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Russia | Nearly 200 arrests during an opposition political forum

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Cole Hanson
Cole Hanson
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(Moscow) Russian police arrested, Saturday, all participants in a forum in Moscow, which opposition figures and dozens of local deputies were invited to attend, which further tightened the screws on the authorities in the period leading up to the parliamentary elections in September.

Tybot Marchand
France Media

This police operation, unprecedented in Russia, comes just over a month after Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s main opponent, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, and thousands of arrests during the support demonstrations that followed his arrest. .

On Saturday, more than 150 participants from all over Russia – including the overwhelming majority of independent local lawmakers – gathered at a hotel for a conference on future regional and local elections, on the initiative of a group backed by the oligarchy in exile Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of the Kremlin’s pets bothering .

But when the forum, which is scheduled to last for two days, began about 40 minutes ago, the police entered the building and arrested all the participants, and drove them to the police cars parked in front of the hotel.

“The police filled the room. Opponent Ilya Iachin said on Facebook,“ All MPs were arrested and taken to police stations, ”and the post attached a picture of him in a police car.

According to witnesses and videos broadcast by Russian media, the police accused the forum of being organized by a “undesirable” organization, according to a law promulgated by Vladimir Putin in 2015.

Moscow police said, in a statement, that they had arrested 200 people, stressing that the forum was organized “in contravention of sanitary and epidemiological rules” and that “among the participants were members of organizations with undesirable activities on Russian territory.”

Those arrested include former Ekaterinburg mayor Yevgeny Rosman or opponent Vladimir Kara Morza, as well as several journalists who covered the forum.

‘The authorities are afraid’

The forum – the first of its kind in Russia – was organized by the “United Democrats”, a project by Mikhail Khodorkovsky aimed at promoting the election of independent representatives in local elections.

“Their goal is to intimidate us,” denounced to AFP Andrei Pivovarov, head of another Mikhail Khodorkovsky organization, Open Russia, who was part of the forum’s organizers.

Since 2017, Open Russia has become one of the foreign organizations active in Russia that is considered “undesirable”, according to a controversial law passed in 2015.

On Twitter, Mikhail Khodorkovsky expressed his displeasure with these arrests, calling them “unconstitutional”.

For its part, Alexei Navalny’s team considered that the reasons for canceling the forum were “clear”: “The authorities fear any competition during the elections and terrify their opponents.”

“rating [parti au pouvoir] United Russia is at its lowest levels and winning the elections, even if rigged, becomes more difficult, “the opponent’s team adds.

The legislative elections in September 2021 are already coming in a difficult context for the Kremlin, a united Russia that has suffered extraordinary setbacks in recent years as economic recession fuels political discontent.

Alexei Navalny was arrested in January upon his return to the country, after several months of convalescence in Germany as he was recovering from a poisoning the Kremlin accused of causing.

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He was then sentenced to two and a half years in prison, while his imprisonment sparked large protests, to which the authorities responded with more than 11,000 arrests.

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