Russian authorities launch ‘fierce crackdown’ on political activists ahead of elections

Russian authorities are systematically violating the rights of political activists through arbitrary arrests and detentions in a fierce crackdown ahead of the presidential elections on Sunday, Amnesty International said today.

Using a law on public assemblies, authorities have deliberately targeted activists calling for an election boycott.

“The Kremlin’s agenda is crystal clear – the loudest protesters and vote-boycotters must be cleared from the cities’ streets during the final stages of the presidential campaign,” said Denis Krivosheev, deputy director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.

“While various methods are used, the authorities usually turn to their favourite one: arbitrarily throwing dissenters behind bars.”

The idea of boycotting the ballot is championed by anti-corruption campaigner and right-wing nationalist Aleksei Navalny, who is barred from running for president on widely contested grounds. In recent weeks, the authorities have targeted his supporters through a range of punitive means, including arbitrary arrests and detention.

Mr Navalny’s headquarters’ coordinator in Saint Petersburg, Denis Mikhailov, was detained on 31 January for 30 days after the “voters’ strike” event in the city, which was also banned by the authorities. Initially he was held for calling for “an unauthorized gathering”, but was released on 2 March before being rearrested later the same day, this time for “participating” in the Saint Petersburg event. He was sentenced to 25 days in prison.

“Denis Mikhailov was not only arbitrarily deprived of his liberty, but deprived twice over. This repeated violation epitomizes the increasingly hostile situation peaceful protesters are facing ahead of the election,” said Mr Krivosheev.

At least two more prominent activists were arrested in Saint Petersburg in similar circumstances. The Saint Petersburg coordinator of the Open Russia movement, Andrei Pivovarov, was sentenced to 25 days of administrative detention on 28 February. A few days before his arrest, Mr Pivovarov wrote on Facebook that he felt that he was under surveillance.

On 26 February, Artyom Goncharenko, a member of another opposition movement, Vesna (Spring), was given 25 days’ administrative detention for displaying a giant inflatable duck in his apartment window when the protest rally was passing by. Since last year, yellow ducks have become a widely popular opposition symbol.

“This election campaign has been marred by widespread attacks against President Putin’s critics, and reprisals aimed at intimidating opposition activists into silence are becoming cruder as polling day approaches,” added Mr Krivosheev.