Dozens of policemen, commanded by high-ranking officers, dispersed a handful of protesters, arresting three activists on Sunday.
The Stop Prizyv (Stop Conscription) movement, which includes members of the Republican Party of Russia, the Yabloko Democratic Party, the United Civil Front, and the youth movements Oborona and DA!, had planned to hold a March for an All-Volunteer Army in Park Pobedy. The authorities, however, denied them permission.
According to a letter signed by Vladimir Korovin, the head of the Moskovsky District Administration, the march could not be held there because Moskovsky Prospect is a “federal” highway, Park Pobedy itself is a federal historical and cultural site, and the European Table Tennis Championships were underway at the nearby Peterburgsky Sports and Concert Complex.
Instead of a march, the administration proposed that Stop Prizyv hold a stationary demonstration at Chernyshevsky Garden, far from the Central District’s busy streets, on Oct. 19. The organizers agreed to this change of plans, but said they would sue the administration. They are arguing that according to Russian law the authorities do not have the right to change the form of a demonstration.The organizers instead decided to conduct multiple one-man pickets (which do not require permission from the authorities) and distribute flyers advertising the Oct. 19 rally. In response, the administration sent a massive police squad with at least two colonels in command to the location. The police were already in place at 1 p.m., the scheduled start of the protest.
As about ten activists and several journalists gathered, an OMON special-forces police truck and a police van were parked near the Park Pobedy metro station. Dozens of policemen, including plainclothes officers, were stationed around the site.
When one protester took up her post and unfurled a poster that read, “The March for an All-Volunteer Army Should Have Happened Here,” two police officers approached her, confiscated the poster and rolled it up.
An unknown man, described by a policeman as an “outsider,” approached a second protester. He tried to join the activist, which thus allowed police to qualify the one-man picket as a “mass action.” The police frequently employ this type of provocation in order to break up such protests and arrest the protesters.
The poster was then taken by a third protester. He stood holding it while giving an interview to a television crew. In this case, the police did not intervene.
The arrests began when activists took out leaflets and attempted to distribute them to infrequent passersby. Three activists—Maria Govorova and Darya Kostromina of Oborona) and Yelena Popova of Yabloko and the United Civil Front)—were immediately detained and taken to a police bus, where arrest reports were drawn up.
Later in the day, they were taken to court. Popova, charged with obstruction of justice, was fined 800 rubles (approximately $30). The two other cases were postponed.
The dispersal of the protest and arrests were “baseless,” said Stop Prizyv coordinator Yelena Ivanova. She added that Stop Prizyv would appeal the verdict.
“It is of course arbitrariness on the part of the policemen: they had no right to act like that. There was no actual cause [for their behavior] or any wrongdoing,” she said by phone on Monday.
The police spokesman said on Monday that the arrests were made for two different offences, obstruction of justice (Popova) and violation of the law on mass events (Govorova and Kostromina).
Photos by Vladimir Volokhonsky