August 26, 2019

Russian authorities seek to take children of stroller-pushing protesters into care
State prosecutors are seeking to take a newborn and a toddler into state custody after their parents were filmed with them at a street protest, the second such case as huge demonstrations for free elections have shaken the Russian capital this summer. Authorities have responded to the peaceful protests, which were sparked by the disqualification of independent candidates from September's city council elections on technicalities, by bringing criminal cases and other forms of pressure against those filmed or arrested there.  Prosecutor Yana Starovoitova filed a complaint to strip Pyotr and Yelena Khomsky of their parental rights, alleging that they brought their three-month-old and three-year-old daughters to a protest on August 3 “to prevent their own possible arrest by police officers”. A court will begin hearing the case next week.  The complaint reports by the REN TV channel that showed the two parents wheeling the girls in strollers away from a line of advancing riot police. The channel bizarrely claimed that the couple had “pushed law enforcement with their backs” and falsely described the father as the bodyguard of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.  Speaking with the Telegraph, Mr Khomsky denied the prosecutor's allegations and said the family had not been yelling slogans or carrying signs. Police detain a man during the July 27 protest Credit: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters “What law are we violating?” he asked. “We're endangering our kids? You're endangering our kids!” “They want to make a show trial out of us, accuse us of putting our children at risk, accuse of us of all sorts of sins and take away our kids so that others won't go to demonstrations with children,” he added. “They want to intimidate protesters.” On Wednesday, a court will hear a state prosecutor's motion to strip another couple of parental rights after they were filmed with their young child at a demonstration on July 27, even though the national children's rights ombudswoman has criticised the case.  State television accused protesters of exploiting the infant as a “human shield” after father Dmitry Prokazov was seen handing the child to his wife's cousin near police. The relative now faces up to eight years in prison on charges of participating in mass riots.  Mr Prokazov said the young family and the cousin had simply been walking in the city centre when they were caught up in a cat-and-mouse game between protesters and police, who forced crowds down various side streets and arrested more than 1,300 people.  The children's ombudswoman said she was looking into the case against the Khomskys and that taking a child away from parents should be a “last resort”. The Moscow children's rights ombudsman called the prosecutor's complaint “political blackmail”. “Only in rare cases when nothing helps does the question of removing parental rights arise. In these two cases this state policy is being completely destroyed,” Yevgeny Bunimovich told Interfax news agency. “This worries me. It's a signal for everyone. Every family will feel unsafe if these things happen.” As part of the “Moscow case” opened after the July 27 protest, a dozen people face prison time on charges of mass rioting and fighting with police, accusations that look dubious given the nonviolent nature of the demonstrations.  Opposition leader Alexei Navalny after what he said may have been a poisoning attempt in jail Credit: AFP/Getty/Navalny.com On Monday, guards refused to let press or relatives into court hearings involving a defendant charged with attacking a national guard soldier at the protests and another accused of tweeting about a movement to “de-anonymise” riot police by publishing their names and personal details.  Other people arrested at the protests have suddenly come under official scrutiny for outstanding debts or dodging Russia's universal military conscription, a widespread practice. Several independent candidates have been jailed for weeks as Moscow has seen the biggest protests since the 2011-12 movement against a fraudulent parliamentary elections and Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency.  Mr Navalny spent a month in jail and was briefly hospitalised after what he said may have been a poisoning attempt.
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