Regional elections in the provincial town of Kostroma on Sunday will be remembered for an event peculiar even by the standards of Russian elections, as police closed an opposition headquarters to search for a corpse.
At around 4 p.m., a man in black with a gun broke into the Open Elections office where opposition activists and observers were meeting with journalists. Within minutes, police cars arrived, about a dozen officials in uniforms and civilian clothes rushed into the office, and others stayed outside to form a live chain, holding hands and blocking the entrance to the building.
Inside, policemen told election observers and activists of the RPR-Parnas political party that they were there “to search a murder scene.”
“Police paralyzed our work, our room is packed with them right now. Policemen claim they are here to look for some woman’s dead body,” Maria Boronova, one of the Open Russia coordinators, told The Daily Beast in a shaking voice.
Last February, RPR-Parnas, also known as the People’s Freedom Party, saw its leader Boris Nemtsov shot dead outside the Kremlin wall. Now police came to search for a corpse on Election Day. “Whoever thought of this reason to prevent us from working was terribly cynical,” Baronova said.
Translation: Now we hang out in a smaller room. Police hurry up. Suddenly it is 20:00 on the clock.
Out of 189,000 candidates across the country running in governor and municipal elections in 85 regions including Crimea, only one candidate in Kostroma, Ilya Yashin, was openly criticizing President Vladimir Putin’s rule. Authorities refused to allow Parnas to register their candidates for elections in three other regions.
Open Elections activists posted photographs on Facebook of uniformed men with guns standing around their office with dull faces, not moving or saying much.
“When we approached the police cordon, we heard two trolls in the crowd outside yell that we were paid by the U.S. State Department, that Yashin had met with the U.S. ambassador,” one of the independent observers, Aleksei Zorkin, told The Daily Beast. “We witnessed many attacks on Parnas during the campaign, every time candidate Yashin spoke of state theft, corruption in public, somebody from the crowd would yell accusing him of working for United States,” Zorkin added.
It was not the first time police became involved in attacking opposition in Kostroma. On a recent morning, Yashin, now the chairman of Nemtsov’s party PARNAS, was campaigning on the streets when several policemen jumped on him, twisted his arms and dragged him away from his potential electorate. “The order to stop us comes directly from the Kremlin,” Yashin told The Daily Beast, soon after he was released from jail. Yashin believed that such rough detention in front of his supporters was the sign of the Kremlin’s fear before Putin’s critics.
Translation: They broke the door to the observers’ headquarters. They are looking for a corpse.
Out of the 1,500 election violations across the country tallied by the independent elections watchdog Golos more than 200 have taken place at Kostroma elections. As if ignoring the police attack on observers, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said: “The result of this campaign shows that democracy is developing in Russia.”
Yashin had received multiple life-threatening warnings, he had been detained and insulted multiple times during the election campaign, but he still believed that his job was to continue the struggle.
“No matter how much pressure authorities put on us, I will go all the way in this struggle, in memory of Boris,” he told The Daily Beast.