On May 5 thousands of Russians turned out across the country to protest the fourth official presidential inauguration of Vladimir Putin. The demonstrations were conducted peacefully, but in many cases were unsanctioned by the local authorities, seen by many as an obstruction of Russians’ constitutional right to peaceful assembly.
The Russian authorities responded with an unexpected level of force as hundreds were beaten, attacked and crammed into police vans, later to be taken of to local police stations where they await further prosecution. In total over 1600 were detained, the vast majority of whom were young people and students, and in a number of instances even underage children were violently detained by OMON officers, Russia’s heavily-armoured riot police unit.
In addition to heavily-armoured police units, various Kremlin-backed and self-proclaimed “Pro-Putin” vigilante groups turned up to create an atmosphere of resistance, persistently harassing the citizens gathered to demonstrate in the central squares of Russian cities. In Moscow, a group of self-styled “Cossacks” turned up in military uniform, armed with whips, who proceeded to attack passers-by and were seemingly acting in unison with the police in helping to detain demonstrators. It later turned out that these “Cossacks” were in fact on the payroll of the Moscow mayoral office for the purpose of dealing with such situations.
In response to the mass detentions, Open Russia’s human rights team set out to provide emergency legal and material support to the victims of police repression. In Moscow police stations alone Open Russia human rights activists managed to provide help to around 130 people, 77 of whom were released the same evening.
Open Russia also coordinated municipal deputies sympathetic to the democratic opposition to visit 12 Moscow police stations, ensuring that those held there were not kept in detention for unlawfully long periods of time. 8 participants appealed to Open Russia’s human rights team for help in connection with beatings they received from both police officers and uniformed “Cossacks”. In addition to this two journalists were also beaten and detained. Open Russia is continuing to work with victims and will be ready to act in their defence in the event that criminal cases are opened up against them.
As usual Open Russia’s human rights team is operating solely on the basis of your kindness and generosity. All donations we receive go towards organising legal and material help to those prosecuted unlawfully for their political activity in Russia. In order to get lawyers to police stations and provide blankets, food and water to detainees who are often left for many hours without access to basic necessities, we require your help. If you would like to get involved and support the team, please consider making a donation here.