Post-Election Police Crackdown on Petersburg Protesters

The St. Petersburg Times
December 7, 2011
Police Crack Down on Protesters on Nevsky Prospekt

By Sergey Chernov

Police detained dozens who peacefully protested against widespread violations in the State Duma elections. These violations allegedly increased the percentage of votes for United Russia, while reducing vote totals for rival parties. This tendency was also noted in St. Petersburg.

An estimated 1,000 came to protest the violations at Gostiny Dvor Metro Station on Nevsky Prospekt in central St. Petersburg, Monday — three times as many protesters as on election evening, Sunday.

The Monday protest was not organized by any political group and mainly consisted of people who had not previously participated in protest rallies. They organized the protest via the Russian social network Vkontakte (the country’s equivalent of Facebook), as soon as reports about large-scale ballot-stuffing, expulsion of observers and rigging of the the results started to appear.

“It was mostly students from various universities, active Internet users,” Maxim Tomchin, one of the organizers said.

Tomchin said the protesters came together via several groups on Vkontakte which were launched by St. Petersburg residents for the elections. He was an administrator of one of the groups.

“Originally, we were urging people to vote for any party except United Russia, but as news about violations started to come on Sunday, three groups were formed to protest them,” he said.

“We had no idea what an unauthorized rally was and how the authorities would react to that.”

Police reacted by surging into the crowd and arresting people, as they did during the Sunday rally that featured parties not allowed to participate in elections.

Police said that about 150 were arrested (about 120 near Gostiny Dvor and about 30 near Moscow Railway Station). Human rights activists said that for most of them it was the first time they had been arrested and they did not know how to behave in a police precinct or what their rights were.

According to Tomchin, after the rally, participants split into three large groups.

The largest group chose to act by holding authorized events, while a smaller group — which included participants who had been detained on Monday — became more radical and decided to continue protesting the following day. The smallest group “got scared and decided not to participate at all.”

Tomchin said he submitted an application to City Hall Tuesday to hold a meeting on Dec. 18. The Other Russia, Yabloko Democratic Party, the People’s Freedom Party (Parnas) and Solidarity Democratic Movement have backed the rally. According to a Russian law introduced by Putin, authorities must be warned about any planned rally 15 days in advance.

Tomchin said his group, while remaining non-partisan, will demand the election results be revised and is preparing to counter these kind of violations at the upcoming presidential elections.

He said the upcoming rally’s Vkontakte group was growing quickly, with one or two people joining every minute.

Maxim Reznik, local chair of Yabloko, said his party will meet A Just Russia and the Communist Party (KPRF) to discuss possible joint protests on Wednesday.

He compared the struggle of observers against violations to the Battle of Stalingrad, a fiercely fought WWII battle. “We will act in every way to dispute the results and organize a massive rally,” Reznik said. “It’s important to get a lot of people together.”

On Sunday, 300 to 400 protesters gathered at the same site near Gostiny Dvor as elections were taking place.

These protesters argued that the elections were not legal because the authorities repeatedly refused to register several oppositional parties including The Other Russia, Parnas, and the Russian United Labor Front (ROT Front).

“Your elections are a farce” was one of the slogans. Some protesters held an image of Putin’s face with a line struck through it. According to police, 65 people were arrested on Sunday and charged with both failure to follow police orders and violating the rules of assembly. Activists said that more than 90 were arrested.

On Monday, three Other Russia activists, Andrei Milyuk, Sergei Chepiga and Sergei Chekunov, were sentenced to three days each in custody.

A number of activists complained about police beatings. Olga Kurnosova, the local chair of The United Civil Front (OGF), who was arrested on Sunday, said Tuesday she had a suspected concussion and many bruises.

Other Russia activist Igor Chepkasov said policemen beat detained protesters in a bus. During the beatings they broke a window in the bus in which he was being held.

Other Russia’s local chair Andrei Dmitriyev sees the Monday rally as a good sign. He said his party’s activists were not aware of the event in advance and headed there when they heard the news.

“On Sunday, it was as expected; a group of opposition activists and concerned citizens came to protest at Gostiny Dvor or Triumfalnaya Ploshchad [in Moscow] and got detained by the police,” Dmitriyev said.

“We thought it would be a one-time thing and that there would not be massive people’s protests. Ten thousand people came to the rally in Moscow and a thousand came to Gostiny Dvor. This is very serious, especially because they are not political activists, but ordinary people who are upset by the elections and who are not prepared to tolerate this.

“People feel deceived, they feel that their victory has been stolen, they feel injustice. They’ve started to realize that the question of power can’t be solved through elections. This is a very bad sign for the authorities.”

On Tuesday, protests at Gostiny Dvor continued. Police started detaining protesters at around 7 p.m.

Editor’s Note. According to official sources, 247 people were detained during Tuesday evening’s protests in downtown Petersburg.

Photo: http://vkontakte.ru/beliy_volk

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Filed under activism, political repression, protests, Russian society

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