Police Arrest Jackson Fan for Holding Rally
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
June 27, 2012
The police dispersed Michael Jackson fans near the U.S. consulate and arrested one for holding “an unsanctioned rally” in St. Petersburg on Monday.
The remaining 20 to 30 fans, who were carrying a tape recorder playing Jackson songs and a sign reading “We remember, we grieve,” were told to disperse.
The shrine of photos and flowers that they assembled outside the consulate was dismantled.
A report on local television channel 100TV shows a young man identified by his first name, Andrei, being told by a police officer that he has violated a local law by treading on the grass.
But after Andrei, wearing a Jackson-style white hat, was taken to a police precinct, he was charged with violating the rules on holding a public assembly.
“I don’t recall that people can be prosecuted for walking on the grass,” a police spokesman said Tuesday.
“If you trampled on the grass — especially if there were flowers planted there — that’s a different matter. [But the detention] was for organizing a rally; there were posters and sound-amplifying equipment.”
Fans who came to the site Monday denied that they were an organized group, BaltInfo reported.
Local fans have come to the U.S. consulate every year to pay homage to their idol since Jackson died on June 25, 2009.
According to amendments to the law “On Assemblies, Rallies, Demonstrations, Marches and Pickets” that came into force on June 9, Andrei faces a 10,000- to 30,000-ruble fine ($300 to $910) or 50 hours of community service.
The incident involving the Michael Jackson fans was the latest in a series of recent non-political arrests and dispersals of people who took to the streets of St. Petersburg for various reasons.
On June 10, about ten young people were detained and charged with violating the rules of holding a public assembly for participating in a pillow-fighting flash mob on the Field of Mars.
This month also saw several young people arrested near the Mariinsky Palace, the seat of the Legislative Assembly on St. Isaac’s Square, for attempting to draw on the asphalt with colored chalk.
Some media have attributed the recent unwarranted arrests and dispersals to the new law. It was passed in the aftermath of the May 6 March of Millions in Moscow, which ended in violent clashes after the police blocked the path of participants of the authorized demonstration and then broke up the rally altogether.
But non-political arrests had been seen in the city many times before the law introducing stiff fines was adopted early this month.
One of the most notorious episodes was the April 2010 bubble-blowing flash mob near Gorkovskaya metro station, which was first attacked by extreme nationalists, who threw a flare at and beat several participants, having mistaken them for gay rights protesters.
The police then dispersed participants, who were mostly teenagers, arresting about 30. They ended up in police precincts and were released after about five hours and charged with walking on the grass.
Some attribute the tightening of the authorities’ reaction to any unsanctioned outdoor events to the Kremlin’s fear of events such as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004-2005, when massive protests against electoral fraud led to new presidential elections and the loss of the candidate — Viktor Yanukovych — in whose favor the first election results had been rigged.