13:00, August 06 141 0 theguardian.com

2019-08-06 13:00:08
Couple face losing son after bringing him to unsanctioned rally

Russian prosecutors are seeking to take an infant son away from his parents after they brought him to an unsanctioned opposition rally last week.

The extraordinary request could mark a new tactic in Moscow’s attempts to quash recent political protests that have seen more than 2,000 people detained, including dozens of underage protesters.

Prosecutors on Tuesday said they asked a court to relieve a Moscow couple of their parental rights because they had given the child to another protester, who had “put the child’s health and life in danger”.

The father, Dmitry Prokazov, told the Russian service of RFE/RL he was “absolutely innocent” and had given the child to a friend (and relative of the child’s mother) as they left the protest. Prokazov said that investigators searched his house after video of the handoff was broadcast on television. The couple was summoned for questioning on Tuesday.

The friend, an activist named Sergei Fomin, is currently being sought by police as part of an investigation into “mass unrest” during a July 27 protest, and faces up to eight years in prison under the charges.

No video has been released showing Fomin endangering the child.

Yulia Gorbunova, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the move to relieve the couple of their parental rights appeared to be an “intimidation tactic and was meant to instil fear.”

Some officials have also spoken out against the request.

“It’s unacceptable to use children for blackmail in any political situation,” Moscow’s commissioner for children’s rights, Yevgeny Bunimovich, told the Interfax news service.

Russia’s opposition have held large protests for the last two weekends after independent candidates were disbarred from an election to Moscow’s municipal legislature.

The protests have beenforcibly dispersed by police, who have arrested more than 1,000 protesters at each rally. Videos from last week’s protest also showed police beating prone demonstrators with batons.

The police have also heightened security measures during recent protests, shutting off the internet throughout downtown Moscow and wearing balaclavas to avoid being identified.

Many protesters have attended with children. One father who attended the protests with his two school-aged daughters this week told the Guardian he brought them because “it’s important to show we are not afraid.” He declined to be identified.

Russian authorities have sought to prevent children from attending unsanctioned protests, passing new legislation in December that makes it illegal to entice minors to attend the rallies. Critics say the law is vague and can be selectively enforced.