MOSCOW – Thousands of people on Sunday took to the streets of the Russian capital demanding the liberation of political prisoners at the unauthorized “mothers’ anger march” in response to the imprisonment of a female activist who was deprived of seeing her daughter when she was dying in a hospital.
The protest was triggered by the imprisonment of two female activists: Anastasia Shevchenko and Liya Milushkina, who face criminal charges under the new undesirable organizations law, which penalizes the affiliation to organizations deemed a threat by the Russian government, and due to their membership to “Open Russia,” an initiative that advocates for human rights and democratic values in the country.
Following the house arrest of Shevchenko, authorities refused to allow her to visit her 17-year-old daughter, who was severely sick in a hospital, until the child died in intensive care on Jan. 31. On the same day, human rights-NGO Amnesty International urged Russian authorities to release Shevchenko, criticizing the undesirable organizations law.
“The government’s crackdown on Open Russia is not only absurd and vicious; it has also reached a new level of cruelty,” the organization’s statement cited Marie Struthers, director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at AI, as saying.
Struthers also added: “The persecution of Roman Zaitsev for supporting Anastasia Shevchenko, just at the time of her profound personal tragedy, says a lot about Russia’s heartless ‘justice’ system.”
Protesters at the march chanted different slogans, including; “Freedom for political prisoners!,” “Russia will be free!,” as well as calling for the end of what they described as a “police state.”
“Today, the persecution of women, of mothers who want a better future and a better running of the state and society, has become common,” the demonstration’s organizers said on social media while rallying supporters for the protest.
One of the organizers, journalist and political scientist Marina Litvinovich, 44, was satisfied with the outcome of the protest and that the demonstration had unraveled with no major incidents nor clashes.
“With these judicial persecutions, the authorities are seeking to put an end to any political activity,” Litvinovich told journalists.
Litvinovich is a former adviser to Russian tycoon Mikhail Jodorskovski, who is currently in exile and one of the staunchest opponents of Russia’s incumbent President Vladimir Putin.
Because the rally was not authorized, the demonstrations took the shape of a “collective march” devoid of banners which saw protestors walk together down pavements and boulevards, dodging the roads, in a bid to avoid police action.
Other minor protests and marches also took place in other Russian cities, including; St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Oriol, Kazan or Majachkala, according to Radio Svoboda.