Don’t Be Alarmed: This ‘Red Button’ Is Meant to Help Russians

“Red Button.” Screenshot from app's official website.

A new mobile app for protesters in Russia called “Red Button” went live for the first time in late April. The app became available just in time for anti-Putin demonstrations on April 29, organized by the “Open Russia” movement, whose sister organizations in Britain were recently outlawed by the Russian Justice Ministry.

By connecting detainees with friends, family, and human rights organizations more quickly than ever, Red Button hopes to provide protesters with greater protection from illegal arrests and penalties.

Created by developer Alexander Litreev, the software allows users to report the time and place of their arrest, and it then automatically identifies the police station where that person is formally booked. Users can pre-select friends and family, who are instantly notified of the incident and the location of the police station, and the app also reports the arrest to human rights organizations, such as app partner OVD Info, which can provide individuals with legal assistance.

On Twitter, Red Button also broadcasts the locations of mass arrests during major demonstrations, allowing other protesters to avoid potential “hotspots.”

Russia, St. Petersburg, Kronversky prospekt — mass detentions.

In a blog post on Telegram, Litreev said he wants Red Button to become an “all-Russian system for monitoring illegal arrests” and a service to make sure protesters are not “left one-on-one with the arbitrariness and lawlessness of law enforcement agencies.”

As political protests seem to be returning to public life in Russia, the app’s timing is excellent, and it acquired more than 4,000 users on iOS and Android in just the first few days after it launched.

During anti-Putin protests on April 29, Red Button announced the first arrests at a demonstration in Kemerovo, where at least 13 people were detained. The rallies were not as large or widespread as a nationwide protest campaign organized by Alexei Navalny in March, but the day’s rallies did prove to be a good staging grounds for Red Button.

According to the website Meduza, several protests across the country were peaceful and without incident, for example in Novosibirsk and Ufa, but police in St. Petersburg detained upwards of 50 people.

On April 29, Red Button also had a chance to test out its security measures, and Litreev reported that the app’s algorithm rejected more than 270 false alarms.

Litreev says a better refined version of the app is coming, ahead of mass rallies in June planned by Alexei Navalny, who hopes to repeat his success from March with nationwide demonstrations on Russia Day.

This Wednesday, May 3, a Russian appellate court rejected Navalny’s challenge to a felony conviction in an embezzlement case, effectively barring him from running for elected office. Navalny says he is pressing on with his presidential campaign, however, arguing that federal laws prohibiting his candidacy are unconstitutional.

It’s a good bet that he’ll plan more mass demonstrations after June, and time will tell just how many of his supporters will need to push the red button.

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