Ben Neal looks at why the Russian state has arrested left wing activists and charged them with inciting riots on protests
The recent arrests of socialist leaders in Russia, on charges of organising riots, are the latest step in the Vladimir Putin government’s attempts to stifle opposition.
Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev, from the Left Front, and Konstantin Lebedev of the Russian Socialist Movement, are charged with “plotting mass disturbances” on the 6 May demonstration this year.
That was the day before Putin’s third term inauguration The demonstration resulted in clashes after the police blocked the officially approved route of the march. There are allegations that police agents were involved in “provoking” the violence.
The case against the men is based on a programme on the state-run TV channel NTV. It alleged the three men were involved in planning riots and terrorist attacks with a representative of the Georgian government.
The main evidence provided by the programme was a bad quality video on which the voices were obviously added after it was filmed.
Udaltsov is free but restricted to Moscow. Lebedev is in custody. Razvozzhayev was kidnapped by masked men while trying to claim political asylum at the UN offices in Kiev in the Ukraine.
He says they took him to an unknown location and tortured him. They threatened his family to make him sign a confession, naming several so far undisclosed people as being involved with the “plot”.
As soon as he turned up in Moscow he retracted the confession and made the kidnapping and torture allegations. At first the government denied it, but they are now saying that the confession is not even needed as they have plenty of other evidence.
This is on top of 19 people who have been accused of participation in the “riot”, 13 of whom are currently in custody awaiting trial. Most were rank and file activists or ordinary people who attended the demo.
They include Vladimir Akimenkov, a Left Front activist. He nearly lost his sight when he was denied medical attention for an eye disorder. A Moscow court has refused permission to release him, stating that he can only be released if he is completely blind.
Another man, Denis Lutskevich, an ex-paratrooper and not connected with any political organisation, was on the first demonstration in his life. He was arrested after being beaten by police for trying to help a woman being dragged away by riot cops.
Although the government is trying to fabricate a case against these people, they needed to go for more prominent leaders in order to make the accusation that the riot was planned and orchestrated more plausible.
This is a clearly political case. It’s been designed to discredit the opposition in general, and prevent future links between the protest movement and the mass of workers.
So far, workers have remained passive, but they are going to be hit hard by government austerity and the worsening economic situation.
The 6 May Committee was set up to defend the political prisoners. It has been organising protests and is calling for international solidarity in support of the campaign to free them. For more information go to 6may.org