Russian police arrested dozens of people on Wednesday during a protest against constitutional reforms that gave President Vladimir Putin the option to remain in power for another 16 years, witnesses and a monitoring group reported.
Nearly 500 demonstrators gathered in Moscow calling for the President to resign following a dubious vote earlier in the month for the measures. Protestors wore face masks branded with the word “no,” raised banners, and chanted slogans against the reforms.
Police surrounded them and began making arrests late in the evening after participants started a march down one of the city’s main boulevards, with officers in riot gear forcefully rounding up protesters and placing them in vans, according to Reuters.
The human rights group, OVD-info, recorded over 100 people being detained during the event, however Russian authorities have made no immediate confirmation of the arrests. As protests continue, the number of arrests is expected to increase.
Amendments to the state’s constitution allowing Putin to run for two more presidential terms were supported in early July during a vote count that has drawn much criticism. The Kremlin has described the result as a “triumph.”
Putin has remained in power in Russia for over two decades now, as either the country’s President or Prime Minister, and the latest actions by his government seem to prove that his reign is indisputable. Opposition activists in the country have made claims that support for the President is illegitimate, however, and begun circulating a petition calling for him to step down.
“I came here to sign the petition against the constitutional reforms because I am a nationalist,” said one 40-year old man in a black t-shirt as protesters chanted “Putin is a thief.”
Another activist, fourteen-year old Vasilisa, said she also signed the petition because Putin “is to blame for the poverty in our country.”
“Gay people are killed here, women are beaten up here, and no one is ever held accountable,” she said.
Before the scheduled start of the protests the homes of five Russian activists had been searched and two others had been unlawfully detained, moves that were not sanctioned by authorities.
Mass gatherings have been banned by the Kremlin in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in pre-COVID times, protests of more than one person require the advance consent of authorities.
While many criticize the President’s power as illegitimate, Putin’s popularity in the country is genuine with nearly 77% of the country’s population supporting him. This tends to be a mystery for Western countries, who see Russia’s transgressions on the international stage as volatile and dishonest. The country’s economy has also been unstable, the most recent downturns coming in 2014 after oil prices fell and currently under the coronavirus recession.
Since bringing Putin to power, however, Russia has enjoyed many improvements in its standard of living including strengthening education and developing the nation’s infrastructure. Yet, Putin has used the state-controlled media to shape public attitudes, censoring critical opinions and boasting the achievements of his government.
This advantage is dangerous, however, as unrivaled support for the President has silenced many calls for humanitarian progress and all but effaced any political opposition. If trends in the country remain true, Russian citizens can expect Putin—aided by the new constitutional changes—to continue to infringe on their unalienable rights for years to come.
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