Russian riot police used excessive force to break up recent peaceful opposition protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In Moscow, authorities arrested over two-hundred people, including journalists, when members of an opposition coalition tried to assemble in Pushkin Square. Among the leaders of the group was former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who was arrested and later released. A day later in St. Petersburg, riot police beat over a hundred opposition demonstrators.
A coalition of opposition groups organized the so-called "Dissenters Marches" to protest the current Russian government. In recent years, the Russian government has reasserted control over most of the media, limited opposition political parties, and increased harassment of non-governmental organizations.
Protesters are trying to get their message out in advance of the December parliamentary elections and March 2008 presidential election. But it seems the Russian government is not eager for their voices to be heard. The latest crackdown is the fourth time in recent months that anti-government demonstrations have been broken up by force.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the U.S. is deeply disturbed by the way in which the demonstrators in Moscow and St. Petersburg were forcibly dispersed:
"We also find it intolerable that journalists were detained -- an unacceptable practice that hinders freedom of the press. We underscore that allowing peaceful expressions of protest is an essential element of democracy and a universally recognized human right."
In a written statement, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the use of force against peaceful protestors and journalists raises serious concerns about the ability of Russians to exercise their basic rights. Peaceful expression of differing viewpoints is the cornerstone of a democratic society.
The U.S. welcomes the call by some Russian officials for a thorough investigation into the use of force against protestors. Now is the time for the Russian government to recommit itself even more strongly to respect freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.