On Events in Moscow on the Eve of the Inauguration of the New President. Statement

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Human Rights Center Memorial

May 10, 2012, 10:24:10 AM5/10/12
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On Events in Moscow on the Eve of the Inauguration of the New President
Moscow Empty but the People Does Not Stay Silent
HRC Memorial's Statement

The transfer of power within the “tandem” was marked by unprecedented carnage and mass arrests in the center of Moscow.

On May 6, 2012, tens of thousands attended a protest against the usurpation of power through false “elections”. It proved wrong those who thought that the protests had fizzled out and had predicted that people would not take to the streets.

How did a peaceful demonstration, approved by the Moscow authorities, turn into carnage, resulting in dozens of people (demonstrators and police officers alike) being injured, and hundreds detained?

The authorities and the opposition have already accused one another of organizing the provocation in advance, but both our observations, and the analysis of numerous reports and videos, show that it was more complicated than this.

Indeed, the erected cordon did not assist the movement of demonstrators along the agreed route, but instead directly provoked anger and protest.

Yes, the authorities prepared to use force, and used the actions of some more radical protesters as an excuse.

However, inconsistencies in the actions of organizers, and the irresponsibility of some of them, also contributed to the peaceful protest escalating into a riot.

The clashes began soon after the main line of demonstrators was forced to remain on Maliy Kamenniy Bridge. The turning to the right, into Bolotnaya Square, was unreasonably narrowed by the police cordon, and people were able to access the site of the demonstration only by upsetting the ranks.

When the police barred the movement of the line of demonstrators, the organizers could have made use of mediation by the Human Rights Ombudsman in Russia, who was there and offered his assistance. This opportunity was not taken.

Instead, people were called to sit where they standing – on the bridge. Those behind them, around half the demonstrators, were also forced to stop.

It is not clear to us whether this “sit-down demonstration” was simply a reaction to police actions or whether it was a pre-planned attempt by radicals to change the format of the protest, only informing the participants and applicants once it had happened.

In any case, the actions of the police cannot be justified on the grounds of public safety. It is unlikely that the detention of Udaltsov, Navalny and Nemtsov have contributed to normalizing of the situation.

The confrontation escalated into clashes, a group of demonstrators attempted to break the police line, and soon police began beating them with batons, and kicking those who had fallen to the ground. They beat not only those actively involved in the clashes, but also elderly people and women who had been standing close-by. This disproportionate use of force was not the excesses of ordinary policemen, but the setup of the police leadership. Here is an example: an elderly man calmly attempted to urge a police officer to stop the beating, but who in return was himself knocked to the ground, hitting his head and unable to get up unaided.

In return, police were pelted with burning "fires", plastic bottles and pieces of asphalt. Claims by some media, that the demonstrators had armed themselves with stones in advance, do not correspond with the reality.

In the end, police split the crowd, forcing some out of the square, while rigidly detaining others. In all, the number of people taken to police departments surpassed 650.

On May 7, the center of Moscow was utterly “free” of citizens. Residents were forbidden from leaving their homes. Wearing a white ribbon became an excuse for illegal arrests. On Nikitsky Boulevard, by the House of Journalists, not only those standing peacefully on the pavement with white ribbons in their buttonholes, but also customers in a cafe, were caught up in the police “clean-up operation”: they were grabbed, and tables with food and drink overturned. The hunt for the “nesoglasnie” ('dissenters') continued on boulevards and central streets until evening, with the number of detained rising to over 500.

But the police authorities, it seems, overdid it – their zeal turned the transfer of power into a comedy of the absurd: even pro-Kremlin youth groups, who might have portrayed the people's love, were not allowed onto the government's track. Vladimir Putin entered the Kremlin through a completely deserted city.

There are already many examples in Russian history in which the authorities' unwillingness to consider the public led to a radicalization of protests, this radicalization of protests led to greater repression by the authorities and to a new level of opposition, and, again and again, Russia has missed the opportunity to become a prosperous and free country.

The way in which Mr. Putin's presidency begun gives a new reason to fear for the future of the country.

May 10, 2012

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