Mass Detention of Anti-corruption Protesters Shows Russia’s Contempt for Free Expression
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York—The detention of over 1,700 protesters across Russia yesterday, including anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, journalists Nikita Safronov and Petr Versilov, and actor Alexander Pal, is an unveiled effort to silence those who dare criticize the Russian government, PEN America said in a statement today.
To coincide with nationwide Russia Day celebrations, Navalny and other opposition leaders had called for rallies in more than 200 cities across the country to protest corruption. Despite obstacles to obtaining appropriate permits in Moscow, the protests went ahead and over 10,000 people took to the streets in the capital city, according to Vedomosti. According to reports, more than 866 protesters were apprehended in Moscow, of whom at least 32 were held overnight, and more than 300 were detained in St. Petersburg; 1720 people were detained across Russia. Navalny was arrested outside his house before the protests began.
“As protesters across Russia gathered peacefully to protest corruption and demand government accountability, the Russian authorities’ brutal response is emblematic of its contempt for citizens’ rights to free expression,” said Polina Kovaleva, PEN America’s Free Expression Program Manager for Eurasia. “These mass detentions are nothing but a bare-faced attempt to stamp out government critics, including young people, who must be released immediately.”
This was the second rally organized by Navalny and his supporters following the release of Don’t Call Him Dimon, a documentary film released on the internet by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, detailing allegations of embezzlement by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev totaling an estimated $1.2 billion. A March 26 protest orchestrated by Navalny surprised onlookers by drawing large crowds of youth—organized over the internet—absent from previous demonstrations. Yesterday’s demonstration saw a repeat of these youthful demographics.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.