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Cablegate: St. Petersburg Authorities Continue Harassment of Opponents

R 031113Z SEP 09
FM AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 2835
INFO AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG
AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK
AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG
EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS ST PETERSBURG 000117


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: RS PHUM
SUBJECT: ST. PETERSBURG AUTHORITIES CONTINUE HARASSMENT OF OPPONENTS

1. (SBU) Summary. The St. Petersburg police recently conducted
a raid, with questionable justification, on the offices of a
local offshoot of the Communist Party which had been vocally
criticizing the city government. Separately, the city
authorities denied permission to civil rights activists to hold
a rally commemorating the failure of the 1991 Soviet-hardliner
coup, citing dubious maintenance and reconstruction requirements
at the proposed rally site. These incidents are just the latest
in a series of actions reflecting a broader trend of government
harassment of perceived opponents. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Police Raid Offices of Communist Offshoot Organization
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) The Movement of Communists of St. Petersburg and
Leningrad Oblast (KPLO) is a far left-wing St. Petersburg-based
political organization distinct from the Communist Party (KPRF).
Unlike the KPRF, the KPLO does not cooperate with the federal
and regional governments, and occasionally participates in
opposition rallies. Recently, KPLO members launched a campaign
to protect the Lenin monument located in front of the Finland
Railway Station which had been vandalized earlier this year.
The KPLO fears the city government is more likely to dismantle
the monument than restore it.

3. (SBU) On August 18, according to local press accounts, the
St. Petersburg police raided the offices of local attorney Yuriy
Savin, where the KPLO rents office space. Media reported that
the raid ended during the early hours of August 19, and that the
action had been initiated by the St. Petersburg branch of the
Investigative Committee of the General Prosecutor's Office.

4. (SBU) Two KPLO computers were seized, along with the party's
official seal and numerous documents. These documents included
membership data and various papers prepared by KPLO candidates
for the upcoming municipal elections in Leningrad Oblast that
will be held in October. Press reports the search was
officially explained as supporting a criminal investigation into
a real estate deal arranged by Savin's firm. However, KPLO
Leader Sergey Malinkovich is highly skeptical of the official
explanation. Malinkovich has asserted through the media that
the police had no legal right to search KPLO's section of the
office building, and claims that the raid was politically
motivated.

--------------------------------------------- ------
City Prevents Rally to Commemorate 1991 Coup Defeat
--------------------------------------------- ------

5. (SBU) August 21 marked the 18th anniversary of the failed
1991 putsch. Popular resistance to the putsch in St. Petersburg
centered around St. Isaac's square, located in the very heart of
the city. Various political and civil activists hoped to
celebrate the victory of pro-democracy forces and on August 10
they applied for permission to hold their commemorative rally at
the same St. Isaac's square. However, the city administration
denied permission for the rally based on the purported need to
conduct maintenance work on the site. As an alternative, the
city government offered a venue in a park far away from the city
center - a location not associated with the 1991 events.

6. (SBU) The organizers, one of whom is a consulate contact and
recently met with Poloff, subsequently filed a lawsuit
challenging the government's refusal. On August 19, the local
district court ruled to uphold the government's decision. With
that ruling, the organizers then decided to hold a commemoration
event within the limits of what they were permitted to do by the
government by altering the format of their event such that it
became a "meeting of witnesses of the 1991 events," rather than
an official commemorative ceremony.

7 (SBU) About 50 people attended the truncated gathering, which
was almost indistinguishable from everyday activity on the
square since no one brought any banners, posters or loudspeakers
- all of which were prohibited in accordance with the revised
format of the gathering. The police were present during the
small rally, and ordered the group to disperse on several
occasions. No participant was arrested or detained. The media
reported that the maintenance work cited by the government as
the reason the rally could not be held at the site consisted of
several construction workers idly standing around the site.

8. (SBU) Comment. The police raid on the communist offices is
reminiscent of their raid on the St. Petersburg Memorial
headquarters in December, 2008 - both raids were explained by
the government based on prosaic reasons. However, the main
drive of the raid appears likely instead to have been an attempt
to harass and scrutinize an organization whose politics
increasingly challenge the government. Likewise, the denial of
a demonstration permit to the activists demonstrates the
government's general intolerance of dissent and the public
expression of views it considers to be potentially disruptive.
End comment.


GWALTNEY

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