Cablegate: Opposition and Human Rights This Week in St. Petersburg

R 151648Z DEC 08


E.O. 12958: N/A


1. SUMMARY. St. Petersburg was the scene of another Dissenters
March December 14, conducted mostly peacefully, but well outside
the city center and under control of overwhelming security
forces. Some 60 persons were arrested. Human Rights Day
December 10 was marked by dueling conferences - one organized by
NGOs and another by the City Administration. Authorities have
returned some materials to Memorial, but not computer drives or
the most important documents which were confiscated December 4.
Memorial is suing over the raid. END SUMMARY.

Dissenters Protest

2. (SBU) In the face of a daunting security presence, some 400
Petersburgers participated in the Dissenter's March/Rally
December 14 according to Pol / Econ Off eyewitness estimates.
Participants spoke out against the constitutional change
extending the presidential term as well as against government
intimidation of civil society.

3. (SBU) Organizers had been denied permission by city
authorities to hold a march, and were instead given permission
to hold only a stationary rally at a park some two miles from
the city center. Many rally participants nonetheless set off
for the event from central Nevskiy Prospekt, walking to the
location of the rally itself. To ensure compliance with the
city's regulations, the participants walked the distance between
the sites on the sidewalks and without signs, placards, or
sloganeering. The route and the rally itself were heavily
covered by some 1,000 uniformed police, OMON special forces and
plainclothes personnel who appeared to be waiting for any sort
of provocation from the participants so they could begin their
crackdown. Some 60 would-be participants were reportedly
detained for minor infractions.

4. (SBU) The streets between the meeting site and the rally had
groups of security personnel along the entire way, so it was
very evident to participants that they were under the eye of the
authorities. The park where the rally was held was cordoned off
such that ingress and egress to it was limited to only two
gates, where several dozen security personnel were posted,
brandishing clubs, and sporadically checking participants' bags
and identification.

While Rights Groups Confer

5. (SBU) On December 10, the 60th anniversary of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, several of the most prominent human
rights NGOs were represented at a conference held at the St.
Petersburg office of the Soldiers' Mothers Organization. Among
the topics of discussion were rights violations affecting the
most vulnerable groups of population: draftees, prison inmates
and non-Slavs; the problems of refugees and migrants' rights and
difficulties with legalization of the former citizens of the
Soviet Union and others left stranded by its 1991 collapse.
Activists estimate that between one and three million Russian
Federation residents holding Soviet passports have no official
Russian documents. Children of those people also become
"illegal." Of about 3,000 members of the St. Petersburg Afghan
community (mainly refugees from the Taliban regime), only 300
have official status. The ongoing clampdown on press freedom,
and the financial failure of the liberal weekly Delo, has
reduced the number of independent newspapers in St. Petersburg
to three: Novaya Gazeta, Moy Rayon and the English-language St.
Petersburg Times. Corruption was cited as endemic and

6. (SBU) Meanwhile, across town, the Smolnyy City
Administration held a human rights conference of its own, mostly
theoretical or celebratory in nature. Problems, to the extent
that they were discussed, were limited mostly to fairly
non-controversial issues, such as tolerance and access to health
care. A hard-hitting presentation from a Soldiers Mothers
speaker, the only one at the conference directly critical of the
authorities, was treated to a chilly reception.

And Memorial Goes to Court

7. (SBU) Memorial, whose St. Petersburg research center was
raided December 4, has filed suit for the return of its
materials and damages. Some of the center's papers have been
returned, but not its all-important eleven computer drivers.
The group was grateful for the Consulate General's and
Department's support.


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