Campaign diary

Searches hit Open Russia

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REN-TV filmed Open Russia Executive Director Timur Valeyev being pinned to the floor of his flat in Moscow by Spetsnaz officers early this morning

by Sarah Hurst

Early this morning teams of Spetsnaz officers in riot helmets burst into the homes and offices of employees and of Open Russia and their relatives and the home of Nikolai Levshits, one of the leaders of Alexei Navalny’s election campaign. To ensure that the whole of Russia got the message, a REN-TV crew accompanied the Spetsnaz team at the flat of Open Russia Executive Director Timur Valeyev, who was shown being pinned to his floor. When he asked if he could call a lawyer, the officer holding him down said, “Don’t resist!”

After several hours it was reported that the search at the home of Levshits was over and that authorities had confiscated all his electronic devices and also T-shirts. They had held him in handcuffs the entire time and confiscated items belonging to his recently-deceased mother. But other searches were still under way, including at the offices of Open Russia, which maintains an opposition media outlet as well as organising political protests. The founder of Open Russia is exiled oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent 10 years in prison before being released in 2013. He tweeted, “I hope Schroeder and the other Putinophiles will be ashamed to wish him a happy birthday. Are searches of journalists and activists trivial?” Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder celebrated Putin’s birthday with him in 2014 and was recently made chairman of Rosneft’s board of directors.

The Kremlin gave various random excuses for the searches: either they were connected to the 2003 YUKOS oil company case in which Khodorkovsky was convicted, or to do with Open Russia ostensibly receiving funding from foreign organisations that have officially been deemed “undesirable” in Russia. The real reason for the crackdown was the Kremlin’s fear of the planned mass protests on October 7 that Navalny has called for, Open Russia Chairman Alexander Soloviev said. Khodorkovsky has endorsed Navalny as a candidate for president.

At the end of the day when the searches ended, Open Russia tweeted that authorities had confiscated electronic devices, posters with Putin and Medvedev on them, and anything that was yellow.

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