While a criminal case about the police excesses during the July 31 demo in defense of the right to assembly was opened in St. Petersburg last week, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made news Monday by speaking approvingly of police beatings in an interview with Kommersant.
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“You have to get a permit from the local authorities,” Putin was quoted as saying.
“You got it? Then go and rally. If not, you don’t have the right. If you go out without having the right, you’ll get a bash on the head with a truncheon.”
Putin also said that demonstrators consciously provoke the police into administering beatings and pour red paint over themselves to imitate blood.
Putin’s words were published a day before rallies due in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities across Russia on Tuesday, as part of the Strategy 31 campaign in defense of the right of assembly guaranteed by Article 31 of the Russian constitution. The events are held on the 31st day of months that have 31 days.
The authorities in Moscow and St. Petersburg have not authorized the campaign’s events since it began on July 31, 2009, in Moscow. Opposition politicians took Putin’s words as a threat.
Author and oppositional politician Eduard Limonov, one of the leaders of Strategy 31, reacted by describing Putin as a “man of violence.”
“The chair of the Russian government V.V. Putin’s interview is outrageous in its tone and insulting to the citizens of Russia,” Limonov wrote in his blog on Monday.
“It contains elements of intimidation with the threat of violence […]. Incitement of law enforcement agencies to violence is evident. Thus, the phrase ‘get a bash on the head with a truncheon’ is repeated three times.”
Despite the interview, the Aug. 31 events will go ahead as planned, organizers said Monday. Moscow demonstrators will assemble on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad, while St. Petersburg protesters will assemble by the Gostiny Dvor metro station on Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main street, on Tuesday. The events start at 6 p.m.
Aug. 31 events are also scheduled in around 40 Russian cities. Demos in support of Strategy 31 are also due to take place near Russian embassies and Russian government representative offices in London, New York, Tel Aviv, Prague and Helsinki.
“For us, nothing has changed, as a matter of fact; we’ll go to Gostiny Dvor, as always,” said Andrei Dmitriyev, a local Strategy 31 leader, on Monday.
“It’s a mixture of Putin’s typical yobbishness — posing as a tough guy — and sheer bluff, because if one analyzes in detail what he said, it has nothing to do with Russian law and common sense,” he said.
“He either doesn’t know Russian laws or simply couldn’t care less about them.”
In Dmitriyev’s view, the law on public events says nothing about getting permits from the local authorities, instead requiring merely that the authorities be informed of planned events.
“Our authorities have chosen several ‘ghettoes,’ where they send the opposition to rally,” said Dmitriyev, adding that earlier this month City Hall offered the organizers the chance to hold the rally in the remote 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution Park on the city’s northeastern outskirts, but refused to authorize the rally near Gostiny Dvor.
“This practice of sending the demonstrators to ‘ghettoes’ is also illegal in its essence,” he said.
The St. Petersburg authorities have refused to authorize Strategy 31 rallies on the grounds that the site was close to a metro and thus the subject of “special security regulations” starting from the first local event on Jan. 31, but failed to produce these regulations to the organizers.
The most recent Strategy 31 rally, which was held on July 31, was thwarted with particular brutality, with several people being badly beaten. The St. Petersburg Department of Internal Affairs (GUVD) started an investigation on the police’s actions during the demo, which is due to be finished on Sept. 2, according to a GUVD spokesman.
A criminal case was opened by the Investigative Committee of the Russian prosecutor’s office last week. According to its statement, the investigation has established that a police officer hit an “unidentified” man on the head with a rubber truncheon at least once “without having sufficient grounds.”