Hassle on the hustings in St Petersburg

August 25, 2016

Open Russia federal coordinator Vladimir Kara-Murza and State Duma candidate Andrey Pivovarov have been detained in St Petersburg by police in the middle of a meeting with residents in Polyustrovsky Park.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is also deputy chairman of opposition party PARNAS, and Andrei Pivovarov, co-chairman of the party’s St Petersburg branch, whose candidature for the State Duma is being supported by the Open Elections project of Open Russia, had been addressing local residents in the Krasnogvardeysky district of St Petersburg, for about half an hour, when five police cars arrived at the scene, some officers armed with guns. Daniil Ken and several volunteers were detained alongside Pivovarov and Kara-Murza. Also detained was musician Mikhail Novitsky. Banners and campaign materials from Pivovarov’s hustings were also seized. The detainees were taken to the 66th Police Department of Krasnogvardeisky District, where administrative violations were filed against them.

“Police arrived, not just local, but also a plain-clothes officer from Moscow’s Centre E [for combating extremism] who filmed everything on camera and basically gave the orders,” said Vladimir Kara-Murza. He added that three days before the hustings, Andrei Pivovarov had filed a notification.

“[The official charge] was for holding an unauthorised event, although two hours before the start Andrei [Pivovarov] had received verbal approval from the district administration. The St Petersburg police behaved very reasonably, but for some reason the orders were given by a man in a leather jacket from Centre E,” said Kara-Murza.

Andrei Pivovarov described in detail what happened.

“Today we held a regular hustings with voters in Polyustrovsky Park. The authorities were informed in compliance with the statutory period of notice and all regulations. The administration delayed its response, but by mid-afternoon said a decision was ready. The head of the district department for law and order Mr Usanov told us the event could go ahead and informed the police, but did not have time to sign a document.

“Even before it started, the event attracted the interest of an operative who filmed it on camera and phoned around. The local police showed no interest in us. The operative turned out to be a Moscow (!) employee of Centre E.

“The police consulted with a superior, and armed district officers began arriving at the scene. I offered to phone the administration to confirm that everything was in order, and was surprised to hear Usanov’s voice on the line, saying that we did not have approval.

“I realised that the event could not continue, and went to the people to explain that for reasons beyond our control the hustings were over. I started to take down the banner. But the police numbers kept mushrooming, and after about five minutes I was approached by officers and told I was being detained on charges of organising and participating in an unauthorised event.

“While the police were deciding where to put me, local residents started saying it was a “campaign” against me on the part of the authorities, which sums up better than any words or programmes why people need to vote for me. I was touched.

“By this time there was an obscene amount of police, who had to justify the call-out by making more arrests. Vladimir Kara-Murza, Mikhail Novitsky and Daniil Ken, along with his bicycle, were all put in a van.

“The police threatened to charge us with holding an unauthorised event. I replied that candidates have the right to campaign and suggested waking up Prosecutor General Chaika to get the administrative crackdown sanctioned.

“On the whole, the situation was caused by the shameless behaviour of one particular official from the law and order department, Usanov, who intentionally set up the altercation. In any case, I consider the actions of the police and the administration to be a deliberate violation of my rights as a candidate for the State Duma.

“For the record, I am a registered candidate for the State Duma from both the district and the federal list, and registered for the elections to the Legislative Assembly of St Petersburg; Vladimir Kara-Murza is an aide to State Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov, and Daniil Ken is a municipal deputy. By law, candidates for the State Duma, and aides to State Duma deputies can be detained only with the approval of the Prosecutor General of Russia.

“In the meantime, hi to all the guys at the police station, and make sure you come to our next hustings. It’s gonna be even more fun!”


Open Elections project leader Timur Valeev has told Open Russia that Vladimir Kara-Murza and Andrei Pivovarov have been released from the police station. Reports of administrative violations were drawn up against them under article 20.2 of the Administrative Code, according to which they were campaigning unlawfully. “I don’t understand how it’s even possible. Any political campaigning is lawful,” said Valeev.

Ella Pamfilova, head of the Central Election Commission, responsible for ensuring that these elections are “free, fair and transparent,” has been informed of the arrest; Open Elections is waiting for her to comment.