Police Break Up Peaceful Protests on Russia Day

posted 20 Jun 2017, 09:25 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 29 Jun 2017, 05:32 ]
20 June 2017

...a look back at the week of 10 - 16 June 2017

Last week, right of assembly was the main focus of attention for observers of the human rights scene in Russia. On 12 June, Russia Day, the renewed enthusiasm for peaceful, public protest, seen on 26 March, once again showed itself on Russian streets. OVD.Info reported that 1,720 protesters were detained by police (866 in Moscow, 658 in St. Petersburg). Amnesty International said that protesters had been subjected to cruel and degrading treatment. The pattern of dealing with the anti-corruption protests with bans, often brutal police action and arrests was repeated in many other Russian cities. A few days later and on a smaller scale there were also protests (on 14 June) against the vast housing demolition programme proposed by the Moscow city authorities. On that day at least 16 protesters were detained outside the State Duma

June 12 anti-corruption protests

The events of 12 June had begun with the arrest of protest organizer Aleksei Navalny as he left his Moscow home. While the authorities had given permission to hold the Moscow rally on Sakharov Prospect, the organizers considered that the practical obstacles put in the way of holding the rally at that location amounted to an effective ban. When they called for the protest to go ahead on Moscow’s central Tverskaya Street, Navalny was arrested as he left home, and was later sentenced to a draconian 30 days in jail (which, since it was under administrative and not criminal law, is termed ‘administrative arrest’ in Russian). The sentence was later reduced to 25 days in a manner typical of Russian courts that may issue a severe sentence, quite possibly in response to official pressure, but then seek to give an appearance of judicial independence by making what might amount to little more than a cosmetic change on appeal. 

Among prominent individuals arrested in Moscow was Ildar Dadin, laureate of this year’s Index on Censorship prize for freedom of expression, who was detained for reading aloud from the Russian Constitution on Red Square. He was later fined 20,000 roubles. It may be that Dadin too might have been sentenced to time in jail but for his burgeoning fame in the West. In the aftermath of the rallies, in St Petersburg on 14 June the human rights activist Dinar Idrisov was detained and sentenced to 14 days in jail for ‘petty hooliganism’ – when in fact all that he had been doing was offering assistance to protesters who had been detained. In the same city, human rights ombudsperson Aleksandr Shishlov in outspoken comments said the city authorities had ‘provoked’ the protests, writing on his website that those detained in the city numbered ‘hundreds of people, including teenagers, journalists, observers and other people, who did not pose any threat to society.’ In Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, a Caucasian Knot correspondent was assaulted and their camera damaged while filming preparations for the local protest rally. 

Young people

The prominent role of young people in recent demonstrations, much commented on in both social and mainstream media, can be exemplified in the 12 June protests by two individuals: a young girl whose photograph became a symbol of the protest (‘cooler than Delacroix’) as soon as it was posted on line, and the fate of Mikhail Galayshkin, a 17-year-old protester placed under house arrest for allegedly assaulting a National Guard officer. Official concerns that young people are becoming ‘infected’ with the protest virus may also lie behind the treatment of Aleksandr Korovainy, a high school teacher from Krasnodar region. Korovainy was given a 10-day jail term for attending an ‘illegal rally’ and was subsequently dismissed by the school where he had worked (the school, citing the fact that he was a substitute teacher, said he was simply no longer under contract). 

Aleksei Navalny

The fact that a longer-term offensive by the regime is underway against Aleksei Navalny, who has begun campaigning to challenge Vladimir Putin in the 2018 presidential elections, and his Anti-Corruption Foundation was indicated by a number of events. On 14 June two staff members at the Anti-Corruption Foundation, Vladislav Zdolnikov and Aleksandr Brusentsev fled to Ukraine on 14 June after Roskomnadzor the government media agency, launched investigations against them for the somewhat bizarre-sounding alleged offence of ‘illegally blocking access to websites by using a vulnerability of the government's system for blocking banned websites.’ On 15 June Ella Pamfilova, a former federal human rights ombudsperson and currently chair of the federal electoral commission, said Aleksei Navalny is almost certain to be barred from the 2018 presidential election on account of his criminal conviction. The day before, a district court in Orel region had dismissed a request by Oleg Navalny, Aleksei’s younger brother, for parole on the grounds he had failed to display ‘law-abiding behaviour’ Oleg And Aleksei Navalny had both been found guilty in December 2014 of ‘large-scale theft’ from two companies. While Aleksei Navalny had been given a 3 1/2 years suspended sentence, Oleg was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. A number of observers suspected that Oleg had been ‘taken hostage’ to restrict the behaviour of his brother. 

Abuses in places of detention

Abuses in the prison system were further highlighted this week. Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, one of five individuals convicted for the 2006 murder of Anna Politkovskaya, died in a high security prison in Vologda region on 13 June. His relatives alleged he had most likely died as a result of being beaten. Gaitukayev’s lawyer had earlier sought unsuccessfully to sue the prison in 2015 for allegedly beating her client. In a case concerning pre-trial detention, on 15 June the High Court in Russia-occupied Crimea refused to allow the head of the Crimean Tatar assembly or Mejlis, Akhtem Chiygoz, to see his dying mother. Chiygoz has been held in pre-trial detention since January 2015 on charges, bizarrely, of organizing an illegal demonstration in Simferopol on 26 February 2014 outside the Crimean parliament before Russia annexed the peninsula. Chiygoz, along with Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy, also charged in connection with the same demonstration, have been recognized as political prisoners by Memorial Human Rights Centre. (See footnote 1 below) On 16 June, activist Aleksei Moroshkin from Chelyabinsk, also recognized as a political prisoner by Memorial Human Rights Centre, was finally released from a psychiatric clinic where he had been compulsorily detained for over 18 months. On 9 November 2015 Moroshkin had been convicted of ‘incitement to violate the territorial integrity of Russia via the Internet’ (Article 280.1 § 2). The court then ruled, in a troubling throw-back to Soviet times, as commentator Halya Coynash has observed, that he was suffering from ‘paranoid schizophrenia.’ This month a court ruled that Moroskhin ‘no longer posed a danger to society.’ Memorial believes Moroskhin was jailed for his civic opposition activities and his criticism of Russian policy towards Ukraine. 


Attention must remain focused on the case of Murad Amriev, who had been forcibly brought back to Chechnya on 9 June by law enforcement officers after having been handed over by the Belarus authorities, and was thereafter released on bail. Amriev has alleged that he was tortured by police in Chechnya in 2013, and with the help of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, a human rights group based in Nizhny Novgorod, he lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. He has said that he recognized one of the police officers from Chechnya who sought to arrest him in Bryansk had been one of his torturers. His fate has attracted much international concern. On 15 June the Chechen authorities said they had dropped charges against Amriev. However, given the proclivity of the Chechen authorities for collective punishment (in other words, retaliating against their relatives), the rest of Amriev’s family had already left Chechnya. In another indication of the lawlessness prevalent in Chechnya, and a terrible reminder of the campaign of persecution of LGBT people that has reportedly been under way there, the day before, on 14 June, two LGBT young people who had escaped from the region told Reuters they had been tortured and beaten because of their sexual orientation; one of them alleged he was tortured with electric current.

Footnote 1: On 20 June Akhtem Chiygoz was taken to the city of Bakhchisaray to see his mother, his lawyer, Nikolai Polozov, wrote on Twitter, despite the court ruling of 15 June. According to reports, the meeting lasted only 10 minutes.

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