Update 04/01/11: Information added about protests at Dvortsovaya Square and in Ryazan.
Opposition rallies were held throughout Russia on Thursday as thousands of activists and human rights advocates continued to support the Strategy 31 campaign in defense of free assembly.
In Moscow, two separate rallies were held per recent tradition. Between 300 and 1000 people joined Strategy 31 co-leader Lyudmila Alexeyeva for a government-sanctioned rally at Pushkin Square, where the longtime rights advocate spoke alongside fellow advocate Lev Ponomarev, environmental activist Yevgeniya Chirikova, and others.
Moscow city police estimated the crowd at 150 ralliers and 150 journalists.
Only one person appears to have been arrested at the rally. Someone dressed as a pigeon was taken away after rally organizers told police it could be a possible act of provocation.
Further up the street at Triumfalnaya Square, Strategy 31 founder and Other Russia party leader Eduard Limonov attempted to hold his own, unsanctioned rally. According to Kasparov.ru, government officials turned down Limonov’s application to hold the rally on the basis that a pro-Kremlin youth group had already been given permission to hold a rally in support of blood drives, dubbed “Donor Day,” at the same place and time. However, the publication noted that no such activists were seen on Thursday at the square.
Police blocked off Triumfalnaya early in the day and did not allow ralliers to congregate on the square in general. “They’ve begun to kick everyone out. Standing here is prohibited!” photojournalist Ilya Varlamov wrote on Twitter from Triumfalnaya Square at 5:32 pm, half an hour before the rally was scheduled to begin.
Limonov was arrested immediately upon arrival. “They say I shouted a slogan: ‘respect the constitution of the Russian Federation,’” Limonov told reporters from a police station. “I don’t know since when that became a violation of the law.” Co-organizer Konstantin Kosyakin was also arrested.
Police periodically pushed ralliers out of the square and eventually towards the metro while arresting dozens of others. An estimated 36-50 people were arrested altogether.
Solidarity activist Dmitri Monakhov, who had apparently gone to buy a hotdog, was detained while on line at a Stardogs stand.
During the rally, several unknown young people managed to unfurl banners reading “Hooray! Nutcases, go! Strategy 32″ on buildings high above the square but were subsequently arrested.
Around 7:00 pm, about 50 protesters began to march down Tverskaya Ulitsa towards the Kremlin, blocking traffic in the process. Police arrested several of the marchers, five of whom were reportedly beaten severely.
One beaten activist, Dmitri Putenikhin, is currently being held for 48 hours and has been issued a summons from a military enlistment office on the basis of his “prior offenses.” However, human rights advocate Andrei Babushkin told Kasparov.ru that the summons was counterfeit.
According to oppositionist Oleg Kozlovsky, activist Sergei Konstantinov was taken away from a police station in an ambulance due to wounds from police.
An activist detained in the Presnenskoe police station reported by Twitter that police were confiscating the cellphones of detainees.
Presidential human rights advisor Mikhail Fedotov told Interfax that he saw no problems with how police treated Strategy 31 participants. “Everything that I saw on Triumfalnaya Square was organized entirely civilly. They acted very carefully. I saw how several young people who decided to hop around on the scaffolding with a banner were taken down and brought to a bus by the hand. Precisely by the hand,” he said.
Many more people were arrested at two unsanctioned Strategy 31 rallies in St. Petersburg.
By various estimates, between 1000-2000 people began marching from Gostiny Dvor along Nevsky Prospekt at 6:00 pm, shouting “it’s our city, “Russia for the political prisoners,” “freedom,” and “Petersburg without Matviyenko,” referring to Governor Valentina Matviyenko.
The marchers initially walked along the sidewalk, but later spilled into the street. They were blocked by police after about 300-400 meters, at which point officers began arresting marchers. According to local Solidarity leader Olga Kurnosova, about 200 people were detained.
Just before 7:00 pm, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov announced to the crowd that the rally was over and attempted to leave on a trolleybus. However, police blocked the bus and dragged Nemtsov out, arresting both him and fellow oppositionist Ilya Yashin.
Earlier in the day, Nemtsov had presented his newly printed report “Putin. Corruption” at a press conference in St. Petersburg. The 40-page document is drawn from open source material and concludes that “corruption in Russia has ceased to be a problem and has become a system.”
Oleg Vorotnikhov of the art activist group Voina was arrested and severely beaten while in detention. Police have reportedly taken away his young son Kasper and are threatening to take away his parental rights altogether. Fellow Voina activists Leonid Gegen and Ira Putilova were also detained.
Other detainees included two journalists from Moscow, a journalist and cameraperson from Georgia’s Channel One, and a Swedish woman who does not understand Russian.
At least one person was taken away from a police station in an ambulance.
Approximately 200 people took part in a second unsanctioned Strategy 31 rally at Dvortsovaya Square, including members of the liberal Yabloko party and human rights advocates. Organizers say the rally was calm and encountered no police interference.
Other Strategy 31 rallies were held throughout Russia’s regions, including in Vladivostok, Saratov, Kurgan, Ulan-Ude, Penza, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Chelyabinsk, Krasnoyarsk, Omsk, Kirov, Ryazan, and others.
At least 25 people were detained at an unsanctioned rally in Nizhny Novgorod. Activists were arrested immediately upon reaching the meeting place; several were beaten by police.
A rally in Rostov-on-Don was only successful after activists managed to obtain a court order forcing the local government to sanction it. All previous attempts to hold Strategy 31 events in the city had been blocked.
According to Kasparov.ru, authorities in Rostov-on-Don nevertheless attempted to hinder the rally by arresting its various organizers for “hooliganism.” Boris Batiy was sentenced to 3 days in jail and only released on the eve of the rally, Other Russia leader Grigory Elizarov was arrested for 7 days and will not be released until April 2, and local Left Front leader Vladislav Ryazantsev was forcibly placed in a psychiatric ward on March 30, despite having no history of psychological problems.
Approximately 100 people came out to the first-ever Strategy 31 rally in Volgograd. Police observed the event, filming and taking pictures from the sidelines. Participants spoke out against plans by the City Duma to get rid of direct mayoral elections.
Activists from Solidarity and other organizations held solitary pickets in Kirov since their application to hold a Strategy 31 rally was denied by the city government.
About 60 people came to a protest in Ryazan, where organizers spoke about censorship over the local media by Governor Oleg Kovalev that prevents them from informing the public about opposition demonstrations.