Russian police arbitrarily detained hundreds of protesters, including "older people and children,' taking part in September 9 peaceful demonstrations against the government's plan to raise the retirement age, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
In a statement issued on September 13, the New York-based rights group said the police kicked peaceful protesters and beat them with truncheons. HRW said it interviewed five people arrested during the protests in St. Petersburg, including a 16-year-old boy and an 80-year old man.
"The government's strong-arm response is a warning to Russians that the government doesn't want them to protest plans for the pension system, or to protest anything else," Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.
"Nevertheless, people have a right to express their views about pension reform, which will have direct, personal impact, or any other issue of public interest, including by peacefully taking to the streets to do so," he added.
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Footage of the rallies showed police officers sometimes using force to disperse gatherings, hitting demonstrators with batons and dragging them away. Pictures of the police manhandling young people went viral on social media.
Amnesty International said on September 10 that Russian police "stooped to a new low' by detaining 'dozens of teenagers' during peaceful protests against the government's plan to raise the pension age.
Earlier this week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov defended the police's actions and said the officers acted 'in strict accordance with the law,' adding that some of them were attacked by 'hooligans and provocateurs.'
The rallies against the pension-reform plan were announced last month by opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, who is currently serving a 30-day jail sentence for what authorities call violations of the law on public gatherings related to street rallies in January.
At least 1,018 demonstrators were detained at protests in 33 towns and cities, according to OVD-Info, an independent group that monitors the police response to protests.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, TASS, Current Time TV, and Dozhd TV
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