By Sean Jackson
On Saturday, July 27th protesters in Moscow clashed in the streets with riot police resulting in the arrests of 1,373 people, according to political monitoring group OVD-Info. The police crackdown came after supporters of opposition party candidates rallied for the candidates to be unbarred from running for Moscow city council.
Police used cudgels on protesters near the central Moscow mayor’s office, which led to reports of broken bones and open head wounds. Demonstrators were not only met by riot police in the street, but also by fully armed soldiers who helped carry out the mass arrests. Before the demonstrations began, the police and other authorities closed streets and metro stations near the city hall, telling protesters to disperse.
The intensity of the police response continued, with several videos of police beatings posted across social media. Some plainclothes police officers also were reportedly caught up in the violence, claiming to have been stricken by police officers with truncheons, according to Russian media reports.
Protesters were detained before the protests even began, with close to 200 individuals taken into custody by 2 PM. Protestors face a 30,000 ruble fine – around $475, as well as five days in jail for taking part in an unsanctioned protest.
The protests were called for by anti-Kremlin critic and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which is in direct response to the election authorities in Moscow blocking 30 opposition candidates from appearing on the ballot.
While protesters showed up in a force on Saturday, the election authorities state that these specific opposition candidates did not garner the necessary 5,000 signatures needed to be included on the ballot. This comes following protests organized last week where close to 20,000 participants attended, but reports from the Associated Press say this week the numbers were near 8,000.
Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst for the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace rejects this claim, suggesting, “The authorities have chosen to solve their problems by rejecting even the illusion of free elections and preventing opposition candidates from participating. The cruelty and violation of constitutional rights is also being used as a means of intimidating not only the opposition, but the pro-Kremlin majority.”
While the call to action was prompted by opposition leader Alexei Navalny, he could not attend in person after being arrested last week in response to calling for the Saturday protests. Navalny was sentenced to 30 days in jail, but was hospitalized on Sunday due to a severe allergic reaction. While supporters cite potential foul play, his associates did not immediately blame the often unhygienic conditions in Russian jails.
While his associates do not feel as though foul play is involved, one of Navalny’s doctors wrote that it was not an allergic reaction, but potentially exposure to toxic substances, stating, “We cannot exclude toxic damage to the skin by chemicals induced by a ‘third person’.”
Police took approximately ten of Navalny’s supporters into custody on Sunday evening, who gathered outside of the hospital in support of the opposition leader.