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Russian street protests: Putin tried to break the opposition. Instead, it is spiral



Alexei Navalen is the most recognizable Russian opposition leader. At the end of July, prior to unauthorized protests, he was imprisoned amid a group of opposition figures before unauthorized demonstrations on July 27 and sentenced to 30 days for allegedly violating protest laws. While in custody, he is hospitalized with an "acute allergic reaction". The doctor suspected him of poisoning by an unknown substance.

Navalny was released from prison on Friday, but while inside, another activist emerges as a leading opposition voice: Love Sobol, lawyer and activist at the Navalny Anti-Corruption Fund. Sobol recently ended a one-month hunger strike after election officials refused to put it on the ballot in the upcoming municipal elections; she was also detained and subsequently released before the protest on 3 August.

Initially, the protests focused on those municipal elections, scheduled for September 8. A number of independent and opposition candidates were banned from holding the Moscow Election Commission, as they failed to get enough signatures to run. , Opposition activists say the authorities are using administrative measures to block real political competition.

But the protests have already taken a different rationale: they have become a response to the broad action of opposition activism. The slogan of the upcoming protest is "against political repression".

The reaction of the authorities to weeks of protest is telling. In addition to detaining leading opposition figures, police have made large-scale arrests of protesters. According to OVD-Info, a monitoring group, more than 2,000 people have been detained in recent major protests, both at unauthorized marches and on the sidelines of legally sanctioned demonstrations.

  Love Sobol was arrested on protest on August 3 in Moscow.

Carrots and the approach of sticks

Shots from these arrests provoked great concern. A video that went viral featured a Russian riot officer hitting a woman in the abdomen on August 10, the day of the protest. Days before the protest, prosecutors in Moscow said they were seeking to remove an unnamed couple from their parental rights to bring their baby to a rally on July 27.

The authorities have taken other legal measures. The Investigative Committee, a top Russian law enforcement agency, has launched a criminal case against Navalny Anti-Corruption Fund, saying it has launched a criminal investigation into Navalny Anti-Corruption Fund or FBK about alleged "financial transactions with funds known to have been obtained from other criminal persons. "

The Committee of Inquiry alleges that Navalny's non-profit target, which investigates official corruption in Russia, received money from third parties as part of a money laundering scheme. (Navalny and his supporters say such cases are politically motivated.)

Russian MPs also weighed in. The floor, the lower house of the Russian parliament, has ordered the creation of a special committee to investigate "foreign interference" in the Russian elections amid a wave of opposition protests.

And the local authorities have carrots and sticks to stop the protests. The Moscow City Government is organizing two last-minute street carnivals that have emerged to lure the Muscovites away from protests (including a barbecue and a music festival on August 10, called "Meat and Life").

At this stage, it is difficult to assess where the protests are headed. Following the massive turnout on August 10, next weekend's demonstrations were a more muted affair. This protest included "solo pickets" – individual protesters holding signs in central Moscow to avoid being arrested for participating in an unauthorized meeting.

But even modest protests can have an effect. Earlier this summer, Russian authorities dropped criminal charges against prominent investigative reporter Ivan Golunov after a fierce public reaction. The Kremlin, however, does not seem ready to make concessions to the opposition.

Asked Monday for the latest arrests, Putin was adamant: Russians have the right to a free assembly, within borders.

"Neither the authorities nor any group of citizens have the right to break the law and to transfer the situation to a point of absurdity or to cause controversy with the authorities," he told a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron. "This is against the law and anyone who has committed these violations should be held liable under Russian law."

Put another way: Putin is unlikely to see the upcoming protest as a legitimate expression of a political complaint.


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