Russia: Mass arrests tighten authorities’ stranglehold on freedom of expression

12 June 2017, 17:31 UTC

A crackdown on peaceful protests across Russia in which hundreds of people were arrested and numerous others beaten by police demonstrates the authorities’ utter contempt for fundamental human rights, Amnesty International said today.

“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,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.

“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, and the right to hold peaceful rallies fully and genuinely respected.”

Public rallies protesting against corruption took place in cities and towns across Russia today.  Amnesty International is able to confirm dozens of arrests in Moscow, and takes note of reports of numerous arrests by credible independent monitors in St Petersburg, Vladivostok, Kaliningrad, Sochi, Tula, Lipetsk and Blagoveschensk.

Amnesty International 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.

In Russia public assembly requires the authorities’ express permission, which is often withheld on arbitrary grounds.

Protesters in Moscow were given permission to rally on Sakharov Prospect, a main street in the city. However, the organizers were unable to hire any stage or PA equipment for the protest. They blamed this on intimidation of equipment hire companies by the authorities.

The protest leader and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny called on protesters to rally instead at an area in the centre of Moscow which had been designated for public holiday celebrations. The authorities characterized this move as a provocation and a call to unlawful assembly. Mass arrests followed on the day of the rally.

Aleksei Navalny was arrested in the 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 of detention. Amnesty International believes he was arrested in order to prevent him from joining the protesters.