Demonstrators Flout New Law
Published: April 3, 2013 (Issue # 1753)
Sergey Chernov / spt
Protestors were surrounded by police officers, who used force to pry them apart.
Nine protesters were detained at a Strategy 31 demo for the right of assembly Sunday as a new local law imposing further restrictions on the rallies in St. Petersburg, signed by Governor Poltavchenko on March 19, came into force in the city.
More than three years since Strategy 31 demonstrations, which are named after Article 31 of the Russian Constitution — guaranteeing the freedom of assembly — and held on months containing 31 days, began in St. Petersburg on Jan. 31, 2010, it was apparent that the authorities continue to see it as a major threat.
On Sunday, two dozen police vehicles were parked near the Gostiny Dvor department store on Nevsky Prospekt and the police’s top brass were present on the scene. Plainclothes officers lurking in the crowd and stationed on the second floor of the store’s gallery recorded the event on their cameras, and dozens of armored OMON special forces officers were waiting in groups on the sides of the site to make arrests.
Five minutes after 6 p.m., eight activists from The Other Russia party, whose leader Eduard Limonov launched the Strategy 31 campaign in Moscow in 2009, came to the site dubbed “Freedom Square” by protesters and linked their arms.
Speaking loudly, without mechanical amplification, activist Roman Khrenov said that the activists would demonstrate wherever they wanted rather than do as they were told, because “we have a right given to us by the constitution to do this.” A police officer was simultaneously announcing that the assembly was “illegal” using a bullhorn.
Within seconds, the demonstrators were surrounded by police officers, who used force to pry them apart and take them into the waiting police vans as the protesters shouted “Russia Will Be Free” and “We Need The Other Russia.” The activists who had been detained were carted away within four minutes of starting the protest.
A young civil activist, Vyacheslav Yevgenyev, who had been distributing leaflets for the newly formed liberal December 5 Party and wore a white ribbon — symbolizing the demand for fair elections — was also arrested, but later was released into his father’s custody because he was a minor.
The police did not arrest several civil activists who had placards, apparently because of their advanced age. All in all, there appeared to be between 70 and 80 apparent sympathizers at the location.
In addition to Khrenov, Sergei Chepiga, Sergei Grebnev, Yevgeny Markin, Alexander Kolosov, Maria Krylova, Fyodor Privalov and Ivan Peshy were also detained and charged with disobedience and for holding an unsanctioned rally; the offences are punishable by fines or prison terms of up to 15 days.
The eight activists, who were held at two police precincts overnight, were taken to the Kuibyshevsky District Court at 11:30 a.m. Monday. They were held in buses outside the court for hours, with the police not allowing activists from the Detainees Support Group to pass thermoses of tea to them.
City Hall has never authorized Strategy 31 rallies, citing different reasons from snow removal to repair works in the proximity of the metro entrance. During one rally in 2010, the police blocked the area next to the Gostiny Dvor metro, claiming that there had been a bomb threat.
According to the new legislation, assemblies on Nevsky Prospekt, Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Square, as well as near metro entrances, railway stations and the offices occupied by various state bodies, are forbidden. The Legislative Assembly passed the law in its final, third reading on Feb. 20.
The same day, Yabloko Democratic Party deputy Nikolai Rybakov filed a complaint with the St. Petersburg City Court, asking the judges to withdraw the law as being “illegal.”
“Having once come into force, and used even once, the new law will have destructive consequences for the rights of citizens,” Rybakov was quoted in a statement from Yabloko.
However, The Other Russia’s local chair Andrei Dmitriyev dismissed the law as “meaningless.”
“[City Hall] needs the law only to have an opportunity to reject the application of a rally if it’s held, for instance, on Nevsky Prospekt,” Dmitriyev said, speaking to The St. Petersburg Times by phone on Monday.
“It does not affect Strategy 31 in any way. When there are too many bans, they lose any meaning, because they start to duplicate each other. They have never permitted us to hold Strategy 31 rallies anyway, so if they included it in the law additionally, it hasn’t changed anything,” said Dmitriyev.