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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Silent Rally With Ready-Made Signs

MTPolice officers in flak jackets walking by a silent anti-Khodorkovsky demonstration of about 100 people outside the Meshchansky District Court on Tuesday.
No horn tooting, no flags, no hip-hop music.

Some 100 people stood silently near the Meshchansky District Court, holding nearly identical posters that denounced Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky and called on the state to seize the rest of his riches. They said a man in a suit had handed out the posters as they gathered on the sidewalk at about 9 a.m.

About 300 Khodorkovsky supporters had noisily protested outside the court Monday as judges inside started reading their verdict in the state's case against the businessman. Police forcefully broke up that rally and detained a couple dozen people.

Security was drastically beefed up Tuesday, and police tried to prevent Khodorkovsky supporters from rallying.

Some 500 police officers were on patrol, and Interior Ministry troops marched up and down the street alongside metal barriers set up to block off the sidewalks. A fire truck and more than a dozen police buses were parked around the courthouse. Metal detectors were set up on both sides of the street, and passing cars were stopped for inspection. Cellphones were jammed while the court was in session.

Yabloko deputy head Sergei Mitrokhin, who was among the protesters detained Monday, said members of the anti-Khodorkovsky rally had been seen leaving the Federal Security Service's headquarters on Lubyanskaya Ploshchad earlier Tuesday -- suggesting that the rally had been organized by the state, Interfax reported.

Demonstrators denied that they had been paid, but several acknowledged that they were following orders.

"Somebody brought in the signs. I liked this one and picked it up," said a pensioner who gave only her first name, Yekaterina. "When they say it's time to leave, I'll go."

She and other demonstrators refused to say who had told them to protest.

"We were just passing by and were asked to hold this sign," said a 19-year-old student who held a poster reading, "Khodorkovsky is your wealth and our poverty." Beside him stood a 19-year-old friend.

"Well, we'll be passing by again tomorrow if they tell us to," he said.

A 24-year-old woman who said she worked for a federal agency but was on maternity leave expressed some confusion about what she was supposed to be protesting. "He owes money to all of us. Why? I don't know," she said. "I would like to believe that this is just the beginning and that more will follow."

Only one person, an elderly woman, appeared to be carrying a homemade sign. The other signs read, "Putin, protect us from Khodorkovsky," "We want to live in a country without thieves" and "Khodorkovsky return our money."

Despite police efforts to keep away Khodorkovsky supporters, a group of about 20 banded together for a hastily organized rally some 200 meters away from the courthouse at 1:30 p.m.

"When we arrived, the police asked us whether we were for or against Khodorkovsky. We said that we support him and were waved away," said Marina Bondareva, a pensioner.

"This is the kind of democracy we get. It's a shame that this is not Georgia," she added.

The protesters started chanting "Freedom to Khodorkovsky," and television cameramen, clearly bored with the larger rally, began moving toward them. Almost immediately, a van carrying OMON riot police pulled up, and OMON officers barked through a bullhorn for the protesters to leave. When they refused, officers pushed about half of them into the van. It was not immediately clear where they were taken.


Vladimir Filonov / MT

OMON police officers forcing Khodorkovsky supporters into a van outside the Meshchansky District Court on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Yabloko spokesman Sergei Kazakov said all of the protesters detained Monday were freed by the Meshchansky court on Tuesday. "A judge came out, then she left, and when she returned an hour later she said that she did not have their cases and everyone was free to go," Kazakov said, Interfax reported.

Outside the court, a group of men in their late 20s wearing suits and tracksuits watched the anti-Khodorkovsky rally from a few meters away. Two of them -- wearing nearly identical dark green suits and black shoes -- said they had come to "enjoy the scenery."

"You would not see scenery like this anywhere else," said one, who was holding a bunch of rolled-up business newspapers. He refused to identify himself or say where he worked.

Asked whether he had anything against Khodorkovsky, he replied: "If this was in the United States, it would be one thing, but here he broke the rules of the game. In Russia, there are rules of the game, not laws."

The young men in tracksuits collected posters when demonstrators dispersed after the court session ended at 2 p.m. They rolled up the posters and stashed them in the courtyard of a building next door.

Many of the demonstrators boarded waiting vans. "You know, we were made to come here," a student whispered as he passed a reporter.