I picked up the phone to take pictures as riot police suddenly began to arrest the demonstrators, but before I could take a photo, I was caught by strong hands. Soldiers in black helmet and jacket and dragged me into a police van.
“I’m a foreign journalist,” I repeated in Russian. “Legs wider” he said, pushing my face to the truck, and began to search me.
Thousands of people came out Sunday afternoon to March under the leadership of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who announced his intention to challenge President Vladimir Putin in elections next year. In Moscow and other Russian cities, people demanded answers to the statements of the Bulk that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has secretly acquired an extravagant set of mansions, country houses, yachts and even Italian vineyards on the money given to him by some of the richest people in Russia.
They kept me for five and a half hours and released, but not everyone is so lucky. According to police in Moscow detained 500 people, but human rights centre OVD Info said that actually been detained more than a thousand people, and at least 120 people spent the night in jail. On Monday, Navalny was sentenced to 15 days imprisonment.
The charges against me have been cancelled after the intervention of the foreign Ministry, but hundreds of others will be forced to dispute the charges against them in a Russian court worthy of Kafka’s novels. Otherwise, they will be faced with fines or forced labor.
“We don’t believe in the justice system of our country, we think that it will be on the side of the regime, not the people, and this is one of the reasons why we came out yesterday,” said independent journalist Vlad Varga, who was detained with me. He said he and others are looking for a lawyer to challenge the charges in a Russian court and possibly the European court of human rights, they argue that the police abused their powers.
The authorities of Moscow refused to approve the rally Sunday, however, thousands of people came anyway. It was the largest unsanctioned rally I’ve seen since street protests in 2011-2012. The meeting irked the police and officials.
When there is Bulk, it almost immediately detained and put in police van, which turned into a narrow street. I followed the hundreds of people who followed him. “Release him!” “Shame!” and “Putin — thief!” — they chanted when the Riot police pushed the protesters and parked cars aside to clear the way for the van.
As the van left, the majority have returned to Tver. I stayed to talk to one person who said that police knocked him down. Suddenly standing next to the officer yelled, “get to work”, and they started grabbing people, including me.
Inside the car I showed the officers the accreditation of the Russian foreign Ministry and told that I’m doing my job. When I started to remove them, they grabbed my phone. Together with me were detained three young men and one young woman among them was a student of Denis Samohvalov, who calmly filmed the event on their phone. The other man, the engineer Anton Nikitin lecture Riot that they serve as cannon fodder for a corrupt regime.
For the next two hours the van was traveling along Tverskaya, gathering more and more people, including a 15-year-old guy who seems to have been a broken nose, according to him, a police boot. Varga, one of the first who was in the police van, advising others on their legal rights while we were in the wagon.
Seventeen of us were taken to the police station on the outskirts of Moscow, we were taken to a small room. I returned the phone. The investigators were sitting under the portrait of Putin, they whispered and barely filled in the forms with the charges against us. “Maybe you’re accused of killing Kennedy,” sarcastically said the Lieutenant, when I asked on what basis they arrested the American journalist.
Some officers started to make unlikely assumptions about the evidence against us, and one of them lied, saying that I was yelling protest slogans. Like most others, I was accused of “holding an unsanctioned rally,” an administrative offense involving a fine or forced labor, and let me go.
Over the past six years in Russia, I was witness to many unwarranted arrests and ridiculous trial. But I was still shocked at how badly the police detained several peaceful demonstrators and a foreign journalist in this case, although the threat of riots and violence was not. The charges brought against many of us, was questionable at best.
“Do you think the situation changes?” asked her father on the phone, worrying about the harassment of the foreign press. It’s highly unlikely. But mass arrests on Sunday showed that after the Patriotic euphoria over Crimea, the Russian government is concerned about the growing anti-corruption movement before the presidential election. Many of those arrested with me are young people around 20 years, a new generation of protesters.
Engineer albert Komissarov told me that just passed by, when he was arrested on Sunday. According to him, next time he will come to the March. “Today it was excessive, unjustified violence. The regime is trying to intimidate everyone, not just those fighting with him.”