has become to organize and participate in protests,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“The Bolotnaya demonstration of 6 May 2012 and the subsequent trials of those who took part in it have become symbols of protest and repression. The banning of any assembly in Bolotnaya to mark the second anniversary has once again exposed the determination of Putin’s government to stamp out visible dissent.”

“The raft of laws churned out by the Kremlin-controlled parliament and ruthlessly implemented by the police, prosecutors and courts is an undisguised attempt to eradicate free speech and crush protests. The criminal prosecution and imprisonment of peaceful demonstrators sends a clear message – the authorities are not going to tolerate any protest.”

In February and early March this year, more than 640 people were detained and accused of participation in unauthorized gatherings in Moscow alone, for peacefully protesting outside the court building where the verdicts of Bolotnaya case defendants were being heard as well as in the city centre.

In recent weeks, several independent websites have been blocked for exposing human rights violations during these pprotests. They include online political magazine Ezhednevnyi Zhurnal (“Daily Journal”), news websites Grani.ru and Kasparov.ru, and the blog by the Russian anti-corruption blogger and opposition activist Aleksei Navalny.

“Since Putin’s return to the presidency, the Kremlin has shown itself to be increasingly nervous of dissent and determined to control public opinion. Visible opposition, whether on-line or on the street, has no place in this newly assertive, increasingly nervous Russia," said John Dalhuisen.

On 6 May 2012, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow to demonstrate against much-contested election results and Vladimir Putin’s return to presidency for a third term. Poor, provocatively harsh policing and the behaviour of a small group of violent protesters resulted in the brutal dispersal of the entire, mostly peaceful, gathering. Hundreds of protesters were arrested, many if not most arbitrarily, with scores injured by police using excessive force with impunity.

It was the authorities’ responsibility to protect the event and the right of those who came to Bolotnaya to express their views peacefully. Instead, abusive force was used by the police, and many innocent individuals were criminally prosecuted in a political show-trial and given prison sentences.

The authorities’ reaction to the Bolotnaya protest marked the start of a fresh crackdown on freedom of assembly and expression in Russia. Twenty-eight individuals have been criminally prosecuted in connection with the Bolotnaya protest, which the authorities qualified as “mass riots” to ensure that they faced the harshest possible penalties.

New laws were passed targeting NGOs, the on-line media and further restricting public protests. Hundreds of peaceful protesters have since been arrested, fined and jailed, several civil society organizations forced to close and four prominent independent on-line news sites blocked.