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Dozens of arrests as Russian anti-corruption rallies hit Daghestan

27 March 2017
One-person protest on Rodopsky Boulevard in Makhachkala (Aida Mirmaksumova/OC Media)

Several dozen people were detained on 26 March during an anti-corruption rally in Daghestan’s capital Makhachkala. In Krasnodar, the capital of Krasnodar Krai seven people were arrested. Rallies against official corruption were held across Russia, including in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk and Tomsk, according to the BBC. The purpose of the protests was to force the Russian government to launch an investigation into alleged corruption by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

On 2 March, opposition leader Aleksey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation published a documentary investigation, ‘He is not Dimon to you’. Dimon is a diminutive form of Dmitry, implying familiarity. The film claims that Dmitry Medvedev is at the head of a multi-level corruption scheme in the country. When the Russian authorities declined to comment on the issue, Navalny called for street rallies to be held on 26 March. The rallies were attended by opposition activists in several Russian cities.

In Makhachkala, the number of protesters did not exceed 100 people. According to eyewitnesses, people were detained even before the rally began, while mass detentions followed several minutes later.

The exact number of detainees is still unknown. Initially, the duty officer of the Sovetsky District Police in Makhachkala told OC Media that 156 people were detained. Later, the authorities announced that the number was 60. Finally, a representative of Daghestan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said that 40 people had been detained. According to eyewitnesses, police assaulted and pushed everyone they could grab into prisoner transport vehicles.

Detainees were transported to the police station in groups (Video: Courtesy of Khabib Aygunov)

‘My friend and I came to Makhachkala from [the city of] Dagestanskiye Ogni in order to visit a sports shop. Then we decided to have a stroll by the sea. We saw a crowd of people and walked up to them. My friend took out his phone and began to shoot. At this point they began to assault everyone. They caught him too. A policeman shouted to me: “Get out of here!” My friend is 15 years old’, Shamil, an eyewitness of the arrests told OC Media.

More than ten detainees were minors. By law, they can’t be interrogated without the presence of a legal guardian. For this reason, their parents or older relatives were summoned to the police station.

The anti-corruption rally was held on Rodopsky Boulevard in Makhachkala, by the sea. The boulevard is a busy area of the city, and it’s difficult to say how many detainees actually took part in the rally and how many of them were just observers.

‘You have my son and nephew’, one man approached the police. ‘They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.’

‘Yes, we understand’, the police said.

‘My nephew came from the countryside to the city for vacation. He is underage. They were simply walking in the park and they were arrested!’

‘Everyone says that they simply walked around and were there by chance’, the police answered.

According to Zhannet Kasumova, the mother of 28-year-old Makhmud, her son didn’t take part in the rally, yet was detained by the police.

‘I told him to go to the ATM to withdraw pension money from my account. He was with my brother. I don’t know how Makhmud appeared next to the protesters. He was detained, while my brother was not. My brother told me that he argued with the police, he told them to take him away instead. The police just pushed him away and forced Makhmud into the bus, and then brought him here [to the police station]’, Zhannet Kasumova told OC Media.

Three journalists were detained. Sergey Rasulov, a correspondent for the Kommersant newspaper and Vladimir Sevrinovsky, a correspondent for the Eto Kavkaz news agency were detained on Rodopsky Boulevard when the rally started. Faina Kachabekova, a correspondent for the Kavkazskaya Politika news agency was detained later, in front of the police station. She was detained together with lawyer Khabib Aygunov as they filmed detainees being taken inside.

‘The prosecutor who was summoned here regarding the detentions keeps stressing that the rally was illegal. We tell him: “the silence [of the authorities] meant that it could be held”. He says: “No, you should sue!”’ Aygunov told journalists.

Olga Tochenaya (RTVi.com)

Belarusian citizen Vsevolod Zhuravlyov was also detained during the rally. He had come to Makhachkala to visit his girlfriend Olga Tochenaya. Tochenaya comes from Rostov-on-Don, but she’s currently studying at Daghestan State University. She took part in the rally holding a banner saying ‘even trainers burn on a thief’s feet’. This is a play on the Russian saying ‘even a hat burns on a thief’s head’ which roughly means ‘a guilty conscience gives itself away’. Dmitry Medvedev has been accused of buying expensive clothing, including trainers with money coming from corruption. She was one of the first to be detained.

Khabib Aygunov left the police station 90 minutes after detention (Aida Mirmaksumova/OC Media)

Towards 01:00 on the morning of 27 March, it became known that almost all the detainees had been released, except the rally’s organiser Marat Ismailov, journalist Olga Tochenaya, and Belarusian citizen Vsevolod Zhuravlyov. They spent the night at the police station.

Later on 27 March they will be taken to the Sovetsky District Court, where the judge will indict them of an administrative offence. They face a fine of ₽10,000–₽20,000 ($175–$350).