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Russian Police: Now Raiding Opposition Activists Without Warrants

Attacks on Alexey Navalny's mayoral campaign are on the rise. Last week it was questions about the legality of his campaign finance methods [GV]. This week Moscow police forced entry [ru] into a flat used by pro-Navalny activists, cutting down their reinforced door after they refused to let anyone in without a search warrant. The police were apparently called in by Nikolai Levichev, the Just Russia party mayoral candidate, who alleges that the apartment was being used for storage of illegal pro-Navalny campaign materials.

The activists — Oleg Kozyrev [ru], Vasily Drovetskiy [ru], Kirill Andreev and Roman Pereverzev [ru] — were detained and charged [ru] with “failure to comply” with police demands. Two got off with a small fine, while Kozyrev and Drovetskiy were sentenced to 10 days in jail [ru]. Before that, however, they tweeted throughout their ordeal (cutting down the steel door took five hours). Pereverzev, who does not reside at the apartment, wrote:

I came to visit @Valerich90 [Drovetskiy], and now there are police trying to get in O_o

The police says that there was a call that there are illegal migrants living here O.o

Drovetskiy, who rents the apartment, was more terse:

We have guests — the police. Chistoprudny boulevard 10.

Some time after the police began to break down the door, the activists decided to finally let them in, but soon found that they couldn't:

At the advice of lawyers @Valerich90 decided to open the door, but the lock is already broken. We will remain with you for a while.

 We've tossed them the keys [out the window], but they can't even open the door using keys. HOW LONG MUST THIS GO ON?

Meanwhile, Pereverzev, a citizen journalist, began to broadcast a live feed [ru] of the incident on his Ustream.tv [GV] channel:

 7000 people are watching live how the police can't break down the door

All is quiet on the door front. Activists wait for the police to saw through their reinforced door. YouTube screenshot.

All is quiet on the door front. Activists wait for the police to saw through their reinforced door. YouTube screenshot.

Other citizen journalists, as well as traditional media, were outside, taking photos and blogging the incident [ru]. One of them reported [ru] that, indeed, something seemed amiss with the campaign materials found at the flat:

На зеленых и красный наклейках за Навального, которыми, например, 18-го Госдуму заклеили, все эти надписи есть, мелким шрифтом по кругу: “Изготовлено ООО “Полиграфический комплекс”, 143300, г. Наро-Фоминск ..” и т.д. На наклейках, которые вынес депутат, этого не было.

On the green and red pro-Navalny stickers, which, for example, were pasted on the Parliament on the 18th, there is all this writing, in small type around the sticker: “Made by OOO “Poligraphic complex”, 143300, city of Naro-Fominsk..” and so on. The stickers that the deputy brought out didn't have this.

Another blogger (a man associated with the Just Russia party [ru]), made the same observation [ru].

A Just Russia deputy demonstrates a pro-Navalny sticker found at the activist flat. YouTube screenshot.

A Just Russia deputy demonstrates a pro-Navalny sticker found at the activist flat. YouTube screenshot.

Both bloggers were referring to Article 54, Paragraph 3 [ru] of the Moscow Electoral Codex, which states that all print campaign materials must contain information on the publisher, the party that commissioned the printing, the print run, and a statement that the printing was funded through a campaign fund. Article 55, Paragraph 9 [ru] of the same, states that law enforcement is tasked with stopping such instances of illegal campaigning. In this, Moscow's regulations agree with Article 5.12 of the Russian Federal Codex of Administrative Offences [ru], which allows for fines of up to 1,500 rubles for private citizens and up to 100,000 rubles for organizations for mislabeling campaign materials.

Some people, however, disagreed that this law should apply to activists like Drovetskiy and company, who appear to have been acting on their own, and not as a part of the Navalny campaign team. Some of the disagreements were quite vehement [ru]:

Хуй тебе в рыло, хата – не штаб навального, а квартира гражданских активистов, фактически обычных граждан соторнников определенного кандидата, которые имеют право печатать и иным образом делать агит-материалы и не обязаны ничего указывать. Как ты, пизда политологическая, одновременно требуешь не уличать тебя в ангажированности и тут же пиздишь в наглую?)) Вот же ты мразь, недочеловек, как твой левичев

F*ck your stupid face, this crib wasn't Navalny's HQ, it was the apartment of civic activists, basically private citizens who support a specific candidate, who have the right to print or otherwise make campaign materials and don't have to show anything for it. How can you, you political c*nt, simultaneously demand that people not call you prejudiced and then write boldfaced f*cking lies?)) You are scum, a subhuman, like your Levichev

Another blogger also referred [ru] to:

простых граждан, которые посмели по собственной инициативе агитировать за понравившегося им кандидата в мэры Москвы.

simple citizens, who had the audacity to campaign for a Moscow mayoral candidate of their choice, on their own initiative.

The Moscow Electoral Codex isn't particularly clear on whether such “private” campaigning escapes the various regulations faced by official campaigns, but one would think that the issue depends on the sheer scale of such groups, and whether they coordinate with the campaign (a matter that should be familiar to students of US campaign finance and the proliferation of SuperPACs).

Two Navalny's Brothers activists in "Anonymous" masks leave after pasting campaign materials on the door of a Moscow police department. YouTube screenshot.

N for Navalny. Two Navalny's Brothers activists in “Anonymous” masks leave after pasting campaign materials on the door of a Moscow police department. YouTube screenshot.

Navalny's campaign was quick to disavow [ru] any relations with the group, which calls itself “Navalny's Brothers,” engages in street protest stunts while wearing Guy Fawkes masks, and then posts reports on its activities on a VKontakte page [ru]:

Группа “Братья Навального”, активисты которой были задержаны сегодня, действует полностью независимо от штаба Навального.

The “Navalny's Brothers” group, whose activists were detained today, acts completely independently from Navalny election HQ.

Navalny's press release refers to Federal Law N.67, article 48, paragraph 4, in order to establish the legality of such independent actions. Federal Law N.67 is the law that establishes the rights of Russian voters and the rules of campaigning. The same article and paragraph, with the same language regarding the right of people to privately campaign exists in the Moscow Electoral Codex [ru], and does not negate other articles of the same, i.e. requirements for campaign materials.

The campaign's assertion that the activists in question are completely independent of them is actually a bit thin: one of them, Oleg Kozlovsky, was until recently displayed as a member [img] of the staff [ru] on the campaign website. His photograph appears to have been taken out of rotation (rather then listing all staff members the site shows a random selection of 10, which changes with every page refresh), but is still readily accessible on the website servers [img] if one knows to look. Taking down Kozlovsky's photo seems to be a transparent attempt to disassociate the campaign from Navalny's Brothers, now that they are in trouble.

In addition to Kozlovsky's involvement, the Moscow electoral committee reports [ru] that the mutiple boxes seized by the police contained campaign materials registered with them by Navalny's campaign in accordance to regulations, but with a much larger print-run than declared. On a related note, Navalny's campaign website makes high quality PDF versions of their fliers and stickers available for download (ready for printing) without any of the required information. For example:

One of the stickers downloadable in PDF on navalny.ru. Screenshot.

One of the stickers downloadable in PDF on navalny.ru. Stickers like this one were found at the activist flat. Screenshot.

These stickers come with a disclaimer [ru], however, which appears to “address” the precise eventuality wherein someone could print campaign materials independently of the campaign.:

Представленные в данном разделе макеты и материалы, публикуются только для ознакомления. Вы можете скачать их на свое переносное устройство (планшет, смартфон и т.п.), чтобы всегда иметь их под рукой. Листовки, наклейки, газету и прочее вы можете взять в нашем штабе.

The plans and materials in this section are published for familiarization purposes only. You can download them to your mobile device (table, smartphone, etc.) to always have them with you. The fliers, stickers, newspapers and the rest you can come get at our HQ.

Regardless of potential culpability of the activists in skirting electoral regulations, nothing that they could have done required such a response — a warrant-less search and forced entry into their apartment (although the police say [ru] they got permission from the landlord). This point was made vehemently by DemVybor's Vladimir Milov in his blog [ru], where he called what happened a “gross violation of private property rights.”

But who to blame for this violation? Both Navalny himself [ru], and his campaign manager Leonid Volkov [ru], are inclined to believe that Levichev's attack was launched from above — either at the behest of acting mayor and Navalny's opponent Sergey Sobyanin, or by the Kremlin itself. Old dissident and journalist Alexander Morozov disagreed [ru], putting what happened into a more general context:

Вообще все, кто этими делами занимаются, знают, что на региональных избирательных кампаниях налеты на офисы, противоправные задержания агитматериалов, заявления на конкурентов в избирком и т.д. – все это обычная, рутинная практика. Это мы в Москве просто изнежились, давно выборов не было.

In reality, everyone who deals with this [electoral] business knows that at regional election campaigns raids on offices, illegal seizures of campaign materials, complaints about opponents to the election committee, and so on — that's all basic, routine practice. It's just that in Moscow we've grown soft, [we] haven't had elections in a long while.

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