Police clash with protesters in Moscow after the contentious referendum result (Twitter/@mjluxmoore)
More than 140 Russians have been arrested for protesting a series of constitutional changes that will allow Vladimir Putin to remain in power for another 16 years.
The open democracy monitor OVD-Info reported that at least 142 people were detained in police vans at protests in Moscow’s Pushkin Square on Wednesday (July 15). An AFP journalist was also briefly detained.
About 500 demonstrators, many of whom wore face masks branded with the word “no”, chanted calls for Putin to resign and held up banners against the reforms.
As well as extending the limits of Putin’s presidential term, the constitutional amendments included a provision defining marriage solely as a “union between a man and a woman”. Adoptions by same-sex parents are also banned on this basis, including in cases of transgender people.
The move is largely symbolic given that gay weddings and same-sex adoptions were already banned in Russia and are extremely unlikely to be legalised — but writing the measure into the constitution further entrenches the country’s anti-LGBT+ beliefs into law, and makes it almost impossible for any future reforms to happen.
It also means that marriages registered abroad, which were previously recognised by Russia, will no longer be valid.
Violent arrests have begun in central Moscow, in the aftermath of a peaceful protest. This is Petrovka Street mins ago. pic.twitter.com/zGZnbOGOcG
— Matthew Luxmoore (@mjluxmoore) July 15, 2020
Large protests in Moscow today chanting “Putin’s a thief!” and “Putin resign!”
— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) July 15, 2020
Several protestors passed a petition to lodge a class action lawsuit against the Kremlin. They quickly gathered so many signatures they reportedly had to pause as they ran out of paper.
One fourteen-year old protester named Vasilisa told Reuters she signed the petition because Putin “is to blame for the poverty in our country”.
“Gay people are killed here, women are beaten up here, and no one is ever held accountable,” she said.
Despite the unrest in the capital, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the vote “a triumphal referendum on confidence in president Putin”.
But foreign commentators have noted that the vote was nothing more than an “elaborate spectacle” of public affirmation as Putin already had the necessary approval from parliament, regional governments, and the courts.
In fact, not only had the constitutional amendments already been enacted, the newly-amended constitution had actually been printed and sent to bookstores for sale – before the vote even happened.