Written by Rehmat Kaur, a grade 9 student.
Nearly 50,000 people gathered to protest on 18th July 2020 in the city of Khabarovsk located in the Russian Far East. The protests, which had been going on for over a week, were against the arrest of Sergei Furgal. Furgal, who served as the Governor of Khabarovsk Krai in Russia, was arrested by Russian authorities on 9th July 2020. Although authorities attempted to prevent large-scale gatherings for fear of spreading COVID-19, thousands of people gathered in the streets, waving banners with anti-Putin slogans and demanding Furgal’s release.
Sergei Furgal became the Governor of Khabarovsk Krai in 2018, after defeating Vyacheslav Shport in an unforeseen victory. Shport, who is a member of the same party as Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, was expected to win the elections. However, Furgal won by a considerable margin and became a popular leader in the region. He was considered ‘the people’s governor’ as he reflected their opinion and delivered his promises to the people. He reduced his salary and decreased airfare in certain areas. Furgal was arrested in July 2020 on the charge of being involved in the murder of several businessmen in 2004 and 2005.
The citizens of the Russian Far East are now protesting Furgal’s arrest and his detainment in Russia’s capital, Moscow. They are saying that Furgal deserves a fair trial in his home territory, Khabarovsk. People are also protesting that the Russian authorities should have arrested Furgal when the murders were committed 15 years ago, and have no reason to suspect his involvement now. Furgal has pleaded ‘not guilty’ to all charges, but he may be sentenced to life imprisonment if found guilty.
Citizens at the protest spoke up against President Vladimir Putin. The ruling party in Russia at the moment is United Russia, whereas Furgal is a member of the Liberalist Democratic Party. Protestors believe that Furgal’s arrest was a political move to eliminate any challenges posed to Putin’s rule. Putin recently received enough votes to make constitutional reforms that will allow him to stay in power till 2036. According to the present law, he would have had to step down in the next Russian elections in 2024, but these amendments will extend his rule and increase his power.
People are saying that by detaining their elected leader, the Kremlin (the Russian seat of power) is taking away their freedom. Anti-Putin sentiment has gained momentum, and Putin’s popularity rating is lower than ever. People continue to resent the Kremlin’s policies and have expressed their discontentment with the way they are being treated. This rare show of resistance on behalf of the citizens has not received much opposition from the Kremlin in Moscow, and people continue to wonder what these mass protests mean for Putin’s future. For the time being, Putin has replaced Sergei Furgal with Mikhail Degtyaryov, a decision which has further decreased his popularity with the people. The citizens of Khabarovsk wanted someone local to replace Furgal, and Degtyaryov has no connection to the region whatsoever. As protests demanding Putin to resign continue across Khabarovsk, it remains to be seen whether this movement of resistance will spread across the rest of the vast country.