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Facing intimidation in the fight for human rights in Russia

By Friederike Behr, Russia researcher for Amnesty International

Stanislav Dmitrievskii is a veteran human rights defender and political activist from Nizhnii Novgorod, a town East of Moscow.

During recent months he has actively participated in numerous demonstrations for the right to freedom of assembly and for fair elections. And he has been repeatedly detained.

On 10 March this year he and around 400 others gathered in the centre of Nizhnii Novgorod to protest against election fraud during the recent presidential elections.

The police are understood to have detained 85 protesters many of whom were held in buses without heating or food and drinks until the next day.

Several were then sentenced for violations of the Administrative Code.

Dmitrievskii was sentenced on 16 March to nine days administrative detention for his participation in the demonstration and for ignoring lawful police orders. However, he was released the next day upon appeal.

On the night of 24 March, two bottles containing inflammable liquid were thrown at the window of his office in a friend's house and accelerant was poured on its walls.

He told Amnesty International: "They tried to break the glass in the door and the windows but were hampered by metal bars. Then they tried repeatedly to break the window with a kind of Molotov cocktail.

"Our friend's son woke up and saw one man running away up the street, leaving the bottles behind.

"We called the police again and again but they took ages to come and only arrived at about 2am saying they had only heard about the incident 15 minutes earlier. They said their police department had only one car for the whole district.

"Of course we joked about this – when we are detained for demonstrating, there are dozens of police officials and lots of buses and cars to take us away but to protect the population, there is one car for a whole large district.

"But what can these police officials do, they shrugged their shoulders and told us to wait for the investigation team, which arrived after another two hours. Later, the police told us that this was a case of minor damage only. We do not know yet if they have opened a criminal case or not. But there are people, children living in the house, which is an old wooden house. The perpetrator might have gone ahead and burned the place if the child had not woken up."

The fire was not the first incident at the house.

On 22 March, the police had arrived at a meeting of political activists at the same office, following an alleged terrorist threat.

"That was fun," Dmitrievskii said. "Some 30 people had gathered in our small office, we were discussing strategies, there were posters all over the place, a Putin in a cage-doll and then the police and emergency service arrived with lots of technical equipment, they went with their dogs through everything, we had to leave the office and continued our meeting in the street. Total chaos. But when we called them, the reaction was very different.

"On 2 March, orange paint was smeared on the door of our office and we found leaflets that said something like 'in medieval times, plague was cured with fire. This place will be cured by fire'. We had to take the leaflets to the police as they did not want to come and investigate the case. Then they lost the leaflets again and now, when we called them again, they could not find them. Luckily, there were many and we gave them some more."

"So far, I have not been scared, but on 27 March stones were thrown into the flat of a well-known member of the opposition, Yuri Staroverov.

"He is currently in detention for his participation in the 10 March demonstration, but his wife was at home. The police again only came after several hours. They did not even take photos. How much longer will it take until someone is really hurt? Will the police then react?"