Lev Ponomarev: Stop the return to Soviet-era repression

posted 15 Feb 2015, 13:47 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Feb 2015, 13:48 ]
4 February 2015 

By Lev Ponomarev, executive director of For Human Rights, member of Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group

The new article of the criminal code (Article 212.1), introduced by Federal law on 21 July 2014, marks a new, open stage in repression measures by the authorities against dissidents.

In simple words, if you were prosecuted for an administrative offence under Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code (and in current legal realities this means you stood with a placard, or even stood without a placard in silence, or walked silently along a street, or came out of a metro station – in a word, for doing anything at all you can be found guilty under this article, if the police are looking to catch dissidents where you happen to be). If this happened more than three times in six months, then you are a very definite candidate for criminal prosecution under the new Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code.

I have been detained like this many times. Police officers suddenly threw themselves at me and detained me, without saying anything, their teeth clenched, just as I was giving an interview, or while I stood surrounded by people who share my views, or simply walking along the street (that’s how it was the last time, on 30 December 2014). And in the upshot the court ruled that I was guilty on the basis of a police report that I had held up the traffic, or shouted slogans, or resisted the police. And these were always lies. But all evidence of my innocence was dismissed by the court.

This mechanism has been refined to perfection over recent years in the making of thousands of administrative arrests.

Here is the language of Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation:

Article 212.1: “Violation on more than one occasion of the procedures for organizing or holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, march or picket.

Violation of the procedures for organizing or holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, march or picket, if this action was committed more than once, is punishable by a fine from 600,000 roubles to 1,000,000 roubles, or the value of the salary or other income of the convicted person for a period of from two to three years, or compulsory public work for a period up to 480 hours, or corrective labour for a period of from one year to two years, or compulsory work for a period of up to five years, or imprisonment for the same period.

Note. A violation of the established procedures for organizing or holding a meeting, a rally, a demonstration, a march or a picket, committed by a person on more than one occasion, is recognized as a violation of the established procedures for organizing or holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, march or picket if this person had already been found liable under administrative law of committing offences under Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation on more than two occasions over the course of 10 days.”

This is a new stage in the development of politically repressive measures, where formerly criminal cases were fabricated for retribution against undesirable people — in other words, a person was alleged to have done something that in fact they did not do. This is the way that the ‘Prisoners of 6 May’ were convicted – for taking part in a riot, when in fact there was no riot at all.

Now, to make the procedure simpler, the authorities have passed a law allowing them to quite simply convict people of a criminal offence for expressing their opinion. We are seeing a return to the old chekist methods of the Soviet era. It is enough to recall the notorious ‘family’ of the ‘No. 58’ articles of the Criminal Code of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic that provided for criminal liability for various kinds of so-called ‘anti-Soviet activity’.

Criminal prosecution for one’s beliefs directly contradicts the rights, guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, of freedom of thought and expression (Article 29), freedom of assembly (Article 31), and others, and also contradicts the spirit of the Constitution: ‘The individual, the rights and freedoms of the individual, are the highest value. The recognition, observance and protection of the rights and freedoms of the individual and citizen are the obligation of the state’ (Article 2, Constitution of the Russian Federation).

Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code is also anti-constitutional because it provides for liability for actions for which a person has already been punished under the Administrative Code. This is directly forbidden by Article 50 (Paragraph 1) of the Constitution. But this does not at all embarrass the legislative and law enforcing bodies.

The first three criminal cases have already been brought under Article 212.1. And it is evident that this is only the beginning. There are quite a number of individuals who have been detained more than three times under administrative law over the past six months, and they all now face the threat of criminal prosecution.

Civil society must carefully monitor the fates of the first people to be prosecuted under this Article, show solidarity and protect them from criminal punishment. Otherwise, as in Soviet times, it will be impossible to stop the pendulum of repression.

Who are these first victims? They are 75-year-old Vladimir Ionov, a father of four Mark Galperin, and Ildar Dadin.

These three, defending their points of view and the right to express them, time after time took to the streets where in a obviously peaceful manner, without interfering with anyone, they sought to exercise their constitutional rights: the right to freely express their opinion and the right of public assembly. Time after time they were detained by police, often with the use of physical force, and dragged them to the police station, where they often spent the night in the cells. After that, they were fined by the courts or sentenced to a short term in prison. But none of this stopped them.

That is why Ionov, Galperin and Dadin now face criminal charges for defending the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of opinion, principles that you and I share. The maximum sentence under this article of the Criminal Code is five years in prison.

Source: Ekho Moskvy