In Russian arctic, campaigner Navalny’s candidacy crushed
This content was published on September 1, 2021 – 6:09 AM
By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW (Reuters) – First, leaflets in his stairwell accusing him of encouraging children to become gay. Then his office was vandalized and his windows were torn down. And after that, she was taken to hospital for COVID-19 treatment which she said she didn’t need or wanted.
Violetta Grudina, an opposition activist in the Russian arctic port city of Murmansk, said the intimidation started after she announced she would run for city council in local elections that are taking place. would be held in parallel with a federal parliamentary vote on September 17 and 19.
She says she does not know who placed the leaflets, shot the windows or ordered her hospitalization and prosecution, but accuses local authorities of a campaign of bashing.
She was then excluded from the poll as an ally of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny, whose movement was banned as an extremist in June.
“It was a campaign of fear, a campaign of intimidation – the public steamroller of an opposition candidate so that people would never even think of participating in politics for fear of the repressions I faced. “Grudina, 31, told Reuters.
The Kremlin declined to comment on Grudina’s claims. He denies targeting opposition politicians and says people are only brought to justice if they break the law. The local city and governor’s offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The ruling United Russia party, which backs President Vladimir Putin, is expected to retain its dominance in the election despite falling odds fueled by rising prices and stagnating or falling wages.
Grudina ran a campaign office in Murmansk for Navalny until it became clear this year that he would be banned.
Authorities have portrayed Navalny and his supporters as West-backed troublemakers determined to destabilize Russia, a charge they reject. Many of them described the bullying, but Grudina’s account points to a multi-faceted campaign.
A former LGBT activist, Grudina says she began to oppose Putin when Russia passed a law in 2013 banning “gay propaganda” to minors, a law she called discriminatory. She says neither she nor anyone else was involved in spreading “gay propaganda”.
“At first I was persecuted for my orientation, now I am persecuted for my opinions,” she said.
In April, she announced that she would run for the 28-seat council in Murmansk that approves the budget for the city, the capital of the region where the Russian Northern Fleet is based.
Defamatory leaflets appeared soon after in the mailboxes of his neighbors. Then someone sealed their office with foam and drew a swastika on it. It was then vandalized again and her office windows were shot overnight, with 11 holes visible in photographs she posted on social media.
Grudina says that afterwards, after recovering from a mild case of COVID-19 and going through a period of mandatory self-isolation, a court ordered her to be hospitalized, apparently for treatment, during the period of registration for elections.
She said the court rejected a negative test she received and ended up in hospital for almost three weeks.
She tried to register remotely and, if unsuccessful, declared a hunger strike. She was released from the hospital several days later and was officially charged with flouting COVID-19 safety rules.
Media accounts of the ongoing court case show it hinged on when and for how long she should have started self-isolating rather than evidence that she infected someone. Grudina says she followed the instructions. The hospital declined to comment.
Outside the hospital, Grudina was able to register as a candidate – but was later banned by naming Navalny’s allies as “extremists,” a decision that took effect last month.
She is inspired to continue by Navalny, who is serving a 2.5-year sentence on charges he says are trumped up after poisoning by what Western governments say is a military nerve agent.
“The dark times have started, it’s obvious,” said Grudina. “It got a lot harder to work … (but) if we give up, then what was it for?”
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn and Philippa Fletcher)