Measures taken to exclude independent candidates from upcoming Moscow city legislature election were met with protests. In response, the government unleashed a crackdown which has now transformed into witch-hunting of protesters. In a new low of harassment on Moscow’s protests, police are taking away citizens who are suspected to have participated in the protests from homes. This measure has affected Ilya Azar, a journalist who was one of those who led the protests. Human Rights Watch has the story by Tanya Lokshina.
Last night, at around 9 p.m., Ilya Azar – a journalist and one of the leaders of the recent Moscow protests – put his toddler to bed and went out to the stairway for a cigarette. Three police officers arrived suddenly to detain him. Azar, wearing sweats and slippers, told the police his 22-month-old daughter was in the apartment and asked to wait for his wife to get home. The officers consulted their superiors by phone, and then told him they had to leave immediately. Azar called his wife, Ekaterina Kuznetsova, explained the situation, and, despite pleading with the police to wait, was taken away. Kuznetsova arrived about 30 minutes later, at wits’ end, to find “the apartment unlocked and the child sleeping peacefully … all alone.”
The recent protests were triggered by the exclusion of independent candidates from the city legislature elections on September 8. To stifle the protests, the government launched a broad crackdown, with tactics ranging from detaining staggering numbers of peaceful protesters and bystanders, some brutally, to opening major criminal investigations, including on far-fetched mass rioting allegations, and carrying out searches and interrogations of the excluded candidates and their most active supporters and slapping them with repeated temporary arrest.
The case of Azar and his family is a new low in this litany of harassment.
As a wave of indignation erupted on social media and dozens of journalists rushed to the police station where Azar was held, the authorities changed course and released him just past midnight, pending a court hearing on charges of repeatedly violating the regulations on public gatherings. This administrative offense can land Azar in jail for up to 30 days but can’t justify the late-night rush to detain him.
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