Posted on February 2, 2012 - by Venik
Activists report questioning by officers from anti-extremist unit in runup to next big demonstration against contested election
Russian activists say they have come under pressure from police and security services in advance of their next big protest against contested elections and Vladimir Putin’s likely return to the presidency.
Ilya Klishin, a 24-year-old journalist who helps co-ordinate the movement’s Facebook and Twitter pages, said police summoned his parents for questioning in his home town of Tambov last week. “They are trying to pressure me by scaring my parents,” Klishin wrote on his Facebook page on 20 January. “It seems that it’s linked with the fact that I have and continue to organise protests in support of honest elections through social networking sites.”
Klishin said his father was questioned by officers from a unit focused on combating extremism, known as “Centre E”. Formed mainly to tackle Islamism, Centre E has been widely deployed to investigate opposition groups, anti-regime bloggers, environmentalists and other civic activists.
The officers said they were looking for Klishin, who moved to Moscow in 2004, and wanted information on his recent new year trip to Kazan. “It’s like the approach of a gangster, who takes kids hostage or threatens to do something to your parents or relatives,” Klishin said. “It’s not the approach of a proper police force or security service.
“Do you think they don’t know where to find me? And why question my trip? It’s an absurd situation, like questioning why someone would travel from London to Manchester,” he said.
An activist in Volgograd said the city’s Centre E had called her in for questioning before last weekend’s nationwide car rally, when drivers decorated their cars with white insignia – the symbol of the movement – and drove for two hours.
“We talked about me, my views and values,” Alevtina Dupri wrote on her blog and Facebook wall, appealing to lawyers for advice. “They recommended I don’t go to the rally, since if something happens, then I, as an organiser, could get fined in the best case and jailed for 15 days in the worst.” Dupri added that she was a participant rather than an organiser of Volgograd’s protests.
Pro-Putin movements have organised counter-protests around the country. The All-Russian People’s Front, a movement founded by Putin last year that has swallowed many of the unions at state-run or state-friendly firms, is due to hold a competing protest on Saturday.
A group calling itself the Anti-Orange protest, a reference to the pro-western Orange revolution in neighbouring Ukraine, has also called on people to attend to protest at what it says is a US-funded attempt to repeat the Libya scenario in Russia.
School heads and postal directors have alleged they are being ordered to send employees to Saturday’s pro-Putin rally. “Teachers call us and tell the same story: someone from the department has called the director and demanded they make 10-15 employees show up at the protest,” Vsevolod Lukhovitsky of the Uchitel teaching union told Kommersant newspaper. “The teachers are told that if they don’t go, the school will have problems.”
The Kremlin has become increasingly nervous as Russia’s protest movement, launched in the wake of a contested parliamentary vote in early December, has refused to fade. More than 26,000 people have signed up via Facebook for Saturdaytomorrow’s anti-Putin protest. It will be the first since Russia’s extended new year’s holiday and is exactly one month before the presidential vote, when Russia’s opposition will try to force Putin into a second round.
The midwinter frost, which has plunged temperatures in Russia below -15C for two weeks, will likely result in a lower turnout. It has already prompted opposition activists to turn to more creative forms of protest, such as the car rally.
Putin’s ratings have continued to fall as the presidential election approaches. According to the Levada Centre, an independent pollster, only 37% of those polled would vote for Putin if the election were held this Sunday. VTsIOM, another pollster, put the number at 49%.
In second place, with numbers barely reaching the double digits, is the communist Gennady Zyuganov. Last week, the elections commission – whose head, Vladimir Churov, once said “Putin is always right” – banned the liberal leader Grigory Yavlinsky from taking part. His party, Yabloko, said the office of its newspaper in the Urals city of Perm was destroyed in a molotov cocktail attack at the weekend.