Pavel Chikov: 'An Exemplary Sentence: who will be put in prison for peaceful protest?'

posted 14 Dec 2015, 01:15 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Dec 2015, 05:08 ]
11 December 2015

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source Forbes]

This is a short extract from Pavel Chikov, 'Pokazatelnyi prigovor: kogo budut sazhat' v tiurmu za mirnyi protest,' Moscow Helsinki Group [original: Forbes], 11 December 2015  

Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group and member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, writes:

Activist Ildar Darin has become the first person to be sentenced under the new article on violations of the law on public assembly. This may be the start of a ‘conveyor belt’ of repression.

On 7 December, a court in Moscow found Ildar Dadin, a 31-year-old former employee of a private security company, guilty of repeated violations of the law governing public events and sentenced him to three years in prison. […] In practice, of course, the investigation in this political case, intended to set an example, was micro-managed and the sentence he was given came directly from above. […]

It’s worth remembering that ten years ago peaceful protest did not arouse a sharp reaction from the authorities. The first time the police reacted harshly was at the Russian Social Forum, which gathered together left-wingers and anti-globalists in St Petersburg in 2006. That was when police officers started rounding up participants on their way to the event, picking them off trains on the basis of intelligence. Systematic attempts to counteract peaceful assemblies by means of detentions and arrests began in reaction to the setting up of the ‘Other Russia’ coalition and the subsequent ‘Dissenters’ Marches’ of 2007-2008. Mass punishments began with minor fines up to 1000 roubles for breaking the law on protests and charges of disobeying police instructions, for which the punishment was up to two weeks in jail.

Until the Bolotnaya case in May 2012, detention for up to two weeks was a very effective measure against the great majority of protesters.

In 2012, changes were made to the Administrative Offences Code, increasing fines for breaking the law on protests from 1,000 to 20,000 roubles, and fining organisers up to 30,000 roubles. The year after these changes were introduced it was clear that judges did not tend to detain people any more, but instead as a rule issued fines of at least 10,000 roubles. In combination with other factors, this measure led to a sharp fall in both the number of protests and the number of people attending them across the country as a whole, although protests did not completely disappear.

Finally, since the summer of last year, participating in public events has been liable to lead to an actual prison sentence. Behaviour which did not arouse any response on the part of the authorities ten years ago and, indeed, was generally not even considered to be breaking the law, now leads to three years in prison.

This first trial has shown that the penalty for participating in public protest has become prohibitive and clearly unjust. The government’s actions are increasingly losing legitimacy in the eyes of those against whom they are directed. Protesters, in turn, are winning moral support, sympathy and solidarity, at least among a specific section of the population: the 150,000-200,000 who took part in the rally on Prospect Sakharov in December 2011.

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts