OVD-Info: The 27 July demonstration. How the authorities violated the right to protest

posted 29 Aug 2019, 01:22 by Translation Service   [ updated 29 Aug 2019, 01:40 ]
2 August 2019

Source: OVD-Info

1,373 people were detained in Moscow at the 27 July rally in support of allowing independent candidates to register for election to the City Duma.  From the start, the authorities intended to savagely suppress the peaceful protest. After some rough arrests, the rights of participants in the protests were violated at police stations, in courts and at special detention centres. These violations are not at a level unprecedented in the whole history of OVD-Info’s monitoring of the police. We have gathered the key information about the actions of the authorities during and after the rally on 27 July.

The police and the National Guard intended violent suppression from the outset

  • To “protect public order" during the protest, a large number of police and National Guard forces were assembled in Moscow. How many is unknown, but according to unofficial information, about 400 police officers from other regions were bright in as reinforcements.

  • Employees of law enforcement agencies crushed the protestors in a vice, giving them no way to get through, and then arrested them. This is what happened in Stoleshnikov Alley, where people had to break through a cordon to avoid being arrested.

  • The police and National Guard used force that was out of proportion to the actions of the protesters: they beat them with batons and arrested them roughly, although the protest itself was of a peaceful nature.

Violations after arrest

  • The detainees were deliberately kept for several hours in stuffy police vans. Sometimes they were not allowed to go to the toilet.

  • At at least twelve police stations, detainees were refused food and water.

  • People’s freedom was still restricted more than 48 hours after arrest.

  • Many of the arrested protesters were not allowed to telephone relatives and laywers. Consequently they could not receive qualified help in the courts.

  • In many cases, territorial jurisdiction was violated. People were arrested in one district, then their hearings were held in the courts of other districts.

  • At least two cases of the arrest in absentia of protestors are known in the Zelenograd regional court. The fact of what had happened is being denied in court.

  • In the Gagarin regional court, the verdict in one case was drawn up before the meeting started. At 5pm a case note appeared on the court website saying that one protestor was guilty of an administrative offence and would be detained for ten days. Yet according to the detainee, the meeting was held at 9pm.

  • On Monday, when people were taken to court, some of them were unable to call their lawyers because their phones were dead. This situation resulted in many of them not receiving legal assistance, and being unable to appeal the court’s decision.

Violations in special detention centres and after the rally

  • Those who had been sentenced for administrative offences were taken away to serve their sentences in other towns: Lukhovitsy, Elektrostal, Chekhov, Sergiev Posad, Istra, Lyubertsy, Mozhaysk. This was done to make it harder for their friends and relatives to come to the departure point and give them anything.

  • Some detainees were denied phone calls to their relatives after being taken to a special detention centre. So their relatives and friends could not find out where they were.

  • Many special detention centres and police stations did not answer phone calls; in other cases they intentionally gave false information about detainees, and hung up when callers asked them questions.

  • According to  information from the organisation Pravozashchity Otkrytki, in one special detention centre  two former prisoners were put in a cell with protestors, and began to exert pressure on them. OVD-Info is aware of a number of similar cases.

  • On the night of 21 July, the first searches in the the criminal case of the “riots” took place. They were carried out by employees of the FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Centre for Combatting Extremism, who began to break into protestors’ apartments at around 4 am. After the search, they were taken away for questioning. By law, night searches must be justified, and can be carried out only in exceptional cases. In other cases, searches can only be carried out between 6am and 10pm. Given that the people searched were not suspects, it makes no sense to say that these were exceptional circumstances.

The authorities are trying to convince everyone that residents of other regions took part in the rally. Are they not allowed to protest, then?

Even before the conclusion of the rally the authorities began to put out the idea that residents of other towns of Russia had taken part. At 4pm, the chief editor of the state television channel, Russia Today, said that 2,000 protestors were from neither Moscow itself nor the Moscow region. She did not give the source of this data. 

On 28 July, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that more than 600 protestors had turned out not to be residents of Moscow. That same day, the pro-government television channel Ren TV broadcast a 25-minute film which, among other things, claimed that “half the protestors” were new arrivals. The next day, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said, said that the protests were pre-planned “riots”. The theory about non-residents cropped up again. According to Sobyanin, people who had “nothing to do with Moscow or the elections to the Moscow City Duma” took part in the rally. Sobyanin broadcast these statements in the Moscow metro.

Not a single law of the Russian Federation prohibits people from taking part in political rallies. That includes in a city where they do not have permanent registration. At the same time, it’s completely incomprehensible how the Ministry of the Interior and the Mayor’s Office counted which protesters were from Moscow, and which had come from other regions. The authorities differ in their official estimates of the number of protesters. On the day of the rally, even before it was over the Ministry of the Interior issued a statement saying that about 3,500 people had taken part. However, the official record of the arrest of journalist Ilya Azar states that about 10,000 people took part in the protest in the estimate of the security services.

Illustration: "We are unarmed" - protesters chant at the rally on 27 July. Photo by Anna Artem'eva for Novaya gazeta

Translated by Anna Bowles