On Saturday, July 27, thousands of people took to the streets in the Moscow to protest the banning of opposition candidates from municipal elections set for September 8.
Moscow police reported 1,074 people were arrested. The independent human rights project OVD-Info put the number of arrests at 1,373.
In a piece for the website of the Russian state television network RT, Alexey Martynov, director of the International Institute of Newly-Established States, a Moscow-based think tank, accused the protesters of attempting to “organize mass unrest in Moscow,” claiming that what he called a “provocation” failed to incite a harsh reaction from law-enforcement officials.
This claim mirrors the much-repeated Kremlin narrative that outside forces direct public protests in Russia.
However, Matrynov’s claim the protesters tried (and failed) to provoke a police clampdown is false.
The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, a consultative body to the President of the Russian Federation, noted the peaceful character of those who began gathering outside of Moscow City Hall on Tverskaya Street.
“The arrests were not isolated, and mostly young people, both men and girls, were dragged [away]. I didn't see aggression from protesters… After the arrests started, the protesters began to express themselves with chants. At the same time, I did not hear any revolutionary overtones or calls for violent actions,” said council member Nikolai Svanidze.
While isolated instances of demonstrators skirmishing with police were reported after the crackdown began, many journalists and rights organizations said the immediate use of force by police was unprovoked and disproportionate.
Alec Luhn, a correspondent for Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, reported police began arresting people before the protest began.
Patrick Reevell of ABC news reported 140 people were arrested less than half an hour into the protest.
Authorities began arresting opposition figures days before the rally, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny and opposition candidate Yulia Galyamina.
All eight opposition candidates running in Moscow’s local elections were placed under arrest or sentenced to jail since the protest, in what the Moscow Times called “the harshest crackdowns on Russia's opposition in several years.”
"In numerous incidents, police used excessive force, throwing people to the ground, dragging them on the asphalt, twisting their arms behind the back, and using batons,” the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported.
HRW said several dozen people, including at least six journalists, sustained injuries, such as “bruising, abrasions, a fractured leg, and a concussion.”
Numerous instances of police swinging batons at protesters who were not putting up any resistance were captured on film.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, released a statement “deploring” the harsh treatment and obstruction faced by reporters covering the demonstration.
“According to various reports, on 27 July at least 15 media workers working or contributing to various media outlets, including Novaya Gazeta, RBK, the Associated Press, Meduza, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Deutsche Welle, Mediazona, The Village and Wikinews were assaulted, detained or had their equipment damaged by police while covering a public demonstration in Moscow,” the OSCE said.
Police reportedly broke into the independent station TV Rain (Dozhd), which was live streaming the protest.
UPDATE: Following publication, RT’s press office contacted Polygraph.info disputing the following paragraph:
RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan claimed “our guys” had footage of a TV Rain journalist “tacitly consenting” to protesters breaking down a police cordon. She declined to release that footage.
“She is clearly commenting on a fragment of TV Rain coverage that was broadcast live and was publicly available on their platforms — but which she chose not to repost on her own social media accounts,” the RT press office letter said.
On July 28, a TV Rain journalist was arrested while reporting outside of the hospital where Navalny had been transferred after suffering a health scare in prison.
Martynov said the journalists had informed the police in advance about their desire “to cover the scandalous event,” claiming that those in the media were essentially saying “do not touch us, we are at work.”
However, he omitted the fact that it was the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, that, on July 25, had asked media managers to inform it in advance of those journalists who would be covering the event on safety grounds.
The ministry justified the request as a safety measure.
Polygraph.info finds that Martynov’s claims regarding the July 27 protests in Moscow are false.