Responding to news that the Russian police broke up peaceful rallies and arrested hundreds of non-violent protesters, including dozens of teenagers, in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and other Russian cities, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia said:
“We’ve witnessed time and again the police being sent to the streets in Russia to crush peaceful protests. Their beatings of protesters and journalists are nothing new, nor are the ‘preventative’ arrests of protest leaders. However, the police have stooped to a new low by treating young peaceful protesters as if they were criminals. This is shameless and heartbreaking.
The police have stooped to a new low by treating young peaceful protesters as if they were criminals. This is shameless and heartbreakingMarie Struthers, Amnesty International's Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia
“While many older Russians perceive pension reform as an encroachment on their economic rights by the government, young people are increasingly being given the message that they should not expect their rights to liberty, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to be respected by the Russian authorities.”
On 9 September, political opposition members organized mass rallies in more than 80 Russian cities and towns to protest pension reforms introduced by the government in June this year. In all but two cities, the local authorities refused to grant “authorization” for the rallies – as required by unduly restrictive Russian law – to be held and then used this ban to crack down on those who gathered.
Photographic and video evidence from the rallies shows children , including some barely in their teens, being arbitrarily arrested by police. According to media reports, one teenager in Saint Petersburg was detained by five police officers in SWAT gear.
A number of isolated minor violent incidents between protesters and law enforcement officers have been reported, but the rallies have been overwhelmingly peaceful, and the police’s response was not provoked by violence but aimed at breaking up any assembly however peaceful.
According to OVD-Info, a human rights group which regularly monitors protest, as of 10 September, at least 1,018 people were arrested throughout the country, at least 452 of them in Saint Petersburg alone.
On 25 August, Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny who has inspired the anti-pension reform rallies was arbitrarily “preventively” detained and sentenced to 30 days of “administrative arrest” for his role in organizing a protest in January 2018.