Free speech and Russia are not exactly two things that go together. This is why a recent incident of oppression of freedom of speech should not be at all shocking. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny spearheaded massive anti-government demonstrations this past Monday. The streets of Moscow were packed full of people yelling, “Putin is a thief!” and “Russia without Putin!” But the protests turned into a massive example of police oppression of free speech.
In typical Russian style, the local police were inside the crowd with pepper spray and batons and followed through with the detention of thousands of protestors throughout the course of one day. Approximate estimates say this number could be closer to two thousand. Navalny was not in the crowd though because he was arrested prior to his attendance at his apartment flat.
In response to his arrest, he posted a picture of swarms of police getting ready to arrest him and captioned it, “Happy Russia Day!”, which is a public holiday in Russia. He was arrested on charges of relocating his rally at the last minute after he had made an agreement with police to have it at a different time and location. The police had allegedly said the protest was fine so long as demonstrators did not yell slogans or wave placards. However, protestors did all of the above.
Alexander Bortnikov said the entire ordeal was a so-called provocation by demonstrators. Bortnikov is the head of Russia’s FSB security service. Throughout the day he had to deal with protests in over 180 different locations throughout all of Russia. St. Petersburg and Vladivostok were two of the cities that demonstrations took place.
But the charges they all received appear to be purely nominal in nature. If convicted they only face small fines or minor and short jail sentences that do not amount to much. Even Navalny, who organized these events, is only going to be serving thirty days in jail.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the following about the incident,
“The United States strongly condemns the detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters throughout Russia. Detaining peaceful protesters and journalists is an affront to core democratic values. The United States will monitor the situation and we will call on the government Russia to immediately release all peaceful protesters. The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve a government that supports an open marketplace of ideas, transparent and accountable governance, equal treatment under the law and the ability to exercise their right without fear or retribution.”
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who is Spicer’s opposite in the Kremlin, said the following in response to Spicer’s comments,
“We disagree when the question is put this way. This is not the sort of calls we should be listening to. As for those who indulged in provocative actions, breaking the law, in this case, the authorities took action against them in full compliance with our legislation.”
Despite the fact that Navalny and his fellow protestors are practicing their freedom of speech and expression even Radio Free Europe has reported that other opposition leaders within Russia are opposed to Navalny’s tactics. Other opposition leaders have indicated they felt that changing the venue for the protest at the last minute allowed for an unnecessary confrontation with police after Navalny had already made a deal with them.
One activist told reporters,
“Navalny drummed up some more PR for himself, and those who hit the streets for him will earn some jail time at best. Navalny has weakened the protest movement.”
However, despite the opposition of some of his friends it did not seem to phase him one iota. From his public comments, he appears to be very pleased with the result of the protests even if many were arrested and detained. Navalny said,
“I rate today’s actions very well. We had an excellent geographic reach. A lot of people came out. There were rallies in cities where they’d never happened before.”
Navalny furthermore defended his actions by stating there was a specific reason behind moving the protests. The Russian detractor said they moved the demonstration because city officials were pressuring contractors of the event into withholding stage and sound equipment that was necessary for the protest. He took it one step further by maintaining that the right to assembly is a guarantee under the Russian Constitution.
Russia has zero credibility within the international community. When they partake in behavior such as this and even endorse and defend the Assad regime of Syria they are making themselves the laughing stalk of the world. Actions like this mean nobody will take them seriously. Stalin once said that the fight between capitalism and communism will ultimately be decided by the test of time. Russian communists always fail and they will again.