A shaken Russian opposition leader Ilya Yashin came home to a scene of upheaval and chaos this past Monday. His door had been broken down, possessions were scattered across the space, and some items were missing in his Moscow apartment. The surprise search, which occurred on Monday while Yashin was out, was also the day before a massive organized opposition march was planned in Moscow.
Tuesday’s march was planned after over six weeks of outright activism against reinstated president, Vladimir Putin in streets throughout Moscow. A new law was recently signed by President Putin which raises the fines for participating in unsanctioned demonstrations from a mere $60 (2,000 roubles) to nearly $10,000 (or 300,000 roubles). Officials have made it clear to opposition leaders and protesters that they will not stand for disobedience in any form.
Much of the stiff resistance to any type of organizing is a result of the massive anti-Putin rally which occurred on May 6 on the eve of Putin’s inauguration. The march resulted in at least 400 arrests and some police brutality. Now, as many as 13 opposition leaders have been arrested in connection with the May event, including Yashin, the Moscow Times reports.
The series of house searches is part of a crackdown on opposition leaders. Officials claim that the searches are necessary to look for clues into the violence which ensued on May 6. The question is, why conduct searches in such sneaky and backhanded ways? Especially when we consider that Tuesday’s sanctioned opposition march through downtown Moscow was peaceful, leading to no arrests or injuries.
Rain did pour down over Tuesday’s anti-Putin solidarity march through the center of Moscow, causing the participants to disband an hour earlier than planned. Distrust marks both government officials and opposition leaders during all of these events. A Duma deputy, Ilya Ponomaryov, claims that Putin’s government purposefully seeded the rainy weather on Tuesday in order to curb the enthusiasm of the sanctioned rally. Most officials have dismissed such claims as baseless. Ponomaryov has no way to prove that the storm was planned by officials.
While the weather was unruly in Moscow, Putin’s government proved how serious they are about cracking down on any possible whiff of unsanctioned opposition activity. The same day as thousands marched peacefully through downtown Moscow, three Kemerovo students were arrested for walking down a central street together with white balloons and ribbons. They now face the new protest fines of $9,200 each for marching together.
As the Moscow Times quotes Alexander Kurasov, a head official of United Russia, as saying, “If three of you gathered, then that’s more than one. Prior clearance was essential.” The arrests of the students underline how vague the new protest fine law is. How many people and what actions constitute an unsanctioned demonstration? What kind of activity warrants officials to scavenge through personal possessions? These and other large civil rights questions loom large in Russia under Putin’s reinstated rule.
Photo Credit: Bogomolov PL