By Agence France-Presse
Russian prosecutors sought to strip a couple of parental rights on Tuesday after they brought their baby to a rally, as the authorities pressed ahead with a crackdown on the opposition.
Over the past few weeks, thousands of Muscovites have taken part in protests against the exclusion of popular opposition politicians from Moscow’s parliament elections in September.
The authorities have retaliated with a crackdown, opening a probe into “mass unrest” and making nearly 2,400 arrests at two recent unauthorised rallies.
The prosecutor’s office for Moscow said Tuesday it had petitioned a court to strip a couple who had brought their one-year-old boy to an unauthorised gathering on July 27 of parental rights.
“During the rally the parents handed their young child, who was in a helpless state due to his age, to a third person thus endangering the boy’s health and life,” the prosecutor’s office said.
“By exploiting the child, the parents abused their parental rights.”
The prosecutors said they were probing other cases that saw parents bring their young babies and minors to the unauthorised opposition rallies.
On Monday, the Investigative Committee said it had put out a search warrant for an opposition activist who had taken part in the July 27 rally.
Citing what it said were “open sources,” the Investigative Committee said the activist, Sergei Fomin, had fled law enforcement agents by walking through a cordon while holding somebody else’s baby.
He and a number of other people face up to eight years in prison for taking part in “mass unrest”, if convicted.
The father of the child, Dmitri Prokazov, however told reporters later Tuesday before speaking to investigators that Fomin was in fact his “best friend, a friend since childhood… the godfather of my eldest son and a cousin of my wife”.
Prokazov said they were leaving the protest together when he gave Fomin the child.
The couple’s lawyer, Maxime Pachkov, later told the TASS news agency that the Investigative Committee had nothing to investigate once the close relationship between the two men had been established.
But Pachkov said that for the moment the probe had not been closed and that “investigations to determine the exact circumstances of the case are in progress”.
The opposition accuses the authorities of unleashing a campaign of “political terror” to crush a new wave of protests.
Yevgeny Bunimovich, the children’s rights ombudsman for Moscow said that using children in this fashion so as to “blackmail” protesters was unacceptable.
“In my opinion, such things could not be grounds for stripping anyone of parental rights,” Bunimovich said on Echo of Moscow radio.
“This is completely unacceptable. A line has been crossed.”
Mikhail Fedotov, the Kremlin-friendly head of the Russian Human Rights Council, said the move would create a dangerous precedent.
The opposition accuses the authoritie