Thousands of Russians, and Western diplomats, gathered in central Moscow on Saturday in memory of opponent Boris Nemtsov, one of the main detractors of President Vladimir Putin until his assassination six years ago.
On the anniversary of his death, marked as Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny has just been transferred to a penal colony, the United States has said it is “deeply concerned” by “growing intolerance” of Russia towards freedom of expression.
Boris Nemtsov, who played an important role in the opposition to Vladimir Putin and had been Deputy Prime Minister during the time of President Boris Yeltsin, was shot dead with four bullets fired at close range on a bridge a stone’s throw from the Kremlin, February 27, 2015.
From the morning, a continuous stream of Russian citizens, and Western diplomats, laid flowers on the makeshift memorial erected in memory of Boris Nemtsov at the scene of his death, regularly dismantled by the authorities.
“We come together this day every year at this place to show the power that we have not forgotten and will not forget. Boris’s memory will not be erased, ”the opponent and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kassianov told reporters.
“I am sure that what Boris fought for, the freedom of the Russians, their well-being and a dignified life, will soon come true,” he added, praising “his contribution in the liberation of the Russians from this oppression and of this totalitarianism which has followed us since the Soviet times ”.
The anniversary of Nemtsov’s death is usually marked by an opposition march through central Moscow, but it was decided this year to only visit the memorial due to health restrictions due to the pandemic.
According to the NGO Compteur Blanc, which specializes in monitoring demonstrations, around 7,800 people took part in the rally at 5.30 p.m. (2.30 p.m. GMT).
“We must keep the memory of this great crime against democracy and Russian civil society,” participant Mikhail, a 21-year-old student, told AFP.
“He was telling the truth and for that, in our country, we murder,” said Irina Drozdova, a 44-year-old lawyer.
Alexeï Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaïa, was also there, with a bouquet of red carnations. Wreaths were also laid by the ambassadors of the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom, among other Western representatives.
” An inspiration ”
“Nemtsov still sets an example for those who are not indifferent to freedom, human rights and democracy,” tweeted the EU representation in Russia.
“He remains an inspiration for many who aspire to justice, transparency, freedom”, added the spokeswoman for the American embassy in Moscow, Rebecca Ross, also on Twitter.
In a separate statement, the head of US diplomacy, Antony Blinken, praised the memory of an opponent who “devoted his life to building a free and democratic Russia.”
“Those who defend their freedoms and democracy in Russia continue to be the target of attacks and assassinations,” he further denounced, adding: “We remain deeply concerned by the growing intolerance of the Russian government towards any form of independent expression ”.
In July 2017, five men from the Chechen and Ingushetian republics in the Russian Caucasus were sentenced for the murder to terms of 11 to 20 years in prison.
The family of Boris Nemtsov, however, denounced a “total fiasco” of Russian justice which did not identify the real sponsor.
More than five years after the death of Nemtsov, Alexeï Navalny was the victim of a poisoning of which he accuses the Kremlin which, for his part, denies any involvement.
After five months of recovery in Germany, the 44-year-old opponent was arrested in January upon his return to Russia. His arrest sparked major protests in Russia, to which authorities responded with more than 11,000 arrests, usually followed by fines and short prison terms.
Sentenced to two and a half years of detention for a fraud case of which he denounces the political motivations, he was transferred to a penal colony.
The European Union decided last week to sanction four senior Russian officials responsible for the treatment inflicted on the opponent.