New Working Group to Rally Russian Civil Society Behind Election Protests

August 16, 2019

The group will unite Russian citizens around the world to support the Moscow protests

The biggest protest in the last five years took place on Saturday in Moscow. Some 60 thousand people demanded that independent candidates be allowed to participate in the Moscow City Council elections and that the police and criminal terror against these candidates and the participants of prior protests be stopped. Citizens of Saint Petersburg, Ufa, Irkutsk, Yekaterinburg, Kemerovo, Krasnoyarsk, Omsk, Kazan and other cities supported their slogans: ‘Admit’ (‘Dopuskay’) and ‘Release’ (‘Otpuskay’).

Politicians, journalists, and entertainers, even those who did not openly support the political opposition, condemned the unfettered police violence. The demand to admit election candidates morphed into an urge to stop the violence, and brought a huge number of people into the protest movement who had previously avoided politics.

The large-scale protests spanning all of Russia have shown the strength of the country’s civil society and its ability to organise itself in a situation when most of its political leaders are under arrest or have been forced to flee abroad.

In view of the results of the Moscow protest, its participants issued a statement, which included their list of demands, including the termination of any criminal and administrative cases opened in relation to the peaceful protests; the admission and registration of all independent candidates in the Moscow City Council elections; the prosecution of public officials who violated election laws and established a system of political repressions; the dismissal of Valentin Gorbunov, head of the Moscow Election Committee, and Sergey Sobyanin, mayor of Moscow.

The authorities demonstrated their attitude towards the demands expressed in the statement immediately after the rally. On that same day, hundreds of Moscow residents, citizens of Russia, were arrested by the police and National Guard for using their constitutional right to assemble and conduct political protests. The arrests were made in a brutal way, with flagrant violations of the law. Fourteen people have been charged in an ongoing fabricated civil disorder case.

The civil society of Russia stands for the alternation of power, fair elections, release of political prisoners and freedom of speech. For the group that has taken over the reins of the country, giving in to these demands would mean losing their power, property and privileges. This means that the struggle will take a long time.

This battle will have to be fought by the civil society of Russia and its political representatives, who will inevitably rise to prominence as part of the protests.

The ruling clique will do everything to protect its grip on power. And the more people become involved in the protests, and the bolder and more organised civil society becomes, the more brutal the reactions of those in power will become. In a situation like this, the help and support provided by powers that are beyond the reach of Russian authorities is vastly important.

I announce the creation of a task force to protect the civil society of Russia. The task force will develop and implement various measures intended to bolster Russian civil society in their struggle for the alternation of power, fair elections, release of political prisoners and freedom of speech. The task force will support political initiatives aimed at solving these problems, funded solely by the citizens of Russia.

The working group will focus on the following activities:

  • review and complete support of political initiatives proposed by Russian citizens in the field of direct constitutional measures: protests, rallies, gatherings, strikes;
  • inclusion of persons involved in organising and conducting political persecution in the Shevchenko list, named after political activist and member of Open Russia Anastasia Shevchenko, who was charged with collaborating with an undesirable organisation, with subsequent applications to interested judicial bodies to initiate corresponding judicial and other legal proceedings;
  • creation of a list of citizens of Russia who are forced to stay abroad due to severe persecution for legal political activities, and support of such individuals;
  • communication with political leaders and representatives of global enterprises outside Russia with the aim of creating an environment of zero tolerance towards violations of rights of Russian citizens, and preventing international organisations and companies from becoming complicit in such violations.
  • the activities of the working group will be public. However, no information about its participants will be disclosed if this could result in significant risks for them.
  • The working group to protect the civil society of Russia will be open to offers of cooperation.
  • I hereby appeal to public figures, politicians and representatives of the civil society of Russia and other countries, urging them to participate in the activities of the working group.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky
14 August 2019


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