< Russian Officials Appear Unable to Suppress Protests
By Susan Shand
07 October, 2019

A new report says Russia's use of arrests, long jail terms and pressure on activists appears to be having little effect on anti-government protests.

In the first six months of 2019, there were 863 protests nationwide, the report said. By the end of the year, the total will probably be more than 2,000.

Most of the demonstrations are against the government and law enforcement agencies or organized to protest environmental damage or cuts in government aid.

A woman shouts during a rally to support political prisoners in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
A woman shouts during a rally to support political prisoners in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

"There are fewer and fewer regions that aren't reporting protests," says Anna Ochkina, who wrote the report. She works for the Center for Social and Labor Rights, a Moscow-based, non-governmental organization.

The anti-government protests have yet to affect two parts of the country: Chukotka, a mostly roadless area of north-eastern Russia, and Chechnya, which has been under the rule of Ramzan Kadyrov since 2005. Rights groups have accused his militias of kidnappings and killings.

The new study looked only at the first six months of 2019. It did not examine any of the large anti-government protests that have taken place since last July.

Tens of thousands of protestors have been holding regular rallies in Moscow to protest reports of cheating in city council elections. These Moscow rallies have fueled campaigns of support in other communities. So far a few of the nearly 3,000 of those arrested in Moscow have received jail time. But over 20 others remain in detention and face long prison sentences on charges of mass rioting.

The report says the protesters are mainly worried about political issues. It says this is different from the first three months of the year, when two of the main issues were an increase in the retirement-age and poor public services.

Political concerns were the main issues in 130 of the 434 protests from April to the end of June.

The Russian government appears unable to stop the protest movement from growing. It is the most serious test for the government since the Bolotnaya rallies of late 2011 and 2012. In those protests, activists called on President Vladimir Putin to leave office.

Technology's role

Young people and student activists seem to be the leading force in many of the recent protests. They are using messaging apps like Telegram to organize protests as well as to send information about arrests and legal needs, notes sociologist Olga Zeveleva. She said the new protests are being shaped by generational politics as well as new forms of technology. Her comments appeared on the Mesuza news website.

The human rights project OVD-Info monitors arrests across the country. It then sends a Telegram message that offers legal expertise to people who have been arrested.

An independent student magazine has set up a Telegram group to discuss ways to plan protests. It also organizes efforts to raise money to pay fines. Zeveleva adds that students who have been arrested also can get help from the magazine.

Long term

Activists fear the protests could simply end, as they did in 2012 when the government pushed hard against the protestors.

On Friday, a court in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced two young activists to more than six years in prison on charges of attempting to organize mass unrest.

The two were arrested near a government building in the city in November of 2017. They had been holding up signs calling for Putin's resignation. Police have been holding the activists since their arrests. Amnesty International describes them as prisoners of conscience.

Denis Krivosheev is Amnesty's deputy director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. He calls the jail sentence "deplorable."

Anti-government activists worry that they are failing to bring the larger middle-class into the fight against Russia's leadership.

Andrei Kolesnikov is a Russia expert with the Carnegie Moscow Center. He says the protests show a divide in the middle class between those who are dependent on state jobs and those who earn their money in the market economy.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

VOA's Jamie Dettmer reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

region – n. a specific area or part of a state or country

app – n. a computer software program designed for a wireless device

monitor – v. to watch

consciencen. the part of the mind that makes you identify your actions as being either morally right or wrong

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