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Russia’s off-parliament opposition is bracing itself for new protest actions already this month in spite of the fact that the number of criminal cases instituted in connection with the May 6, 2012, disturbances on Bolotnaya Square in downtown Moscow is growing.
As echoes of the May 6 clashes between the demonstrators and the police are heard in statements and media publications, reports are coming in on new cases of the oppositionists, who feel apprehensive over their safety, seeking political asylum abroad.
Members of the recently formed May Sixth Committee have filed a request with the Moscow mayoralty for permission to hold a meeting July 26 in defense of the fellow-oppositionists who are on remand in connection with the May riot.
A street rally that was held in the afternoon of Mary 6 on Bolotnaya Square, which is located on the southern bank of the Moskva River opposite the Kremlin, grew over into clashes with the Omon riot police units. In the wake of the events, Russia’s Investigations Committee instituted a criminal case citing the articles of the Criminal Code on ‘mass riots’ and ‘attack on a law enforcement officer’.
The case featured fourteen people and eleven of them were taken to custody.
May Sixth Committee issued a demand to the chief of the Investigations Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, to stop the prosecutorial actions against the fourteen people, who espouse a diversity of political views, to release them from custody, and open a comprehensive investigation into the actions of the police that allegedly “used force against the demonstrators disproportionately.”
The statement was signed by more than thirty public figures and politicians including several much-acclaimed personalities like Boris Nemtsov, Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov.
Sergei Davidis, a member of the May Sixth Committee told the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily that activists of a number of public associations -- Agora, Rosuznik, the Memorial Human Rights Center -- have established active cooperation with it. The oppositionists on remand can scarcely hope for unbiased investigation of all the circumstances of the case, believes Davidis.
“The video footage that can be considered a proof of anyone’s guilt is available only for four of those detained, and if you take the other fourteen people, there’s nothing at all for them personally except for the evidence given by policemen,” he said.
Quite illustrative in this sense is the story of a certain Alexander Kamensky, who was already detained in a different place when the riot on Bolotnaya Square bloke out. In a rather astonishing turn of events, three policemen who were placed on Bolotnaya said they had recognized him.
In spite of the cumbersome situation, however, legal prosecution of Kamensky was not annulled – he was simply released from custody on written recognizance not to leave.
Anna Karetnikova, a deputy chairperson of the Moscow City’s Public Board for Supervision over the Status of Detainees in Custody, said she had managed to visit practically all the arrested oppositionists in custody.
“Several of them admitted pressure had been exerted on them for the purpose of getting the needed evidence against the leaders in exchange for vague promises like release on recognizance not to leave,” Karetnikova said.
Human rights expert Lev Ponomaryov has urged everyone “to realize that the activists charged with organizing mass riots or participating in them are facing really long jail terms.”
Rights activists themselves do not qualify the May 6 events as mass riots and the Russian Federation’s Ombudsman for Human Rights, Vladimir Lukin, shares their viewpoint.
In the meantime, the milieu of Russia political emigrants may get bigger. According to a report by Nezavissimaya Gazeta, Anastasia Rybachenko, an activist of the Solidarity movement, may ask the German authorities to permit her to stay indefinitely. Thursday, police organized a search in her mother’s house.
Anastasia said it is not quite clear yet what kind of charges she is facing but the police confiscated a sweatshirt, which she allegedly was wearing during the May 6 action – although she was not.
At the end of the search, the operatives issued a warning to her mother that Anastasia had better ‘report and repent’ because they would find her all the same.
One more person who has already asked a foreign country for an asylum is Alexander Dolmatov, a member of the unregistered Other Russia movement. He was detained before the riot on Bolotnaya Square.
June 13, he filed an asylum seeker petition with the Netherlands government. Thursday, he made the last visit to the Dutch commission deciding on whether or not asylum should be extended.
“As of this moment, officials begin a process of decision-making on whether to grant the asylum or not,” Dolmatov said. “Their answer will be positive in most probability, as they requested a heap of documents and scrutinized everything in detail.”
At this stage, the cases of political emigration from Russia are solitary, Alexei Makarkin, a deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies.
“Yet the situation may aggravate if the newly passed laws on nonprofit organizations, penalties for participation in rallies, and censorship in the Internet take practical effect,” he said.
In addition to political emigration, Russia has a non-political one, too, which is caused however by the same factors, he said.
“The young apolitical generations have a clear feeling that this country doesn’t fit into the political mainstream and is drifting wider and wider apart from the West.”
“Our current reality, like the Pussy Riot case or the serious discussions of who will be President in 2024 are too obscure for too many people,” Makarkin said.
Moscow, July 13