Russia's Chubais lashes authorities for jailing Nemtsov
Russia's economic reforms architect Anatoly Chubais led a chorus of opposition outrage Monday over the arrest and imprisonment of the country's charismatic liberal leader Boris Nemtsov.
The 51-year-old Nemtsov was among the 130 people detained in Moscow and Saint Petersburg on December 31 -- the date of traditional end-of-month rallies in which Russians assert their constitutional right to gather in public places.
The Moscow demonstration was sanctioned but still resulted in dozens of arrests that saw the police move against those trying to extend the rally beyond the small space assigned to them on a central Moscow square.
Nemtsov -- who along with Chubais served as a first deputy prime minister under the administration of former president Boris Yeltsin -- was sentenced Sunday to 15 days in prison for disobeying police orders.
A spokeswoman for the Solidarity movement that groups Russia's small but fractious liberal forces said this marked the first time that the outspoken critic of Russia's former president, now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, had been sentenced to jail.
The incident received almost no attention in Russia's state-dominated media but still drew a furious response from Chubais -- who rarely breaks ranks with officials in his capacity as current head of the Rosnano state technology firm.
"I believe that the authorities have the right to detain the participants of unsanctioned meetings," Chubais wrote in a public message posted on his blog.
"But the meeting that Nemtsov attended was sanctioned! Neither do I believe the court-accepted justification for the arrest -- disobeying a police officer," Chubais wrote.
"I am sure that any normal person will have the same questions about this as I do. And this means that these questions have to be answered. And not by the courts, whose credibility has been undermined, but by the authorities themselves."
There was no immediate explanation from the city as to why the police took measures against this protest after sanctioning similar gatherings for the past two months.
The 300-strong Moscow crowd chanted slogans in support of the jailed Kremlin critic and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky --- whose jail term was extended by six years last week -- and called for broader political freedoms.
The gathering broke up after about an hour as dozens of people continued their protest outside police stations that were holding Nemtsov and the other detained opposition leaders.
The Moscow court also issued a 15-day prison sentence to the writer and National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov and a five-day sentence to liberal Yabloko party member Ilya Yashin.
"The arrest of Nemtsov, Yashin, Limonov and (Konstantin) Kosyakin is an open attack on the opposition," For Human Rights group leader Lev Ponomaryov told the Interfax news agency.
Kosyakin is one of the founders of the Strategy 31 movement that holds rallies in honor of the Russian constitution's Article 31 -- freedom of assembly.
All such rallies had been banned in Moscow until President Dmitry Medvedev appointed a new mayor for the Russian capital in September.
It was not clear weather it was the new mayor's office or the Kremlin that had decided to soften the stance on public protests in Moscow. But it was Medvedev who received all the attention Monday.
"We demand that President Medvedev take measures necessary to ensure the immediate release of those who were detained," Interfax quoted Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin as saying.
He also encouraged Medvedev "to take the Moscow police (under his) control because they discredit the Russian state authorities in the eyes of citizens and the world as a whole."
© 2011 AFP