“I Did Not See Police Brutality”: Human Rights Defender Eva Bartlett on Opposition Demonstrations in Moscow

The independent Canadian journalist and human rights defender Eva Bartlett, who attended a sanctioned rally on Akademika Sakharova Avenue in Moscow on August 10th, told RT about her impressions and compared the demonstrations in Russia to protests in Venezuela, Canada, and the Gaza Strip. According to her, she was surprised by the fact that many young people who came to the rally were completely indifferent to what was happening. Bartlett did not agree with the Western media in assessing the police’s actions during the detention of protesters. In France or America, protesters face much more toughness, she stressed. In addition, the human rights defender noted clear shenanigans in the coverage of events in the Russian capital by overseas journalists.

You were present at the protest action on Sakharova Avenue – if I am not mistaken, the largest one in the last nine years. Your comments?

“I was interested to see what would happen at Saturday’s event. I came across reports – mostly Western but also some in Russian media too – about the overly harsh police actions against peaceful protesters. I wanted to find out what the situation was: if the police act harshly – under what circumstances, if detained – what and how. I wanted to understand how true Western media reports are. Saturday’s action was sanctioned by the authorities. I.e., the protesters were allowed to gather in the said place – unlike a number of previous cases, which were apparently accompanied by much more numerous detentions. I arrived early, spent two or three hours there and saw that there were many people. Opposition sources report 50,000 to 60,000, and government sources report 20,000. Just how close the real figure is to the reports, I cannot say, but even assuming that there were 50,000, compared to the size of the population of Moscow (which, as far as I know, exceeds 12 million) it is not so much. In any case, I did not see police brutality during the sanctioned action or in the ensuing unauthorised action. But there were detentions – I saw them. We will talk about protests in other countries, but at those where I was present, I have seen and experienced brutality from the police and the military. In Moscow, people were mostly simply taken away. Maybe there were some cases I didn’t see, but I stayed at the scene of the second action right up until the territory was completely emptied from the protesters.”

And were you able to understand what the goal of the opposition is?

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“As far as I understand, people are unhappy that some candidates were not allowed before the mayor election…

I thought that the people I saw at the protest were pretty young.

And I was surprised that all of this youth were so interested in the issue. However, there were moments during this event when they were very active and then there were long periods when they behaved very quietly. And there was the impression that some people just didn’t know what to do there or even why they were there.

Then on Twitter I saw some messages. I don’t remember the name of this journalist, but he appears to have interviewed people at this event and asked questions about their political views, and he didn’t make any nuances…

I can’t say anything here from my experience because I don’t speak your language – but I got the impression that some people may have come there, for example, for the sake of the musical performances…”

You’ve seen a lot of opposition demonstrations around the world… How would you compare them to what was in Moscow?

“Yes, I can, for example, make comparisons with other protests I have been to: in Caracas in Venezuela, in Toronto in Canada, and in the Gaza Strip in Palestine. As for Caracas, here we can make a comparison in terms of atmosphere. I was at two pro-government demonstrations. I tried to attend opposition rallies – but they never took place. Although I tried very hard to get to them… But as for pro-government demonstrations – they took place very actively, happily… The people I spoke to on the streets had very nuanced views that they articulated well – what they were defending, why they were here.

During the protest last Saturday, I did not have such an impression.

As for the protests in the Gaza Strip and also in Bilin, in Palestine – I have visited more than 10 protests there. I know that the Israeli army showed unacceptable violence against protesters. In the village of Bilin, high-speed tear gas shells were fired at Palestinians, killing and injuring people. And in the Gaza Strip (I say from my own experience, I have been there for three years), live ammunition is fired immediately. I was at a number of protests in the Gaza Strip where Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition at young men and women.

And while many people like me have recorded events and written about them, I don’t remember Western media talking with anger about the brutality of the Israeli army. But now we hear resentment about detentions or violent measures of a completely disparate level. Although, again, I personally saw no violence here.

To talk about comparisons, protesters in Palestine face brutality from the Israeli army; protesters in France from French law enforcement and security bodies; the same in Canada and America; but somehow (I say it more rhetorically) Western media sees an opportunity for itself to resent talking about the current protests in Russia and Hong Kong.

This morning I was studying a question: I was interested in how many times the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported about the protests mentioned by me in the Gaza Strip, in Russia, and in France. In the Gaza Strip protests have been taking place, apparently, since March 2018; this campaign is called ‘The Great March of Return’. And speaking about protests in France, I mean, of course, the ‘Yellow Vests’ movement, which began approximately in November 2018. While the Moscow protests, apparently, have been going on for 5 weeks? I made search queries on CBC. ‘Moscow protests’ — 467 results. ‘Yellow Vests’ (which have been going for much longer) — I received 302 results. ‘Protests in Gaza’ — 386 results. As you can see, the number of results is disproportionate. Not all results about protests in Russia were about today, some were about previous years. And still there is bias in the coverage of these protests.

I arrived to the venue of the rally in advance to arrive on time (by its beginning). Thus, I could watch the behaviour of some journalists. Law enforcement formed a cordon wall where barriers between the crowd and the scene were set up, behind the protesters there were also police officers. I saw that several journalists brought the cameras closer to the faces of the police officers. One woman methodically filmed with her phone the face of all police officers who she could only find. Other journalists took a selfie, such ‘trophy photos’ with police officers.

I noticed that the protest was filmed in such a way that the backs of the police were in the frame. It may be an artistic thing, but it seemed to me that in this way journalists set the tone of their reports. Namely, these people are innocent and these people are cruel. In fact, that’s all you need to know. I felt this way. I saw a journalist try to provoke police officers, but they didn’t react. It annoyed her and she left.

I got the impression that the production of the frame really played a big role.

Going back to CBC… One of the actions within the framework of that rally was sanctioned and the other was not. At the time, I was not aware, but some of the opposition supporters suggested that the participants should, say, ‘walk’ after the sanctioned rally, although they did not have permission to hold this march (in front of the presidential administration). Meanwhile, this is how this part of the action was presented in the news – they say that the protesters were ‘just walking’. I didn’t know then that the sanctioned rally would have a continuation, I just saw the march and out of curiosity followed its participants to the square they literally filled. People shouted slogans, still holding posters.

Two journalists from CBC attended the events. We argued with one of them on Twitter. She insisted it was a simple walk, that she didn’t see any posters, didn’t hear any slogans. And here starts the most interesting thing. I decided to look for some videos to confirm my words, because there were many journalists on the scene. I discovered a video of her colleague – who was standing right next to her – during an interview saying he saw a protester being detained with a poster in his hands. Apparently, she lied. I believe that she did so with the intention of presenting everything as if innocent and civilians simply walking down the street were being detained by aggressive law enforcement officers, whose photographs had already been shown to you, preparing you for such a development.

The media covers protests exclusively in Moscow. In addition, in many cases journalists submit material according to predetermined rhetoric. It seems that people reasonably want this particular problem solved. At the same time, it is likely that this issue is manipulated by external forces with the consistent goal for the United States and its allies: to tarnish Russia.”


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