Russian rallies draw Tiananmen parallels
The picture of a child on a bicycle facing a wall of fierce-looking riot police in Moscow has evoked memories of the Tiananmen Square demonstration in China over a decade ago. Police violence against peaceful protestors in the former Soviet capital has been condemned throughout the world as President Vladimir Putin tries to silence the thousands who accused him of mass rigging of elections, held last month.
“Russian authorities should promptly and effectively investigate reports of excessive use of force against protesters and arbitrary detentions,” said Human Rights Watch.
The group has called on authorities to investigate the allegedly arbitrary detention of hundreds of activists demonstrating peacefully or snatched from cafes for wearing the white ribbon of the opposition.
Events unfolding in Russia since Putin’s hard-line right wing government were voted back to power saw thousands of people mobilized by opposition parties onto the streets of Moscow. A bottleneck at the entry to Bolotnaya Square became a flashpoint after opposition leaders told people to carry out a sit-down protest which was followed by a small group of people throwing some objects at the police. The response was brutal as police truncheoned peaceful demonstrators and started to intimidate those present.
“Though some protesters apparently disobeyed police orders and even attacked police officers, we received many credible reports of police detaining peaceful protesters along with those who violated the law,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.“We are also concerned about allegations of police brutality, including beatings and causing unnecessary pain and suffering.”
As Human Rights Watch pointed out, the right of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Russia is a party, and also, by the Russian Constitution. As the European Court of Human Rights has made clear, the freedom to take part in a peaceful assembly is of such importance that a person cannot be subjected to a sanction – even one at the lower end of the scale of disciplinary penalties – for participation in a demonstration that has not been prohibited, so long as this person does not himself commit any reprehensible act on such an occasion.
“Contentious protests happen all over the world and human rights law imposes a duty on the state to protect the public from violence,” Williamson said. “However, the authorities should not use violent actions by some protesters to attack human rights, including the rights to free assembly and free expression.”
There were even reports of people being arrested in local cafes for wearing the white ribbon in dissent; many of those who were arrested were immediately drafted in to serve in the military, which has bad reputation for treating conscripts with contempt. According to media reports, Sergei Udaltsov voiced their demands on their behalf as: “one hour of federal television time, suspension of Putin’s inauguration, and re-elections.” The events drew parallels with the violent oppression of Occupy protests in the US and anti-capitalist marches around the world to protest increasing fascist policies which are hitting the poorest hardest.
The editorial unit