Police presence at the peaceful “Voter’s Strike” rally in Tula, Russia on January 28, 2018. At time of photo, approximately 25 people were participating, although the rally had not been given official permission from authorities.

© 2018 Alexander Hotz

When Russian authorities barred opposition figure Alexei Navalny from running for president, his supporters organized nationwide “Voter’s Strike” rallies in protest. Many Russian municipalities rejected requests to hold the January 28 rallies, and police raided several Navalny campaign officesa pattern we have seen emerge over the past year.

In Tula, a city about 200 kilometers south of Moscow, police took their quest to block protests an extra, frightening step further – by making door-to-door visits to people who said they planned to attend on social media.

Kirill, 34, told me that as his wife was leaving their apartment with their child, police approached her and tried to get her to sign a statement on Kirill’s behalf, which said he had been informed that the upcoming protest was “unauthorized.” The officer later warned Kirill by phone that he would face sanctions for participating in the protest. Kirill ignored the warning.

Dmitry, 25, said that police came looking for him at his mother’s home. He then contacted the police, and they said they were visiting young people who planned to attend the “unapproved” protest. “You have been warned,” the officer said. Dmitry did not make it to the protest.

Yelena, 29, said that police showed up at the home of her 63-year-old mother, Ludmila, demanding she sign a statement that her daughter would not attend the protest. According to Ludmila, the visit was “frightening” and brought back memories, “from the [Soviet] past.” Yelena did not attend the protest.

Twenty-year-old Evgeniya said police came to her parent’s home asking for her, then told her that she would face “problems” if she attended the protest. Evgeniya was also warned by an official at her college that she could be expelled for attending the protest. She learned that other classmates received similar messages. Evgeniya stayed home from the protest.

According to the online portal OVD-Info, police detained 16 people at Sunday’s protest in Tula. Some were released without charge. Others have their court hearings pending or have been already sentenced to 15 days of detention and 40 hours of community service for violating regulations on public gatherings.

Freedom of assembly is enshrined in Russian law and international human rights law. Russians should be able to protest peacefully and not fear harassment from the police at their homes.