Cablegate: Russia's Discriminating Approach to Public Rallies

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1. (SBU) Separate events over the weekend of October 7 reveal
the limits to public expression and assembly in Russia. While
a 10,000-person celebratory rally in commemoration of Putin's
birthday was facilitated, and a 500 gathering marking the
one-year anniversary of Politkovskaya's murder was carefully
circumscribed but tolerated by the Moscow authorities,
regional officials moved in quickly to cancel a separate
event honoring Politkovskaya in Nizhniy Novgorod --
temporarily detaining five foreign NGO representatives in the
process. Government human rights officials agree that there
is no consistency in the application of the law on public
assembly, with Human Rights Ombudsman Lukin submitting a
report to the Duma critical of Russian practices. We continue
to express our concern over the restrictions on public
assembly to senior GOR and human rights officials. End

Anniversary of Politkovskaya Murder

2. (U) October 7 was the one-year anniversary of the murder
of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. A rally to
mark the anniversary was organized by the Russian People's
Democratic Party, a political movement lead by former Prime
Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and several NGOs. The event in
central Moscow attracted hundreds of people (variously
estimated at 200-700) on a rainy, chilly afternoon. Kasyanov
was joined on stage at the event by Novaya Gazeta Editor
Dmitriy Muratov and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, leader of the Moscow
Helsinki Group. All three used the opportunity to criticize
authorities for their failure to solve the case. (See reftel
for status report on investigation.) Following the rally, a
smaller group of participants walked to Politkovskaya's
apartment where they laid flowers. Patrolling the rally were
hundreds of young army soldiers, joined by special forces and
police. Reinforcements stood in formation, while others
waited on buses parked near by. News media estimated the
total deployment at 800-2,500. (Note: A much lower number
than at past rallies.)

3. (U) Authorities had given approval for a rally of 500
participants to take place on Sunday. Permission was not
given for the walk to Politkovskaya's apartment. Despite the
unauthorized walk to the apartment, events proceeded without

Putin's Birthday

4. (U) Across the city another rally in honor of the 55th
birthday of President Putin was held simultaneously.
Organized by the pro-Kremlin youth movement "Nashi," it
included a march along the Moscow River near the Kremlin by
an estimated 10,000 activists carrying banners and flags.
According to the media, Nashi also placed more than 1,000
Russian flags throughout Moscow including on top of the
Moscow State University building and the Hotel Ukraine, among
the tallest buildings in the city. The march was followed by
a presentation of gifts to the President at the Kremlin, the
first such birthday event to take place at the Kremlin during
Putin's two terms. The President invited the permanent
members of the Russian Security Council and the leadership of
the armed forces to the Kremlin for the occasion. He used the
opportunity to speak about the need to bolster the military.

Problems in Nizhniy Novgorod

5. (U) In Nizhniy Novgorod, an international conference that
was to take place in honor of Politkovskaya did not go
forward when the offices of the Fund to Promote Tolerance
(the former Russian-Chechen Friendship Society), which
organized the conference, were raided by police and their
computers seized. Five foreign (from Spain, Germany and Great
Britain) human rights activists were detained, reportedly
because they had not registered with local authorities, as
required by law. They were later fined and released.
Stanislav Dmitrievskiy and Oksana Chelysheva of the Fund to
Promote Tolerance were questioned. Participants found their

MOSCOW 00004952 002.2 OF 002

hotel room reservations had been canceled and the organizers
were denied space to hold a press conference. Earlier, a
Russian bank that was holding money to pay for the conference
refused to transfer the money to the organizers.

The Right of Freedom of Assembly

6. (U) In response to concerns over Russia's adherence to the
constitutional right to hold peaceful assemblies, meetings,
demonstrations, processions and picketing, Ombudsman Vladimir
Lukin recently submitted an analysis of the implementation of
the law "On Assemblies, Meetings, Demonstrations, Processions
and Picketing," to the State Duma. Lukin found that the law,
although a "step in the right direction," is not easy to
implement and authorities have been able to use technical
reasons to deny permission for holding public events. Lukin
suggested that in the future, civil society and government
should come to consensus on the need for legally binding and
uniform provisions for imposing a ban on public actions. By
doing so, he argued that authorities could ban a public
action instead of bending the law to do so "as routinely
happens today." On the other hand, by setting uniform
provisions, organizers of public assemblies could be better
equipped legally to challenge a ban in court. Lukin's bottom
line is that "organizers of peaceful public assemblies have
to display readiness for truly constructive cooperation with
the authorities" and "it is equally essential that regulatory
authorities do not abuse the notification procedure as an
instrument of imposing a ban on public assemblies."

7. (SBU) William Smirnov, executive secretary of the Human
Rights Council of the President of the Russian Federation
told us there is no consistency in the application of the law
on peaceful assembly. According to him, the law is fine. The
bigger problem today is the way in which regional and local
authorities prevent public events from occurring in the first
place by employing "soft methods," such as making venues
unavailable or keeping people from arriving in time for an
event. While these tactics have replaced overt use of force
in disrupting public gatherings, as was witnessed for example
in St. Petersburg during the 2006 G8 summit and at marches
organized by Other Russia, the end result is the same.
According to Smirnov the over-reaction of authorities to the
threat of public gatherings has harmed Russia's reputation.
There needs to be better understanding of the law and better
training of police, he said.


8. (SBU) As the October 7 celebration of Putin's birthday and
the Nizhniy Novgorod crackdown further indicate, the right of
public expression and assembly depends upon the popularity of
one's views in ruling circles. It still remains the case that
regional authorities "over fulfill the plan" in attempting to
meet the expectations of the Kremlin, and the relative
"hands-off" approach to the Moscow Politkovskaya gathering
did not filter out to the provinces. We will continue to
reinforce our concerns on the constraints to public
expression to the GOR and government human rights officials.

© Scoop Media

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