Moscow Rally in support of Navalny and political prisoners

18 April 2013

Vera Vasilieva

On 17 April 2013 in Novopushkinsky Garden in Moscow a rally was held against political repression, timed to coincide with the start of the trial in Kirov of politician and founder of the RosPil project Aleksei Navalny. Despite the fact that many civic activists had left the capital to go to Kirov, the event attracted between 2,000 to 3,000 people. At 6:00 pm, when an correspondent reached the barrier that had been erected by the police around the perimeter of Novopushkinsky Garden, the queue to go through the metal detectors at the entrance stretched several dozen meters.

"Just like in 1990 at McDonald's," someone joked.

The main themes of the rally, apart from the criminal prosecution of Aleksei Navalny, were the Bolotnaya case and the pressure being exerted on non-profit organisations (NGOs), whom the law enforcement authorities are intent on fining for being "foreign agents." 

The rally began with the song Svoboda (Freedom) by the rock band DDT, with the assembled crowd singing the chorus.

Then Ludmila Alekseeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, spoke.

"Aleksei Navalny is not guilty of the crimes with which he has been charged. But he will be convicted anyway. That is the kind of justice we have in our country," the human rights activist said.

She also spoke of the upcoming trial on 25 April of the Golos human rights association, who monitor election violations and are refusing to register as a "foreign agent." Ludmila Alekseeva believes that Golos has come under attack because "swindlers and thieves are scared to death of free and fair elections."

Co-chair of the Moscow branch of the RPR-PARNAS party (The Republican Party of Russia- People’s Freedom Party) and member of the working group of the independent inquiry into the events in Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012, Tamara Lezhnina, expressed the view that the real reason why the law enforcement agencies were taking an interest in Aleksei Navalny was put succinctly by the official representative of the Investigative Committee Vladimir Markin, who said in an interview with Izvestia on 12 April that the founder of the RosPil project was "taunting the authorities."

Tamara Lezhnina also said that the public inquiry had demonstrated who was really guilty in the clashes between demonstrators and police in Bolotnaya Square. Another member of the working group, Sergei Sharov-Delone, said that the 600 eyewitnesses who had been questioned had been able to offer an explanation. The results of the inquiry will be made public on 22 April at 7:00 pm in the movie and concert hall of the Cosmos Hotel in Moscow. Anyone may attend these public hearings.

Maria Baronova, one of those charged in the Bolotnaya case, who has been released on bail under travel restrictions, stressed that anyone could end up being implicated in the case. She said that they were all "law-abiding citizens, and most of them were not activists." But one day they "came after them."

Leader of the Yabloko party, Sergei Mitrokhin, remembered the chief editor of the Khimkinskaya Pravda newspaper, Mikhail Beketov, who died without finding out the results of the inquiry into the attack on him, and Yabloko party activist Maxim Petlin, who was sentenced to three years' imprisonment on charges of extortion.

"When you defend people from abuse by swindlers and thieves, it's unbelievable how quickly evidence piles up against you and you find yourself behind bars. Our law enforcement system is doing everything it can to make sure there are less of these people around," Mitrokhin said.

Municipal Deputy of the Zyuzino District, Konstantin Yankauskas, read out a statement by a group of Moscow and Moscow Region deputies about the trial of Aleksei Navalny, in which they express their support for the accused.

Another deputy of the same district, Natalya Chernysheva, said that as a professional auditor she had analysed the financial reports of the KirovLes timber company, posted on the internet by Aleksei Navalny, and concluded that there were no grounds for bringing embezzlement charges against him.

"Aleksei Navalny poses a danger to the authorities mainly because he has taught an awful lot of people how to be citizens," said leader of the Ekozashchita environmental movement Evgenia Chirikova.

Other people who got up on the stage included, among others, musician Oleg Mokryakov, lawyer for Left Front coordinator Sergei Udaltsov Violetta Volkova, member of the 5 December Party Denis Bilunov, member of Avtonomnoe Deistvie Dmitry Gorodov and former prisoner Sergei Mokhnatkin.

"Free Navalny!", "Free political prisoners!", "It's a disgrace!", "Bastyrkin - resign!" the crowd shouted.

At the end of the rally Lev Ponomarev, head of the Movement For Human Rights, read out a resolution listing the repressive laws that had been introduced over the past year.

"Our country is witnessing the consistent and systematic destruction of the foundations of the constitutional order. It is still not too late to prevent this catastrophe. There is still a chance to do something about it. It is the coming together of civil society, especially non-political organisations and initiatives," the resolution reads.

The rally passed off without incident.