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Rights activist arbitrarily detained

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) – Moscow, March 31, 2011 – Igor Kalyapin, head of the Inter-Regional Committee Against Torture, a leading Russian human rights organization, was arbitrarily arrested by police at 6 p.m. on March 31, 2011, during a public rally in Nizhny Novgorod.

About 60 protesters had gathered peacefully at Freedom Square in the city center to promote freedom of assembly. Rallies in support of freedom of assembly are frequently held in major Russian cities on the 31st day of months with that many days, symbolizing article 31 of the Russian constitution, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly.

On March 29, the authorities in Nizhny Novgorod refused permission for the rally. Kalyapin and another member of the Committee Against Torture, whose headquarters are in Nizhny Novgorod, attended the March 31 event to monitor police compliance with international standards for free assembly. The police arrested Kalyapin along with approximately two dozen protesters and took him to the Nizhny Novgorod police precinct. He was held there for approximately three hours, interrogated by police officials, and released pending trial for "participation in an unsanctioned demonstration." The hearings are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on April 1 and may result in an administrative punishment, including jail time.

"Igor Kalyapin has done groundbreaking work on police torture cases throughout Russia," said Tanya Lokshina, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "He and all the others were arrested for peacefully asserting their right to free assembly. We call on the judicial authorities to drop any charges against them."

The right to freedom of assembly remains problematic in Russia, where police frequently disperse – sometimes using unnecessary or excessive force – public rallies held by civil society activists and the political opposition. Police arbitrarily arrest and detain demonstrators, who are frequently sentenced to administrative punishment. While the authorities in Moscow have since late 2010 generally permitted the freedom-of-assembly rallies in the city center, such rallies have rarely been allowed in other Russian cities, including Nizhny Novgorod.

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