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Russian authorities detain children as well as leaders in crackdown on protests

Opposition politician Alexei Navalny and campaigners sentenced

Russian police forces arrest a protester during an opposition demonstration at Pushkin Square in Moscow, 5 May 2018
Russian police forces arrest a protester during an opposition demonstration at Pushkin Square in Moscow, 5 May 2018

Victor Kruchinin/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 23 May 2018.

This afternoon, a court in Moscow sentenced the press secretary of Russia's leading opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, to 25 days in jail for "repeated violation" of regulations on public rallies, an administrative offense.

The charges against Kira Yarmysh, the press secretary, stem from her social media posts calling on people to join the May 5 country-wide "He's Not our Tsar" protests, two days before Vladimir Putin's inauguration for his fourth presidential term.

Yarmysh was arrested on May 22 at the police station where she had rushed to try to secure the release of Ruslan Shaveddinov, one of Navalny's key campaigners, arrested by police earlier that same day. Police detained Yarmysh and kept her overnight. During that time, a court sentenced Shaveddinov to 30 days of jail time - also related to social media posts about the protests.

Navalny supporters organized around 90 "He's Not Our Tsar" protests across Russia. In 43 cities, local authorities refused to authorize the rallies. In 17, local authorities told organizers to hold their rallies at remote and inconvenient locations. Ultimately, police detained around 1,600 peaceful protesters, including 158 children, in 27 cities.

In some cases, police officers used excessive force against young protesters. In Saratov, police detained a 12-year-old boy who was peacefully chanting slogans with other protesters. Two plainclothes officials twisted the boy's hands behind his back and dragged him into a police car. His father, who picked him up from a police station an hour later, had to pay a fine for "neglecting parental duties," for not preventing his son from attending an unauthorized protest. We interviewed a 14-year-old whom police detained at the Moscow protest. He spent over two and half hours locked in a police bus and then several hours at the precinct before his parents - who were also charged with "neglecting parental duties" - could retrieve him.

Among those detained in Moscow was Navalny himself. He's also currently serving 30 days in jail for "repeated" violations of rallies regulations. All in all, 15 members of Navalny's team, including Yarmysh, are under short-term arrest on similar charges. Under Russian law, repeat violations of regulations on public rallies could ultimately lead to five years in prison. Given Russia's flagrant disregard for its international obligations to respect freedom of assembly, one cannot but fear this could be the next step in the government's increasing crackdown on the opposition.

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