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Hunger Strike in Astrakhan: “The Situation Has Reached Deadlock”. Report and Photos from

Vera Vasilieva, 11/04/12


· Electoral rights  · Human rights activists  · Protest action  · Мoscow region and Moscow

On 10 April 2012 the office of the International Memorial Society hosted a press-conference devoted to the hunger strike in Astrakhan. The hunger strikers are protesting at the way the mayoral elections in the city were run and at the election result. According to official sources, the election was won by Mikhail Stoliarov, the United Russia party candidate. But according to protesters the majority of votes were actually cast for Oleg Shein, the candidate for A Just Russia.

At present there are 18 people on strike, four of whom - including Oleg Shein himself - have been on hunger strike since day one. Many have been on strike for 18 to 20 days. Last weekend six people ended their hunger strikes at the insistence of a doctor, Elizaveta Glinka, who visited Astrakhan. At the same time, another five people joined the protest. At the time of the press-conference the hunger strike had been going on for 27 days.

Among those taking part in the press conference were Liliya Shibanova, executive director of the GOLOS Association for the Protection of Voters’ Rights, Pyotr Shkumatov, a representative of the League of Voters and coordinator of the Blue Buckets protest movement, and coordinators of the Citizen Observer project. In addition, Oleg Shein himself answered questions from participants via an Internet link. 

“We realise that if the situation has reached this point, we need to get to the bottom of it,” said Inna Kurtiukova, coordinator of the Citizen Observer negotiating group. “Although we are a politically neutral organisation, our project’s legal group put together an address to the Russian Federation Prosecutor General’s Office requesting a review.” This request was sent out on the 6 April, according to Kurtiukova, but Citizen Observer has yet to receive a reply. 

Another of the project’s coordinators, Aleksei Zakharov, talked of the character and scale of the violations which had been noted by observers during the Astrakhan mayoral elections:

“There are about half a million people in Astrakhan, and 400 thousand voters. According to the official results, the actual turn-out was approximately 54 percent. Oleg Shein received 30 percent of the votes, and Mikhail Stoliarov, 60 percent. There were three additional dummy candidates who received about 10 per cent of the vote between them.

Independent observers were in place in all the 203 electoral districts. About 30 members of the electoral commissions who had casting votes were removed for filming videos and moving about within the electoral district. But the main problem was not that these people were removed. The problem was that even in those districts where observers were present, their movements were severely restricted and they were not able to witness the count at first hand.

The main type of abuse, according to the data we have analysed, seems to have been that votes cast for another candidate were counted as votes for Stolyarov. For the most part, the votes given to Stolyarov were taken from Shein, but votes were also taken from the dummy candidates.

From the data we have, we can conclude that, in all probability, the official election results do not reflect the real intentions of the voters.”

Pyotr Shkumatov, in his turn, shared his impressions of his visit to Astrakhan and of his talks with the hunger strikers.

“Last week I went to Astrakhan together with TV presenter Leonid Parfenov and Elizaveta Glinka in order to get an idea of what is going on there. What struck us above all is that whereas usually people are engaged in a struggle for power, here people were saying that they had been humiliated. Not only Oleg Shein but the ordinary citizens of Astrakhan are on hunger strike because they felt that the falsification of the election results was an insult to their dignity as citizens. It’s important to remember this, because many people think that this is about Oleg Shein’s personal campaign for the position of Mayor. But this is not in fact the case.

All sorts of different people are on hunger strike – the elderly and the very young, men and women. The mood of the hunger strikers is very positive. However, the health of most of those taking part has suffered grievously, as we saw from the way their clothes hung off their bodies, from the colour of their skin and the way they talk. They would start to say something and then forget half way through what they are talking about.

Oleg Shein is calling for the representatives of the district election commissions where falsifications were recorded to be removed from their posts while an inquiry is held. He is calling for a public inquiry into all the alleged cases of fraud and for those responsible to be punished in accordance with the law of the Russian Federation. And I would like to remind everyone that falsification of election results is a criminal offence. Oleg Shein is not looking to have some sort of partiality shown towards him. What he wants is a fresh election.

One thousand people have gone out to demonstrate on the streets in support of Oleg Shein. This might seem a small number. But remember that Astrakhan only has a population of 500 thousand.”

Liliya Shibanova, who visited Astrakhan on the 16th day of the protest, expressed serious concern at the situation that has now developed:

“Back then I thought, “Stop this hunger strike, you won’t achieve anything”. But the strikers were confident that the authorities would listen to them and that the new mayor would lay down his authority.

A week went by. It became clear that the authorities were not going to do anything. It was obvious that the authorities would also hold firm to the bitter end, because officials in Astrakhan understand very well that if fresh elections are held, the prospects for them are not good.

Those people sitting there in the camp are in a critical condition. The situation has reached absolute deadlock in my opinion. The authorities won’t give any ground or there will be a wave of protests throughout the regions. A similar hunger strike is taking place in Chelyabinsk region at the moment in protest against the falsification of municipal election results.”

In the final part of the press-conference an interview with Oleg Shein was held by video link. Shein talked about the situation in Astrakhan and once more outlined his own demands.

In particular, the former mayoral candidate reported that the police, wary of mass demonstrations, were restricting the movement of ordinary citizens within the city. “The regime has been stepped up”, commented Shein. “Now there are talks being held with police: they are being asked to allow people into the city centre in exchange for taking down the protest camp. That is to say, the authorities have now to all intents and purposes introduced a curfew,"

He also noted that, although emotions were running high, the local television channel appeared to be completely indifferent to the conflict. Since the beginning of the hunger strike nearly a month ago, Astrakhan Television has not reported once on the situation.

In addition, Shein spoke of his intention to take the case to court, as well as to make complaints to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and to the Central Electoral Committee, although he was sceptical about the prospects for such action.

“We are coming forward to try to give Astrakhan back its right to form its own government. And we are determined to win”, he concluded.
Rights in Russia,
17 Apr 2012, 13:36