The local political opposition says the authorities are increasing the pressure on them as the March 1 municipal elections approach. City Hall refused to authorize a meeting that the Solidarity democratic movement was planning to hold on Saturday, and policemen were reported to have visited the homes of people who support oppositional candidates and asked them to retract their signatures.
Solidarity was planning to hold meetings against the deterioration of the social-economic situation both in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but while the meeting was authorized by the mayor’s office in Moscow, St. Petersburg’s City Hall said it was not possible to hold a rally at any of the six locations suggested by the organizers.
According to a press release sent out last week by Yabloko Democratic Party, some of whose members are also members of Solidarity, City Hall said there would be maintenance work on Arts Square, a “military-patriotic meeting” on the Field of Mars and a “sports event dedicated to Defenders of the Fatherland Day” at the time of the planned opposition rally.
Three other sites subsequently suggested by the organizers — Ploshchad Lenina, Pionerskaya Ploshchad and Ploshchad Sakharova — were also rejected by City Hall on Wednesday.
“They’re afraid of everything,” said Olga Kurnosova, the local leader of Garry Kasparov’s United Civil Front (OGF) and a member of Solidarity’s Federal Political Council.
Solidarity is considering holding an unauthorized “art event” on Arts Square instead, Kurnosova said by phone on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Kurnosova won a case against the Chyornaya Rechka municipal district’s election commission, which had refused to register her as a candidate, claiming that the signatures she had collected had been fabricated. On Tuesday the judge ruled that the commission should register her as a candidate, but after a protest from the prosecutor’s office, the case will be heard at the city court next week.
However, three OGF activists who also initially failed to be registered as candidates won their cases in court this week, she said.
Olga Tsepilova, the deputy head of the Green Russia faction in Yabloko, made a complaint to the prosecutor’s office about policemen allegedly visiting and intimidating those who had signed documents supporting the candidates of ecological and preservationist groups in the Yuntolovo municipal district within the Primorsky district in the northeast of St. Petersburg.
“During the past two days there has been a massive police check,” Tsepilova said by phone on Thursday.
“It turns out that two days ago, the chairwoman of the Yuntolovo election commission wrote a complaint to Police Precinct 53 that all of our signatures were false. It’s amazing — two weeks after the checking of signatures was completed,” she said.
According to Tsepilova, the policemen visited people who had given their signatures at home, often late in the evening. According to her, it is a direct violation of the law.
“They took people’s signatures, asked them if they had signed their names themselves, showed them the collected signatures, and told them that they supported unworthy people who were trying to break into power, while they should support totally different people and retract their signatures, or say that the signatures were not theirs,” she said.
“There are people who are ready to confirm this, although most were simply intimidated. There were calls from people who said they had not thought that giving their signature would have such consequences.
The police visits lasted until late evening on Wednesday, she said.
“One person called us at 11.30 p.m. saying he had just been visited by the police,” she said. “At 11.30 p.m. you are visited by two policemen, who sternly ask you if you took part in such an activity… Many got scared and told us, ‘We’ll never sign anything again for the rest of our lives.’”
A police spokesman declined to comment when called on Thursday evening, but said he would have information on Friday.