Person of the Week: Aleksei Gaskarov

posted 29 Oct 2016, 23:36 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 29 Oct 2016, 23:37 ]
On 27 October 2016 activist Aleksei Gaskarov was freed from a prison in Tula region after completing a 3 1/2-year jail term for his involvement in the Bolotnaya Square mass demonstration against electoral fraud held on 6 May 2012. He had been arrested in April 2013 (nearly a year after the Bolotnaya Square protest) and convicted in 2014 of taking part in mass riots and using violence against police officers. He denied the charges. 
Eva Hartog, writing in The Moscow Times, reports that video footage of the protest showed Gaskarov 'pulling an officer away from one of the participants of the march' and 'being kicked in the head while on the ground.' After the events of that day, Aleksei Gaskarov filed an abuse complaint with the police, but instead of an investigation 'more than a year after the incident, Gaskarov himself was slapped with charges for participating in a mass riot and using violence against a law enforcement officer.'

Aleksei Gaskarov is from the town of Zhukovsky in the Moscow region. Before 2012 he had risen to some prominence as a left-wing activist and a leader of an anti-fascist movement. In 2010, he was detained over protests against the razing of a forest in Khimki, north of Moscow. On that occasion the charges against him were dropped.

As Tom Balmforth reported on RFE/RL, 'The prosecutions emerged from what has been dubbed the "Bolotnaya case," after the Moscow square where a so-called March Of Millions was staged in 2012, which became a symbol of President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on the opposition.' Riot police detained over 400 people at the rally, over 30 people were prosecuted and more than 20 were given terms in jail or otherwise spent time in custody. However, Amnesty International stated on 21 February 2014: 'What happened on Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012 was not the quelling of a riot, but the crushing of a protest. The Bolotnaya trial has not exposed orchestrated violence, but rather a criminal justice system that is entirely malleable to the dictates of its political masters'. Earlier in October, the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear a case filed by Gaskarov and Ilya Gushchin, another jailed activist, Ilya Gushchin. In the past two months the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia must pay compensation to at least four of those prosecuted in the Bolotnaya Square case for violations of their rights. Sergei Davidis from Memorial Human Rights Centre is quoted by RFE/RL as saying that six of the people prosecuted in the Bolotnaya Square case remain in custody. 

Eva Hartog, writing in The Moscow Times, quoted Aleksei Gaskarov's father as saying his son's release 'marks the end of “a very complicated time".' She quotes Aleksei Gaskarov as saying: 'The right to free assembly is a basic right and you can’t turn your back on it. No matter what the current regime is, protests are a chance to influence our country. [...] Rejecting the possibility to protest is stupid. We can’t do that.'

Photo: Wikipedia

Tom Balmforth, 'Bolotnaya' Kremlin Critic Released From Russian Jail,' RFE/RL, 27 October 2016
Eva Hartog, 'Upon Release, Russian Activist Jailed for Anti-Putin Protest Says, "Defend Your Rights",' The Moscow Times, 27 October 2016
'Russia: Guilty verdict in Bolotnaya case - injustice at its most obvious,' Amnesty International, 21 February 2014