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Updated: March 4, 2010 20:14 IST

Russian rights activist invites police to protest

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Lyudmila Alexeyeva speaks to the press outside a police station in Moscow on Thursday. Photo: AP.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva speaks to the press outside a police station in Moscow on Thursday. Photo: AP.

An award—winning Russian human rights activist went to a Moscow police station on Thursday to hand out flyers urging officers to attend an opposition rally calling for police reform. Unusually, the police not only let her in but they allowed her to leave.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 83, has suffered regular police harassment for her activities to raise awareness of rights abuses and repression in Russia. She was among the activists arrested at a New Year’s Eve demonstration defending the constitutional right to assembly.

Alexei Platonov, head of the Arbat precinct, welcomed the elderly activist into his office and allowed her to distribute leaflets to his subordinates about the protest, which is planned for Saturday in Moscow.

“It was very surprising,” Ms. Alexeyeva said on the steps of the police station afterwards.

“I don’t know if this will change their attitude to police reform,” she said, referring to the handful of officers she persuaded to take a pamphlet. “But they are no more stupid than we are and understand perfectly well how badly reform is needed.”

Public confidence in Russia’s huge police force has collapsed. Russian media in recent months have been awash in reports of police shootings sprees, deadly road accidents caused by drunken officers and silenced whistleblowers.

In response, President Dmitry Medvedev, fired two top Interior Ministry officials last month and said he would slash thousands of ministry jobs. In an acknowledgment of systemic police corruption, he said the 15,000 cases logged last year were “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Authorities continue to show little tolerance for public protest. Last weekend, plans by an opposition youth group to protest outside the Interior Ministry headquarters were thwarted when police detained all the organizers and cordoned off the square.

Ms. Alexeyeva, who walks with the aid of a cane, wasted no time upon arriving at the station, hobbling up to the young policeman guarding the entrance, and saying the reforms “concern you no less than they concern us.”

She collected the European Union’s top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, in December.

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