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Freed Opposition Politician: Russia is Becoming Belarus-style Dictatorship

  • Albina Kovalyova

Russian opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov, right, and Eduard Limonov, face the media in Moscow after they were released from detention, Jan 17, 2011

Russian opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov, right, and Eduard Limonov, face the media in Moscow after they were released from detention, Jan 17, 2011

A freed opposition politician is accusing Russian authorities of using dictatorial tactics against opposition figures. Boris Nemtsov was arrested during a government-sanctioned protest on New Year's Eve and sentenced to two weeks of imprisonment.

Former Deputy Prime Minister and now leader of the liberal, democratic Solidarnost political movement, Nemtsov is free after spending 15 days in prison. He was among several people arrested at an officially approved demonstration December 31. That event called for freedom of assembly and is held in central Moscow on the 31st of each month.

After his release, Nemtsov gave a joint press conference in central Moscow with fellow liberal, democratic opposition politicians. In a crammed small room packed with journalists, he said Russian authorities are becoming more like Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

He said they hate Lukashenko, since dictators generally do not like each other, but at the same time they are copying his methods. "I think what we are witnessing now is the Lukanization of Russia," said Nemtsov.

Belarus turned violent after the presidential elections last December. When opposition politicians took to the streets, they were met with violence from the police and arrested. About 25 remain in detention and are facing up to 15 years imprisonment.

Nemtsov said he wants to see Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stripped of his power and an investigation into his activities. He also urged the West to refuse visas to top Russian officials and their relatives to encourage more respect for democracy and civil rights.

Another Solidarnost leader who was arrested in Moscow on New Year's Eve, Ilya Iashin, said such detainment of opposition politicians could have very grave consequences for Russia.

He said the lawlessness of the courts, police and bureaucrats, the harassment of the opposition, the arrests of Kremlin critics and the unchangeable power - all this is a direct route to civil war.

Human-rights organization Amnesty International also condemned the arrests and said those detained were prisoners of conscience”

Friedirika Behr of Amnesty International in Russia said the trial of Boris Nemtsov was unfair because the judge ignored mitigating evidence. "As much as we know, information other than from police officers who detained Boris Nemtsov and other people, other information that could have shed more light on what actually happened on that evening was not taken into consideration."

Last week, Nemtsov’s defense lawyer filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights over his arrest and imprisonment.

But an expert at the Russian based Center for Political Technologies, Olga Mifodeva, believes the arrest was a mistake, not a political scheme.

"I think that this decision was random," said Mifodeva. "It was not planned beforehand. It was just when they began to suppress the demonstration, the authorities decided to arrest him."

Mifodeva thinks the arrests were a political error for the Kremlin, because it made the opposition stronger, not weaker. Nemtsov said he is not afraid of the authorities and will continue to attend demonstrations marking the freedom of assembly.