MOSCOW: Anti-Kremlin protesters who run the regular risk of being detained by the police are being given a helping hand: A smartphone app that allows them to instantly inform others where and when they have been arrested.
Russia faces a presidential election next year, which Vladimir Putin is expected to contest, and was last month shaken by large anti-government protests. More are planned.
The result of a collaboration between a Russian firm, a human rights group and an opposition movement, the notification system, called Red Button, automatically transmits the location and emergency contact details of a detained protester.
That, says its St Petersburg-based developer Alexander Litreev, should allow others to act quickly to help free them as it will include details of the police station where the individual is being held.
"Using this information, human rights defenders can help this person in some way, like sending him a lawyer," Litreev told Reuters in an interview.
"When I see that people are being detained and experiencing violence at the hands of the authorities, and people can't do anything about it, I think this must be fought against," he said.
Litreev said he sympathised with the country's liberal opposition and sometimes attended protests himself.
President Vladimir Putin remains by far the most popular politician in Russia, but opponents argue he keeps a check on dissent through control of the media, especially television, and limiting protest.
In developing the app, he partnered with the Open Russia foundation, founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and OVD-Info, a human rights organisation that monitors detentions.
The app will also allow observers to track how protests unfold as it is linked to a special Twitter page that will generate maps and notifications.
It is currently available for devices on iOS and Android and, according to Litreev, some 4,000 users have already downloaded the app, which is free. A version for Windows will launch in the summer.
The alert system is due to go live on April 29 – the day when Open Russia has called for nationwide demonstrations against the government. Another protest, organised by opposition politician Alexei Navalny, is scheduled for June 12. — Reuters
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