Human rights defenders fear a 'Bolotnaya Square case-2'

posted 10 May 2017, 06:18 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 10 May 2017, 23:38 ]
28 April 2017

By Vera Vasilieva


On 26 March 2017 peaceful street protests took place in various Russian cities at which upwards of 1,000 people were illegally (according to independent experts) detained.

At a press conference to discuss the latest protests in Russia and the state of freedom of assembly in the country, a number of human rights activists came together, including: Lev Ponomarev, executive director of the movement For Human Rights; Oleg Beznisko, lawyer for that same nonprofit; Denis Shedov and Dmitry Borko, members of the Memorial Human Rights Centre; Aleksandr Cherkasov, chair of the board of Memorial; Anna Frolova and Aleksei Polikhovich, representing the OVD-Info human rights project; and Oleg Elanchik, civil activist of the ‘14%’ movement.

Speakers at the press conference said the civic protests on 26 March had been peaceful. It was noted that a number of police officers did not have lapel badges on them for identification. They used physical coercion on the crowd, which is unacceptable given how dense it was. They carried out illegal and unmotivated arrests without showing any credentials and without any chance of redress.

This not only affected those involved in the event, but also the journalists who were covering it, as well as ordinary passers-by, said the human rights defenders.

According to Lev Ponomarev, in the lead-up to the protest set to take place on 6 May to mark the fifth anniversary of the Bolotnaya Square Case it is important, "that the authorities don't repeat the same mistakes".

As the human rights defender recalls, the Protest Committee submitted an application to hold the event, but it has not yet been approved by the Mayor's Office in the capital.

"We really don't know how things will play out. It is possible that they will go the same way as before," feared Lev Ponomarev.

Anna Frolova read out some statistics collected by OVD-Info on the 26 March arrests: "We have been monitoring the situation since 6 am when the protests began in Vladivostok. According to our figures, protests took place in 84 cities, excluding Moscow. Around 1,500 people were detained across the country, including 1,043 in Moscow. The sheer magnitude of the numbers of these arrests is unprecedented in recent times. Following the protests in five cities, a number of criminal cases were filed, and 150 investigators are now working on them.

According to the expert, "all of the administrative cases are one hundred percent fabricated. There is no telling what will happen in these criminal cases. It's repression, and it's still happening, even now, to everyone – those who have or have not been arrested, parents, directors, teachers... They have started calling minors in for questioning again.”

A typical example of the sort of offences being recorded by human rights defenders is the case of Oleg Elanchik. On 26 March he was on Pushkinskaya Square as a volunteer assisting those who had been arrested, when he himself was arrested. According to Elanchik, the police officers did not present their credentials and did not explain why he was being detained. By that point there were already around 10 people in the police van in which the civil society activist was placed, and a little while later a few more were brought in.

“We repeatedly asked them to explain where we would be taken, why nobody was taking us anywhere, why we were being detained. The police officers did not react to our questions. The police vehicle we were in stood on Pushkin Square for about two hours—from six in the evening till about eight. After that we were driven to the Presnensky police station.

“They didn’t take us into the station and instead continued to hold us in the bus. Likewise there was no reaction to requests to escort us to the toilet or hand us food people had brought for us. They only began to escort us out, two by two, after we called the duty station of the Presnensky police department; the main police station for Moscow's central administrative district; and 112, the emergency service.

“In the station, they began to book us under Article 20.2, Part 5, of the Administrative Code (“Violation of the established procedure for holding a gathering, rally, demonstration, march, or picketing by a participant of a public event”)—even those, who were arrested for smoking. We were booked neither by the police officers who arrested us, nor by those who took us to the station. That is, the officers who booked us couldn’t know what actually happened there.

“I was only able to find out about the case personally after 1 am. I saw the official reports about me and the others who had been arrested. These reports did not vary in the slightest, even down to grammatical mistakes. They were typed up and printed on the computer. This is forbidden by the law “On Police.” Official reports should be written in one’s own hand. They simply added our surnames, initials, and years of birth,” testified civil activist Oleg Elanchik.

To Elanchik’s story, Denis Shedov added information on the events that later took place in court. The cases against most of those arrested, according to Shedov, were heard in Moscow's Tverskoi district court.

“There were violations not only during the arrests, not only in the police station, but also in the courts. On average, the judges allowed about five minutes to review the materials of a case. In that time it was necessary to carefully read through all the case materials and understand what you’re being accused of. It’s extremely little time to form a legal position, but it’s enough time to be horrified at the violations of procedure contained in those materials.

“For example, I was representing the interests of people who were accused of crimes supposedly committed at nonexistent addresses. An address was given that simply does not exist in Moscow.

“One and the same police officer could indicate in the official report one set of circumstances, and in the explanation—other circumstances. In particular, the slogans that a person was accused of shouting, or the place where they were arrested, varied.

"The judges did not react at all to any of these inaccuracies, to any of these violations," Denis Shedov said.

Oleg Bezinsko, a lawyer from the movement For Human Rights, believes that the detentions at peaceful protests, beginning with 20112, are unlawful. "An appeal to the courts should be made in the case of each and every arrest. The human rights movement should see this as one of its main tasks," he said.

As Oleg Bezinsko said, the legal team at For Human Rights has developed and made public detailed advice for the protection of civil society activists facing charges under administrative law. All this advice is available on the organization's website.

For five years Dmitry Borko has been following the Bolotnoe case, as a journalist, as a member of an independent investigative team, and as a public defender in court. He draws a parallel between the Bolotnoe case and the events of 26 March: "Now the term 'the second Bolotnoe case' has become quite widespread."

The main thing in the history of the Bolotnoe case was that from the vast amount of data gathered about a very large number of people it was possible to select out any individual - and that is what they did. We never knew who would be chosen for the next criminal prosecution. It was like this because in fact the Bolotnoe case had the character of propaganda. They didn't need to send everybody to jail. They didn't need to carry out mass repressions. They needed to hold individual show trials for the purpose of demonstrating and making plain that taking part in demonstration can be put on trial.

"It is precisely the activities of our law enforcement officers as propaganda that makes it possible to foresee what will happen regarding the 26th March," Dmitry Borko says.

Aleksei Polikhovich, who was prosecuted in the Bolotnoe case and served three years in prison on an unjust conviction, also believes that it is not hard to see a parallel between how the authorities reacted to the events of 6 May 2012 and how they are reacting to what happened on 26 March 2017.

"The Bolotnoe case began with Maksim Luzyanin, a person of whom, based on video from the Square, it can be said that he did use a certain element of force in relation to the police (what degree of force this was is another question). After that, it was our turn, those of us who had some contact with the police, who were pushed away, had their arms twisted. And the Bolotnoe case ends with Dmitry Buchenkov who wasn't even on Bolotnaya Square that day. I see a certain degradation in the work of the country's investigative authorities, although it would seem that they could not get any worse," the civil society activist pointed out bitterly.

Thanks to Lindsay Munford for assistance with the translation