Russia’s gubernatorial elections marred by political pressure

Seventeen Russian regions went to the polls this week. Activists and politicians have, however, been met with significant pressure and restrictions at polling stations. 

15 September 2017

Alexander Zykov, a volunteer for Alexey Navalny's campaign in Kostroma, was attacked on 17 August. Image: 7x7. All rights reserved to the author.

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This week’s municipal and gubernatorial elections have been the most important event of recent days, and they didn’t pass without more political harassment from the Russian authorities.

In this text we have collected all the “routine” examples of harassment that occurred last Sunday, during Russia’s gubernatorial elections. These include denying access to the media, refusing to allow observers into polling stations, restricting movement and filming, and people being forced to vote. The source for most of this information has been the hotline for complaints, which has a handy Russian-language map here.

But there were also more serious incidents. For example, in Moscow, someone slashed the tyres of a car belonging to a group of lawyer-activists. In Kaliningrad, a member of the election commission was threatened with having their trousers removed and being beaten up, while in Chita one of the candidates for the city legislative assembly was detained in the polling station itself.


Timiryazevsky district polling station, Moscow. Image: Yulia Galyamina. In the past week, one of the highest profile political prosecutions in Crimea, the 26 February Case, concluded with the sentencing of the deputy chair of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, Akhtem Chiygoz, to eight years in prison on charges of organising a riot. The prosecution against Chiygoz is based on clashes between supporters and opponents of the Euromaidan on 26 February 2014. All the defendants in the case are Crimean Tatars, that is to say representatives of one of the sides of the conflict — the side loyal to the new Ukrainian authorities. The trials of five other people, also charged with taking part in riot, continue.

Tatiana Kotlyar, a human rights defender from Kaluga, has been found guilty of registering refugees at her apartment on false grounds. The court sentenced Kotlyar to a fine of 150,000 roubles (£1.900), though she will not have to pay it due to the statute of limitation expiring.

In Chelyabinsk, local police have opened a criminal case against Gamil Asatullin, an activist of the Stop GOK movement which seeks to halt the development of the Tominsk copper processing plant. Asatullin is accused of attempting to set fire to the plant. His supporters believe he has been framed. During one of the interrogation sessions, officers of the Anti-Extremism Centre used threats to force Asatullin to refuse legal counsel and to testify against one of the leaders of the Stop GOK movement, Vasily Moskovets. Asatullin testified that Moskovets allegedly initiated the arson attempt.


Gamil Asatullin at a solitary picket in Chelyabinsk, where he's been involved in protests against plans for a new copper processing plant. Image: Activatica. In Crimea, Renat Paralamov, a resident of the village of Nizhnegorsky, was detained and for several days thereafter his family and friends did not know where he was. When he was released and contacted relatives, it turned out that he had been brutally beaten and he was taken to hospital. It remains unknown why Paralamov was detained. In the village where he lives, he organises festivals and religious events. When his home was searched, the authorities seized a book and a laptop. At the time relatives and lawyers were searching for him, the police stated that Paralamov was “voluntarily with the FSB”.

The persecution of Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov for his political views has not ended on his release from prison. He has been summoned to the Investigative Committee and interrogated about the events that took place on Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012. The investigators wanted to obtain testimony from him about the organisers of the protest, but Udaltsov refused to answer their questions. A few days later, the politician was detained near  the State Duma building where he was holding a single-person picket demanding a wide amnesty for prisoners. Along with Udaltsov, the police at the time detained three other people protesting variously against the cruel treatment of animals and the detention of journalist Ali Feruz, who is threatened with deportation from Russia. Soon all four protesters were released from the police station without charges being laid.

In Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Oleg Pankov, the former coordinator of Alexey Navalny’s election campaign and a deputy in the city’s legislative assembly, was jailed for 25 days. The grounds for jailing Pankov were that, when distributing leaflets during a picket, in the view of officials from the city administration he moved too far from the specified location of the protest.

Meanwhile in Moscow, Aleksandra Sokolova was detained as she walked to a meeting with Alexey Navalny holding a balloon in her hands. She was arrested on the grounds that the balloon, on which were printed the words “Navalny 2018,” constituted electoral campaigning. She was thrown into a police van, and the officers twisted her arms as they took away her telephone. In the police station the police merely checked her documents and released her without charge.

In St Petersburg, 130 participants in a protest in support of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar were detained. A number of those detained were charged with petty hooliganism, others were charged with violating the rules regulating the presence of foreigners in Russia. One person was charged with having avoided a penalty imposed under administrative law. In Crimea, the authorities refused to permit a rally in support of Muslims in Myanmar.

Yulia Latynina, a prominent journalist, has left Russia. Not long before Yulia Latynina left Russia, her car had been set on fire, and two months earlier her cottage had been sprayed with an acrid chemical.

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