14-year-old democracy activist beaten up by police after peaceful demonstration

November 5, 2018

Yesterday marked the annual celebration of Unity Day – an important national holiday that has replaced the Soviet holiday of the Day of Great October, remembering the feats of the October revolution. However, the celebrations this year were not as unified as Russian State media would have you believe: hundreds of Russians took to the streets in demonstrations throughout the country.

One of the largest demonstrations took place in Lyublino, a south-eastern district of Moscow. The so-called Russian March was attended by around 300 people. Authorities had originally sanctioned the demonstration. However, recent amendments to the role of ‘organisers’ in the Russian Criminal Code have meant that activists may still be detained in the periods before and after the allocated time of the ‘sanctioned’ demonstration. By this logic, those attending sanctioned demonstrations must miraculously appear at and disappear from the agreed place of demonstration within the sanctioned timeframe. In pragmatic terms, this law serves as sufficient justification for police to detain activists at any demonstration, which makes demonstrating an act with potential consequences.

Scenes from the Russia March. Banner reads: “No to political oppression!”

14-year-old Yaroslov Vasilev fell victim to this absurd law. In an interview with TV Rain,  Yarolav explained how authorities had detained him after the Russian March finished. He was put into a police van and shortly after transferred to another van with blacked-out windows. Yaroslav called his parents to inform them of what was happening. This led police officers – in uniform and civilian clothes – to steal Yaroslav’s phone. It was during this struggle that one of the police officers “threw punches to the back of [Yaroslav’s] head.” Yaroslav was given back his phone only upon arrival to the local police station.

As a member of the human rights movement The Eternal Protest Yaroslav understood the events as a restriction of his ability to exercise his human rights. The 14-year-old sought justly to report such abhorrent practices to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Yaroslav was prohibited from making an official complaint, however.

Yaroslav Vasilev was not the only teenager who was detained by police over the weekend. Mikhail Prokhorov was detained in Cheboksary, a city in the Volga region. The teenager was detained after demonstrating, holding a placard with the words “Police, remember that we are all one people.” Last week we also reported on police officers who stole money from a seven-year-old.

Teenage Activist Mikhail Prokhorov before his arrest. Placard reads “Police, remember that we are all one people

Many other demonstrators were arrested in various cities around Russia. In Moscow an additional 7 people were detained as part of the Russia March. In Pskov the three organisers of a demonstration against the pension reforms were detained, despite the fact that these protests were, again, sanctioned. One of the organisers in Pskov, Artyom Milushkin, was beaten up upon his arrest and will remain in custody until his court hearing in two days’ time.

Artyom Milushkin in custody after being beaten up.

Unity Day should be a day of coming-together, where Russians can express their pride for their great nation. However, the uncomfortable truth is that the Russian state takes an indiscriminately unified approach to attacking and detaining its own citizens, which serves only to further division between ordinary Russians and Putin’s kleptocracy.