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The Russian authorities are violating people’s right to organize rallies and marches


Russian human rights defenders have decided to protest to President Putin against the violation of citizens’ right to organize marches.  Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Ludmila Alexeeva and of the movement “For Human Rights” Lev Ponomarev discussed the letter they plan to send with the Russian Human Rights Ombudsperson Vladimir Lukin and Chair of the Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights Council under the President of the RF Ella Pamfilova today.

At the same time, some of those whose marches have recently been banned were themselves not allowed into the Kremlin for this meeting.

The part of the Russian Constitution guaranteeing the right to organize rallies and marches is systematically violated by the authorities.  This is the message from representatives of civic organizations which are now either banned or declared “extremist”. Vladimir Ryzhkov, leader of the Russian Republican Party, recently banned by the Ministry of Justice, told reporters today that the Russian Constitution reads like a joke if compared with what is happening in reality.  While the Constitution affirms the right of peaceful assembly, in practice “whenever citizens want to gather with political banners, there will always be some children making clay models just in that place. Or like in St. Petersburg they refuse permission on the grounds that there won’t be many people and it’s not worth them closing Nevsky Prospect. And then, when 5 or 6 thousand people gather, it turns out that there are a lot of people, but they still end up being dispersed. And the responsibility for that is borne not by those who refused to allow a peaceful and constitutionally guaranteed march, but those same peaceful citizens who had the gall to take the Constitution seriously and to demand the right to peaceful marches, rallies etc”.

According to Vladimir Ryzhkov, radical nationalist organizations feel much freer in Russia than democrats, perhaps because they’re socially closer to the present authorities. One doesn’t need to look far for examples. “Just yesterday there was a so-called “imperial march” in Moscow. With the most interesting banners, I would say: “the Russians are on the march”, “Glory to Oprichina”, “Glory to the Slavonic boot”. That’s OK, you understand … These rallies which openly call for pogroms, which openly incite ethnic and racial enmity - they’re welcomed because they’re for the regime. And if people criticize the regime and come out with liberal and democratic slogans, then they’re definitely labelled extremists and so forth”.

At the same time it is becoming plain to many people that the real headache for the Kremlin is induced by the so-called “marches of those in dissent” [marsh nyesoglashnykh], and it is against them that the Russian authorities act most forcefully. One of the main forces behind these marches, the National Bolsheviks, may be ruled an extremist organization by the courts.

In general, the term “extremist” is mainly used against the active opponents of the present regime. The authorities are forcing parties and organizations considering themselves democratic to label the organizers of street protests “extremist” which will give those prepared to do so at least the right to exist.

This was stated by member of the People’s Democratic Union Ivan Starikov. “I feel very sad when I see a number of democratic parties, for example “Yabloko”, going along with this latest Kremlin scheme and deciding to sign the so-called “Charter on fighting extremism”. The Kremlin’s main aim is to ensure that those parties that gain registration, don’t, God forbid, start going on rallies, marches and pickets. Not tame and showcase, I would stress, but real opposition. I am convinced that it won’t help them since day by day the number of people taking part in “marches of those in dissent” will unstoppably rise. I don’t know what the authorities will do now since the events in Nizhny Novgorod showed that it’s impossible to wind up the repression any further.”

The Russian official human rights defenders, namely, the Russian Human Rights Ombudsperson Vladimir Lukin and Chair of the Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights Council under the President of the RF Ella Pamfilova have also decided that the application of laws about rallies and marches does not look too healthy. They met with the civic human rights organizations to consider together how to influence the situation.

Head of the movement “For Human Rights” Lev Ponomarev told journalists that “the discussion was open and involved, and in their addresses both Pamfilova and Lukin expressed strong concern over the situation and agreed that a joint letter in their name and ours would be sent outlining the problems to the President of the Russian Federation”,

One of those whose organizations’ protest actions have been banned, Sergei Udaltsov from the “Avant-garde of Red Youth” complained to reporters that he had been refused entry to the Kremlin to see Pamfilova and Lukin.

According to many observers, in Russia recently an entirely definite pattern has emerged with the regime trying to neutralize the real opposition. Parties and politicians wanting to retain any public presence are being asked to publicly ostracize all those who really are in opposition. This taming of some and marginalization of others, experts say, is virtually ravaging the Russian political field.

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