Russia Continues to Target Peaceful Demonstrators

Washington

Freedom House today called on Russian authorities to cease their practice of arresting those engaged in peaceful, public demonstrations that are within their constitutional rights as Russian citizens, citing the three-day prison sentences by a Moscow court of veteran human rights advocate Lev Ponomarev and Mikhail Schneider, one of the organizers of the Solidarity movement.
 
Ponomarev and Schneider were detained along with Solidarity opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, at demonstration on Sunday. Nemtsov, former Russian deputy prime minister and opposition leader was also arrested in a demonstration on July 31st. While he was acquitted of charges stemming from Sunday’s demonstration, Nemtsov will go to trial September 2 on charges related to his arrest in July. On December 31, 2009, Moscow police arrested 83-year-old legendary human rights defender Lyudmila Alexeeva, also during a peaceful protest.
 
"The escalating trend of detaining, and now sentencing to jail, well-known and widely-respected human rights defenders is one of deepening concern," said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. "These actions send a clear message to the Russian people that any attempts to exercise their constitutional right to free assembly or protest against the government are done at their own peril."
 
Article 31 of the Russian constitution states that “citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to gather peacefully, without weapons, and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets.” However, Russian authorities require that demonstrators apply for permits to demonstrate and such applications are frequently denied to groups that wish to protest Kremlin policies.  No acts of violence have been committed by activists demonstrating in support of Article 31.
 
"The Russian people have endured a traumatic month as the smoke from wildfires nearly choked much of the country," Freedom House senior program manager for Eurasia Sam Patten pointed out, "the very least the government could do now is give the public a little more breathing room, and allow peaceful demonstrations. Why have the police arrested Ponomorov for exercising his legal rights but not made any arrests in the case of unknown assailants who beat him in public last year? The double standard is damning."
 
Russia is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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