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A seven-point crackdown To suppress opposition protests, Moscow has unleashed police, repo men, military recruiters, investigators, courts, prosecutors, and university administrators

Source: Meduza
Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

1. The police and National Guard are beating people up

Following Moscow’s demonstration on July 27 in support of free elections, the website OVD-Info reported more than 25 attacks on protesters. According to the website Baza, law enforcement injured 77 people, including designer Konstantin Konovalov, who developed the city’s ubiquitous subway logo. He was arrested while jogging, roughly two hours before the demonstration even started. National Guard troops were so rough that they broke one of his legs, while pinning him to the ground. The city then charged him with the misdemeanor offense of violating Russia’s laws on public assemblies. A week later, on August 3, after another unpermitted protest, at least 18 demonstrators ended up in the hospital because of injuries sustained during their arrests.

2. Court bailiffs are searching for protesters’ debts

The Federal Bailiff Service (FSSP) has carried out “spot checks” at the apartments of arrested protesters. On August 7, the agency announced that it’s uncovered a total of 26 million rubles ($398,060) in debts (mostly unpaid credit-card bills) owed by opposition demonstrators. In these raids, bailiffs search the activists’ homes to draw up property inventories and seizure orders. When bailiffs don’t find the individuals at home, they take “compulsory measures” to bring them before the authorities, sometimes even issuing an arrest warrant. The FSSP has not specified how many debtors it’s identified among Moscow’s demonstrators. When asked why it is targeting activists in these searches, FSSP’s press service told Meduza that the agency regularly carries out “spot checks” at the addresses of all debtors, in accordance with standard enforcement proceedings.

3. Military recruiting offices are tracking down draft dodgers 

On August 2, Moscow’s Investigative Committee announced that 134 of the men arrested at the July 27 protest have been evading conscription “for extended periods of time.” Sixteen of these people now face felony charges, and officials stress that convictions in these cases will not release the defendants from Russia’s mandatory military service. Even before the July 27 rally, Moscow’s Security and Anti-Corruption Department warned activists that the authorities would be searching for draft dodgers at the demonstration, telling the public that “a high proportion” of those attending the protest were suspected of evading conscription. Military recruiters were sent to the police stations across Moscow that processed the arrested demonstrators, and the officials searched for draft dodgers among them.

4. The courts are jailing the opposition’s leaders

Moscow’s courts have jailed most of the independent City Duma candidates who played active roles in the July 27 protest. Municipal deputy and unregistered City Duma candidate Yulia Galyamina was jailed for 10 days, then apprehended immediately as she walked out of jail, and sentenced to another 15 days. The same thing happened to Konstantin Jankauskas, who was first sentenced to seven days in jail, then re-arrested, and given another 10 days. Independent candidate Dmitry Gudkov is now serving out a 30-day sentence, and he faces future administrative charges, when he gets out. Municipal deputy Ilya Yashin has been jailed for 10 days, and Vladimir Milov has been sentenced to 30 days in jail. Anti-Corruption Foundation director and unregistered City Duma candidate Ivan Zhanov was sentenced to 15 days in jail (he’s declared a hunger strike in protest), and his colleague Georgy Alburov was sent to jail for 10 days.

One of the only opposition leaders still free is Lyubov Sobol, an unregistered candidate who was fined 300,000 rubles ($4,590) for her involvement in Moscow’s July 15 rally, and later interrogated as a witness in the city’s criminal investigation into supposed rioting on July 27. The authorities cannot jail Sobol for a misdemeanor offense, however, because she has a child under the age of 14, and Russian law prohibits the jailing of mothers with children who haven’t yet reached this age.

5. City investigators are charging protesters with mass rioting

Following the July 27 protest, Moscow’s Investigative Committee opened an inquiry into alleged rioting, stating that unidentified persons planned to stage mass unrest with “armed resistance” under the pretext of demanding that election officials register the independent candidates denied access to September’s City Duma race. The basis for the investigation is testimony from National Guard troops who say they suffered “severe physical pain and emotional distress” in clashes with demonstrators.

At the time of this writing, police have arrested nine suspects: Sergey Abanichev, Vladislav Barabanov, Kirill Zhukov, Evgeny Kovalenko, Daniil Konon, Alexey Minyailo, Ivan Podkopayev, Samariddin Radzhabov, and Egor Zhukov. A student at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics and a popular YouTuber, Egor Zhukov is the only suspect who's inspired a genuine public support campaign. On August 1, Radzhabov declared a hunger strike to protest the authorities’ allegations, and Kirill Zhukov is also hunger striking. Police have issued an arrest warrant for a 10th suspect: Sergey Fomin.

6. The Moscow District Attorney wants to remove an infant from the home of two protesters

Moscow prosecutors want to revoke the parental rights of Dmitry and Olga Prokazov, a local couple who brought their one-year-old son to the July 27 demonstration, where they handed him off to the boy’s uncle, Sergey Fomin, who was later named as a suspect in the “rioting” investigation. On July 31, police searched Fomin’s home, questioned him as a witness, and then released him. He was later charged in absentia and a warrant for his arrest was issued. The Investigative Committee subsequently summoned the Prokazovs for witness questioning in connection with child endangerment and neglect.

7. University provosts are threatening activist students with expulsion

On August 2, Russian State University for the Humanities (RGGU) Provost Alexander Bezborodov warned students that participating in unpermitted demonstrations might result in expulsion. Current students and alumni responded with a public letter addressed to Bezborodov, urging him to focus on his responsibilities at the university, instead of “finding ways to punish students for their extracurricular activities.” The text even cites language in the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting double punishment for the same offense. “If someone has been convicted and penalized by a state judicial or executive authority, the university should not punish that person again for the same act,” the letter argues.

Bezborodov was unmoved. In a response, the RGGU provost repeated his claim that the university has the right to expel students who take part in unauthorized protests.

Moscow State Pedagogical University Provost Alexey Lubkov also threatened to kick out any students convicted of demonstrating illegally. Without citing a specific clause, Lubkov said the school’s charter states that serious offenses are incompatible with continued studies. At Moscow State University, meanwhile, Provost Viktor Sadovnichy merely asked students to be “very careful” at future demonstrations, at the same time recognizing that students maintain the right to “defend their point of view, if their convictions demand it.”

Text by Petr Lokhov

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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