Lev Ponomarev: Police commence sweep of Moscow (Ekho Moskvy)

posted 17 Nov 2016, 07:45 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 17 Nov 2016, 07:56 ]
14 November 2016

Lev Ponomarev, leader of the For Human Rights movement and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Echo of Moscow

Photo: Moscow Helsinki Group

On 14 November at 6 am in Moscow, searches were simultaneously conducted of activists and protectors of the Torfyanka Park, which is located in the city’s northeastern Moose Island district.

The well-known human rights defender Marina Veriginaya, who was consulting with the activists, had her front door broken down, telephone taken away, and along with her husband was taken to the police station.

At the same time a search was carried out at the home of activist Vlad Kuznetsov, who was then taken to the police station with his wife, Svetlana. Pavel Alekseev, who had been recording videos of the events at Torfyanka, was taken away with his 16-year-old son, laptop, and suitcase.

The situation is analogous with the Fyodorov, Lebedev, and Kuznetsov families; Natalya Kutuninaya; and others. All together 13 people from the initiative group were arrested.

The legal system of the Russian Federation has been grossly violated. In essence, people were simply kidnapped, given that they were not presented with search or arrest warrants and not allowed to contact relatives or lawyers. Now they have been deprived of means of getting in contact, and it is not entirely certain where they are located. They were arrested as families, with their spouses and children.

According to preliminary information, they are being charged with an offence under Article 148 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which concerns “insulting the feelings of religious believers.”

The matter is that religious believers, having lost the official possibility of building a church in the park, continued to hold protests and conflicts with local residents, whom they constantly accused of vandalism, extremism, and similar “violations” in written official declarations.

The police’s interference in this situation is brazen and inexcusable. We must not allow the initiation of criminal cases against these activists. They must be immediately freed, and those who ordered the searches should be identified and punished according to the law.

Moreover, it is impossible not to note the equally brazen arrest of activists on 11 November at the event to mark the anniversary of the introduction of the Platon tax on truck drivers. Three women were held illegally for 48 hours and sentenced to fines.

I understand that such actions do not come from on high. The question is: who ordered them to act so brazenly and defiantly, and why do they not fear some kind of punishment?

An even more important question: in this instance, was there an “order” given concerning specific activists in connection with a specific church, or was it done as part of a general campaign begun against leaders of societal protests?

I do not consider Moscow the sort of city that allows people to be arrested en masse when they voluntarily have taken upon themselves the labour and risk of protecting Muscovites. They were protecting their park, our park, but they were taken like terrorists in OMON [riot police] buses, their doors broken down, intimidated.

In general I am inclined to suppose that such events are not accidental right now. Online recently there have been more and more discussions about prospects for the upcoming presidential elections, the state of the president’s health, and the like. We see security officials showing their preparedness to nip any civil protest in the bud.

Translated by Caroline Elkin