Trial of protesters against Putin condemned as sign of Russia’s ‘reStalinisation’

Trial of twleve Russians for their alleged part in clashes during a protest against president Putin is seen by critics as further proof the country is moving back towards authoritarianism

Defendants facing trial over clashes with the police during an anti-Putin protest last year, gesture inside a glass-walled cage before a court hearing in Moscow yesterday. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Defendants facing trial over clashes with the police during an anti-Putin protest last year, gesture inside a glass-walled cage before a court hearing in Moscow yesterday. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

 

Twelve Russians have gone on trial for their alleged part in clashes during a protest against President Vladimir Putin, in what critics call further proof that he is taking Russia back towards authoritarianism.

Most of the 12 could be jailed for eight years if convicted of involvement in violence that marred a demonstration in Moscow in May 2012, on the eve of Mr Putin’s return to Kremlin following a term as prime minister.

The defendants – ranging from a 19-year-old anarchist to a 51-year-old physicist – spent almost a year in pre-trial detention or under house arrest, and none is a prominent members of Russia’s beleaguered opposition.

Systemic repression
They accuse the police of using excessive force during the march and claim prosecutors want to make examples of them to deter Russians from rallying against Mr Putin.

“It’s a landmark on the path to reStalinisation . . . The trial brings us back to the time of systemic repression against peaceful opponents of the regime,” said activist Alexander Podrabinek. “The authorities are trying to thwart mass rallies and intimidate its rank- and-file participants.”

The rally a year ago attracted tens of thousands of people, who chanted slogans claiming that Mr Putin’s election victory had been rigged, condemning his policies and denouncing corruption.

Mr Putin accused the US of fomenting the protests and ordered his security services to prevent any foreign interference in Russia’s affairs.

“Foreign agents”
The protests dwindled once Mr Putin was back in the Kremlin. He cracked down on critics and on non-governmental organisations that receive funding from abroad, signing a law that obliges them to register as “foreign agents” – a term that suggests treachery to many Russians.

Across Russia, hundreds of NGOs have been raided by functionaries including tax inspectors and safety officers, in what activists call a campaign of intimidation.

The EU and US have raised concerns about these raids and about legal cases against opposition figures such as Alexei Navalny, a charismatic anti-corruption campaigner who faces a decade in jail if found guilty of embezzlement.

Respected Russian economist Sergei Guriyev fled to Paris recently to escape harassment by investigators, while chess grandmaster and opposition leader Garry Kasparov said he would remain abroad at the moment for fear of arrest in Russia.