02/06/2021, 12.57
RUSSIA
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Navalny on trial again as ‘Putin’s terror’ continues

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Russian National Guard special units surround the Babushkinsky court. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claims that police are just doing their work, not repression. Detained protesters have been left for hours in the cold, piled up to 30 in cells designed for eight. Intellectuals, scholars and Nobel laureates publish an open letter. The general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Russia, Jesuit Fr Stefan Lipke, speaks out.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – The first session of the slander trial against Alexei Navalny was held yesterday at the Babushkinsky court in the capital, with the hearing of witnesses.

The alleged victim of the blogger's video, 95-year-old Ignat Artemenko, testified via videoconference. His deposition was hard to hear. The old war veteran appeared to repeat what was suggested to him, pushing Navalny to protest. “You are continuing to make fun of a sick elderly person, using him for your own purposes,” he said.

The trial was adjourned until 12 February; meanwhile, police continue to be heavy-handed with Navalny supporters in what some are calling “Putin’s terror”.

Yesterday the court was surrounded by a large contingent of special units from the National Guard of the Russian Federation (Rosgvardiya), but this time there were no crowds.

The officers were equipped with special anti-riot uniforms, which earned them the moniker of “cosmonauts” or “imperial guards” because they resemble characters from Star Wars (picture 2).

As the Otkrytye Media agency reports, since the start of winter Rosgvardiya spent over 740 million rubles (about US.8 million) in armoured vehicles and police detention buses (avtozaki) alone. Sadly, the latter become famous during the Belarusian protests of 2020.

In an interview with the Kommersant newspaper, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed claims of repression. In his view, there is only “normal prevention against a group of people who have created a lot of problems for normal people by their illegal actions.” The disturbing conditions of their detention are due to “the huge number of these illegal protestors, and it takes time to file charges.”

On Thursday, a committee of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, proposed to block social media because of the many calls for “illegal” protest, and to put pressure on the big Internet companies to take measures to control their content. The Council’s chair, Alexei Pushkov, spoke to the press about this project.

For their part, protesters detained in Moscow have been moved in a long caravan of police buses to the Centre for Temporary Arrests of Foreign Nationals, in Sakharov, a village near the capital. Despite the harsh winter temperatures, those arrested had to wait for hours inside the buses with the engine turned off to save fuel.

Later, up to 30 prisoners were pushed into cells designed for eight people (picture 3), their identity determined after such long waits that the families of many of them reported them missing.

About 500 university professors and scholars published an open letter against the use of force during protests. In it, they call for the “de facto ban” on all public demonstrations and peaceful marches to be lifted, and demand a stop to the practice of arresting and laying criminal charges against protesters.

The letter was published by the Troitsky Variant newspaper on Thursday. The signatories complain that the authorities “have lost the possibility of consolidating the unity of the best forces of society in the difficult period of the fight against the pandemic, trying to create an image of the ‘external enemy’ and leading the country to total isolation.”

The signatories include the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics Andre Geim, bioinformatics specialist Mikhail Gelfand, Paris Institute of Political Studies professor Sergei Gurev, academic Vladimir Zakharov and many other well-known intellectuals.

The general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Russia, Jesuit Fr Stefan Lipke (picture 4), wrote on his personal blog that “after 10 years of living in Russia, which for me is a second home, I will not stop dreaming of a country where the police do not stop people on the street without reason, perhaps only for the colour of their skin, [a country] in which everyone can freely express their opinions, where medicines are not refused just because they are made by foreign companies, where no one is denied a fair hearing.“

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