Toying with the right to protest: police try to ban Russian doll rally

Shaun Walker
Friday 27 January 2012 01:00 GMT

Russia's police force has frequently come under criticism for arresting anyone, young or old, who takes part in an "unsanctioned" opposition rally. But in one Siberian city, things have taken a surreal turn, as the latest protesters to fall foul of a law against demonstrations were only a few centimetres tall.

The "protesters" were, in fact, plastic toys displayed on an icy ledge in the centre of the city of Barnaul. Most of the figurines held up little signs affixed to toothpicks with satirical messages on them, such as "146%", in reference to a southern region where state television inadvertently reported a 146 per cent turnout in recent elections. Other toys held caricatures of the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, and President Dmitry Medvedev.

The victory of Mr Putin's United Russia Party in last month's parliamentary polls, amid allegations of fraud, brought tens of thousands of protesters onto Moscow's streets. The government seemed to realise it could not take the usual repressive action against the demonstrators in the capital, but in Barnaul authorities "did everything possible" to block protests, Andrei Teslenko, one of the organisers, said.

That's when the activists set up the toy protests. "The authorities are blocking our constitutional rights to peaceful protests, but they haven't yet got as far as limiting the rights of toys," he said.

But Andrei Mulintsev of the local police department said the use of such "new technology" by protesters at "nano-meetings" could be illegal. "We think this is an unsanctioned public event... and permission is required from the local authorities," he added.

Mr Mulintsev said police had asked the local prosecutor to clarify where the law stands on toy demonstrations. A decision is expected imminently.

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