Over 2,400 arrests in Russia

IssueOctober - November 2022
Rally in St Petersburg, Russia, 21 September, against the mobilising of 300,000 reservists for the war in Ukraine. Photo: Vagabsgsjs via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Feature by PN staff

Anti-war campaigners took to Russia’s streets on 21 September after the government there announced that it would be calling up 300,000 reservists to fight in its ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. Brutal repression had put a stop to mass protests earlier in the year (see PN 2659), but the new announcement led to a new surge in protests.

It was reported that, in the hours after president Vladimir Putin’s speech on television launching the new policy, at least 300 people were arrested in Moscow, with another 1,000 or so demonstrators detained in 39 other Russian cities. In St Petersburg, where at least 132 detainees were held in the first few days, the 21 September demonstration was dispersed by police using batons and stun guns.

There were 2,402 arrests at anti-mobilisation protests across the country in the seven days following Putin’s announcement, according to the human rights monitoring group OVD-Info.

Makhachkala mayhem

OVD-Info recorded quite a bit of information about the two days of anti-mobilisation protests in Makhachkala, the capital of the republic of Dagestan which borders the Caspian Sea in the south of Russia.

Around 120 people were detained after blocking the roads in Makhachkala on 25 September. Demonstrators were reportedly beaten and indiscriminately pepper- sprayed by the police.

Arrestees in detention were beaten, peppersprayed and, in some cases, attacked with electric ‘shockers’ (stun guns). Detainees were also deprived of food and water – and the police refused to give information on their whereabouts to their relatives.

Journalist Sergei Ainbinder, editor-in-chief of the RusNews Telegram channel, was beaten and arrested while covering the protest. His equipment was also destroyed and confiscated. (Telegram is a globally-accessible, highly-secure, internet-based instant-messaging service like WhatsApp.)

Another journalist, Murad Muradov, who works for a human rights-focused online media project, the Caucasian Knot, was also arrested at the protest. Muradov reported after his release that he had been kept in overnight after refusing to sign a ‘protocol’ containing an admission of guilt.

Sign or sign up

Muradov added: ‘Some of the detainees were forced by the police to sign a protocol, threatening that otherwise they would be given summons to the military registration and enlistment office.’ In at least one case, according to Muradov, ‘they carried out their threat’.

In at least six police departments, according to OVD-Info, men who were arrested at anti-mobilisation protests were issued with summonses to the local military registration and enlistment office.

In Grozny, Chechnya, the sons of women detained at an anti-mobilisation rally were reportedly coerced into joining the army. The police threatened to harm their detained mothers otherwise, according to the dissident 1ADAT Telegram channel.

About 130 women had been detained at the 21 September women’s protest.

According to OVD-Info, the police have been arresting women wearing black clothes, because the Feminist Anti-War Resistance has been calling on women to wear black on the anti-mobilisation protests.

In general, protesters have been charged with discrediting the Russian army, disobeying the police, and violating the law on rallies, leading to fines in most cases.

Phones and passports have often been confiscated, or passport information has been copied. Journalists have often been arrested at the protests, just as in Makhachkala – four were arrested in Yekaterinburg, for example.

Fake news

Back in August, dozens of people were prosecuted for an offence only created in March, which bans the spreading of ‘knowingly false information’ about the Russian military or Russian government actions abroad (article 207.3 of the criminal code).

Two men were punished by the courts for what they’d written on social media. Anton Shamonov, from Tyumen in Siberia, was sentenced to six months of corrective labour. Dr Yevgeny Zolotov, an infectious disease specialist from Sochin in southern Russia, was fined three million rubles.

Back in July, a Moscow court sentenced a city councillor, Aleksey Gorinov, to seven years in a penal colony for the same ‘fake news’ crime. This was the first prison sentence under the new offence.

Gorinov had made a speech in a council meeting on 15 March calling the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine a ‘war’, and talking about dead Ukrainian children.

In August, OVD-Info reported that, despite being ill for several weeks, Gorinov was not being given medical attention in detention.

In his last words to the court before being taken to prison, Gorinov said: ‘I am convinced that this war is the fastest route to dehumanisation, when the line between good and evil is blurred. War is always violence and blood, torn bodies and severed limbs. It is always death. I do not accept this and reject it.’

Solo anti-war protests

On 26 September, Anastasia Kuznetsova was detained for standing in the centre of Moscow with a placard that just said: ‘graveyard’.

Solo protests had been continuing before the mobilisation announcement. For example, on 10 September, Makar Agaskin was arrested (and later charged with a COVID-19 offence), for standing in Palace Square, St Petersburg, holding up a placard that said: ‘For every ***in [Putin] there is a Gorbachev’.

OVD-Info say that COVID-19 regulations are often used against solo protesters.