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Barbed wire and black humour: Russian activists line up for protest tattoos

Barbed wire and black humour: Russian activists line up for protest tattoos
A tattoo artist works during a ceremony opening an exhibition of drawings of prison-style tattoos by Oleg Navalny, brother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Moscow, Russia September 3, 2019. REUTERS/Polina Ivanova -
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POLINA IVANOVA(Reuters)
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By Polina Ivanova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ivan Loktev, a young Russian opposition activist, wanted a memento of a string of protests that have drawn tens of thousands to Moscow’s streets this summer, and the crackdown that ensued. So on Tuesday, he got himself tattooed.

The image, inked onto his chest, is based on a famous 1989 photograph of a Chinese protester facing down a line of tanks on Tiananmen Square. He hopes it will serve as a reminder that dozens of his peers are facing jail time for taking part in Moscow’s biggest sustained protest movement since 2011-2013.

“Today I got a tattoo of the Tank Man… (He represents) every person who tries to do something, who goes to the demonstrations,” Loktev said.

“Young people, the same age as me, who despite all the pressure… refuse to back down,” he said. “Right there in the prison cell, they are alone.”

The rallies, triggered by the authorities’ decision to bar a slew of opposition-minded candidates from running in a local election this coming Sunday in the Russian capital, have led to the brief detention of more than 2,000 people since mid-July.

The authorities say the barred candidates faked the signatures of supporters needed to take part in the vote, an allegation the disqualified candidates deny.

Courts have handed down jail terms to scores of protesters and activists, with many still awaiting trial.

A few hours before Loktev lined up in a busy art gallery to receive his tattoo, two men in their mid-20s received sentences of up to three years for using violence against police. Another received five years for a tweet.

The art gallery event was organised to raise funds for an anti-corruption group run by Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. The authorities have frozen bank accounts associated with Navalny’s foundation as part of a money laundering investigation that he says is trumped up.

The gallery exhibited drawings by the politician’s brother, Oleg Navalny, produced during a three-and-a-half year prison sentence he served that supporters say was also politically-motivated.

Loktev’s tattoo was one of his designs, in which barbed wire, black humour and political messages abound.

THIS IS MINE

For Pavel Akimov, 29, one of the exhibition’s organisers, getting a tattoo was a way to assert his freedom at a time when he said his political rights felt increasingly constrained.

“You mark a boundary on your own skin: that’s it, (the state) can’t go any further. This is mine,” he said, while a design was inked on his calf.

Akimov said he had helped one of the opposition candidates hoping to run in Moscow’s election collect the signatures she needed to be eligible for the ballot.

When authorities said the signatures were fake and disqualified his candidate, Akimov decided to march.

Lyubov Sobol, 31, a prominent protest leader, who has been detained several times this summer, said the fact that the tattoos were created in prison was appropriate.

“People are being jailed who were not involved in politics before, for re-posting things on social media… The issue of prisons is seeping into young people’s popular culture,” she said.

Another attendee, Natalya, said it was symbolic that the exhibition capped off a day that saw several young people go on trial.

Under a drawing of a person holding a balloon, her tattoo said: ‘I want everyone to get off everybody else’s back’

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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