Russian prosecutors are seeking to take an infant away from his parents after they brought him to an unsanctioned opposition rally last week.
The request could mark a new tactic in Moscow’s attempts to quash recent political protests, which have led to more than 2,000 people being detained, including dozens of underage demonstrators.
Prosecutors said on Tuesday that they had asked a court to remove the parental rights of a couple from Moscow because they had given the child to another protester, who had “put the child’s health and life in danger”.
The boy’s father, Dmitry Prokazov, told the Russian service of RFE/RL that he was “absolutely innocent” and had given the child to a friend – and relative of the boy’s mother – as they left the protest. Prokazov said investigators searched his house after a video of the handover was broadcast on television. The couple were 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 protest on 27 July, and he 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 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 has held large protests for the past two weekends after independent candidates were disbarred from an election to Moscow’s municipal legislature.
The demonstrations have been forcibly dispersed by police, who have arrested more than 1,000 protesters at each rally. Videos from last week’s protest also showed officers beating prone demonstrators with batons.
Police have also heightened security measures during recent protests, shutting off the internet throughout downtown Moscow and wearing balaclavas to avoid being identified.
Many demonstrators have taken their children with them. One man who attended the protests with his two school-aged daughters this week said 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 legislation in December that makes it illegal to entice minors to attend rallies. Critics say the law is vague and can be selectively enforced.
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