The Russian Justice Ministry insists there have been no violations by Russian law enforcers at protest rallies, but that complainants broke the law themselves. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny. Courtesy of Vedomosti
Russian Authorities See No Laws Broken in Large-Scale Detentions at Protest Rallies: Justice Ministry Explains to Strasbourg That Detainees Broke the Law Themselves
October 8, 2018
Last week, the Russian Justice Ministry’s press reported the ministry had sent a legal opinion to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), explaining the position of the Russian authorities on the merits of twenty formal complaints made to the court concerning administrative convictions handed down by Russian courts for alleged violations of the law on protest rallies during public events in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Barnaul in 2016–2017.
The Justice Ministry’s opinion is encapsulated in the following argument: “The termination of public events held by the complainants and their prosecution under the law do not violate international norms and [were] aimed at maintaining public order, security, and the rights of other persons. The corresponding charges of administrative offenses were ajudicated by [Russian] courts in full compliance with the requirements of procedural laws, and in compliance with the adversarial principle and the equality of arms.”
The Russian Justice Ministry insists there have been no violations by Russian law enforcers at protest rallies, but that complainants broke the law themselves.
“Although they had the opportunity to hold their events in compliance with the law, the complainants knowingly neglected their obligation to coordinate them with the proper authorities,” the Justice Ministry argued.
The Justice Ministry reminded the court that, in the past, the ECHR has acknowledged the right of states to establish requirements for the organization and conduct of public events, as well as the right to impose penalties on persons who do not comply with these demands. The Justice Ministry referred to the ECHR’s rulings in Berladir and Others v. Russia (10 July 2012) and Éva Molnár v. Hungary (7 October 2008).
Last year, complaints to the ECHR regarding violations of the freedom of assembly were second in popularity only to complaints about conditions of detention, and they may come in first place this year. Since the beginning of 2018, the ECHR has fast-tracked its consideration of these cases in keeping with established practice.
Alexei Glukhov, head of the legal service Defending Protest (Apologiya protesta), which specializes in helping people detained at public events, says that, despite fast tracking, the Russian authorities respond at length to each complaint. (In the cases that Defending Protest has handled, there have been over fifty official communiqués alone.) The responses are almost always the same, however. There were no violations of constitutional rights, the Russian authorities explain: law enforcement agencies acted according to the letter of the law, while it was the demonstrators themselves who violated it, even if the authorities sent them deep into the woods to hold their protest rally.
Glukhov argues the Justice Ministry’s current legal opinion is intended for internal use. Law enforcers and ordinary Russians alike should understand it is pointless to invoke Article 11 of the European Convention, which protects the right to freedom of assembly and association, including the right to form trade unions.
Actually, the Justice Ministry is in a pickle, argues civil rights attorney Dmitry Agranovsky. It must export the image of a democratic country abroad, but this correlates poorly with de facto feudalism at home, where all efforts have been made to reduce the numbers of protests and protesters, says Agranovsky. According to him, not only administrative but also criminal punishments are clearly out of synch with the violations that occur and are meant to have a chilling effect on the populace.
Translated by the Russian Reader