Russian police appear to have used excessive force against protesters last weekend when it allegedly injured more than 70 people and may have violated their basic right to freedom of expression, the United Nations has said.
UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville also questioned the disqualification of 57 opposition or independent candidates from the Moscow city elections, which sparked the mass protest.
Russian police rounded up more than 1,000 people in Moscow on Saturday in one of the biggest crackdowns of recent years against an increasingly defiant opposition decrying President Vladimir Putin‘s tight grip on power.
“We are concerned that Russian police appear to have used excessive force against the protesters during the rally in central Moscow on Saturday,” Colville told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.
“When managing crowds in Russia as anywhere else, use of force by the police should always be proportionate to the threat, if there is one, and should only be employed as a measure of last resort,” he said.
Russian authorities should allow people to organise and take part in peaceful assemblies without restrictions, he said.
Some protesters have been released, but 79 were fined 10,000 roubles ($158) to 150,000 roubles ($2,360), while 40 were sentenced to three to 15 days in prison, he added.
The UN human rights office was concerned over reports that some people in custody were denied access to lawyers, food and water, Colville said, noting that these were basic rights guaranteed under international law ratified by Russia.
Also on Tuesday, Russian investigators said they were launching a probe into “mass unrest” – a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison – following the weekend protests calling for fair elections.
“The investigation has established that ahead of an unsanctioned rally, a group of people repeatedly posted on the internet calls to take part in [the protest], knowing full well that these actions could provoke mass unrest,” a statement said.
Investigators added that during the Saturday rally protesters violated public order, used violence against the authorities and “paralysed traffic” in the centre of the Russian capital.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told state news agency TASS that protesters had forced Moscow police to use force against them by blocking the roads and “attacking police”, describing the police response as “completely adequate”.
The opposition has called for a new unauthorised protest on Saturday, with more than 13,000 people reportedly indicating interest in the rally on Facebook.
Earlier on Tuesday, the first deputy of the Prosecutor General, Alexander Buksman, warned against further unauthorised protests, saying they should be met with a tough crackdown.
“Prosecutors should in a severe manner prevent the actions of organisers and participants in illegal and unsanctioned public rallies,” Buksman was quoted as saying.
In the run-up to Saturday’s rally, police jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny for 30 days and detained a number of popular independent politicians who have fought to get on the ballot.