Arrests and accountability

Anti-corruption protests took place in multiple Russian cities on Sunday. In many cases, the protests lacked official sanction, and thus ran afoul of the law. According to one press report:

Police arrested roughly 900 people in incidents during the weekend. … The Russian Civil Liberties Association denounced the mass arrests, saying they were illegal and unconstitutional because police did not have reasonable grounds to believe that everyone they detained had committed a crime or was about to do so.

“To us, it’s abhorrent that we would be arresting more than 900 people to find maybe 50 or 100 … vandals. This makes no sense. It’s a fundamental breach of Russian law to have done that,” said the organization’s general counsel.

… The arrest figure of more than 900 people includes only those who were taken to the detention centre, not those who were temporarily detained by police. Most people were released without being charged.

… Igor Ivanov, who said he’d been detained for about 18 hours, said he had just stopped by to check things out when he was arrested on Sunday.

Wearing dark jeans, a dark t-shirt and no shoes, Mr. Ivanov said he was arrested for obstruction of police, but that he was released without charge. He said he suspects he was arrested for wearing a bandana, but said it was on his head, not his face.

He described the inside of the detention centre as “cages” resembling animal kennels, fitting as many as 20 people into the larger ones.

A 15-year-old boy, dressed in an oversized orange t-shirt and cargo pants, said he was arrested Saturday night and held for 33 hours. The teen said that he was only there to watch the protest.

“They surrounded us and told us to leave,” he said, “but how was I supposed to read the situation?” He said police never once told them how to leave or when the last warning would be before arresting him. He was initially arrested for obstructing the police, he said, but released without being charged.

Questions were raised Monday about the way police handled a group of several hundred protesters and innocent bystanders at an intersection on Sunday evening. The group was boxed in by riot police for at least three hours in the soaking rain. After several were arrested, the rest were finally allowed to leave at about 10 p.m.

………..

None of the above is true. I have switched the words Russia and Canada. The description is actually about the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010. A subsequent official investigation into the events surrounding the Toronto protests concluded that the ‘police violated civil rights, detained people illegally, and used excessive force’. A disciplinary hearing also found the police officer in charge guilty of ‘discreditable conduct and unnecessary exercise of authority’.

As might be expected, the arrest of about 900 protestors in Moscow on Sunday is being used to paint the Russian authorities as particularly authoritarian. This accusation is missing the point. Mass arrests of protestors aren’t a uniquely Russian phenomenon. New York police arrested 700 Occupy Wall Street protestors on Brooklyn Bridge in 2011. And in May 2012, police in Montreal arrested 500 people during student protests. Any powerful civil authority facing what it believes are illegal protests is likely to respond in such a manner. In this sense, the Russian example is not unusual.

The difference between Russia and countries like Canada lies in something else. The excessive use of police powers in Toronto led to an official investigation and a reprimand for the officer responsible. There was a system to hold the powers that be to account. By contrast, if any Russian police overstepped their authority on Sunday, it’s relatively unlikely that anybody will be able to do anything about it. Accountability is the bedrock of a democratic order, and the system of accountability in Russia is weak. This is a major failing and it cuts to the heart of Russia’s democratic deficit. But by themselves, the arrests of the protestors this Sunday prove very little.

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14 thoughts on “Arrests and accountability”

  1. Dear Professor,

    You are rightly looking at and pointing out fine details that are of importance, but of no interest to those who are fascinated by big numbers.

    Regards,

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  2. The marches were not sanctioned.
    The organiser who is a well known agitator paid for by the west was told this march would not be allowed in Moscow he was offered alternative sites, but refused and encouraged his followers to break the law. That is part of democracy that these people ignore

    Therefore those that attended were arrested.

    I see that one policeman was attacked and ended up in hospital.
    Who will be punished for that?

    My view is that these marches plus what happened in Belarus is part of the ongoing campaign to delegitimise the government with full participation of the western media and people like you fall for it unfortunately. Sad

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    1. “Who will be punished for that? “

      Young idiot who did that. And given the fact that said young idiot was already 3 weeks 18 years old at the moment of commiting the crime. he will be persecuted as an adult – i.e. he might be improving Russian Far East logging industry with his personal efforts for the next 10 years.

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      1. Up to 20 years if i remember correctly.

        Well, yes, but the perp is a first time offender, so… Let’s not give fodder for the Western propaganda.

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  3. “Accountability is the bedrock of a democratic order, and the system of accountability in Russia is weak. This is a major failing and it cuts to the heart of Russia’s democratic deficit. “

    Right! So you are supporting the idea for a real prison sentence for Alexei Navalny, who was actively agitating people to come to the unsactioned rally and, thus, break the law?

    Also – how can be an act of detainment of the people engaged in the illegal activity (unsactioned political rally) be in itself illegal if conducted by the lawful representatives of the law?

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  4. Citizens pf the Free West! Rememberthe difference between the fate of the protesters in Totalitarian Russian Mordor:

    And in the Enlightened Heart of the Civilization:

    P.S.

    #DimonOtvetit

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  5. He said police never once told them how to leave or when the last warning would be before arresting him.

    In fairness, the Russian police did do the former (descend back down into the Metro).

    You are correct, of course, that there is rarely any accountability for police overstepping the bounds of what is appropriate in Russia. OTOH, I didn’t see anything that was particularly inappropriate yesterday. For instance, the only person to get substantially injured was a policeman who got kicked in the head by one of the protesters.

    I have an account of my impressions from the protest here.

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    1. Thanks for the link to your piece.

      Just to be clear, I was making a general point about accountability, not alleging anything about the specific case of Sunday’s protests

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      1. Professor, you wrote:

        “The difference between Russia and countries like Canada lies in something else.”

        Shall I understand it that in the civilized West there are virtually no “countries like Canada”, who do practize this “Democracy&Accountability” shtick then?

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    2. As if there is any accountability in the West.

      For example, in German it is well-known among all who are at such risk that SWAT-teams (SEK in Germany) if they do arrests inside a building (not visible to the public) will beat all those present, independent of how they behave.

      Like

  6. You could bring attention to the fact also that 7,000 – 8,000 protestested ilkegally in Moscow and hundreds of thousands protested in Yemen and yet the media focus was on Russia – why?

    The daily telegraph on the strength of these rally are now saying that a President Putin is under threat – why?

    This is all about the delegitimising of the Russian government in the lead up to the elections next year and Mr Navalny is a well paid stooge doing his part to generate headlines for the Washington post New York Times and the guardian and telegraph.

    They rely on the fact that the narrative in Russia is controlled by the media and they can tell the public in the west anything and they will believe it – Russophobia is so strong.

    Look at the nonsense that many believe about Russia hacking the elections in the USA – they eve tried to say the same in the uk where I am about Brexit – but the British are not dumb

    Look at Canada and the foreign minister there getting away with v blatant lies through media cover up and Russophobia

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