Russia: Officials responsible for arbitrary detentions of peaceful protesters and Alexey Navalny should be sanctioned

Press release
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Paris – FIDH strongly condemns the crackdown following protest marches attended across Russia on 23 January and, the following weekend, on 31 January. Mass arbitrary detentions of peaceful demonstrators, who were protesting the detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and the arrest of Navalny and his staff are incompatible with respect for fundamental civil and political rights.

FIDH urges Russia to liberate all peaceful protesters detained in connection with the protests and Navalny himself, drop all charges, and allow its citizens to freely exercise their fundamental rights. FIDH urges the European Union (EU) to adopt individual targeted sanctions against public officials involved in the January 23 and 31 crackdown, Navalny’s arbitrary detention, and other human rights violations.

As of 1 February, some 5,414 individuals were arbitrarily detained in 87 Russian cities, 51 protesters were beaten while detained, and at least 93 journalists were arrested.

Between 250,000 and 300,000 individuals participated in the 23 January protests. Despite preemptive arrests of organisers of the marches, intimidation of and threats to likely protest participants, including students, individuals from 125 cities all across the country joined the protests.

These peaceful demonstrations were violently repressed by law enforcement, including riot police. Video footage from the protests shows that the police used disproportionate force against the protesters: at least 28 people suffered injuries as a result of strikes with rubber batons, or during harsh detentions. The case of a woman who was kicked in the stomach by a policeman for blocking his way when he and a colleague dragged a detainee to a police van sparked a public outcry. Lawyers from Memorial Human Rights Center, FIDH’s member organisation in Russia, documented a significant number of violations against detainees in 39 Russian cities.

Detainees were ill-treated in at least 25 police stations. In many cases, detainees were threatened, denied access to lawyers, had their passports confiscated, were forced to sign reports or, conversely, were not allowed to write complaints. Nearly 3,700 people were detained and 15 criminal cases initiated against peaceful protesters for simply participating in the marches.

Sociologists who monitored the marches noticed a qualitative change in this protest compared to the 2019 and 2011 protests, which were considered to be the largest in modern Russian history. Sociologists note that 42 percent of those surveyed were first-time protesters, and no more than 5 percent of participants were under 18 years old.

In contrast with the previous protests which were Moscow-centred, this time Moscow was the site of around a quarter of all the protests. The majority of protesters were outraged not so much by the arrest of the politician, who survived poisoning last year by the nerve agent Novichok, but by his team’s recent investigation into a palace allegedly built for Vladimir Putin, which garnered over 90 million views on YouTube. Many came out to protest against the widespread corruption and systematic repression in the country, the repression of political competition and lack of an independent judiciary.

Considering that participants in the unauthorised rallies were threatened with fines and imprisonment, and the likelihood of being beaten by the police was high, the record number of attendees demonstrates that many citizens are unwilling to tolerate Putin’s repressive regime any longer.

"Last week’s protests showed many positive signs. People show less fear of the regime and more willingness to stand up for their rights," said FIDH vice president Valentin Stefanovic. "However, as in the aftermath of previous protest cycles, grave violations of fundamental political rights of Russian citizens will likely to continue as the political opponents of President Putin’s regime feel more emboldened and call for new protests this Saturday, January 30."

FIDH condemns in the strongest terms the actions of the Russian Federation as incompatible with the State’s commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

FIDH urges the Russian authorities to immediately release all those arrested for exercising their freedoms of expression and assembly in connection with 23 January protests, as well as Alexei Navalny and all other political prisoners in the country;

FIDH calls on the European Union and its Member States to sanction the individuals and legal entities involved in the crackdown related to the 23 January protests and responsible for the decision to arrest and imprison Alexei Navalny, including Russian president, Vladimir Putin;

FIDH joins the European Parliament in calling on the European Union and its Member States to devise a new strategy for the EU’s relations with Russia centred around support for civil society and promoting democratic values, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, and human rights.

This strategy should include the adoption of individual sanctions against Russian officials and corporate executives tied to the regime and members of President Putin’s inner circle, in particular those involved in the arrest and detention of Alexei Navalny, the crackdown of the 23 January protests, and other human rights violations.

The EU and Member States should also critically review cooperation with Russia in various foreign policy platforms and on projects such as Nord Stream 2, the completion of which the EU must cease immediately.

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