The Bolotnaya Trial: Not a Legal Proceeding, but an Act of Reprisal and a Mockery of Justice

21 September 2013

By Tatiana Shamsova

Natalya Nikishina, presiding judge at the trial of 12 participants in the protest rally of 6 May 2012 on Bolotnaya Square is an obvious candidate for the Magnitsky list

Disgust, indignation and helplessness were my feelings at one of the September sessions of this trial that has been going on for three months now. Judge Nikishina, arrogant to the point of impudence, reigns in the courtroom, equally demonstrating her contempt for the defendants, the defence lawyers and the members of the public. She is bored, and even playing with people's lives does not entertain her. This well-groomed lady embodies vividly the rotten Russian judicial system that gives her the right to take over the role of persecutor, thus offending the basic principle of fair trial, the equality of arms between the defence and the prosecution [See footnote 1]. Here I will give only one example of the numerous violations of trial procedure, leaving aside altogether the humiliation and poor treatment that the accused are experiencing. 

The court is hearing the testimony of a "victim ", police officer A. Gogolev, who claims that he was injured by the accused Artem Savelov while arresting him. The inflicted injury consists in "snapping Gogolev's wrist thus causing him physical pain, and pulling his bullet-proof vest". Gogolev did not undergo a medical examination nor did he state his injuries either orally nor in writing, and he did not mention Savelov's name in his report on the 6 of May arrests. When, and under what circumstances, he declared himself a victim and Savelov's name appeared as his abuser, the lawyers for the defence fail to discover because of the resistance of Judge Nikishina. She dismisses the lawyers' questions to Gogolev as irrelevant, or unclear, and often without any explanation. She forces lawyers to re-word a question endlessly, while rejecting every new wording as repetitive; interrupts the lawyers, hurries them up, breaks in upon their questions, and when they object, she threatens to remove them from the courtroom. (Just imagine that if convicted, Savelov could face up to ten years in prison using violence against a representative of the authorities and participation in mass riots – a completely fabricated accusation!) 

When one of the lawyers stands up with an appeal to the court declaring that he is unable to perform his professional duties to protect his client because of pressure and harassment by the judge, members of the public begin applauding. The bailiffs immediately remove the latter from the court room. Such a situation, where the defence lawyers protest, or challenge the judge, and Nikishina immediately rejects their claims, happens at almost every session. 

How these 12 guys manage to preserve their presence of mind when the judge treats them as a lower cast, turns down most of their appeals, does not allow them to speak when they want to complain about the inhuman treatment during the trial, is worthy of admiration. They are struggling back, contesting the procedural violations that are taking place (most of which are rejected by the judge). 
Natalya Nikishina


[1] Meaning that "both parties are treated in a manner ensuring their procedurally equal position during the course of a trial" See What Is A Fair Trial? A Basic Guide to Legal Standards and Practice.