Russia has been engulfed by massive protests for the last few weeks. The demonstrators protest the widespread corruption in the country and demand the release of Aleksei Navalny. Navalny is a political opposition leader and an anti-corruption activist who was arrested immediately after arriving in Russia on 17 January from Germany where he underwent rehabilitation following his nearly fatal poisoning. Navalny has a long history of voicing against the current Russian administration for their alleged corruption. On the 19th of January, a video was published on Navalny’s YouTube channel, detailing a huge palace which was built using government funds and is allegedly privately owned by Russia’s current President Vladimir Putin. These two events were the major spark for massive protests around Russia on the 23rd of January, where violence against peaceful protesters and apparent unlawful arrests took place.
Demonstrations in Russia were coupled with solidarity protests around the world in cities of Berlin, Prague, London, the Hague, Copenhagen, Melbourne, Tokyo and others.
On the 28th of January, The Russian court rejected Navalny’s appeal against his arrest and ruled to keep him in custody. Consequently, it has been reported by international sources that more than 5000 demonstrators – a record number since 2011 – demanding Navalny’s release and measures against state corruption were arrested by Russian security forces on the 31st of January. On the 2nd of February, the Russian court sentenced Navalny to two and half years in prison, which resulted in more protests. Human Rights Watch reported numerous incidents of police brutality, detentions of journalists, and the opening of criminal cases against protesters. The events surrounding the protests led to the call for “courtyard” protests on the 14th of February instead of the traditional gatherings, using the hashtag #LoveIsStrongerThanFear in English and Russian. Furthermore, on the 14th of February human chains were made in support of the spouses of detained protesters.
Young people participating in rallies remain especially vulnerable, as they reportedly face the threat of expulsion from state universities, colleges, and schools if they are noticed attending Navalny protests. Other sources also report popular social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram deleting posts inciting young people to join the demonstrations due to the government censorship.
We as AEGEE stand for free democracy, where every person has the right, freedom, and space to voice their opinions and participate in the political area. We abhor non-transparent juridical systems and unlawful arrests. Finally, we believe in the necessity of the right to free assembly, to gather peacefully, to hold meetings, to have rallies, and to demonstrate.
AEGEE stands for and with the citizens of Russia who are lawfully and peacefully protesting. We endorse the statement of YFJ and call upon the Russian government to:
- Stop the use of force against peaceful protesters
- Release all prisoners detained for political reasons or as part of peaceful demonstrations
- Guarantee a fair and transparent juridical process for every citizen
- Stop threatening the students and staff of state universities, colleges and schools with expulsion.
- “Putin’s Palace” https://youtu.be/ipAnwilMncI
- Freedom of assembly in the Russian Federation is granted by Art. 31 of the Constitution adopted in 1993
- Statement from the European Youth Forum; https://www.youthforum.org/russia-must-respect-rights-peaceful-protesters