Sergei Davidis on the "March 26" case: A new “Bolotnaya” for Navalny’s supporters

posted 19 Jun 2017, 05:30 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Jun 2017, 05:37 ]
8 June 2017

By Sergei Davidis

Source: [original source: Дом свободной России

On March 26, 2017, Russia witnessed its largest demonstrations since the protest wave of 2011-12. Some aspects of the March 26 protests had no precedents in the past decade. The government reacted to the organization of such mass protests in a not atypical manner, with repression and threats.

It is possible that no fewer than 100,000 people hit the streets in around 100 Russian cities, issuing anti-corruption demands at the prompting of Alexei Navalny—despite the fact that in most of the cities, the protests were illegal, having not been approved by the authorities.

In central Moscow, where the mayor, in violation of the law, refused to approve the protest, between 15,000 and 30,000 people took to the streets. It was perhaps the largest demonstration to take place without the government’s permission in the capital since the early 1990s.

The March 26 demonstrations marked the end of the post-2012 decline in protests in Russia, giving rise to a sense of hope in society.

In the lead-up to March 26, the majority of protests failed to receive official permission. In various cities, there were many attempts to prevent the protests through pressure on organizers and participants.

Although all protests were peaceful, participants were detained in many cities.

In total, across Russia, more than 1,500 people were wrongfully detained, with no fewer than 1,043 of them in Moscow—far more than at any other protest in the past decade.

Unwarranted and unlawful detainment was frequently carried out in a crude way, with established procedure violated and physical force applied. Many of the demonstrators who were detained were also beaten.

According to the authorities, a police officer was injured at the protest in Moscow. It was asserted that he was kicked in the head by a person who then escaped. (As it turned out, the police officer had been involved in the Bolotnaya case as the alleged victim of Ivan Nepomnyashchy. Then, no specific harm had been done to him.)

A criminal case was already opened on March 26 in connection with the incident. The charge: violation of Article 317 of the Russian Criminal Code, or making an attempt on the life of an employee of a law enforcement agency, punishable by up to life in prison.

During the night of March 26-27, Investigative Committee detectives visited about half of the 50 Moscow police stations where demonstrators were being held, questioning them.

Two days later, it was announced that other criminal cases were being opened, over violations of Article 213 (hooliganism, punishable by up to 5 years in prison) and Article 318 (violence toward representatives of the authorities, punishable by up to 10 years in prison).

Soon thereafter, lawyers revealed that the unit investigating these charges numbered between 100 and 150 detectives.

Many of these detectives also belong to the unit responsible for the Bolotnaya case, and helped falsify evidence of the guilt of those charged and prosecuted in that affair.

The head of the new investigative group Major General Rustam Gabdulin also heads the investigative group on the “Bolotnaya case.”

Within the scope of the criminal cases opened at the end of March and in the first half of April, a 28-year-old sociologist and actor Yury Kuly, 40-year-old joiner Aleksandr Shpakov, 32-year-old builder Stanislav Zimovets, and 31-year-old goods transporter Andrei Kosykh were arrested and remanded in custody.

Later, on 14 May, 33-year-old engineer Dmitry Krepkin was also arrested and placed in pre-trial detention.

All, with the exception of Kosykh, were charged under Article 318 of the Russian Criminal Code, i.e. with the use of non-lethal and non-health-threatening force against police.

Kosykh is accused of striking two police officers, one of whom received as a consequence trauma to the head. The case was initiated because of this episode, a case under Article 317 (endangering the life of a police officer), but it is not known whether charges have already been brought against him in this regard.

Kuliy is accused of having grabbed an officer by the shoulder, thus causing him pain, Shpakov, of , having struck an officer twice, resulting in two lesions, Zimovets of hitting an officer in the buttock with a brick, and Krepkin of striking an officer in the thigh.

Shpakov and Krepkin were seriously beaten during their arrest on 26 March, as a result of which they sustained bodily injuries confirmed by doctors.

The first four of the detainees initially admitted guilt, in connection with which the courts continued under special proceedings without examining evidence.

Regardless, Kuly was sentenced to deprivation of freedom in an open prison, and Shpakov to 1.5 years in a correctional colony with an ordinary regime.

After the pronouncement of the sentences, Kuliy and Shpakov indicated that they had made a plea bargain and agreed to special proceedings, conceding to the persuasion of government-appointed lawyers (initially, all the accused had been fully isolated from the outside world and did not have access to private counsel) and of investigators in hopes of not getting a prison term.

Zimovets, whose case has been under consideration since the end of May in Moscow’s Tverskoi district court, refused a plea bargain, and Krepkin did not confess to striking a police officer from the very beginning.

The investigation of the cases of Krepkin and Kosykh continues.

In practice, the accusations against all defendants except Kosykh, about whom almost nothing is known, are based on injuries, unconfirmed by medical records, supposedly suffered by police officers who didn’t sustain any actual bodily harm, but merely experienced pain. It is also based on video recordings that are too unclear to allow one to make any conclusion as to whether the accused indeed used the violence imputed to them against police.

Related to the “26 March case” is that of the mathematics lecturer Dmitry Bogatov. Right after 26 March what were in fact anonymous calls began appearing on social media sites and internet forums calling for a protest on 2 April. A proportion of them had a relatively radical character (as a result, on 2 April several hundred peaceful protestors took to the streets and squares of Moscow, of whom more than 100 were detained).

In that connection a case was initiated on 1 April on the charge of incitement to riot, and on 6 April D. Bogatov was arrested with regard to that case.

As it later turned out later, Bogatov had on his computer a TOR network exit node, thanks to which one of the many re-posts of calls to participate in the 2 April protest, located on a professional forum for system administrators, was identified by its IP as coming from Bogatov’s computer.

Other, similar messages from the same forum user came from different IPs in different countries, but investigators decided that the owner of the only Moscow address among them was the author.

As the court refused to take Dmitry Bogatov into custody on charges of incitement to riot, he was charged under Article 30, Part 1; Article 212, Part 1, of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (“Preparation for the organisation of riots”); and Article 205.2, Part2 (“Public appeals via the internet to carry out terrorist activity”), and then placed in custody.

The prosecution of Bogatov, who has no connection with political protests, is obviously intended to scare internet users and prevent new public calls for protests that have not been given official sanction. Dmitry Bogatov has been recognised as a political prisoner by Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow branch).

It has been reported that criminal proceedings have been opened against people who participated in the 26 March action in towns other than Moscow. However, in these cases no one has been arrested, and only one case has come to the attention of the court: Volgograd student Maksim Beldinov was given a suspended sentence of one and a half year for violence against an official.

On 5 June it emerged that 33-year-old bankruptcy liquidator Evgeny Vladenkov from Petrozavodsk had been charged under Article 318, Part 1, of the Criminal Code. He was placed under house arrest.

Nevertheless, as the Moscow protest on 26 March was the largest, and as the authorities attach special significance to controlling protest activity in the capital, more repressions in connection with the “March 26 Affair” can be expected here.

The nature of the charges against those already indicted in this case, and the creation of such a large body of investigators to investigate a peaceful mass action, during which (after, in fact) there was only one incident of real violence against a police officer, leads us – especially considering the experience of many of the members of the group involved in the Bolotnaya Square case – to conclude that the aim is, in this case as in that, large-scale criminalisation of innocent people in order to intimidate civil society.

This interpretation is supported by the unprecedentedly rapid nature of the investigation.

If those accused in the Bolotnaya Square case were investigated over a period of months or even years, then the cases of three of the detainees in the new “March 26 case” went to court in less than two months.

This haste seems to be related to the necessity of bringing to bear against society the threat of criminal investigation for participation in peaceful protest before the next mass demonstration scheduled for 12 June. But it’s entirely likely that this criminal case will be investigated further, and more innocent participants in peaceful protests will be criminalised.

P.S. Human rights activist Sergei Davidis states: “While this report was being prepared for publication, a new suspect emerged in the case in Petrozavodsk.

Thanks to Anna Bowles and Lincoln Pigman for the translation
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