Daily Archives: June 23, 2009

The Surveilled City: More Harassment of Journalists and Activists in Petersburg

Journalists Protest Following Arrests on Nevsky for Use of Foul Language
By Sergey Chernov
St. Petersburg Times
June 23, 2009

On Thursday, two journalists who were detained by the police in the city center last week and charged with using obscene language in public wrote to the City Prosecutor asking for action to be taken against both arresting officers and their colleagues who wrote up the reports at the police station. They suspect the arrests were made to obstruct their professional activities.

Dmitry Zhvaniya, a journalist and the director at the Media SPb news agency, responsible for web sites including Zaks.ru and Lenizdat.ru, and the agency’s reporter Alisa Kustikova were on their way to a coffee house near Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main street. They were due to have coffee with a colleague and two other men including architecture preservation activist Alexei Yarema when they were stopped by plainclothes policemen at 9.15 a.m. on Wednesday.

According to the journalists, all six present — two reporters, a photographer, two architectural preservationists and a woman who happened to be passing the scene on her bicycle — were bundled into a police van without any explanation and taken to the Precinct 27 police station, where the reports were written.

According to the police report, Zhvaniya and the other detainees were using “obscene language in public,” thus “expressing sheer disrespect for society.” Copies of the Zhvaniya report and the journalists’ letters to the Prosecutor’s Office are available on Lenizdat.ru, a web site specializing in local media issues.

Two hours later, the detainees were taken to a court, but were released when the judge ordered the cases to be sent to their respective local courts for a later hearing.

Speaking on Monday, Zhvaniya claimed that the detentions were related to his and Kustikova’s professional activities, as they were meeting Yarema, an activist with the architectural preservation group ERA, to photograph materials set to be used for a campaign to protect historic St. Petersburg at Media SPb’s nearby offices at 11 Malaya Morskaya Ulitsa.

In their letters to the prosecutor, Zhvaniya and Kustikova wrote that the policemen who made the detentions violated their freedom of movement and the Law on the Police, and that the officers at the Precinct 27 station had written reports containing “deliberately false accusations.” They described the charges as “outrageous and cynical lies,” “libel” and “criminal insult.”

“First of all, if we were detained because they knew Yarema was going to be there, that means there is a political surveillance problem, and secondly, we were detained for no reason, as if we were wanted criminals. Third, we were slandered; these are the three things that I am not happy about,” Zhvaniya said by phone on Monday.

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Filed under political repression, Russian society, urban movements (right to the city)

The Struggle for Democracy in Brazilian Universities

[This is a guest post by Comrade Rapha. He originally published the following comment yesterday on his own blog, Politika etc.]

Almost 25 years after the end of the military dictatorship (1964 – 1985), Brazil still faces the ghosts of authoritarianism. Surprisingly, these spirits came back in the context of an institution which played a remarkable role in the resistance to the military regime. In the past few days, professors, students and workers of the University of Sao Paulo witnessed a police action which made the community aware of the lack of democracy in its own academic environment.

On May 27th, workers blocked the entrance of four buildings in the State Capital campus. They asked for better wages and other labor demands. According to the rector, they were posting pickets during the strike to discourage other employees to work, an illegal act as stated by Brazilian laws. On June 1st, the administration called the police to intervene and stop the pickets. The police remained on campus and on June 9th, they attacked a group of students, professors and workers who were demonstrating against them.

The police used tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. This action generated lots of reactions. Several newspapers articles were published by those concerned, including faculty members, students and union members, showing anything but an opinion agreement on the police action. Part of the faculty supports the rector’s initiative to call the police and considered the intervention legitimate. On June 18th, more than 1,500 people demonstrated on the streets against the police reaction and its disproportion.

In 2007, students occupied the building where the rector’s office is located. They were against some decrees passed by Governor Jose Serra with the support of the rector Suely Vilela. The decrees considerably reduced the autonomy of the university in favor of the State Secretary of Education, concentrating more power in the hands of the Governor. After the occupation, Jose Serra stepped back and voided the decrees.

The University of Sao Paulo is responsible for 23% of all scientific production in Brazil. It has more than 86,000 students, 5,400 professors and 15,200 employees. The 2009 budget is about US$ 1.4 billion due to a disposition of the Sao Paulo State Constitution, which allocates 5% of all value added tax revenue of the State, which is the richest State in Brazil, to the university. It is clear that a major crisis in a university with these proportions reflects on local and national politics.

As the Philosophy professor of University of Campinas Marcos Nobre pointed out in a newspaper article, the police action is “the symptom, not the cause.” For him, this shows that despite having democratic institutions, “Brazilian society still has a low level of democratization.” The process to choose the university’s rector gives a good example of the way different groups are represented within the institution. Approximately 300 people vote to appoint 3 names to the State Governor, who is supposed to pick one. In this election, the group of “titular professors” (named chair professors) is majoritarian, and one must be a titular professor to become rector. Students and workers are not able to nominee someone to this position, even if both groups vote together.

By the moment, the rector and the union of workers started to negotiate again. The police are expected to leave the campus soon. The lesson which seems to have been learned till now is that the university needs to rethink its own structures. It has still to find the difficult tune for attending social demands of inclusion and participation.

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Filed under international affairs, political repression, protests, student movements