Ukraine, a new group of activists against the war in Russia

“60% of them are not from Moscow or St. Petersburg, 55% had never taken part in demonstrations before, priests and former soldiers also protest ‘

With the war, the face of those who protest in Russia has changed. It is no longer just the usual activists, who have largely left the country, emerges from the data processed by the independent organization Ovd-Info, which for ten years, with a capillary network of volunteers available 24 hours a day and seven days the week, collects information and provides legal assistance to people prosecuted for their opinions. Seventy-one percent of the participants in the anti-mobilization protests on September 24, for example, were women, when they are normally half the size. But there is not only this data.

“More than 60 percent of those prosecuted for their anti-war positions are not from Moscow or St. Petersburg – the main cities in the country where anti-Putin demonstrations have taken place in the past – and 55 percent of those involved in a criminal case had never participated in demonstrations. Their average age is 35 years “, explains Maria Kuznetsova, spokesperson for Ovd-Info, one of the many organizations included in the list of ‘foreign agents’, in an online seminar. Those affected are activists, but also officials and elected people, teachers, former soldiers, retirees and even three priests.

In Russia there are now 4,500 cases open for “discrediting the armed forces” – a “hard-to-read accusation”, which affects those who wear blue and yellow clothes or even just a sign with asterisks instead of the letters ‘net voine’ or the inscription ‘two words’. The crime introduced shortly after the start of the special military operation, punishable with fines of up to 1,600 dollars and, in the event of a repeat, with the opening of a criminal case (a risk that at this moment run a few hundred people ).

“Instead, 138 criminal cases have been opened for alleged violation of the law on fake news on the armed forces. In total, 313 criminal cases are now open, with 82 people in prison. Former Moscow district councilor, Aleksei Gorinov, was sentenced to seven years. As well as two other people. “Nobody really understands the difference between discredit and fake news, not even the authorities. It means that any information about the war that does not correspond to the official position can lead to criminal or administrative charges “, underlines the activist.

Tens of thousands of people have been detained in Russia since the start of the war. And the conditions of those arrested are much worse than before, even just last year, after the wave of arrests at the protests against the arrest of Aleksei Navalny on his return to Moscow from Germany. For example, the cases in which lawyers are not allowed to meet their clients stopped during the protests have increased (235 already this year, compared to 68 in 2021). And it has become easier and easier to be stopped even if you protest peacefully.

“Media coverage is the only way (to counter the action of the security forces, ed) in authoritarian countries, such as Russia, because the legal tools do not work”, stresses Kuznetsova, stating that it is now effectively impossible to organize authorized demonstrations (authorization has just been refused in Moscow, by covid, for the demonstration promoted by Memorial for the memory of the victims of political repression that has taken place every year since 2006). If a ‘rally’ is legal, the location is still shifted from what is required, “by 40 kilometers or in a cemetery or in a forest”.

If the protest is considered illegal, you risk a fine of up to $ 800, but also 30 days in prison by participating in it. “Many journalists are stopped in the protests. Twenty-one only in the protests against the mobilization. And it is no coincidence. For the same reason they block people with cameras. They don’t want information to leak out.”