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Report by HRO.org on Events of 6 May: Moscow Protests Face Mass Arrests, Batons and Courts

Vera Vasilieva, 07/05/12
Source: HRO.org

Right of Assembly  Ministry of the Interior  Persecution of activists  Protest Activity  Moscow city & Moscow region

On 6 May 2012, on the eve of President Putin's inauguration, a mass protest march took place in Moscow along Yakimanka Street, which should have culminated with a demonstration at Bolotnaya Square. Despite the fact that the demonstration had been agreed with the city authorities the protest was suppressed mid-event. The resulting protests by opposition supporters ended up in clashes with the police and arrests.

People were hurt on both sides including the famous Russian actress Natalya Fateeva.

At around 15:00, about an hour before the beginning of the march, a lot of people were already on Kaluzhskaya Square where the demonstrators were filing up into columns. Next to the Perervinsky Monastery Clock Tower HRO.org's correspondent met up with a group of Mihail Khodorkovsky's Facebook supporters with "YUKOS" flags. They were joined by Vladimir Pereverzin a former employee at the former oil company who had recently been released from prison, and likewise the actress Natalya Fateeva and Marina Filipovna and Alla Nikolaevna - the mothers of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Aleksey Pichugin respectively.

A long queue had formed in front of the walk-through metal detectors. The police not only searched through bags but also, apparently for security reasons, forced the majority of those who had come to the protest to throw away any bottles containing liquids. These even included plastic water bottles. A great big heap of them had accumulated on the ground next to the metal detectors. 

Photos by Vera Vasilieva, HRO.org To view these photos on picasaweb, click HERE

At 16.00, the march began to move. Despite sarcastic comments by certain representatives of the authorities that "the marsh had dried up" ["Bolotnaya" means marsh in Russian. Trans.] and notwithstanding the fine weather on a holiday that would normally see city dwellers relaxing in the country, many thousands of people had gathered. People were holding "Solidarity", "Yabloko", "Left Front" and many other political organisations' flags as well as placards in support of political prisoners and caricatures of Vladimir Putin.

"Freedom for political prisoners!", "Freedom of the Press!", "Putin - out!", the demonstrators chanted.

The huge number of OMON riot police "paddy wagons", buses and water cannon immediately caught the eye on the approach to Bolotnaya Square. The column of protestors with YUKOS flags approached the final destination of the march's route at 17:20 - about ten minutes before the appointed time for the beginning of the demonstration. Then our progress unexpectedly stopped. Several people were heading back in the opposite direction to the newly arrived protestors. When asked: "Why are you leaving", they replied that, "the square is full". Screams of: "Let us through!", could be heard that were evidently addressed at the police.

Ranks of OMON riot police had formed in front of the Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge and the turning from Maly Kamenny Bridge on to Bolotnaya Square. Rumours spread amongst the demonstrators that some protestors had tried to march on in the direction of the Kremlin after which the politician Boris Nemtsov and the founder of the "RosPil" project Aleksey Navalny were arrested.

Finally, we succeeded in making our way through to the square. Despite the fact that the time was approaching 18.00 hours, no protest meeting was held on the square. It emerged that the Police had prohibited the meeting after the arrest of the leaders of the opposition movement. The stage on which the speakers should have made their addresses was also nowhere to be seen. It had been taken down and a van with a sound amplification system had not been allowed into the square from the very first according to protestors who had been present.

As a sign of protest some people had declared a "sit-in strike" and had sat down right there on the road.

A scuffle broke out at the end of the square adjoining Luzhkov Bridge. Someone had let off a smoke flare and bottles were thrown by protestors into the ranks of the police. The police replied with baton rounds. They were beating people very hard and drawing blood.

The protestors backed off towards Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge, which was also shrouded in a curtain of smoke and someone let off a flare. HRO.org's correspondent along with the "YUKOS" supporters ended up in the middle of the square where people were standing peacefully and refraining from taking any action whatsoever.

Suddenly and unexpectedly it became very difficult to breathe: everyone's throat became very sore and tears began to stream from our eyes. "Watch out, gas!" People shouted and rushed towards Luzhkov Bridge where the effect of the gas was not so strong. The bridge was completely invisible. Exactly who used the gas and why was also not clear.

"Left Front" organiser Sergei Udaltsov and a group of his supporters swiftly walked past in the direction of the place where the stage had been. A call to remain on the square for as long as possible, preferably until the next morning was passed by word of mouth from one person to another.
Former political prisoner Sergey Mokhnatkin who had recently been pardoned by Dmitry Medvedev was also observed amongst the protestors. Although the former President had been personally asked to also pardon the academics Valentin Danilov and Igor Reshetin who are accused of espionage along with a list containing the names of over 30 political prisoners that had been presented by the opposition to the Kremlin, only Sergei Mokhnatkin had been released. He had a mere two months of his sentence in a penal colony left to serve.

At precisely 19:30, when according to the official agreement between the organisers of the "Million-Man March" and the Moscow Mayor's Office the demonstration was due to end, OMON police in full riot gear moved on to the square. These "cosmonauts" as they are popularly termed began to push people towards the Luzhkov Bridge and then from the bridge on to the Kadashevskaya Embankment.

The bulk of the protestors were lined up along the banks of the Vodotvodny Canal observing what was happening to the remaining demonstrators on Bolotnaya Square. There, OMON riot police were arresting demonstrators, raining blows on various parts of their bodies with their truncheons, twisting their arms behind their backs and dragging them off to the "paddy wagons" and police buses.

"Have you no shame!!! This is our city!" the opposition protestors screamed.

Having "cleaned up" the square, the "cosmonauts" turned their attentions to those who were standing on Kadashevskaya Embankment. They began to push them down side streets and several people were arrested. It was quite impossible to understand the reason for their arrest - none of the protestors had shown the slightest sign of aggression.

Natalya Fateeva, who had been trying to negotiate with the OMON, was pushed up against the parapet of the embankment by riot police who tried to arrest her. However, they later left the actress alone when she told them that she had a bad back and that their actions were causing her pain.
They continued to drive the protestors further and further from Bolotnaya Square. Access to the Polyanka Metro Station was closed. The riot police called on "respected citizens" to make their way to the Tretyakovskaya Metro Station - backing up their words with physical force.
People were not allowed to remain either on Lavrushinsky Lane or Bolshaya Ordynka Street which had also been closed. People relaxing in nearby cafes and restaurants stared at those passing by with amazement and incomprehension.

At approximately 21:30 it was practically all over. Almost all the opposition protestors had either been arrested or forced underground. A small group of people headed towards Pyatnitskaya Street and the Novokuznetskaya Metro Station but they began to be arrested as well. According to various figures between 450 to 600 people were arrested in total. 

Photos by George Chikovani on Facebook. To view these photos on Google +, click HERE
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