Ottawa - Article 31 of Russia's constitution guarantees freedom of assembly. In defence of their diminishing democratic rights and so as to protect this constitutional right of assembly, on the 31st of each month Russia's beleaguered opposition gathers to protest. Unfortunately, in Putin's Russia, notwithstanding constitutional guarantees, the democratic space has been shrinking. On August 31, peaceful protestors of Russia's democratic opposition were arrested. Vladimir Putin, commenting on the arrests of leaders of the democratic opposition, established a new tenant of Putinism; protesters have been warned by Putin that "You will be beaten on your skull with a truncheon. And that's that."
This statement was made in response to questions surrounding the arrest of activists carrying the Russian flag on August 31, a date symbolizing the right to free assembly in Article 31 of Russia's constitution. In the past several weeks opposition leaders such as 69-year-old Lev Ponomarev (a long-time human rights activist) and Mikhail Schneider (a leader in the newly formed democratic opposition movement Solidarity) have not only been arrested, they have been sentenced to prison using old Soviet-style laws which allow for prison terms for taking part "in unsanctioned meetings."
Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj commented on the imprisonment of Mr. Ponomarev and Mr. Schneider, as well as the arrest of Mr. Boris Nemtsov, leader of the democratic opposition and former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia (Mr. Nemstov was arrested the day after Wrzesnewskyj introduced Mr. Nemstov who was linked by Skype to the Black Ribbon Day conference at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre organized by the Central and Eastern European Council of Canada):
"Mr. Putin has not only diminished Russia's democratic space, he is instituting a new dictatorship. As he prepares to take over Russia's presidency in 2012, Putinism's tenants appear to be:
1) state/oligarch capitalism;
2) courts subsumed to the will of the executive branch of government;
3) electoral manipulation and abuse;
4) repeated use of police intimidation of human rights and democracy activists, and growing police corruption;
5) intimidation and killing of journalists;
6) state control and revision of history;
7) declining religious freedom while promoting State Russian Orthodoxy."......
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