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Russia arrests nearly 5,000 anti-war protesters over the weekend

Police officers detain a man during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in central Moscow on Thursday.
AFP via Getty Images
Police officers detain a man during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in central Moscow on Thursday.

Thousands of people turned out in cities across Russia this weekend to protest the war in Ukraine, risking arrest in a country where such demonstrations are illegal. Many of them were detained and some subjected torture as a result, according to an independent Russian human rights group.

Police detained more than 4,640 protesters in 65 Russian cities on Sunday, according to the monitoring group OVD-Info. It says more than 13,000 Russians in 147 cities have been detained at anti-war rallies since Russia first invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

"At least 30 instances of protesters being beaten have been confirmed and it is likely that this number is much higher," it wrote in an update on Sunday. "There are many videos on social networks in which police officers are seen beating anti-war protesters."

The group also cited reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees at police stations, saying some did not allow lawyers to visit.

At the Brateevo station in Moscow, it said, detainees were "hit in the face and head with bottles, kicked in the legs, kneed in the stomach, dragged by their hair and had sanitizer sprayed in their faces."

And dozens of people are facing even more dire consequences. OVD-Info says 25 people are facing criminal cases and jail terms over their anti-war actions. The charges against them include vandalism, incitement to extremism, disseminating deliberately false information, and committing violence against police officers.

Thirteen journalists were detained at Sunday's protests, the group added. It also said there have been known cases of police officers "searching for protest videos on the phones of passerby in central Moscow, with reports of detainment."

Anyone who refused to unlock their phone was threatened with an administrative charge of disobeying the police, it added.

"The screws are being fully tightened — essentially we are witnessing military censorship," Maria Kuznetsova, OVD-Info's spokesperson, told Reuters.

Sunday's arrests came days after jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called on people around the world to stage daily protests against Putin's invasion of Ukraine, praising the Russians who had already done so and writing on Twitter that "each arrested person must be replaced by two newcomers."

The following day, Russia passed two lawsthat criminalize independent war reporting and war protests, with penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Several Western media organizations, like Bloomberg and the BBC, have temporarily suspended their operations inside the country as a result.

Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the new laws are part of Russia's effort to suppress dissent and block information that contradicts the Kremlin's narrative about the invasion.

"The Kremlin is wiping out all options for dissent to ensure that brave anti-war protesters do not return to the streets," he said. "When President Putin goes after such a fundamental right — the cornerstone of democracy — with such totalitarian tactics, he is dispensing with any pretense that his government has any respect for rule of law, human rights, or democracy."

This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.