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Russian Opposition Says Government Blocks Its Campaign Activities


The Russian opposition says federal authorities appear to be behind attempts to discourage fair participation in their country's upcoming parliamentary and presidential-election campaigns. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report.

Speaking at a Moscow news conference, members of the Russian opposition, united in a coalition known as The Other Russia, say their campaign activities throughout the country face continued harassment from local and federal authorities.

United Civil Front Executive Director Denis Bilunov said in recent days authorities have prevented opposition meetings in the cities of Nizhny Novgorod, Smolensk, and Rostov on Don. Bilunov describes a failed attempt to rent a movie theater for a political meeting in Moscow.

Bilunov says, "Everything was in order until the very last minute," he said. "On Friday at 12:00 noon, we received a call. Naturally, we had a contract and made a down payment. The proprietor's representative told us the event was not coordinated with city officials and could, therefore, not take place."

Bilunov says theater owners later cited technical problems as the reason for breaking the contract. Organizers then signed a contract with a local hotel, but its owners also reneged.

Bilunov notes that Russian law does not require official permission for meetings in closed venues.

In the past, authorities have used force to break up opposition rallies.

Former chess grand champion turned opposition leader Garry Kasparov says bureaucracy is also used to frustrate opposition activities. He describes the bureaucratic means used to prevent review of a judge's actions in a lawsuit following arrests at an opposition rally in March.

Kasparov says an upper court rejected the complaint, because it determined the lower court's documents were not properly filled out. The violations, says Kasparov, included a rubber stamp supposedly in the wrong place and sheets of paper improperly bound.

Kasparov also says law enforcement officials at opposition rallies are exceeding their authority with greater frequency and are making fewer attempts to conceal their excess.

The opposition leader says, "I think the arrogance found in the lower ranks of the Federal Security Service emanates from the top. The FSB thinks it rules the country and protects - first of all - the regime, rather than Russian citizens."

Russian President Putin has set December 2 as the date for Russian parliamentary elections. The Russian leader is prohibited by the constitution from running for a third term in office. An election to choose Mr. Putin's successor is set for March, 2008.

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