Police physically prevented human rights activists from attending a City Hall-approved rally against fascism near Belorussky Station on Sunday, and when demonstrators rallied instead at City Hall, dozens were promptly detained and whisked away to a police station.
Liberal politicians, who organized the demonstration in response to a march by thousands of nationalists and skinheads through central Moscow earlier this month, accused authorities of encouraging nationalism and quashing a civil initiative aimed at curbing it.
“We are outraged at how the authorities are playing games with fascists and not allowing us to say a word,” Nikita Belykh, leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces party, or SPS, said outside the Tverskoi police station, where riot police brought 52 protesters.
“We are very alarmed by the authorities’ actions that allow fascist marches and prohibit us from providing an adequate response,” Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the Moscow branch of the liberal Yabloko party, said just minutes before police dispersed the rally. “Authorities need to keep the fascist genie tight in the bottle. Instead, they keep letting it out of the bottle.”
The showdown occurred at 2 p.m., when about 200 people carrying Russian flags, anti-fascist signs and posters of crossed-out swastikas converged on Tverskaya Ploshchad, across from City Hall. Scores of riot police tried to block the crowd, but dozens of protesters managed to seep through police lines to the Yury Dolgoruky monument. They then unfolded large posters and began chanting, “Fascism will not be let through.”
Minutes later, about 50 riot police officers swooped down onto the crowd, pulling people out one by one and dragging them to three police buses parked nearby.
“It is forbidden by Moscow authorities to stage a rally here,” a police captain shouted through a megaphone into the struggling crowd.
“It is allowed by the Constitution for citizens to gather,” someone shouted back from the crowd.
Aides of Belykh and Mitrokhin pulled the two out of the crowd seconds before the police closed in.
“Why weren’t you as tough with the fascists on Nov. 4?” several protesters asked police officers. On that day, the new holiday People’s Unity Day, about 3,000 nationalists and skinheads marched across the city center, making Nazi salutes and carrying xenophobic signs, as police quietly looked on. One march organizer told The Moscow Times then that the event had been cleared with the deputy prefect of Moscow’s central district, Sergei Vasyukov.
Police cleared the square in about five minutes Sunday. A police officer picked a large paper sign reading, “The Mayor’s Office Encourages Fascists” from the wet street and tore it into pieces.
Vasyukov said police broke up the rally because it had not been authorized. Speaking to reporters on Pushkin Square — where a rally by the nationalist Rodina party had been scheduled but was not held because activists failed to show up — Vasyukov said organizers of the anti-fascist rally had submitted requests for two rallies at the same time and that City Hall had granted approval for only one, in front of Belorussky Station. The second rally was to be held on Tverskaya Ploshchad.
“According to the law, you cannot be in two different places at the same time,” Vasyukov said.
Moscow OMON chief Vyacheslav Kozlov said the same thing. He also said no one had been injured on Tverskaya Ploshchad. “No one was hurt, the Lord spared us,” he said, Interfax reported.
The square in front of Belorussky Station was tightly sealed off by police at the time the rally was due to begin. No one was allowed to breach the perimeter. Asked why demonstrators were not being allowed into the square, a police officer, who did not give his name, said police had been ordered to prevent provocations.
Belykh, the SPS leader, said activists from his party and Yabloko had applied on Nov. 16 for permission to stage a rally at Belorussky Station and then march down Tverskaya Ulitsa. He said the request for the march was turned down a week later — even though authorities, by law, must reply within three days — and the reason given for the decision was that it would inconvenience Moscow residents.
He noted that the nationalists had been allowed to march on Nov. 4 and that Communists had been allowed to march on Nov. 7.
Belykh said the organizers had then asked to rally on Tverskaya Ploshchad instead of at Belorussky Station, but that the request was rejected.
Among those detained Sunday were leading human rights activists Sergei Kovalyov of the Institute for Human Rights, Dmitry Orlov of Memorial and Svetlana Gannushkina of Civic Assistance. Also detained were Alexander Osovtsov, the leader of Open Russia, Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s human rights group, as well as prominent liberal activists Alexander Ryklin and Yevgenia Albats.
Several detainees brought to the Tverskoi police station were allowed outside to smoke and to chat with journalists. They had to turn over their passports before going outside, they said.
Ryklin said over a cigarette that the police officers were treating the detainees not aggressively but in a “businesslike” manner. He said detainees would be required to pay a small fine and then be released.
Ekho Moskvy radio reported later that all 52 detainees had been released.
In addition to the human rights activists and Rodina, ultranationalists had planned large rallies Sunday, but apparently few people showed up.
In a statement posted on its web site, the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, or DPNI, said it had held small demonstrations at 37 open markets across Moscow on Sunday afternoon under the banners “Moscow Belongs to Us!” and “Russians, Arm Yourselves!”
Participants passed out more than 10,000 leaflets with information on how to legally obtain firearms, despite the fact that police tried to break up the demonstrations and detained several participants, DPNI said.
The claims could not be independently verified. There were no signs Sunday of any demonstrators at two markets in northern Moscow where DPNI said it had organized rallies.
Ekho Moskvy reported that several young men were passing out leaflets at a market next to the Universitet metro station in southwest Moscow but that no demonstration had taken place. Policemen did not allow the young men to wear DPNI armbands or unfurl DPNI banners, it said. The Moscow Times