August 09, 2019 22:23 GMT
Russian opposition supporters are expected to gather in Moscow on August 10 for their third major rally in as many weeks to press demands that election officials reverse bans on independent candidates in upcoming municipal voting. Police beat protesters with batons and detained more than 2,300 people during two previous, unsanctioned rallies, on July 27 and August 3.
Those scenes sparked condemnation from rights groups and Western governments. But Russian authorities have toughened their treatment of disqualified candidates and carried out raids and detentions that in many cases targeted opposition organizers. Eleven Russians face criminal probes over what authorities have called “mass civil unrest,” a charge that can result in a lengthy jail sentence. Unlike the past two weekend rallies, organizers of the August 10 demonstration received approval from city officials.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has accused U.S. and German officials of stirring up support for the protests. The string of rallies was sparked by local officials’ decision in early July to bar dozens of independent candidates from elections to the Moscow City Duma, claiming their signature lists were insufficient to get them on the ballot. The opposition say Moscow authorities merely want to deny them the chance to take on pro-Kremlin candidates.
The 45-seat city duma is responsible for a $43 billion municipal budget and is controlled by the pro-Putin United Russia party. All of its five-year-seats are up for grabs in the September 8 vote. Russia’s main election board on August 7 rejected the appeals of several opposition candidates, including hunger-striking Lyubov Sobol, to be allowed on the ballot.
Of the 30 or so candidates barred from the poll, five are affiliated with or work for the anti-corruption foundation established by opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. All but one of those Navalny allies, Sobol, are now in jail. Navalny himself is serving a 30-day sentence for violating protest laws.
Russia’s Investigative Committee announced on August 3 it was opening a criminal case against Navalny’s foundation, claiming the organization was suspected of receiving funding with illegal origins. Navalny and his allies say the foundation is transparently financed from public donations. Moscow authorities gave the August 10 rally’s organizers permission to hold an event on Sakharov Avenue, not a major thoroughfare and not the more central location organizers had sought.
The Investigative Committee warned on August 9 of possible “criminal liability” for “peaceful walks” after the authorized event. “Following the calls spread by media, on the Internet and social-media websites, for participation in the so-called ‘peaceful walks’ around Moscow after the August 10 rally in Sakharov Avenue, which was permitted by executive authorities, the Investigative Committee hereby informs that participation in such unsanctioned events entails legal consequences, right up to the criminal liability,” it said in a statement.
Sympathizers with the Moscow protesters are also planning “solidarity” rallies in several other Russian cities, including the country’s fourth-largest city of Yekaterinburg, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don, and Tyumen in Siberia. Navalny supporters claim that “pickets in solidarity with Moscow” will be held in 40 cities from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok.
Protest organizers in the capital said musicians will perform at their rally, including IC3PEAK, a Moscow-based band that had several concerts canceled by authorities in Russia last year. Yury Dud, a popular Russian YouTuber, has announced he will attend the August 10 Moscow protest, and called on his followers, 2.3 million on Instagram alone, to come out as well. Moscow authorities announced plans earlier this week to hold a “Meat & Beat” festival on the same day as the protest, much like last weekend when Moscow’s mayoral office organized a “Shashlik Fest,” with free food and music.
Federal prison officials have also organized a competition in Moscow involving police drivers, TASS reported on August 9. Russia this week accused the U.S. Embassy in Moscow of meddling in its internal affairs by publishing a map on social media showing the proposed route of the last opposition protest, on August 3. In a statement on August 9, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned a senior U.S. diplomat over the matter.
There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Embassy. A day earlier, Russia summoned a German diplomat after complaining that Deutsche Welle had urged people to join the protests, a claim the German broadcaster rejected as “baseless.” The U.S. Embassy on August 9 published alerts for U.S. citizens to avoid planned demonstration sites and demonstration-related activities in Yekaterinburg and Moscow.
In Moscow’s case, it cited “the size of the protest, unknown route or routes of protesters, substantial police presence, and past accounts of excessive use of force by law enforcement.” The expected location of the rally is listed as part of the warning, which is not accompanied by any maps.