Site Archive‎ > ‎Freedom of assembly‎ > ‎Moscow‎ > ‎15 12 12‎ > ‎

Arrests started late in the afternoon. reports from the protests at the Solovetsky Stone

16 December 2012 


Vera Vasilieva

Moscow city and Moscow region   Public Protests 

Several thousand people took part in a walk of protest on 15 December 2012 in Moscow at the square around the Solovetsky Stone. As the event was drawing to a close the police detained about 70 participants.

Initially a March of Freedom had been planned along the capital’s central streets ending at Lubyanka Square. But prolonged negotiations between the event’s organizers and the city authorities did not bring any results. It proved impossible to agree on a route. Moscow City Hall was categorically against any allowing anything involving Lubyanka Square on the grounds that any large gathering there would necessitate stopping the traffic which would be inconvenient for Muscovites. On the other hand, the protest organizers considered it essential that the march should take in the square surrounding the Solovetsky Stone since one of their main demands was the release of political prisoners.

Photos by Vera Vasilieva

Regardless, neither City Hall's refusal to approve the action, nor the hefty administrative fines hanging over the troublemakers, nor a temperature of minus 18 degrees got in the way of those who wanted to voice their opinion. By three o'clock in the afternoon the opposition protesters had reached the Solovetsky Stone to lay flowers in honour of those who suffered repression during the Great Terror.

Security forces had begun to close in on the FSB building and the surrounding area the previous night. By half-past two in the afternoon, when the reporter came out of the Lubyanka metro station and headed for the exit closest to the square, she found it had been closed off by a cordon of police officers and riot police. Up on top, along the perimeter of the whole square, metal barricades, buses and cars belonging to law enforcement agencies, construction equipment and a police cordon were all set out. In addition, ordinary passenger commuter buses were parked along Lubyansky Passage that on closer inspection turned out to be packed with 'astronauts' – riot policemen in helmets, with other kinds of special equipment.

The square was rapidly filling with people, despite the police making repeated calls via megaphones, addressed to “esteemed citizens”, not to participate in the "unsanctioned action" and to "move on and take the metro". According to the reporter's estimates, approximately 2-3,000 people were out on the square at any one time. However, they were constantly changing; some people laid flowers, strolled around the square and left, and were replaced by newcomers.

Oleg Orlov, chair of the Human Rights Centre Memorial; Nikolai Svanidze, a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights; and Vladimir Ryzhkov, co-chair of the People’s Freedom party were among famous people spotted on the square.

Sergei Udaltsov, Ksenia Sobchak and Ilya Yashin were detained on the streets leading to Lubyanka. Aleksei Navalny was permitted to stand by the Solovetsky Stone for a short while and give interviews to journalists, after which he was also taken off to a prison van. As later became known, the opposition leaders were released after a few hours without being charged with any administrative offences.

"Pray for us, martyrs of the Gulag!" read one of the few placards. Someone had put on a balaclava in support of imprisoned members of the punk band Pussy Riot, and someone else was wearing a Father Christmas suit. Many people were wearing white ribbons – the symbol of peaceful protest against an authoritarian and corrupt government – and held bouquets in their hands. Before long, the Solovetsky stone had ceased to be visible under a mass of flowers.

For a few hours, the police conducted themselves in a non-aggressive manner towards members of the public. But arrests started late in the afternoon. They began to snatch people out of the crowd and drag them into buses. They then started to quite forcefully push those who remained towards the Polytechnical Museum. By six o'clock the square was deserted.

69 people were detained in total, according to