Looking more like a dictatorship than a free country, Russian police stormed the homes of key opposition leaders last night, placing several under virtual house arrest as their homes were torn apart by investigators.
Police raided the homes of Alexei Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov, Ilya Yashin and television personality Ksenia Sobchak, taking computers, cell phones and files as evidence. Ironically many of the investigators wore masks to hide their identity from public. The new anti-rally law signed into law on Friday makes it a criminal offense for opposition members to wear masks in public.
After Russian investigators searched opposition leaders apartments, the leaders were summoned in for questioning today making it impossible to lead today’s large rally against the increasingly authoritarian Putin government. The rally is planned for today as part of the “Day of Russia” national holiday.
President Putin seems unwilling to tolerate the peaceful protests that have drawn tens of thousands of people onto the streets in major Russian cities since the flawed Duma elections in December. On Friday Putin signed a law to raise fines on those who take part in unauthorized protests.
Today’s protest has city approval, but police can use any number of actions during a rally as a pretext to arrest citizens. The Associated Press reported that the top Twitter hashtag in Russia on Monday was “Welcome to the Year ’37,” a reference to the height of the purges under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
The Kremlin is hoping that the tough new law will cause young and middle age white-collar professionals to stay away from protests.