Kremlin turns to more covert tactics to undermine Russia's protest movement
The Kremlin says it will allow opposition groups to hold a rally, but cases of preemptive arrests and phone-tapping show that it is still seeking to defeat the protest movement.
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Nemtsov says he has apologized personally to fellow organizers whom he'd mentioned in disparaging terms, and that he will launch a lawsuit against Lifenews.ru and others who violated his privacy.Skip to next paragraph
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"But if they wanted to divide the opposition, the result is the opposite," he adds. "We are more unified than ever, because people are furious at the tactics being employed by the Kremlin. No one can accept these criminal methods."
Another worrisome case involves Sergei Udaltsov, leader of Left Front, a coalition of leftist groups that has applied repeatedly and been refused official registration as a political party.
Mr. Udaltsov, a veteran street activist, has been detained by police more than 100 times in the past five years, mostly for participating in peaceful but unsanctioned political protests. But on the morning of Dec. 4, Duma election day in Russia, he was arrested while walking on the street in what appeared to be a preemptive police operation. He was handed a five-day prison sentence after two police officers testified that he had ignored their advice about where he may cross the street – in other words, alleged jaywalking.
"I think the purpose was to isolate me" during the sensitive post-election period, Udaltsov said after being reached on his cellphone in a prison hospital Tuesday. "I was so angry I went on a hunger strike. I don't know why I am the subject of so much attention. I have never called for violence, though they act as though I was trying to storm the Kremlin or something," he says.
After his five-day term was up, Udaltsov was immediately rearrested and given 15 more days after police cited his alleged misbehavior during a previous arrest in October. When his hunger strike led to serious physical complications, he was placed in a prison hospital under heavy guard by special police and plainclothes officers of the state security service, FSB.
Some of his friends say that Udaltsov's health, normally robust, has taken a suspicious turn for the worse under police custody that cannot be explained simply by the hunger strike, which he voluntarily ended Tuesday.
Udaltsov's lawyer, Violetta Volkova, says she has documentary evidence that Moscow authorities ordered "preventive measures" – which are not legal – to be taken against key protest organizers such as her client.
"This case demonstrates that there is no rule of law in Russia," she says.
"Udaltsov is the victim of a chain of absolutely illegal actions on the part of authorities," she adds. "It's very difficult to be his lawyer, because we are not permitted to take part in court hearings, our documentary submissions are ignored by judges, when it comes to him the system just doesn't work as it's supposed to… I have come to the conclusion that my client is a political prisoner who is suffering primarily for his personal convictions."
IN PICTURES: Russians protest Putin's party