Tag Archives: right to protest

The Cradle of Three Revolutions and Russia’s Cultural Capital Bids Farewell to Freedom of Assembly

www.fontanka.ru

Poltavchenko has banned demonstrations on Nevsky Prospekt, St. Isaac’s Square and Palace Square

March 20, 2013

St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko has signed amendments to the law on rallies and demonstrations. The document was signed on March 19 and published on the official website today.

Under the amendments, Nevsky Prospekt, St. Isaac’s Square, and Palace Square will be closed to mass protest actions. It is also prohibited to hold a rally at a distance of 50 meters from buildings where government offices are located.

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On February 20, the Legislative Assembly adopted en bloc amendments to the Law “On Meetings, Rallies, Demonstrations, Marches and Pickets in St. Petersburg,” and the same day submitted them for the Governor to sign.

“This Law of St. Petersburg will enter into force ten days after its publication,” the statement reads.

Photo: Fontanka River, St. Petersburg, March 17, 2013. Courtesy of Chtodelat News

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We Have No Honor to “Play Off”

Playoff for the Honor of Our City. Obvodny Canal, Petersburg, February 23, 2013

 

Unfortunately, we have no honor to “play off”. . .

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Gay Groups Continue to Fight Unfair Treatment
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
February 20, 2013

The small village of Novosyolki, southwest of St. Petersburg, has become City Hall’s favorite site to send St. Petersburg’s LGBT rights activists to rally, as the organizers of another protest planned this week found out when they were told that 15 sites they had suggested within the city were unavailable for their assembly. Meanwhile, a local court found no violations in City Hall’s continued refusals to let LGBT activists rally in the center.

On Monday, City Hall rejected a permit for the Democratic St. Petersburg movement to rally in the city against the national bill forbidding the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors, which is about to be accepted by the State Duma in its second hearing. It was passed in the first hearing on Jan. 25. Similar local laws have already been enacted in St. Petersburg as well as in ten other regions across Russia.

As the law on public assemblies requires the administration to suggest an alternative site if the one suggested by the organizers is unavailable, the organizers of the protest that had been planned for Sunday, Feb. 24 were told to hold it in Novosyolki.

“I didn’t go there, but I checked it on the map; it’s beyond the Ring Road, and takes two hours to get to from St. Petersburg,” said Natalya Tsymbalova, an activist with Democratic St. Petersburg and the Alliance of Straights for LGBT Equality.

“There is an aerodrome, a dump and a cemetery there. It looks like they have found the most remote location which is still officially part of the city.”

According to Tsymbalova, City Hall first dismissed five suggested sites last week, saying that other events were scheduled to be held at the first four, while large-scale road maintenance works would be held at the fifth. She said the organizers had not been given the reasons for the alleged unavailability of the ten other suggested sites, which include Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Square, as well as smaller locations where other rallies are usually authorized.

Tsymbalova said the third application, containing five other suggested locations, would be submitted to City Hall shortly.

“We’re running out of time and there’s already little hope,” she said.

“They look determined not to let us go anywhere but Novosyolki.”

As the planned date of the rally approaches, chances of the rally eventually being authorized are growing slimmer.

“If they still don’t let us have a rally, we have an idea to hold a kind of flash mob by walking around all the rejected sites to see what is really happening at them on Feb. 24; to see if there are some real events taking place there or if we have been given the runaround, so we could use it in court,” Tsymbalova said.

“We’ll definitely file a complaint about this absolutely insolent and mocking rejection and we hope to win in the city court or the Supreme Court, because it’s obviously unlawful.”

On Monday, the Smolninsky District Court dismissed a complaint by LGBT rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out), which was given Novosyolki as the only available site to hold a protest against the anti-gay law ahead of its first hearing at the State Duma in December.

According to Ksenia Kirichenko, the coordinator of Vykhod’s legal aid program, a representative of City Hall described the village as the most appropriate location for such an event.

“Novosyolki is becoming a favorite tool for effectively banning LGBT rights rallies,” Kirichenko said in a news release.

In 2011, City Hall redirected the organizers of the St. Petersburg Gay Pride event to Novosyolki. Instead, an attempt to hold the rally was undertaken in the city center on Senatskaya Ploshchad, beside the Bronze Horseman monument, and resulted in arrests and fines.

According to Kirichenko, Vykhod will appeal the Vyborgsky District Court’s ruling.

Photo by Chtodelat News

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Filed under feminism, gay rights, political repression, protests, Russian society

Russia: Reading Aloud in Public Is Illegal (Protest against the Torture of Russian Prisoners)

On November 26, a protest against the torture of Russian prisoners took place outside the headquarters of the Federal Penitentiary Service in Moscow. The protest was occasioned by the conflict in penal colony № 6 in Kopeisk. Police detained more than ten people during the protest.

This is how the protest was announced on Facebook:

On November 26 at 6:00 p.m, a protest against torture in Russian prisons will take place outside the headquarters of the Federal Penitentiary Service at Zhitnaya 14.

We protest against torture in Russian prisons and support the inmates in Kopeisk, who spoke out against bullying, extortion and sexual abuse. During the protest, we will be reading prisoners’ stories of torture and humiliation aloud. We are convinced that the public should be aware of what is actually going on in Russian prisons. And not just be aware, but try and stop this nightmare.

At penal colony no. 6 in Kopeisk in the Chelyabinsk region, more than a thousand prisoners have for several days refused to go inside in protest against torture and beatings. Silently, lined up, they stand in the cold for several hours. They refuse to eat, believing that it is better to die than to continue to suffer torture, humiliation and blackmail.
A group of convicts seized the guard tower in the industrial area of the colony and hung up a banner with the message “People, help us!” Riot police were deployed to the colony; they attacked prisoners’ relatives who had gathered outside the prison gates. People were beaten bloody and the windows of their cars were smashed. Among the victims was human rights activist Oksana Trufanova. “I heard [the command] ‘Beat!’ and the relatives were attacked by men in black masks and uniforms wielding clubs,” she said in an interview. “Everyone fled, but [the riot police] ran many people down. Personally, I was hit on the head and pushed to the ground. I told them I was a human rights activist, but they told me rudely, using obscene language, to keep quiet or I’d get another whacking.”

Even now the authorities are trying to convince us that nothing has happened, and that journalists have exaggerated the scale of the protests. That is why it is so important not to let them hush up this outrage.
We demand:

–  An objective investigation of all allegations of torture and extortion in the colony, and an open trial of Federal Penitentiary Service employees implicated in them.
– The punishment of Interior Ministry officers who employed violence against family members and human rights activists gathered outside colony no. 6.

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 Why the prisoners “rioted”:

Olga Belousova, the sister of one of the inmates, was allowed inside Penal Colony No. 6 along with two other relatives. As a witness, she was able to speak to the press about the situation there.

“There were 60 people in the room; all were standing quietly,” Belousova said. “I told them that we support them and came to make sure that everything is fine, and that we want to make their voices heard outside the colony.”

The complaints, which were mainly communicated by the prisoners, include enormous extortions, inappropriate use of force and numerous other humiliations, Belousova says.

“They don’t touch those who give them money, but against those who can’t they use force to make their relatives pay,” she added.

Former convict Mikhail Ermuraky believes that this system of exploitation was a main reason for the riot.  

His mother said her son was tortured multiple times, sometimes even including with sexual abuse.

“They start beating those who don’t want to pay,” said Ermuraky in a recent interview with the RIA Novosti news agency.

The father of another convict, who spent three months in colony No.6, told Russia’s Dozhd television that he has twice paid off prison staff.

“Every month… If you don’t bring money, there will be problems,” a man who wasn’t named told Dozhd.

Payments in prison are typically euphemized as “voluntary contributions.” Local human rights ombudsman Aleksey Sevastianov has noted complaints from relatives that such “contributions” can sometimes reach up to 200,000 rubles – more than $6,400. For comparison, the average Russian’s annual income is just over $10,000.

For convicts, such sums are impossible to pay – roughly half the prisoners in the colony are not employed. Those who do have jobs in the prison are paid extremely little – less than 100 rubles, or just over $2, per month. Such a wage is not enough even to buy food in a convenience store in the territory, where prices are said to be higher than in the town.

The head of the detention facility met with inmates’ relatives after the uprising, assuring them that he is willing to abolish “the system of contributions.” However, relatives now fear that this change could bring retaliation from the prison staff.

When asked if such a system could be considered as criminal corruption, human rights ombudsman Sevastianov agreed that it is illegal, and should be investigated.

He explained that with the scheme working in the facility, relatives wire money to a bank account given by the colony’s administration. Thus, for example, millions of rubles sent by convicts’ families were spent to build a new church on the territory.

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Filed under activism, film and video, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

Crushing the Right to Protest (Alfie Meadows Charged with “Violent Disorder”)

The UK seems to have decided to join the Russian Federation in the race to the (police-state) bottom…

Take a deep breath, and don’t let it out until you’ve finished this sentence: the Metropolitan Police are charging Alfie Meadows with ‘violent disorder’. Now you can collect your jaw from the floor.

Alfie Meadows is the student who was beaten so badly by police that he had to undergo serious brain surgery. He was also, reportedly, denied an ambulance by police for a considerable period of time. When he finally boarded an ambulance, police attempted to prevent the ambulance from delivering him to Charing Cross hospital on the grounds that the hospital was reserved for the treatment of injured rozzers, not their victims. This happened on the afternoon of 9th December, Day X 3, the day of the parliamentary vote on tuition fees when tens of thousands protested in Westminster and across the country. It was on that evening, you may recall, that police engaged in a particularly nasty, punitive ‘kettle’ of protesters on Westminster Bridge. Alfie Meadows was beaten across the skull by a policeman with a baton, but is being charged for an offence that carries a maximum sentence of five years.

Eleven people have been charged with various offenses under the Public Order Act by the ‘Operation Malone’ unit of the Metropolitan Police. The unit in question was set up with 80 officers solely to investigate the student protests, and as such represents a massive outlay just to arrest people who are either innocent of any crime, or at most guilty of very minor ones. The inclusion of Alfie Meadows on the charge sheet is clearly politicised, bearing in mind the IPCC’s ongoing investigation into the case. One also has to take into account the recent High Court decision that the kettling of G20 protesters was illegal, which could and should result in thousands suing the police. But it’s also typical of the police’s way of handling cases where they may be vulnerable. You might recall the example of Jake Smith, who was arrested after the Gaza protests in 2009. The case collapsed when it was disclosed that the footage showed, not Jake Smith engaging in ‘violent disorder’, but rather the police engaging in a violent attack on Jake Smith.

Of course, everything that is done by the state with reference to the student protests has a wider social mission, which is to preemptively criminalise the coming social struggles and validate the police’s pre-meditated violence. Take the case of Edward Woolard, the 18 year old who dropped a fire extinguisher from the roof of Tory HQ. He was disgracefully given a sentence of 32 months. This was longer than the sentence handed out to some rapists, though no one was harmed. The judge’s homily explained that the court was “sending out a very clear message to anyone minded to behave in this way that an offence of this seriousness will not be tolerated”. Of course, sending out ‘messages’, or rather heavily moralised threats, is what the criminal justice system does by nature. And we get the message alright.

Yes, they beat someone’s skull in. Yes, this was part of a series of violent tactics deployed by police, which included assaults on young boys, and teenaged girls. Yes, if the protests had continued, and the police had continued with their tactics, they probably would have killed someone just as they killed Ian Tomlinson. We’ll be lucky if, in the next few years, they don’t kill another protester. And their very clear message is that whatever happens, just as they did with Jean Charles de Menezes and the Koyair brothers, they will always find a way to blame the victim, exonerate or protect the guilty, and continue as before.

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Reaction to the charges brought against Alfie and the others yesterday has been, in the main and entirely reasonably, a combination of bewilderment and anger. The only places I can see where people haven’t responding in this way have been on an anonymous police blog and a similarly anonymous police forum, where posters are desperately trying to cling on to ‘rumours’ that Alfie was hit by a ‘concrete block’ and not by a police truncheon (rumours generated by those sites in the first place). It’s pathetic, but predictable and suitably cowardly that active (though nameless) members of the police force would be so desperate that they would resort to such weaselly and baseless insinuations. Similarly the idea that there’s something ‘suspicious’ about Alfie’s ‘silence’ in the past few months: well, a combination of recovering from major brain surgery, a major IPCC investigation and legal advice might have something to do with it -but hey, unless the spectacle gets fed constantly I guess people start to forget that there’s life beyond the internet and TV…and seriously, ACAB, fuck the CO19 with their shoot to kill policy for the royal wedding, fuck banning people from the city they live in and fuck the version of a fearful world that cops inhabit and try daily harder to bring into existence for everyone else.

The charges brought against Alfie and the others are purely politically motivated in every respect, from the timing, to the charges themselves, to the specific people they picked on. Anyone who still believes (or ever believed) that the police are in anyway related to justice has got to wake up and quickly: similarly, how long can it go on that the IPCC never, ever finds against the police in any serious way? Something’s got to give and hopefully before we see yet more unchecked police arrogance and unpunished brutality towards those exercising their desire to protest freely.

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In what can only be described as a colossally misjudged act of PR, the Metropolitan police have decided to charge several of the student protesters arrested in the wake of last year’s demonstrations with violent disorder, affray and criminal damage. They include Alfie Meadows, the student who had to have brain surgery after he was allegedly hit with a truncheon.

These are serious charges which carry potentially heavy jail sentences. Their timing does not seem to be coincidental. The hearing dates for those arrested had been set for late May and June; they have now been moved forward. But to what end? This weekend will see not only the royal wedding, of course, but also 1 May protests stretched across a four-day holiday (for some, anyway).

By charging these allegedly dangerous individuals and banning them from Westminster and the City for the next week, the Met can reassure the public that they are pre-emptively protecting them from a violent social menace – despite the fact that none of the protesters have yet been found guilty of anything.

But apart from the crudeness of such tactics, does this kind of political policing achieve anything more than public disgust at such underhandedness? The police seem to be operating under the misapprehension that the recent protests have been led by identifiable leaders who can then be picked out, thus leaving crowds bereft of direction. What the protests at Millbank, Whitehall and elsewhere demonstrated, however, was that this assumption is increasingly wrong. A mass movement doesn’t need to rely on charismatic figureheads for strength.

Protesters at recent demos know very well what the coalition is doing to students and workers alike, and that so many of them are prepared to stand up to the government and those paid to violently enforce their policies is clearly causing consternation, and more repressive responses, among the powers that be.

Alleging protester violence rather than questioning their own dangerous tactics, such as kettling, the police can try to put potential protesters off; they can try to make those with families afraid to march with their children (though the huge TUC march last month provided plenty of evidence that this tactic isn’t working); and they can intimidate those who may never have protested before.

At the same time the police (some of whom work for “counter-terrorism”) are creating large groups of criminalised youth, largely young men between 15 and 25, some of whom are students trying to save their EMA and their chance to afford university in a few years’ time. Fingerprints are taken, names and faces noted, and photos of those “wanted” are splashed all over the media, destroying anonymity and carrying the implicit message that if you protest, for any reason, we can and will destroy your future.

Many of those arrested for the first time are unaware of their legal rights, coerced into accepting cautions and distressed at the thought of bringing disrepute to their families, schools and colleges. At the same time the expense to taxpayers created by heavyhanded policing and high-profile arrests is immense.

But there are ways of fighting back. One student arrested in a dawn raid after the 24 November protest, Bryan Simpson, has set up a campaign which is holding a rally in Glasgow on 29 April.

A new campaign group, Defend the Right to Protest, has been launched with the support of John McDonnell MP, Naomi Klein, Tony Benn and others. There are many in Britain who may not ever want to attend a protest, but they’d be certain they’d want to live in a country in which people could protest. This pre-emptive criminalisation of protesters and the propagandistic tactics of intimidating future protesters is a worrying sign of things to come.

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