50 Detained in Moscow Opposition Rally; Alexeyeva Violently Attacked

Police officer yelling during the March 31 rallies on Triumfalnaya Square. Source: Grani.ru/E. MikheyevoyApproximately 50 activists were detained during Wednesday’s iteration of the opposition-led Strategy 31 rallies on Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square, where between 500 and 1000 protesters gathered in defense of the constitutional right to freedom of assembly. The protests are traditionally held on the 31st of each month with that date, but given the suicide bombings on the Moscow metro earlier in the week, organizers decided to hold the event as a non-political memorial for the victims of the attack.

Nevertheless, police detained both protesters and independent observers for taking part in the unsanctioned event, reportedly employing extreme brutality against both detainees and journalists, including representatives from state-owned media sources.

“One of our activists, Grigory Torbeyev, was severely injured; his face is broken,” said opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov. “Nevertheless, he was dragged into an OMON police bus and is now being held there. He requires medical attention but the police are doing nothing.”

Both of the rally’s organizers, Left Front representative Konstantin Kosyakin and National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov, were among those detained, as were a number of activists from the Solidarity opposition movement. Chairman Lev Ponomarev of the Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights, who came to the event as an observer, was also detained.

As they have done for each of the Strategy 31 rallies since their inception last May, organizers had filed the required application with Moscow city authorities to legally hold the rally on Triumfalnaya Square. And as has been the case each of those times, the city denied the request on the premise that the space was already reserved for another event. While such events have usually consisted of various cultural festivities, March 31 was reserved for Generation Day, an event organized by and for a conglomeration of pro-Kremlin youth groups, including the notoriously Komsomolesque organization Nashi.

Limonov argued that the city’s actions showed that it had “cardinally altered its tactics and strategy” by allowing such an event to take place at the traditional place and during the traditional time of the Strategy 31 anti-government protests. In a similar vein, Heidi Hautala of the European Parliament’s human rights committee earlier called attention to “the particularly concerning trend that is newly appearing in the period prior to the demonstration on March 31.”

“I understand that the Russian authorities, it’s possible, are searching for ways to deny sanction to these demonstrations, as has occurred in the past,” said Hautala. “It can even happen that they simultaneously allow rival pro-Kremlin groups to hold demonstrations at the same time and in the same place. This would bring about the risk of creating clashes and excessive violence between the groups.” As it is, each of the Strategy 31 rallies have ended by being violently broken up by police.

One mainstay of the Strategy 31 demonstrations was absent on Wednesday night: 82-year-old former Soviet dissident Lyudmila Alexeyeva chose instead to attend a memorial at the Park Kultury metro station, where one of Monday’s two bombings took place. Noting that the decision had been difficult, Alexeyeva said on Tuesday that “I tried to convince myself that since the official day of mourning was declared to be March 30, I could go to Triumfalnaya Square on the 31st with my ‘Article 31 of the Russian Constitution’ badge. But I couldn’t bring myself to do anything when I imagined what the memorial rally that the pro-Kremlin youth are going to be holding at that time is going to turn out like.”

“I have no desire to be present at that orgy; I can bear neither to hear it nor see it,” she concluded.

That somber memorial at Park Kultury took a shocking turn when Alexeyeva was physically attacked by a young man identified as Konstantin Pereverzev. While the elderly activist addressed a crowd of reporters, Pereverzev approached her and asked “Are you still alive, b****?” before striking her across the head. He was immediately restrained by members the crowd. Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe reports that the police did not act to detain the man, but that members of the crowd instead took him to a police station. Police stated that the assailant was “in a state of extreme alcoholic intoxication.” Interfax reported that the man “frankly cannot put together a single word and is currently a state of unconsciousness,” although Alexeyeva herself and other eyewitnesses claim that Pereverzev was completely sober at the time of the attack.

“I’m an old woman. I behave in a law-abiding fashion. If a young man hits an old woman, it’s not normal,” said Alexeyeva. The elderly activist left for home immediately after the incident, having possibly suffered a slight concussion.