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15th Aug 2022

Visiting MEP 'worried' by risk of violence at Moscow rally

  • A human rights protester at a previous Moscow event being dragged away by police (Photo: Antonio Grossi)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's remarks about use of force by police have raised tension in Moscow on the day of a pro-democracy protest to be attended by MEPs.

"It's very worrying what Prime Minister Putin said in an important interview, that he will crush all unlawful demonstrators. It's very sad. It shows that he is not changing his tough policy against human rights defenders," Finnish Green MEP Heidi Hautala told EUobserver by phone from the Russian capital on Tuesday (31 August).

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Ms Hautula, who chairs the assembly's human rights committee, is on a five-day trip to Russia along with fellow committee members Dutch Socialist Thijs Berman and Lithuanian Liberal Laima Andrikiene, as well as parliament officials.

The party on Tuesday morning visited the trial of ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and will later in the day observe a rally in Moscow's Triumfalny Square, which takes place regularly on the 31st of each month in reference to the Russian constitution's Article 31 on freedom of assembly.

Mr Putin in an interview for Kommersant on Monday said it is normal for police to beat protesters who do not have a licence, with the Article 31 group routinely denied licences on grounds of public order and security.

"Go to a rally without permission and you get a whack on the head. It's that simple," he said.

Asked by this website if she hopes her presence will discourage beatings, Ms Hautala replied: "I can't personally say. But one of the opposition leaders, Boris Nemstov, said of a previous event that we attended on 31 May in St Petersburg that the presence of the European Parliament helped keep the police more calm."

The deputy's meeting with Khodorkovsky trial participants on Tuesday yielded a public statement by witness Vladimir Perevezin that authorities offered him softer conditions in prison if he testified against the fallen oligarch.

"It was brave of him to do this," Ms Hautala noted.

"The delegation ... recalls that any proposed initiatives for modernisation by the Russian President Medvedev cannot succeed without rigorously developing the rule of law," the MEPs said in a press communique following the encounter, in reference to an EU project to export new technology to Russia.

Ms Hautala, who is to spend the rest of the week talking to victims of the 2004 Beslan school massacre in the restive North Caucasus region, is becoming a gadfly to EU-Russia diplomacy.

An internal EU report about the last round of the EU-Russia human rights consultations, which took place in Brussels in April, highlighted a warning by Russian diplomats that "accusatory rhetoric" by MEPs could "contaminate EU-Russia relations."

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