Photos: Police violently disperse hundreds of protesters demanding independent candidates on Moscow City Duma ballots
On July 14, hundreds of protesters gathered in central Moscow to demand that opposition candidates be permitted to register for the city’s September legislative elections. Many of those candidates already serve as municipal deputies in Moscow’s neighborhoods, and they initiated the event under the guise of holding “office hours” with their constituents. The deputies and their supporters gathered in Novopushkinsky Square before marching to Moscow City Hall and to the headquarters of the Russian capital’s Election Commission. They demanded a meeting with the Election Commission’s chair but managed to speak only with one of his assistants, who said the leader of Moscow’s election apparatus was on vacation at the time. Later in the day, the protesters attempted to pitch tents in the yard outside the Election Commission building. That proved to be one step too far for the city’s police, who immediately began forcefully dispersing the protesters. About 40 people were arrested as a result, including City Duma candidates Ilya Yashin, Lyubov Sobol, Yulia Galyamina, and Ivan Zhdanov.
The independent candidates who attended the “office hours” in Novopushkinsky Square promised their constituents that they would fight for fair elections, continuing to organize regular protests to that end. The candidates were referring to what they argue is a common method of keeping opposition politicians out of citywide government posts: the Moscow City Election Commission has allegedly been refusing valid signatures on opposition politicians’ candidacy petitions while accepting fake signatures from their opponents.
By the start of the action at 2:00 PM, approximately 300 people had gathered at the square. Half an hour later, that number had grown to about 1,000.
At around the same time, opposition politician and Moscow City Duma candidate Ilya Yashin called on the crowd to march toward Moscow City Hall. “I want [Moscow Mayor Sergey] Sobyanin and all those guys working for him to hear our city,” he shouted.
When the protesters reached City Hall, Yashin told them, “The Russian people are quiet. The Russian people are peaceful, but only to a point. They should be wary of making their own people angry — because we’ll be back.” The protesters responded by chanting, “Let them run!”
As they did in Novopushkinsky Square, the candidates took turns making speeches from a windowsill on the first floor of City Hall.
Ilya Yashin suggested that the crowd knock on the building’s double doors to urge those in power to listen to their demands.
The last candidate to speak was Lyubov Sobol, who has already gained prominence as a close ally of opposition politician and anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navaly. She called on the protesters to march onward to the headquarters of the Moscow City Election Commission. Navalny himself did not attend the protest: it had only been three days since he finished serving out yet another jail sentence, this time for attending a march in support of Meduza correspondent Ivan Golunov.
Not everyone in the crowd was able to hear Sobol, but they followed her anyway.
Police officers attempted to block the road between the protesters and the doors of the election commission’s headquarters, but they did not succeed. The officers ultimately formed a human chain directly outside the doors.
The crowd chanted slogans like “Sobyanin is a coward!”, “[Election Commission Chair Valentin] Gorbunov, don’t be scared, we don’t bite!” and “Give us fair elections!”
Police allowed Yashin to try to open the door and relay the protesters’ demands, but Election Commission officials refused to let him in. An assistant to Chairperson Valentin Gorbunov told the group that his boss was on vacation, gardening at his country home. In response, the crowd began chanting, “We’re more important than potatoes!”
The protesters decided not to leave the Election Commission building until Gorbunov addressed them personally. Some suggested turning the protest into a sit-in and began sitting in groups on the ground.
At about 8:00 PM, some of the seated protesters began setting up tents with the intention of spending the night outside the Election Commision building. At that point, the police, who had pointedly refrained from taking action throughout the day, immediately began to make arrests.
In the course of 20 minutes, more than 20 protesters were arrested, including Moscow City Duma candidates Ilya Yashin, Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov, and Yulia Galyamina.
The police formed a chain and began kettling protesters, herding them outside the Election Commission’s property. A number of protesters left the area altogether, but about 300 remained in the alleyways surrounding the building.
By 8:45 PM, 38 arrests had been reported.