Daily Israel Report

Blogger And Opposition Leader Feels Weight Of Putin's Law

By charging a rock group with hooliganism and opposition blogger with corruption, the Kremlin is sending a clear signal to the opposition.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 8/2/2012, 1:27 PM

Punk Prisoners
Punk Prisoners
Reuters

The trial of  three young ladies from a punk rock group just opened in Moscow. The trio are being charged with "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility" for barging into a Russian Orthodox Cathedral on February 21before the presidential vote and staging a protest song condemning the hand-in-glove relationship between the Russian Orthodox church and Vladimir Putin.

The trial is already a sensation, but this is apparently not enough. We now learn that charges are going to be brought against Aleksey Navalny, a noted blogger and opposition leader, who termed the ruling United Russia Party "the party of crooks and thieves" a name that stuck and helped reduce the party's majority.

Navalny will be charged with stealing 10,000 m³ of timber products from a state owned company when he served as advisor in the Kirov region, where the company is located.

The timing of the charges is hardly coincidental. They were filed after Navalny had charged the country's chief investigator, Alexander Bastrkin, who had studied law with Vladimir Putin, of being a foreign agent for owning a company in the Czech Republic and maintaining a residence permit in that country.

The trial of the rock group has achieved notoriety both in Russia and outside of it. According to a poll by the Levada Institute, 79% of the respondents are aware of the case, which is being extensively reported, including by live blogging.

The cause of the young women, ranging in age from 22 to 29, has been espoused by famous names in the Western entertainment world such as Sting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and British writer Stephen Fry.

On the other hand, Russian Patriarch Kirill wants the demonstration punished severely because "blasphemy, derision of the sacred is put forth as a lawful expression of human freedom". Parishioners put on the stand by the prosecution claimed that they had suffered pain and heartache as a result of the "Satanic dances" of the accused.

Putin, the target of the demonstration, has gone out of his way to portray himself as a loyal son of the church that shares his anti-Western animus.

Navalny, in an interview with Novaya Gazeta,  was philosophical about the development, claiming that although the charges are baseless they were expected. "I understand very well what I am doing and what kind of people I am dealing with. There is nothing to arrest me for. But I understand that in our country they can arrest anyone."

He claimed that although the authorities had learned that the protest demonstrators were reformers rather than revolutionaries, they had decided to crush all opposition and were employing their long chain of command to do their bidding .

Navalny felt pity for them:

"But the people connected with the authorities do not pin any hopes on Russia, they think we are doomed. They think Putin will go on a long time. Until the age of 80. Then they will invent youth pills and he will go on living and ruling until the age of 100. And a great many people do not want to waste their time, their lives fighting -- they simply leave. But I am not leaving."