The Russian Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case for spreading fake news about army against former Yekaterinburg mayor Yevgeny Roizman. On August 25, a court imposed on him preventive measures in the form of a ban on certain actions: he is not allowed to attend public events, use the telephone, the Internet, and communicate with witnesses. However, there is no ban on leaving the country. At the hearing, Royzman said that "the greatest value for anyone is freedom. The "7x7" online magazine has asked experts what the criminal case against Roizman means for the civil society in Russia and whether it might spark mass protests from Yekaterinburg residents.
"The Last Loud Voice of War Opponents"
Dmitry Kolezev, editor-in-chief of "Republic" magazine:
- The criminal case against Roizman means that one of the last loudest voices against the war is about to disappear from the public space. I think this is the goal that the criminal case pursues.
For a while, Roizman has been protected by his popularity in Ekaterinburg (his support base extends beyond the liberal opposition). That is due to the real work he has been doing for many years: helping sick children and the indigent, managing charity projects. But that is no longer enough to stay free. As a matter of fact, Roizman will be kept under house arrest. Of course, one can try to hole up and hide and keep quiet, but that does not protect you either.
[Yesterday in support of Roizman] there were several pickets and small spontaneous rallies. But over time Roizman's arrest might become a trigger for mass protests.
Fear of protests is exactly the reason why Roizman is not arrested.
In the long term, his case will damage the public trust in the authorities of the Sverdlovsk region, undermine their legitimacy, and lay the groundwork for a major protest if other factors emerge.
"They can generate criminal cases indefinitely"
Kirill Martynov, editor-in-chief of "Novaya Gazeta. Europe":
- The Russian authorities, using the case against Roizman and other independent politicians, including Ilya Yashin, are trying to demonstrate that those who disagree with their rhetoric and actions have two choices: either to end up in jail or to leave Russia. They would prefer us to leave. Roizman is one of those who didn't want to leave Russia on principle. He says it is important for him to stay and observe the current catastrophe from the inside.
The purpose of the criminal case against Roizman isn't to put him to jail. It is to silence him. To show that if he keeps behaving the way he does, then he and all others like him will be imprisoned. Roizman has a large support, connections, and reputation in the region. Speaking about the war, he was doing that a way that made it more difficult for the authorities to pick on him than on others. They want him to be banned from certain actions. Probably to prevent him from using Tweeter. The real problem is that they can generate criminal cases indefinitely. I don't think Roizman will keep quiet under the current circumstances. Right now, it looks like a battle for the right to remain a citizen of his country, not a subject of the dictator.
We have been witnessing the decline of the opposition in Russia for a long time. But a few independent politicians are still at large in some regions. And the civil society is now more like an underground phenomenon. It is practically impossible to get engaged in politics, because political criticism in Russia has been criminalized. Earlier the situation was rather ambiguous, but the current censorship is like it was in the 1920s in the Soviet Union. In some areas, it is even tougher and more straightforward.
The dissidents in Russia have a limited list of options: to shut up and criticize the government in their kitchens, or leave the country, or become underground fighters, or, like Roizman, openly declare their dissent and accept the criminal consequences, acting as existential heroes.
Yekaterinburg has two centers of power. On the one hand, it is a region where Putin had once reached out for support. It is the infamous story about Uralvagonzavod coming to clean up the Bolotnaya Square [in 2011, during a teleconference with Vladimir Putin, Uralvagonzavod workers suggested to come to Moscow and help the police disperse those who had gathered on the Bolotnaya Square disagreeing with the Duma election results]. On the other hand, there are lots of young people who want to live in a free country - a potential electorate of Yevgeny Roizman. It seems to me that it would be hard to make them comfortable in the Soviet type of reality, because over the past decades people have tasted a very different sort of life.
It will be difficult to drive Yekaterinburg back into the stables, although they have already created a situation where people seemingly have no other choice.
Now people are scared, anyone might go to jail for anything, leaving your family without a source of income. But I don’t think that such a situation can last long. If things get too bad, people will have nothing to lose and then they will be willing to take risks, regardless of consequences. The situation is very unstable. Russia is like being under tranquilizers. Everybody knows it is better to be in the state of anabiosis right now, as far as protests are concerned. This will end with some non-political incident - when the police do something terrible. Now the authorities are turning Russia into a field of triggers for more severe conflicts than before.
"Yekaterinburg has once again proved to be one of the freest cities in Russia"
Yulia Galyamina, politician:
- Roizman's criminal case is yet another example of how the authorities are encroaching on the public's liberties and the freedom of speech. However, the civil society in Yekaterinburg has managed to achieve two things: he has not been transferred to Moscow, and he has not been detained in a pre-trial prison. A rather mild preventive restriction is administered because the civil society has come out to his support.
Not that this is anything new for Yekaterinburg. It has always been quite an independent city. Until recently, people were taking part in various rallies and pickets. And Yekaterinburg once again proved that it is one of the freest cities in Russia.
I don't think that the rallies [in support of] Roizman will grow into mass protests, because the regime is now quite brutal. But if the governor [Evgeny Kuyvashev] didn’t do anything to stop them, things could go out of control. At the same time, the governor behaved quite interestingly [on the day Roizman was detained, he recorded a video in which he said that his "political opponent, like any person, deserves justice and respect"]. This is the maximum he could say in this situation [before the September gubernatorial election] in support of Roizman. That's a pretty serious act for an official of his level. But I don't think that in case of mass protests, he would be able to remain this tolerant.