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In more than 70 cities protests have taken place against the war in Ukraine, and in support of political prisoners.
Around the world, in more than 70 cities protests have taken place against the war in Ukraine, and in support of political prisoners. Among the participants in these protests were residents of their respective countries, as well as emigrants who, at various times and for various reasons, have left Russia.
The protests are timed to a date that is significant to Russian society - it has been 2 years since Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia. Navalny, one of the leaders of the Russian opposition, and founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation was poisoned with a chemical weapon by the FSB in the summer of 2020. He survived the poisoning, and received treatment in Germany, deciding after this to return to Russia. On the 17th of January, 2021, police took him away at the passport control at Sheremetyevo Airport. Since then, for over 2 years, Alexei has been imprisoned. Through a fabricated criminal case, he has been given a prison sentence of over 10 years. Alexei is the most well-known political prisoner in Russia. There are currently more than 1,000 political prisoners in Russia - those who were deprived of their freedom because they criticized the government and the war it started.
Such protests have not been held in Russia in recent days, and are not planned for the near future. Observing the events related to Russia, one might question why this is. Some conclude that Russian society is aligned with the government’s politics. The reality, however, suggests otherwise. Over the last decade, opportunities for peaceful protest in Russia have been increasingly few. By 2023, the risk associated with protesting rose further - people already not in the best of economic conditions are afraid of risking jobs, and finances (a fine for so-called “discredit of the armed forces” is equal to 40,000 rubles), or dismissal from institutions under control by the state or by an administration supportive thereof. Furthermore, the police response to protests against Navalny’s arrest and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been marked by violence. The human rights organization OVD-Info has recorded 20,467 instances of police brutality and politically motivated arrests in 2022.
For months, various organizations have chosen not to initiate mass protests in Russia. For example, the movement “Vesna” announced a call for picketing in response to Russia’s hypocritical truce proposal during Orthodox Christmas. A day later, after the announcement received criticism, it was deleted, and the organization apologized, agreeing that such actions, at this moment, carry an immense risk, disproportionate to their utility.
The aforementioned worldwide rallies express protest for those unable to do so themselves. For those imprisoned for their political views. For those living in a country where people are frightened by the very real risk of losing everything for those views. If you aren’t threatened by criticism of the Russian government and the war it started - become one of these voices. Help activists in your country, donate to charitable organizations and raise awareness.