Clampdown on Russian Opposition: Liveblog

February 24, 2014
Former Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova being violently dragged away by Russian police.

The Sochi Games are over, and international media attention is focused on developments in Ukraine. So without wasting a moment, the Russian government has returned to its more favored past time: arresting members of the opposition. Today, prominent dissidents, such as Alexey Navalny and Maria Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova, both formerly of Pussy Riot fame, were arrested at Manezhnaya Square in Moscow for protesting the sentences just handed down to eight members of the anti-Kremlin Bolotnaya protest movement, seven of whom were given prison terms. The Interpreter will be running a liveblog all day cataloguing events related to this crackdown.

22:10 GMT: More arrests in St. Petersburg:

At least 60 people have been detained in St. Petersburg in an action in support of the Bolotnaya prisoners, Human Rights in Russia reports.

The first detentions occurred several minutes after protesters began singing “The Walls Will Come Down”. Among those detained are deputies Maxim Reznik and Olga Galkina.

Among detainees is Vitold Zalessky, PhD in physics and math, age 85, member of Memorial Society of St. Petersburg, shown here in photo.

21:33 GMT: What penalties are Navalny, Nemtsov and the ex-Pussy Rioters facing for resisting an officer? According to the Russian Criminal Code Article 19.3: “Failure to Follow a Lawfull Order of a Militiaman, a Military Serviceman, an Officer of the Bodies for Control over the Traffic of Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances or an Officer of the Criminal Punishment System” carries 15 days in jail, plus a fine.

21:32 GMT: Human Rights Watch’s Tanya Lokshina writes from Moscow:

I was at the courthouse on February 21 and saw a large crowd of people gathered next to the courthouse, holding “Freedom to Bolotnaya prisoners” posters and white balloons. They shouted slogans in support of the defendants and urged the authorities to free them. They stood by the court building all day.

Police surrounded them and detained them, even though they were completely peaceful. At first, they would detain people one by one if they shouted slogans or held up posters, and dragged them to police buses. Then the detentions became totally random. By the end of the day, police detained 200 people, including three journalists, a prominent film director, and a 60-year-old mathematician from the Russia Academy of Sciences. One of the journalists alleged that police officers kicked and choked him though he was not putting up any resistance. He filed an official complaint.

A friend of mine who was detained to his own utmost astonishment – he didn’t even have a poster or shout slogans – told me that the police officer who dragged him to the bus kept saying, “We know they [the opposition] hired you to come here for 500 roubles (approximately US$15), so don’t be surprised you will now pay the price.”

21:28 GMT: Georgiy Alburov has been sitting in detention for quite a while.

Translation: Meanwhile, we have been held for 5 hours now.

21:26 GMT: More on Navalny’s arrest: Here’s a video showing opposition leader Alexey Navalny being detained today. He says this discredits the charges against him of resisting arrest: 

Translation: BTW here is the video of the detention. And in the reports they’re writing that I “resisted, and did not obey and shouted slogans.”

21:00 GMT: Charges now clarified: The New Times‘s Yevgeny Albats reports:

Navalny, Nemtsov, Lyaskin, Yashin are being charged with Art. 19, par. 3, resistance of police. All of them went into the police van on their own, there is a video. How are they going to concoct this tomorrow at the trials? Or is even the semblance of evidence not needed?

20:18 GMT: From Maidan to Manezhnaya: This weekend in Ukraine, intense violence gave way to non-violent revolution, as the protesters in Maidan occupied the streets, government buildings, and palaces of Kiev, and their supporters occupied the parliament. The now-impeached President Viktor Yanukovych is missing, and an warrant has now been issued for his arrest. Today, we are also running a liveblog that is focused on how Russian officials are clearly unhappy with what has happened in Ukraine, as they are afraid of losing influence. We have just translated an article from Friday featuring an interview with the Bolotnaya defendants’ lawyer, Sergei Panchenko, who ominously warned that what happened in a Moscow courtroom would be inextricably tied to what was unfolding on the streets of Kiev:

The court has broad possibilities, but I’m afraid that it is not the court making the decision. And I very much fear that the tragic events in Ukraine will reflect on the defendants – a decision of a non-guilty sentence for our clients may be taken as a go-ahead to the opposition. That is, beside the fact that they are innocent yet put in jail, they also risk bearing the burden for actions that are not theirs.

Now the Associated Press has spoken to other lawyers for the sentenced protesters who also believe that there is a direct connection between the sentencing and what is happening in Ukraine:

The lawyer for Belousov, who was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison, said he believed the harsh punishment was in part a Kremlin reaction to the upheaval in neighboring Ukraine. “I get tons of Twitter messages that say: you must be punished for Maidan, you must go to jail for Maidan,” lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky said, referring to the square in Kiev that became a symbol of Ukraine’s protest movement. When Russian state television reported on the trial, it often showed footage of the 2012 Moscow protest alongside bloody images of beaten protesters and police in Ukraine. “With the events on the Maidan as a background, it’s even more obvious what all of this could have led to, had it not been for the government’s clear, tough response,” an anchor on Rossiya television said last week.

19:57 GMT: In other news, a mere 24 hours after the close of the Sochi Games, Vladimir Putin has expanded the controversial “NGO Law,” which classifies foreign-funded or politically-active organizations as “foreign agents” and authorizes government inspections of their property. RIA Novosti reports:

Grounds for surprise inspections of NGOs will include a failure to rectify infringements by a deadline previously set by an authorized agency; complaints by individuals and legal entities; information provided by government agencies, local authorities and the media about alleged extremism in the operation of NGOs; and information about violations of legislation by NGOs from federal and local authorities. The law also permits heads of authorized agencies to order surprise inspections and gives powers to prosecutors and election commissions to request them.


19:37 GMT: One of the Kremlin-orchestrated “news” channels having an editorially taxing fortnight is RT. Here’s a characteristic headline from the English-language propaganda mill, which essentially blames the Bolotnaya protestors for being arrested for staging “unsanctioned” protests.

Russia’s protest law, signed into effect by Vladimir Putin in June 2012, has been internationally condemned as draconian and tantamount to an abolition on most forms of popular dissent and freedom of expression. For one thing, the penalty imposed on violators is, in some cases, orders of magnitude above the average Russian’s annual income (about $8,500). Individuals face fines of $9,000, rally organizers $18,000 and groups or companies $30,000. Moreover, the law is meant to target those who harm other people or property — nothing so far today indicates that that 500-plus people arrested were attempting to harm anyone or destroy any property. The majority of those posting to social media claim they weren’t even charged with any crime, while some said their infraction was waiving a banner — which did not exist. For more, see Human Rights Watch. Also, the RT article itself states a falsehood in its very first line: “Over 400 people were briefly detained in Moscow on Monday while taking part in an unsanctioned rally to protest prison terms for eight activists in the Bolotnaya case.” In fact, many activists have been detained twice, or for more than three hours (see the post immediately below), in contravention of Russian law.

19:32 GMT: Via Oleg Kozlovsky:

Translation: Upon attempt to leave (we have complete right to) the doors are blocked and they get out their clubs.

19:29 GMT: Here’s a report from an activist still being held:

Translation: We have been held at the Ryazanskoye police precinct for more than 3 hours, which is totally unlawful. Call the Moscow office on duty and the prosecutor on duty.

19:02 GMT: Konstantin Yankauskas, an activist, sends out an alert:

Translation: Friends, we really need your phone calls to the North Ismaylovo police precinct. Tel. 84959555519. Ask when they are going to let out the detainees.

Translation: Suddenly wonderful @lbiryukov came and brought two bags of food! He set up a feast in a pile in the police van near the Voykovskoye police precinct. Enormous thank you from everybody. Here’s a new update from Tolokonnikova:

Translation: Everyone was booked, 20.2. We headed to the exit — whoops, surprise, they don’t let us out. “The bosses,” they say, “have not given approval.” We’re screwed.

18:54 GMT: Interfax is reporting on the number of today’s detainees. Part of the confusion about the actual figure owes to the prevalence of multiple arrests of the same people:

About 420 people have been detained for disturbance of the peace in Moscow on monday night, Interfax reports, citing the Russian Federation Interior Ministry Main Directorate. “For the entire time of the holding of the unauthorized action in the central part of done, a total of about 500 people gathered,” noted the press service.

18:49 GMT: How LifeNews spun the protests: Russia state-controlled media has predictably put its own inimitable take on today’s Manezh demos and the police crackdown. LifeNews, a Russia news service extremely close to the security services, comes in for special censure from Alyona Popova, a Russian start-up entrepreneur and activist, who has posted a report on her blog:

During the support action for the “prisoners of Bolotnaya” today I went into a store for a minute to get warm. The sales clerks were puzzled by what exactly was going on outside on Tverskaya. I told them what was happening. In response, I received a mute question and bewilderment: “Who are the prisoners of Bolotnaya?” And how could they know about this action from the media? and The-village ran text reports live from the scene. The content was approximatley the same: reposting of photographs of detainees from police vans, tweets from Navalny, reports from their own correspondents. The number of detainees was constantly refreshed according to information from OVDInfo [monitoring grop] and eye-witnesses. One of them remarked in annoyance, “Nearby a lady is blabbing into her i-phone with a LifeNews logo that the protesters are not allowing people to go into the metro.” The broadcast completely corresponds to what I saw with my own eyes. The information is identical to the reports of Kommersant and Novaya Gazeta. The LifeNews correspondent reports that there have been no arrests. At that moment, apparently accidentally, two law-enforcers land into the TV frame who are dragging a young man away by the legs. Before that, he was peacefully standing on Tverskaya. Several minutes later, another correspondent appeared in the frame near the opposite entrance to Manezh Square (this area has been blocked off to pedestrians since morning) and reports that the camera crew has caught about 5 detentions and a small group of “aggressively minded people.” On the whole, the correspondent notes, no supporters of the prisoners of Bolotnaya on Manezh have been observed. Meanwhile, RIA Novosti restricted itself to publishing information about the sentence. And Channel One eloquently reports: “Lenten Week has begun.”

18:25 GMT: Interpreter columnist Elena Servettaz is at Manezhnaya Square and says she was nearly detained but for her (French) press badge:

Far left oppositionist Sergei Udaltsov reports from Facebook: Police have detained more than 300 people on Manezh during an assembly to discuss the sentence of the “prisoners of Bolotnaya”. H/t: Svoboda Meanwhile, Yashin tweets:

Translation: Yakimanka Interior Ministry [police] precinct greeted us with an upside down portrait of Putin. There are 20 of us here. They’re booking us.

18:18 GMT: Newscaster recorded the protest at Manezhnaya Square today for about three hours. Here’s the full broadcast:

18:04 GMT: Nadya Tolokonnikova tweets her police booking.

Translation: Police man who is writing me up: “Let’s get it done quickly. Now I always write up Yashin very quickly — done — and on to the rally.” Russian cops haven’t lost their sense of irony or absurdity. Tolokonnikova’s booking officer promises her a speedy exit from the precinct so she can get back to doing what brought her there post haste. Yashin refers to Ilya Yashin who was (so far) arrested twice today.

18:02 GMT: Russian politician Ilya Yashin tweets on the number of detainees, now said to be 550.

Translation: They detained 234 people at the courthouse. Another 315 at Manezh. Total is almost 550 detained today. The Olympics have ended, but the OMON [riot police] continue to set records.

17:59 GMT: “What banners?” Ex-Pussy Rioter Maria Alyokhina is now reporting 3 minutes ago from the police station that she and her fellow detainees are being charged for a “crime” without evidence:

Translation: They are writing us up at the police precinct for banners. What banners? We stood for a minute on Manezh. A minute.

17:55 GMT: Update from Interpreter contributor Oleg Kozlovsky, who was arrested in Moscow today (see here). He writes in to us:

I was arrested as I tried to help another activist & journalist Alexander Ryklin who was being detained. No charges have been filed, but a police officer just said that everybody arrested with me may be charged for disobedience and face 15 days in jail.

17:52 GMT: Protest monitoring group OGON has tweeted more updates from today’s crackdown in Moscow. In reverse order, these tweets end with a message indicating that either OGON’s work has been voluntarily concluded or that it may have been taken offline or prohibited from continuing in some way:

Translation: Monitoring is finished.

Translation: The detentions are occurring without any reason. Police are standing inside cordons without any badges.

Translation: Exits from Okhotny Ryad and Tverskaya metro stations are closed. People are going down Tverskaya, exiting from other stations.

Soldiers from the Internal Troops have cordoned off the walkway.

17:43 GMT: Oleg Kozlovsky, a contributor to The Interpreter, is among those who were detained today.

17:38 GMT: Higher arrest count? Independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta is claiming that a total of 500 people have been detained today at both the Bolotnaya trial itself and the Manezh protest it entrained. This number is significantly higher than previous estimates from Amnesty International and OVDInfo, an NGO that observes protests and documents police brutality, have claimed, both putting the figure in high 200s.

17:35 GMT: What could be the consequences for Navalny for being arrested again today? The opposition leader was found guilty and sentenced to five years in jail last July for a fabricated fraud case. His sentence was thereafter suspended to allow him to run for mayor of Moscow, a race he lost. Journalist Marc Bennetts suggests that Navalny could now face his full jail sentence after today’s detention:

17:24 GMT: Blogger Andrei Malgin had pictures earlier today of Navalny’s detention and police picking up a man in a Putin mask:

17:17 GMT: A shot of ex-Pussy Rioter Maria Alyokhina being dragged away by cops:

17:14 GMT: Are foreigners among those being rounded up? According to Svoboda, the Russian language arm of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, yes indeed:

Translation: A tourist from Cologne is with us in the van! She is in shock, but seems to be smiling for now. And Volodya Akimenkov too.

17:10 GMT: Even flags being “arrested” in Moscow?

17:08 GMT: The EU weighs in on today’s sentencing of the Bolotnaya protestors. The spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, issued a statement:

“The High Representative is concerned about the verdict of guilt and prison sentences issued today… The charges brought against them and their sentences seem disproportionate in light of the nature of the events and the offences they are accused of…The High Representative hopes that the sentences iwll be reconsidered in the appeal process and calls on Russia to uphold its international human rights commitments.”


17:02 GMT: An update on the number of detainees, from Irena Nesterova: “At least 285 persons detained, according to latest report from a human rights group which monitors police”. Meanwhile, another livefeed of the protest and dragnet is available here.

17:00 GMT: Navalny and Nemtsov together at the Tverskaya Police Precinct. Via Nemtsov’s Facebook account:

16:50 GMT: Attempt to detain Yabloko Party Moscow mayoral candidate Sergei Mitrokhin:

Translation: Attempt to detain me on Tverskaya Square

16:48 GMT: Journalist arrested. Ekho Moskvy reporter Andrei Poznyakov was also arrested near Tverskaya Street, despite the fact that he informed police he was on assignment. One Russian has started a livestream from his phone on Tverskaya.

16:42 GMT: Nemtsov tweets:

Translation: Met Navalny and Lyaskin at the Tverskaya police station…

16:38 GMT: Nadya Tolokonnikova jokes about her arrest:

Translation: Traveling session of Rights Zone in the police van. Seminar on the rights of detainees )

Translation: New series of super photos: with the Russian flag in the police van 16:22 GMT: Russian politician Ilya Yashin, who was arrested, tweets that oppositionist Boris Nemtsov was too, apparently in violation of the law:

Translation: Nemtsov was insisting that as a deputy he cannot be detained without a prosecutor’s order. Now we’re sitting together in a [police] van : )

Translation: Well, in general,I stood on the corner of Tverskaya about 10 minutes. The OMON [riot police] came running — and once again I’m in a van. The third detention in one day, they’re driving me crazy. Here’s another crowd shot:

Translation: #Manezhka There are a lot of people on both sides of Tverskaya Street. They are methodically picking people up.

Translation: We’ve got Akimenko with us in the police van, he wsa released at 16:00 from the Interior Ministry precinct, and now again. This is the political prisoner bus.

16:18 GMT: Last week, Maria Alyokhina wrote an op-ed in the New York Times blasting Putin for what she called a “deceptive” Olympics. The article following the ex-Pussy Rioters’ arrest and Cossack-whipping in Sochi for their planned demonstration, “Putin will teach you how to love the Fatherland.” An excerpt from that op-ed:

The face of these Olympics is deceptive, as is the entire authoritarian regime. At first, the authorities do not strike out at you directly. Rather, they systematically force you to adopt the only stance they deem proper, which is to move passively, apolitically, through the entire chain of post-Soviet institutions, from primary school to the grave. Nikolai Zabolotsky, a Russian avant-garde poet who was repressed under Stalin and spent eight years in exile, compared progressing through life’s stages to being transferred through the gulag’s series of transit prisons. The realities of the Stalin era made the voicing of a direct metaphor like this necessary, even at the cost of losing one’s freedom. The reality of contemporary Russia, and Mr. Putin’s goal, is to kill such metaphors — by force, if necessary — and to kill the reflection, analysis and criticism they carry. The quasi-fascist direction of this regime over the past 13 years depends on this deadening of the intellect. For as soon as obliviousness ends, so does Mr. Putin’s power.

16:10 GMT: An update on the number of people arrested: Amnesty International now says it’s 234. AI also condemns the detentions of peaceful protestors in a statement:

“Just a day after Russia was feted on the world stage at the closing ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian authorities have laid bare the reality of life in the country today. Those who dare to express dissenting views face serious consequences,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

Three days ago, Amnesty also condemned the guilty verdict against the Bolotnaya protestors, calling their trial a “show trial”:

In what was clearly a show trial, a Moscow court found guilty eight defendants in the Bolotnaya case. The sentences are expected to be announced on Monday. During the trial nearly 200 of the peaceful supporters and journalists gathered around the Moscow court were reportedly detained by police, including Vladimir Akimenkov, himself a former Bolotnaya defendant and prisoner of conscience. Some of those detained have been released but are expected to face fines of up to RUB 30,000 (around USD 800) for participating in an “unauthorised gathering”. “What happened on Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012 was not the quelling of a riot, but the crushing of a protest. The Bolotnaya trial has not exposed orchestrated violence, but rather a criminal justice system that is entirely malleable to the dictates of its political masters,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International. “The defendants in this trial were confronted by abusive use of force by police. Some of them sought to prevent violence, others to protect themselves. A few were just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. All are victims of a politically motivated show trial. “Contrary to the official line, there was not a mass riot. There was violence, but most of it was at the hands of the police. To this day, however, not a single police officer has been brought to justice for these abuses.”

16:05 GMT: Now Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova inside the police van:

Meanwhile, a shot of the vans preordered to arrest protestors.

A shot of Navalny inside a police van:

15:41 GMT: Alexey Navalny and the two recently amnestied ex-members of Pussy Riot — Maria Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova — were arrested outside the Moscow court where a judge has just sentenced eight protestors from the May 2011 Bolotnaya demonstration, seven of them to jail terms (see our translation of that sentencing here). Alokhina and Tolokonnikova, who were amnestied by the Putin regime in December, were also arrested last week for a planned demonstration in Sochi, then released, then horse-whipped by Cossacks. Some 100 activists objecting to the sentences were also detained. Below, some dramatic photos of the prominent dissidents being hauled away by Russian police:

The Moscow Times reports:

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were among those held by police on Monday.

“Guess where I am?” Navalny wrote on his Twitter account, “it begins with ‘avto’ and ends with ‘zak’,” referring to the russian word for “police van.”

Navalny then called for reinforcements.

“Everyone come to the Zamoskvoretsky court. You may be arrested, of course — it’s a lottery: a one in 20 chance. But if you are arrested, it’s not terrible: it is warm and the company is good.”