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More than 100 arrested in May 1 demonstrations around Russia as government supporters hold celebrations nearby

Source: Meduza
Igor Russak / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

More than 100 different demonstrations swept through Russia’s streets on May 1, and more than 120 participants were arrested in nine cities. More than 60 of those arrests took place in St. Petersburg when police officers stopped opposition activists carrying a banner that read “Petersburg against United Russia” from walking down the city’s central Nevsky Prospekt. Meduza correspondent Pavel Merzlikin summarizes the events of the day.

Police began arresting St. Petersburg activists before May 1 parades began

Arrests began early in the morning. Around 7:30, police arrested “Bessrochny Protest” (“Endless Protest”) member Roman Samoilov in his dormitory room. Shortly afterward, three activists from the “Vesna” (“Spring”) opposition movement and six feminist activists met the same fate. They were on their way to the city’s central May 1 event when they were arrested near the feminist center “Rebra Yevy,” or “Eve’s Ribs.”

The demonstration itself only began around 11:00. It included three columns: one for trade unions and the ruling United Russia party, one for Communist Party representatives, and one for democratic movements like Yabloko, Open Russia, pro-Navalny groups, and others. The first column was led by acting Petersburg city governor Alexander Beglov. The third was itself separated into several sections, each with its own slogans. Yabloko supporters shouted, “Free elections for a free Petersburg!” while supporters of Open Russia, pro-Navalny movements, and other non-party groups carried a large banner that read, “Petersburg against United Russia.”

Libertarians, LGBTQ activists, anarchists, and representatives of other less formalized movements were also in attendance for a total of about 100,000 demonstrators.

Opposition activists are arrested in St. Petersburg. May 1, 2019
Igor Russak / Reuters / Scanpix / Leta

Police officers aggressively arrested opposition activists during the demonstration

Riot police followed the opposition column of the St. Petersburg demonstration from the very beginning of the event. They placed metal barriers around the group and blocked the path between protesters and Nevsky Prospekt, telling opposition activists to wait while others continued on. When the protesters began to chant “Let us through!” and the longstanding opposition chorus “Putin! Skiiing! Magadan!”, police officers announced that they would treat the demonstrators’ actions as an unsanctioned protest independent of the day’s main event, which would merit arrest. Several members of the column had already been arrested even before they started marching.

Around noon, opposition demonstrators finally managed to start moving again, but they almost immediately ran into a chain of riot police officers, and the arrests continued. Protesters responded by stopping voluntarily and demanding the release of their allies, to which police responded by suggesting that the opposition column continue onward and complete the demonstration route.

In the meantime, police officers in helmets and body armor steadily thinned out a column of protesters that chanted “Russia without Putin,” arresting the demonstrators who appeared most active at any given moment. Posters reading “Putin isn’t eternal” and “Beglov to Sobchak” also drew arrests. Demonstrators noted that the arrests were aggressive and that police did not shy away from using force to remove protesters from the scene. Photographer Georgy Markov, who was one of those arrested, said police had beat him, hitting his ribs and the back of his head. Police officers dropped another protester onto the asphalt below as they attempted to arrest her, and she was taken from the local police station directly to a hospital. Several other demonstrators reported fractures and serious bruising.

Around 1:30 PM, police officers encircled the opposition column completely and began arresting protesters en masse. The demonstration was initially intended to end at the city’s Finland Railway Station, but opposition activists only managed to walk about a quarter of a mile down Nevsky Prospekt. The first two columns, those staffed with members of the Russian Communist Party and United Russia, completed the demonstration route undisturbed.

OVD-Info reported that at least 66 people were arrested during the St. Petersburg demonstration. They included activists from Bessrochny Protest and Vesna, Navalny supporters, and two journalists. Local legislator Maxim Reznik, Open Russia Acting Director Andrey Pivovarov, and Navalny branch leader Denis Mikhailov were also arrested.

While police beat and arrested opposition activists on Nevsky Prospekt, a celebratory concert began on Palace Square, where the first column of trade union representatives and United Russia supporters had ended up. St. Petersburg’s acting governor, Alexander Beglov, gave a speech from the stage and wished demonstrators a happy celebration of labor and spring.

A demonstrator is arrested in St. Petersburg. May 1, 2019
Igor Russak / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

Arrests were also made in other Russian cities

At the time of this writing, more than 120 arrests have been reported in nine Russian cities. A year ago, 53 people were arrested during May 1 demonstrations.

While St. Petersburg led the arrest count with 66, no fewer than 16 were arrested in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on Russia’s far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, including members of Yabloko, the Russian Communist Party, and the Fair Russia party. Some activists told reporters they had been arrested because they came to their local demonstrations wearing yellow vests in a reference to labor protests in Paris.

Arrests were also made in Veliky Novgorod, Krasnodar, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Kursk, Syktyvkar, and Makhachkala. In the latter, police officers arrested four participants and an organizer associated with the local Monstration, an annual parody of the May 1 demonstrations. Local authorities had declined to approve the Monstration “in connection with ongoing terrorist threats.” Organizers challenged that decision in court and decided to carry out the event anyway. Even before the march began, police officers took rolled-up posters out of the “monstrators’” hands, ripped them, and threw them away.

Many of those who were arrested earlier today have already been released. After a “prophylactic conversation,” police also released St. Petersburg legislative deputy Maxim Reznik, who stepped out of a police vehicle wearing only one boot and with a visible bruise on his arm. Some of those arrested are being charged with the administrative violation of disrupting a public event.

Pavel Merzlikin, St. Petersburg

Translation by Hilah Kohen

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