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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Even Remembering a Protest March will Get you in Trouble in Putin's Russia

The Moscow Times reports that those who marched over the weekend to protest the treatment of last weekend's protesters were themselves arrested.

Human rights activist and Kremlin critic Lev Ponomaryov said he and four others had been detained Sunday near a central Moscow street where police beat demonstrators during an opposition protest last week. "They shoved us into a bus quite rudely," Ponomaryov said by mobile phone from a police precinct. Later on Sunday, Ponomaryov said he and the others had been released after three hours, adding that he had been accused of taking part in an illegal gathering and faced a court hearing. He said at least 30 people had gathered near the site of the Dissenters' March, held April 14. It was intended to be a quiet display of defiance and a rebuke to the authorities for crackdowns on the Moscow rally and one the following day in St. Petersburg.

On Saturday, opposition leader Garry Kasparov lambasted the authorities over the violent crackdown at the two marches, accusing police of "brutality and cruelty." Kasparov spoke after meeting with prosecutors he said had summoned him in connection with State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov's call for an inquiry into whether police had acted illegally when they detained the former world chess champion at the Moscow rally. Police held Kasparov for hours after detaining him as he tried to enter a central square in defiance of authorities who had barred protesters from meeting there. He was one of hundreds of people detained by police.

The crackdown has drawn widespread criticism from human rights groups and reinforced opposition contentions that the government is strangling democracy and suppressing dissent before December parliamentary elections and a presidential vote next March. The report that results from Ryzhkov's call for an inquiry will be "a very important sign of the current legal and political situation in Russia," Kasparov said, adding that "we have to wait to see whether prosecutors will take the side of the Russian people versus the law enforcement officers." After four hours of questioning at Federal Security Service headquarters on Friday, Kasparov suggested that law enforcement was being pressed by the Kremlin to find evidence of extremism in his actions and pronouncements. In comments published Saturday, another opposition leader involved in the Dissenters' Marches, Putin's former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, accused the government of demolishing all aspects of a democratic state over the past two years. "The authorities are practically provoking revolutionary activity. Not today, but within three to five years, there will definitely be a revolution in Russia. If we don't have honest and free elections. It's the only way out for everyone," the Ukrainian weekly Zerkalo Nedeli quoted Kasyanov as saying.

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