Russian Police on Saturday, February 8, detained dozens of umbrella-wielding demonstrators protesting after three television providers dropped a station that made its name covering massive street demonstrations against President Vladimir Putin.
The arrests follow reports of the detention of up to 14 gay rights activists on Friday, the day of the opening of Sochi Olympic Games – an event which has drawn international criticism of Russia’s human rights record.
“We want to protect the freedom of media in our country…Now they attack Dozhd. We want at least some remnants of freedom to stay on in our country,” said supporter Arina, standing under an umbrella next to her young son.
Saturday’s demonstrators had gathered near Moscow’s Red Square to protest the “censorship” of Dozhd (TV Rain), an independent-minded television station which has aired aggressive reporting critical of Russian authorities and even-handed broadcasts on Ukraine’s anti-government protests.
“I’m shocked. When they began opening umbrellas police started detaining them. It was like: ‘If you open an umbrella, proceed to the police bus’,” Yekaterina, a Dozhd supporter, said, giving only her first name.
Dozhd, which faced criticism after asking on its website if Leningrad, now St Petersburg, should have been surrendered to Nazi Germany to save lives during a World War II blockade, was dropped by three TV providers in and around Moscow in late January.
The station said the move amounted to “censorship and pressure”, a sentiment echoed by protesters on Saturday.
Policemen frogmarched protesters to vans after they unfurled umbrellas to show their support for TV Rain.
“Those are just people, the viewers of TV Dozhd (Rain). We did not and do not call on anyone to come to picket lines. But we are grateful to them for that support. If I’m not mistaken, that is the third action that has been held in Moscow. This support gives us strength to go on working in a difficult situation,” said Dozhd producer Yegor Maksimov.
Around 40 people were detained in total, Russian newswire Interfax reported, citing a police spokesman.