Liudmila Alekseeva: Once again, the authorities are resorting to intimidation and deceit

posted 10 Apr 2017, 03:55 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 Apr 2017, 10:43 ]
1 April 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [Voice of America Russian Service

Liudmila Alekseeva, Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, in discussion with Viktor Vladimirov, correspondent for the Voice of America Russian Service, on the anti-corruption protests in Russian cities on 26 March and their aftermath.

Viktor Vladimirov: Liudmila Mikhailovna, on 26 March over 1000 people – including minors – were detained in Moscow alone. What do you find most worrying about these developments?

Liudmila Alekseeva: What worries me most is the tendency for the authorities once again to talk to citizens from a position of strength, both during the protest and after it, resorting to intimidation and deceit. For example, television channels in Russia have as yet made almost no mention of the event, despite its importance for our country’s public life. Judging by the President’s public utterances, the authorities have no desire to talk to members of civil society about what is worrying them, or to meet them half way – they still want to scare people and force them to stay at home instead of resolving issues through compromise.

Viktor Vladimirov: The protesters included more young people – and even teenagers – than ever before. What lesson have they learned?

Liudmila Alekseeva: It is true that there were more young people and even very young people than would normally be expected at a protest of this kind. Yet the protesters were not all young, as some people are claiming – they were a mix of ages. The lesson which these young people are still learning from the protest boils down to a simple truth: they do not matter to the authorities, and the authorities do not wish to listen to them or take them into account in any way.

Viktor Vladimirov: Efforts are underway in schools and universities throughout the whole country to dissuade students in the strongest possible terms from participating in protests. What is your view on this?

Liudmila Alekseeva: This is a particularly stupid idea, because young people do not respond to methods of this kind. A significantly more worrying development is the fact that people identified on CCTV recordings of the protests on 26 March are still being tracked down and detained. My concern is that this will turn into another “Bolotnaya Square” case, with people being arrested for many years afterwards and having their lives ruined for the simple reason that they attended a peaceful protest without breaking any rules.

Viktor Vladimirov: Yet authorities at different levels of government talked about the need for dialogue with the public in the days following 26 March. How should those statements be understood from where we are standing now?

Liudmila Alekseeva: I have not heard any statements of this kind from representatives of the authorities; they are not the ones talking about the need for dialogue. It is merely the representatives of the intelligentsia who are interested in such a thing. Valentina Matvienko is the only one who has mentioned it, albeit very cautiously.

Viktor Vladimirov: It is starting to feel like the courts are in cahoots with the police and are merely rubber stamping sentences for those detained on 26 March. Do you share this view?

Liudmila Alekseeva: They are of course practising their usual rubber stamping habits, in some cases to the point of absurdity. For example, police officers claimed that Aleksei Navalny had put up resistance when he was detained by law-enforcement officers, and that he had shouted out some threat or other. In court, his lawyer presented video evidence showing everything that happened during his detention.

Everyone can see from the video recording that Navalny did not resist and did not shout out anything. He got into the police van in silence. The judges were shown all of this. They watched it and… sentenced him to a fortnight’s administrative detention for offences he did not commit. This is outrageous. When I once had an opportunity to speak to the President, I told him that the sad fact of the matter is that we have no fair courts which act in accordance with the law. He spoke very gently and respectfully to me, but he replied, “Liudmila Mikhailovna, you are wrong.” What more is there to be said…

Viktor Vladimirov: What do you think about the protests arranged for 2 April which have been publicised on social media?

Liudmila Alekseeva: I think that this is nothing but a provocation. The thinking goes as follows: anyone who turns up at these protests must be a tough nut, and this will give us the chance to catch them all and put them in prison. No, a gathering on 2 April would be a bad idea. Aleksei Navalny and other influential people have already confirmed that they have not called on people to march on this date. The only possible explanation is that it is a provocation.

Viktor Vladimirov: Memorial Human Rights Centre has called for the officials guilty of violating the rights and freedoms of the protesters who were out on the streets on 26 March to be held accountable. Do you agree?

Liudmila Alekseeva: Of course I do, but sadly it will never happen because we are not living in a country governed by the rule of law.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds