Russia: Human rights crisis deepens as Navalny supporters arrested en masse

Russian authorities unleashed a crackdown on peaceful protesters demanding the release of Aleksei Navalny, arresting at least 1,700 and using excessive force, including tasers, at demonstrations around the country.

Amnesty International calls for the immediate release of all those who have been detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and for the immediate release of Aleksei Navalny who is being arbitrarily detained and denied access to independent healthcare.

“On Wednesday, in cities around Russia, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets calling for an end to the arbitrary imprisonment of Aleksei Navalny. In many cities, as usual, the Russian authorities responded by arresting protesters en masse, often using excessive force. If Moscow was spared from police violence and almost no one there detained this time, in Saint Petersburg police used tasers indiscriminately and in several instances beat detained protesters”, said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.

If Moscow was spared from police violence and almost no one there detained this time, in Saint Petersburg police used tasers indiscriminately and in several instances beat detained protesters
Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director

“With every peaceful protester they arrest, the Russian authorities plunge the country deeper into a human rights crisis. Their attempts to trample dissent into dust are growing increasingly desperate – from the ongoing detention of Navalny and the effort to ban his movement by branding it ‘extremist’, to the violent targeting and mass arrest of his supporters.

“There are simply not enough jail cells to lock up and silence every critical voice in Russia. The Russian authorities’ shocking crackdown on basic freedoms cannot continue – the whole world is watching.”

According to police watchdog OVD-Info, at least 1,786 protesters were taken into custody across Russia, with 805 detentions in Saint Petersburg alone. Authorities in Moscow and other cities denied permits for the rallies, claiming that they were in violation of COVID-19 restrictions.

Law enforcement agents conducted several preventive detentions including of Kira Yarmysh, spokeswoman for Aleksei Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, lawyer of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Vladimir Ryzhkov, former State Duma deputy, and Yefim Khazanov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. They’ve been charged for allegedly having called for participation in an “unauthorized” demonstration, an administrative offense in Russia.

On 16 April, independent doctors assessed Aleksei Navalny’s recent blood tests taken in the penal colony and stated he could suffer a cardiac arrest “at any moment”. 

Amnesty International calls for the immediate release of all peaceful protesters detained during Wednesday’s rallies solely for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression. The organization reiterates its call for the immediate release of Aleksei Navalny and for the withdrawal of a prosecutorial request to ban his organizations as ‘extremist’.”

Amnesty International calls for the immediate release of all peaceful protesters detained during Wednesday’s rallies solely for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression

Background

This was the fourth mass protest by Aleksei Navalny’s supporters after his unlawful arrest and imprisonment earlier this year. During the three previous protests - on 23 and 31 January and 2 February – more than 11,000 people were arrested, an unprecedented number even in Russia where dissent is systematically silenced.

More than 100 criminal cases have been opened against protesters. Most have been charged with violence against police officers, and 12 prominent activists have been charged with breaching COVID-19- sanitary restrictions by calling for the protests.