The protests that shook up Moscow this summer were triggered by the upcoming elections for the Moscow City Duma, the city's parliament. The latest similar spike of election-related protests in Russia happened during the winter of 2011–2012 following widespread media coverage of electoral fraud in parliamentary elections. This time, protests erupted months before elections, which are scheduled for September 2019. Protesters slammed a set of rules that hindered independent candidates from running in these elections.
[...] The street protests triggered by these abuses have since grown dramatically, from some 20,000 participants in a July 21 rally
to 50,000 on August 10
In spite of the largely peaceful nature of the July 27 demonstration
, Russian authorities launched a criminal case against the perpetrators of "mass riots," jailing a dozen of people suspected of coordinating these protests.
[...] The legal provisions on "mass riots" are usually used by Russian authorities for political persecutions. "Initially, the [law] article on mass riots was used in case of riots in [prison] colonies and some cases of street riots involving arson and pogroms,
" said Sergey Smirnov, editor-in-chief of Zona.Media
, an outlet reporting on legal issues. Following an opposition demonstration in May 2012, authorities used Article 212 to launch lawsuits against 40 people who participated in the demonstration.
"There had been no doubt that this was a political case,
" Smirnov said. The recent summer protests in Moscow were demonstrably peaceful, without violence, "let alone pogroms and arsons by demonstrators.
" Nevertheless, "the authorities again brought charges of mass disorder for political reasons,
" Smirnov said. He thinks that the charges are so vaguely worded that one can be indicted even for looking in the wrong direction.