Opposition activist Sergey Udaltsov under threat from Moscow police

Opposition leader  Sergey Udaltsov has spent much of December under arrest and on hunger strike — but the unity of his supporters grows stronger as his health continues to deteriorate. “The authorities are trying to silence me, but they cannot silence tens of thousands people who got to know me because of my illegal arrest,” Udaltsov told Index.

Sergey Udaltsov is an activist and a leader of the Left Front public movement. He has been frequently arrested for holding peaceful, but unauthorised actions of protest. Amnesty International considers him “a prisoner of conscience“, who should not be detained at all.

Russian authorities grew used to arresting Udaltsov during the past few years and journalists even joked that he was likely to make friends with policemen who never gave up a chance to detain him. But this December, Udaltsov’s arrests are no longer the subject of jokes, and rights activists now fear for his life.

Udaltsov was arrested on 4 December while protesting with the masses demonstrating against  allegedly fraudulent parliamentary elections. He was sentenced to administrative arrest until 9 December and subsequently went on hunger strike and was sent to a hospital. He was then detained again sentenced again on 9 December for having allegedly escaped from police custody after protesting two months prior. On 25 December, Udaltsov was arrested once more for the same October protest, which has puzzled rights activists.

The incident in question occurred on 24 October. Udaltsov was detained while attempting to hold a one-man picket near the Central Election Committee building. But before he started, the  police arrested him while he was speaking to journalists. Udaltsov was then sentenced to 10 days of administrative arrest for allegedly having tried to hold an unsanctioned rally. He immediately went on hunger strike, and was subsequently hospitalised. He was discharged from the hospital not long before his arrest term expired, and a judge ruled in December’s proceedings that he had escaped while under arrest in October.

Many journalists and rights activists are certain that Udaltsov’s arrests were made to prevent him from participating in the two biggest rallies in post-Soviet Russia against unfair parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, it has almost been a month since the start of Udaltsov’s hunger strike. His stomach ulcer continues to worsen, and a pre-existing kidney condition is now aggravated.

Journalists and human rights activists expressed concern, as they were barred from the court room on 25 December, where Udaltsov was sentenced once again. Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexey Venediktov filed inquiries to Moscow state court chair Olga Egorova as well as Arthur Parfenchikov, the Russian Bailiff’s authority head, to ask for an explanation.

Judge Olga Borovkova, who sentenced the ill Udaltsov, is notorious for convicting opposition leaders and human rights activists during the past few years. Udaltsov’s supporters are now spreading leaflets with the slogan “Does Borovkova have a conscience?” The slogan angered Russia’s Upper House speaker, Alexander Torshin, who blasted the campaign for being “a pressure on the judge,” and alleged that journalists and activists had “broken down the door in the court room,” a charge refuted by witnesses.

Udaltsov says that police try to prevent him from talking on the phone and meeting visitors. While he is expected to be released on 4 January, there is not much confidence that he will not be arrested again for past activism that could hardly be regarded as illegal. “Anyone could be in my place”, Udaltsov told Index. The authorities have grown used to persecuting opposition leaders.

Ecologist Yaroslov Nikitenko, one of the activists gathered in front of the court house in support of Udaltsov on 25 December, was detained and arrested for 10 days for “having failed to follow a lawful order of policeman,” the same reasoning used to arrest Udaltsov in October. Nikitenko denies the accusation. Moscow authorities today refused to sanction a rally Udaltsov supporters planned to hold on 29 December, but supporters plan to rally anyway, risking the same fate as Nikitenko.

“Their stupid repression policy only unites opposition and angers citizens”, Udaltsov said. His wife Anastasia, also a Left Front activist and one of the organisers of the rallies on 10 and 24 December, agrees with her husband: “It seems like the officials are incapable of analysing the current political situation and the general protest feeling — they are harming themselves by making a hero and a martyr out of Sergey.”

Despite problems with his health, Udaltsov finds value repression from the state, as he believes that it “will only do good for the awakening of the civil society in Russia.”