Thousands of Russians have been detained by the police as anti-war sentiments grow in the country amid heavy fighting in Ukraine. According to OVD-Info, an independent group that monitors the Russian protests, thousands of Russians answered the call to demonstrate against their own military and government last Sunday to oppose the Russian offensive in Ukraine, which the international community had largely criticized as there were reports that Russian troops had been targeting evacuees and civilians. The report states that over 5,000 individuals have been arrested across 69 Russian cities, with many of them facing fines and significant time in prison.
Chants of “No to war!” and “Shame on you!” echoed throughout the streets of Russian cities as protesters flocked the streets of Russia, according to several videos seen on social media.
These videos show dozens of Russian protesters in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg being apprehended by the Russian authorities. Riot police appeared to be beating up said protesters in an attempt to silence them. A mural of Vladimir Putin in the city was vandalized during these protests. Video footage and photographs could not be independently verified by Reuters, who were the first ones to cover the protests. Despite this, videos continue to circulate regarding the protests and alleged abuses by Russian authorities.
Protesters were beaten with batons by Russian police Sunday in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
According to reports, police detained several thousand people on Sunday across Russia following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
— The Voice of America (@VOANews) March 7, 2022
Of the 5,000 detainees arrested by the Russian authorities, 13 were journalists, 113 were minors, and at least 34 were beaten, although this number could be higher.
Putin has recently signed a new law that vaguely criminalizes the spread of “false information” regarding the Russian armed forces. This law was enacted in order to control independent journalism in the country as it would affect Russian morale and further reveal the extent of their military losses in Ukraine. Alongside this, the Russian government has prohibited calling the advance in Ukraine a “war” or an “invasion.” Specifically, the law is directed towards the journalists themselves, who could face up to 15 years in prison if deemed guilty.
Many independent Russian media outlets have been shut down by the Russian government, while others stopped their war coverage as per the demands of the iron-fist rule of Putin. The Echo of Moscow radio station, the Znak news outlet, and TV Rain have ceased operations following Russia’s crackdown on independent journalism. Novaya Gazeta, whose editor, Dmitry Muratov, won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, has announced that it will be deleting war-related content from its website. BBC Director-General Tim Davie stated that the new Russian law “appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism.”
“The screws are being fully tightened – essentially, we are witnessing military censorship,” said OVD-Info’s spokeswoman Maria Kuznetsova over the telephone from Tbilisi. “We are seeing rather big protests today, even in Siberian cities where we only rarely saw such numbers of arrests,” she added.
The last time Russia faced a similar scale protest and a proportionate amount of arrests was in January 2021. At that time, thousands took to the streets to demand the release of Kremlin critic and opposition leader Alexei Navalny after he was arrested upon returning from Germany.
Calls for Protest Within Russia
Putin’s primary domestic rival Alexei Navalny has called for Russians throughout the world to protest against the invasion of Ukraine. The call, which was posted on March 4, accused Putin of disgracing the Russian language, its flag, and the word “Russia” itself.
“Show the world that Russians don’t want war. Come out in the squares of Berlin, New York, Amsterdam, or Melbourne, wherever you are. Now we are all responsible for Russia’s future. For what Russia will be in the eyes of the world,” Navalny said in the post.
The anti-corruption leader called for daily protests, urging Russians to disregard the fears of speaking out against the war on Ukraine and join the Russian protests for the long haul. “You may be scared, but to submit to this fear is to side with fascists and murderers. Putin has already snatched away from Russia its economy, relations with the world, and hope for a future,” he added.
Я призываю всех женщин завтра в 14.00 выйти на улицу и потребовать прекращения войны.
Не потому, что у женщин – какая-то особая роль нести мир. А потому что мы слишком хорошо знаем, какую цену нам платить за эту войну. И мы должны ее остановить.https://t.co/BxoDWNXlCX
— Кира Ярмыш (@Kira_Yarmysh) March 7, 2022
On March 7, Kira Yarmysh, spokeswoman for Navalny, urged women across Russia to demand the end of the Russian conquest on International Women’s Day. “I call on all women to take to the streets at 2 p.m. tomorrow and demand an end to the war,” she said in a tweet. “Not because women have some special role in bringing peace. But because we know too well what price we have to pay for this war. And we have to stop it.”
Following the protests, the Kremlin has made efforts to restrict access to social media sites. Russian authorities announced that Facebook had been blocked. Reports have also said that accessing Twitter has “gotten harder,” and TikTok has imposed new restrictions on people sharing content about the Russian invasion.
In total, over 13,000 people across 140 cities have been detained, many of which were exposed to excessive use of force, with thousands beaten with batons and tasers.
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