THE BLOG

Persecution of the Protestors

Several days ago a Russian human rights watchdog ovdinfo.org published a report, almost poetically named "Our Man In The Paddy Wagon: Political Arrests In Moscow." The report covers the period of 13 months, from December 2011 when mass protests erupted in the capital and across the country to December 2012. Unlike most other Russian human rights reports, this one is also available in English here.

According to ovdinfo.orginfo, 5,169 protesters have been arrested in Moscow alone in this period, which means on average one arrest every two hours, day and night, for more than a year. Of course, in reality these arrests didn't occur evenly throughout the year; the report indicates 228 events (mostly public protests) when people got arrested. Two spikes stand out if you look at the figures. In December 2011 the regime was trying to prevent the starting protest wave by conducting mass arrests, but succeeded only in getting 1,312 people behind bars. Half a year later, in May 2012, Putin was desperate to quell unrest as he returned to presidency, and the riot police made 1,976 arrests. While some of the hardcore activists were arrested more than once, ovdinfo.org evaluates that at least 3,256 indidividuals were arrested throughout the period.

It is worthy to note that these weren't violent protesters. As the report says, "all events monitored by OVD-info were entirely peaceful, except for the (authorised) March of the Millions on 6 May 2012 (which ended in violent clashes with the police)." The mentioned march was disrupted by the riot police, and it is still disputed who bears responsibility for the violence. The report just notes that "the police used excessive force on the arrestees" in this and in other cases. In fact, "excessive and unpunished violence during arrest is widely practiced by police," claims ovdinfo.org. They then mention specific cases: a young woman who had her arm broken, a man who was dragged on the ground by his hair, a female pensioner who was denied medical care after having a stroke during an arrest, and more. Most worrying of all, the report goes, is the fact that "members of the police force remain unpunished" after such treatment, which means we are going to hear more such stories in the future.

The report then goes on with detailed, sometimes exhausting descriptions of kinds of torture police use against detainees, judiciary conveyor belt for sentencing protesters, and, finally, the fate of those who had been beaten especially bad. As if they weren't unfortunate enough, these poor souls risk being accused themselves with assaulting police officers. Through the eyes of the authors of this report, you may almost feel the miserable part of democratic protest in Russia. To experience the happy part, the one about mutual support, hope, and dignity, you will still need to take a trip to Moscow.

After a few months of speculations about the "Snow Revolution," political turmoil in Russia disappeared from international media. You don't see throngs of people with white ribbons on CNN -- not because they are gone, but because they are not deemed newsworthy. But these people and their struggle are very much real.

Subscribe to the World Post email.