Russia gets ready to protest
19 Dec 11

The first meeting of Russia’s newly elected State Duma will be held on 21 December. Tens of thousands of Russians protested the parliamentary elections, based on claims that they were unfair. This week protesters will take to the streets again with a rally against election fraud on 24 December.

The European Parliament echoed the protesters’ concerns, and passed a resolution calling for new parliamentary elections in Russia, as well as a thorough investigation into all reports of alleged fraud on elections held on 4 December. The Russian authorities rejected the EU parliament’s intervention.

Prime-minister Vladimir Putin said the protesters had been paid to attend the 10 December rally, which was the biggest in post-Soviet Russia. Putin added that opposition leaders had referred to them as “sheep” from the stage. Both allegations are untrue. President Dmitry Medvedev said that the EU parliament resolution supporting protestants’ demands “meant nothing”, and former deputy head of State Duma international committee Leonid Slutsky told ITAR-TASS news agency that the resolution was “gross interference in the affairs of a sovereign state”.

The controversial resolution mostly covered the context of the recent elections, but it also highlighted “concerns, regarding the human rights situation in Russia, the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and the repressive measures taken against journalists and the opposition”.

The resolution merely captured the bitter truth of the situation, as proved by events last week. In the Republic of  Dagestan — a federal subject of Russia — journalist Khadzhimurad Kamalov, founder of Chernovik, an opposition newspaper, was shot outside his office on 15 December. Kamalov was remembered as a brave man, respected for the risks he took by investing in the independent media. He inspired people to write about corruption and human rights abuse in North Caucasus. His colleagues along with Memorial, an international human rights society said his murder was “political” and motivated by his work. His articles and investigations he made public in Chernovik were widely quoted in Dagestan. Makhachkala city administration filed an open letter to Kamalov in September, accusing him of “libel, deception and mutual distrust fomentation”, which Chernovik journalists regarded as an attempt to silence them.

The detention of one of Russia’s opposition leaders, Sergey Udaltsov further confirms the statements of the EU parliament resolution. Udaltsov was arrested on 4 December while attempting to protest in the rally against violations of election laws, and sentenced to administrative arrest until 25 December. Since his arrest, Udaltsov has been on a dry hunger strike, and his health is under serious threat according to his wife and attorney. He is now in the resuscitation department of one of Moscow’s hospitals. Human rights activists and opposition leaders have expressed concern for his life.

Musician Vassily Shumov, also famous for having held a concert to support music critic Art Troitsky, planned to hold a concert in support of Sergey Udaltsov and other prisoners rights activists considered to be “political”, but was suddenly rejected by the club which had previously agreed to carry it out. Shumov suggested that the club might have declined to participate based on pressure from the authorities.

Opposition leaders, rights activists and public figures are now preparing for the rally on 24 December. It is meant to be the public’s response to authorities, who have ignored their demands to set political prisoners free, hold new and fair parliamentary elections, and to protect freedom of expression. Their primary objective is to encourage citizens to overcome fears of repression for expressing their views, and to build confidence in their ability to influence Russian government policy through publicly expressing their discontent. Christmas Eve will determine whether or not they succeed.