Suing the Opposition into Oblivion

The Lash and the Pocketbook: Petersburg Tests New Scheme for Punishing Opposition
Sergei Yeremeyev
Zaks.ru
December 14, 2018

The prosecutor’s office has estimated that two Petersburg parks sustained 10.9 million rubles [approx. 144,000 euros] in damage during the He’s Not Our Tsar protest, which took place on May 5, 2018, in Petersburg [and other Russian cities]. Two people, Denis Mikhailov and Bogdan Livtin, will be held responsible for all the protesters, police officers, and ordinary Petersburgers who walked on the lawns that day in the vicinity of Palace Square. Law enforcement agencies have identified the two men as organizers of the protest rally.

IMG_5092.JPG (349 KB)

Saving the Grass from Provocateurs
Suing for damage to municipal property is the Russian state’s new know-how when it comes to intimidating the opposition. Like certain other innovations, for example, repeated arrests for involvement in the same protest rally, it is being tried out on Alexei Navalny’s supporters.

The authorities decided to start big. The prosecutor’s office has estimated the city suffered nearly 11 million rubles in damage from the He’s Not Our Tsar rally. According to members of the Navalny Team in Petersburg, the 300-page complaint claims opposition protesters damaged the greenery in the Alexander Garden and the garden next to the Winter Palace. Allegedly, they trampled the lawns, flower beds, and roses, and damaged the dogwood and lilac bushes.

The complaint states the cost of restoring the vegetation in the two green spaces, as provided by the city’s municipal amenities committee. According to the committee, it cost 3,651,000 rubles [approx. 48,000 euros] to repair the damage incurred by the May 5 rally.

The prosecutor’s office multiplied this amount by three, citing a municipal regulation on the amount of compensation to be paid when greenery has to be replaced. The regulation states the amount of damage caused to green spaces protected by the city’s Committee on the Use and Preservation of Landmarks (KGIOP) must be multiplied by a factor of three.

DSCN0254.jpg (303 KB)A giant rubber duck emblazoned with the logo of the Vesna (“Spring”) Movement floats in a fountain in the Alexander Garden on May 5, 2018.

Ivan Pavlov, lawyer and head of Team 29, a group of civil rights lawyers, fears the lawsuit against Litvin and Mikhailov is only the first of similar penalties.

“I am concerned by the direction the prosecutor’s office has taken. This would set a very dangerous precedent. Precedents are usually tried out in other regions of the country, but this time they are starting with Petersburg. Fines are one thing, but civil liability is a whole new level of impacting people’s desire to protest,” Pavlov told Zaks.ru.

Leonid Volkov, project manager at the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), argues that if you follow the Petersburg prosecutor’s thinking to its logical conclusion, you could also punish the organizers of authorized rallies.

“If they tell us that the rally organizer should be punished for trampling the law rather than the person who trampled the lawn, it makes no difference whether the rally was authorized or not, right? Let’s imagine we have organized an authorized rally. The prosecutor shows up and tells us organizers he is suing us for a billion rubles. It would sound completely insane,” Volkov said.

Downtown Petersburg is often used as a venue for large-scale events, including official celebrations. For example, this past summer, the Smolny reported that, during the annual Crimson Sails celebration for school leavers, when young Petersburgers and out-of-towners party all night long, approximately 600 cubic meters of rubbish were removed from the downtown area. It is unknown whether the city inspected the condition of its bushes after the school leavers’ party.

The New Governor
Litvin, federal coordinator and press secretary for the Vesna Movement,  actually applied to the Smolny for permission to hold the May 5 rally. He proposed a march down Zagorodny Prospect, following by a rally on Pioneer Square. The city’s law and order committee found a reason to turn down his application, just like the other applications submitted by Navalny supporters. The city told the opposition to hold its rally in Udelny Park, a large green space in the north of the city that looks more like a forest. Insulted by this suggestion, Navalny supporters announced the rally would take place on Palace Square.

Three months later, on August 2, the October District Court fined Litvin 20,000 rubles for organizing the unauthorized He’s Not Our Tsar protest rally per Article 20.2 Part 1 of the Administrative Offense Code. Petersburg City Court subsequently overturned the lower court’s ruling. The case will be reheard in the near future.

Mikhailov, the Navalny Team’s Petersburg coordinator, has already been punished twice for the May protest. First, the Smolny District Court sentenced him to 25 days in jail, and then the October District Court fined him 300,000 rubles [approx. 4,000 euros], a record fine for opposition political activism in Petersburg. The fact that Mikhailov was on the air on the internet channel Navalny Live during the event, answering the questions of his comrades in Moscow, was considered proof he organized the protest.

“I was covering the event, because the major national media were not there. At such a huge event! In Petersburg, 10,000 people marched on the Nevsky,” replied Mikhailov.

He now recalls an interesting conversation he had on the sidelines of one of his court hearings.

“There was a certain law enforcement officer at one of my court hearings. He told me the prosecutor’s office was planning to file suit, because the damages incurred by the city were too large. Nothing came of it. Judging by the complaint, this past summer, they really did carry out inspections and corresponded on the matter, but then it fizzled out. But in November, when Alexander Beglov was appointed acting governor [of Petersburg], the officials involved resumed their correspondence and the lawsuit was drawn up. Putting it simply, Beglov came to power and gave them the green light,” Mikhailov told Zaks.ru.

Maxim Reznik, a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, has also noticed the new governor’s shadow looming over the lawsuit. Reznik argues the Smolny is using such cases to intimidate the opposition in the run-up to the 2019 elections.

“They strike us with the lash, and they hit us in our pocketbooks. It’s directly connected with the new governor. Because he is either involved in what is happening or he has no control of the situation. Why he would want that? The regime is showing us its teeth. It doesn’t want there to be any protests whatsoever. [Beglov] needs things to be quiet so he can bring happiness to the city, while anyone who intends to agitate the people should know their place,” said Reznik.

Supernatural Stupidity
Maybe ten thousand people did not attend the May 5 protest, but there were clearly more than two thousand people on the streets, as was claimed by the Interior Ministry’s local office. Originally, no one had planned to march on Nevsky Prospect. Since a celebration for bikers and rehearsals for the May 9 Victory Day military parade were taking place on Palace Square, the protest rally was hastily moved across the street to the Alexander Garden. When the Alexander Garden was teeming with people who wanted to express their displeasure at the policies of the old-new president, Vladimir Putin, voices in the crowd called for the rally to move to the Nevsky, and people spontaneously rushed into the city’s main street.

The Navalny Team did not immediately join the march. Initially, the rally’s Telegram channel broadcast requests not to heed people urging protesters to leave the Alexander Garden. Volunteers sporting “20!8” pins made the same request in person, until they realized there was no holding people back. The crowd stayed on the sidewalk for awhile, but when it encountered a segment of the Nevsky closed to traffic for repairs, it went onto the roadway. At approximately the same time, Mikhailov, who was in the midst of the crowd, went on the air on Navalny Live.

The first arrests occurred at the corner of Marat Street and Nevsky, where a police barrier awaited the demonstrators. Seeing what happened, the bulk of the crowd turned around and headed in the opposite direction, walking down the Nevsky and parallel streets. In none of the court hearings in the cases of Litvin and Mikhailov was any evidence presented that suggested either of the men had encouraged the demonstrators to return to Palace Square.

Most of the arrests took place outside the Hermitage. Police dressed in riot gear gave chase over the lawns to anyone chanting slogans. They caught some of these people, dragging or escorting them to paddy wagons parked on Palace Passage. The proceedings were videotaped and photographed by bloggers and reporters. No one had the time to look where they were walking.

Two men, however, will be held liable for damaging the lawns and other vegetation. One of them, Litvin, never even made it back to the Winter Garden: he was detained near Gostiny Dvor when the demonstrators headed in the opposite direction.

Attorney Arkady Chaplygin call this method of singling out guilty parties a supernatural stupidity.

“The lawsuit makes no sense whatsoever. The Russian Civil Code prohibits seeking monetary compensation for damage from persons who did not cause the damage. The law requires the individual who caused the damage to be identified. This lawsuit is a PR stunt on the part of Governor Beglov meant to intimidate the opposition. It is a stupidity supernatural in its scope,” argued Chaplygin.

The Frunze District Court will try and make sense of the botany of the city’s parks and the prosecutor’s arithmetic after the New Year’s holidays. A preliminary hearing in the case has been scheduled for January 10.

Photos courtesy of Zaks.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

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You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party

Involving Teenagers in Unauthorized Protest Rallies Could Cost as Much as One Million Rubles
Experts Say Authorities Won’t Find It Hard to Prove Charges
Olga Churakova
Vedomosti
July 11, 2018

Госдума готовится ввести многотысячные штрафы за вовлечение подростков в несанкционированные митингиThe State Duma plans to introduce hefty finds for involving teenagers in unauthorized protest rallies. Photo by Andrei Gordeyev. Courtesy of Vedomosti

On Tuesday, the State Duma’s Family Affairs Committee gave the go-ahead to a law bill that would introduce penalties for “encouraging” teenagers to attend unauthorized protest rallies. On Monday, the bill was approved by the government’s Legislative Affairs Commission. In its written appraisal of the bill, the Family Affairs Committee recommended clarifying the minimum age at which offenders would be held liable for violations, although the relevant committee reviewing the bill is the Committee on Constitutional Law.

Tabled by Alyona Arshinova, Anatoly Vyborny, and other United Russia MPs, the law would amend the Administrative Violations Code to include penalties of 15 days in jail, 100 hours of community service or a fine of 50,000 rubles for individuals who encourage minors to attend unauthorized protest rallies. Fines for officials would range from 50,000 to 100,000 rubles, while fines for legal entities would range from 250,000 to 500,000 rubles. A repeat violation could send individuals to jail for up to thirty days, while legal entities would be fined as much as one million rubles [approx. €13,800].

“In my experience, there is no such thing as a perfect law bill. As for the current bill, the relevant committee has not yet meet to discuss it,” says Vyborny.

However, Vyborny is certain the amendments are necessary.

“Children cannot resist the negative influence of adults. It matters to them to express themselves, and we hope this bill will deter them from ill-considered actions. Administrative liability will be a deterrent,” he says.

What matters is that young people are not drawn into a culture of legal nihilism, the MP argues. According to Vyborny, the bill does not aim to punish minors, but protest rally organizers. Hence, the age limit is defined in the bill.

OVD Info estimated that ninety-one teenagers were detained on May 5, 2018, in Moscow at an unauthorized protest rally to mark the inauguration of Vladimir Putin as president for the fourth time. According to OVD Info, at least 158 minors were detained nationwide on May 5 at similar protests. OVD Info estimated that a total of 1,600 people were detained that day.

Lawyer Oleg Sukhov says proving protest rally organizers are in violation of the new law would be a piece of cake. Rallies are organized in different ways, including personal contacts and public announcements.

“Our government is planning to deter all means of organizing protest rallies. It realizes this work on the part of the opposition will only intensify over time not only via the web but also through communication with young Russians,” notes Sukhov.

The main point is the government would not have to prove anything, argues Sukhov. Minors will go on attending protest rallies. Whenever they tell police they saw an announcement on the web, the organizers will be charged with violating the law according to a fast-track procedure.

“Clearly, the law will be enforced selectively. It’s a classic manifestation of the so-called mad printer. The terms used in the wording of the bill are not defined at all. For example, what does it mean to ‘encourage’ a teenager to attend a rally? Can teenagers attend rallies? They can. So, how do we figure out whether they attended on their own or were ‘encouraged’? We can’t,” says Navalny’s righthand man Leonid Volkov.

Volkov does not believe the law will be effective since protesters have been paying fines as it is.

“It is no accident this attempt to intimidate young people made the news today, the same day the Investigative Committee released a video about a teenager who goes to prison for reposting [‘extremist’ items] on social media. Of course, this will only produce new Primorsky Partisans,” Volkov concludes.

“Extremism Is a Crime,” a video posted on YouTube on June 25, 2018, by the MultiKit Video Studio. The annotation to the video reads, “A public service video on the dangers of extremism, produced by MultiKit Video Studio for the Russian Investigative Committee’s Altai Territory Office. The video will be shown in schools to prevent such crimes.”

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KMO_156800_00022_1_t218_212746.jpgAlexei Avetisov. Photo by Emin Dzhafarov. Courtesy of Kommersant

Youth Policy Finds a Direction
Kremlins Finds a Specialist in Subcultures and Extremism
Sofia Samokhina, Maxim Ivanov and Lada Shamardina
Kommersant
July 11, 2018

Kommersant has learned Alexei Avetisov, member of the Russian Public Chamber and president of the Russian Student Rescue Corps, could join the Office of Public Projects in the Kremlin. Avetisov has been tapped to head the Department for Combating Extremism among Youth. Ksenia Razuvayeva, head of Rospatriotcenter (Russian Center for the Civic and Patriotic Education of Children and Young People) has been named as a candidate for head of the Department of Youth Policy in the Office of Public Projects. Both candidates would still have to be vetted by the Kremlin.

Alexei Avetisov, member of the Russian Public Chamber and president of the Russian Student Rescue Corps, could head the Department for Combating Extremism among Youth in the Kremlin’s Office of Public Projects. Currently, the Office of Public Projects, which is run by Sergei Kiriyenko, the president’s first deputy chief of staff, has no such department. Our sources say Mr. Avetisov would be tasked with overseeing youth subcultures and decriminalizing the youth scene, in particular, by dealing with the popular AUE network of criminal gangs. The Presidential Human Rights Council discussed the issue with Vladimir Putin in December 2016.

Olga Amelchenkova, head of the Victory Volunteers Movement and member of the Russian Public Chamber, told us there were few organizations in Russia involved in volunteering in emergencies, and Mr. Avetisov was one of the few people who had constantly brought up the subject in the Public Chamber.

An acquaintance of Mr. Avetisov’s said his Russian Student Rescue Corps had brought many universities together. The organization took part in the first Taurida Camp held after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, an event attended by MPs and high-ranking officials. From 2015 to 2017, Mr. Avetisov was director of Territory of Meanings on the Klyazma, a youth education form, sponsored by Rosmolodezh (Russian Agency for Youth Affairs). His main job at the forum was providing technical support for the camp.

On June 6, Znak.com, citing its own sources, reported law enforcement agences were investigating Territory of Meanings on the Klyazma and, in this connection, “questions for the forum’s ex-director Alexei Avetisov could arise.” The website indicated companies allegedly affiliated with Mr. Avetisov had for several years been awarded “lucrative” contracts for constructing venues at the forum. The firms in question had no experience implementing government contracts. Currently, some of the companies have either gone out of business or are dormant, wrote the website.

Timur Prokopenko, deputy chief of staff in charge of the Office of Domestic Policy in the Kremlin, had been in charge of youth forums in recent years. He also handleded youth policy in his capacity as head of the Office of Domestic Policy. However, on June 14, a presidential decree turned youth policy over to the Office of Public Projects.

znakcom-2039402-666x375Territory of Meanings staffers. Photo from the camp’s VK page. Courtesy of Znak.com

Gazeta.Ru has reported that Rospatriotcenter head Ksenia Razuvayeva could take charge of the Office of Public Project’s Department of Youth Policy. Before taking over the running of Rospatriotcenter, Ms. Razuvayeva ran the Moscow branch of the Russian Volunteers Union and collaborated with the Young Guard of United Russia (MGER), which Mr. Prokopenko ran from 2010 to 2012. Ms. Razuvayeva would not confirm to us that she was moving to the Office of Public Projects Earlier, a source of ours in the Kremlin said she might not make it through the vetting process. Another of our sources noted a possible conflict of interests was at play. Ms. Razuvayeva also told us it was the first time she had heard about Mr. Avetisov’s moving to the Office of Public Projects.

“The vast majority of Young Guardsmen and other pro-regime activists brought up through the ranks in the past decades are supremely focused on their careers. The system simply spits out anyone else,” political scientist Abbas Gallyamov told us.

According to Gallyamov, “Changing colors for the new boss and refusing to have anything to do with people they worshipped only the day before are quite ordinary for this crowd.”

“Therefore, it does not matter whose people they were considered yesterday. They will be loyal to any boss, just because he or she is the boss,” Gallyamov added.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Cossacked

18A so-called Cossack lashes protesters with a plaited whip (nagaika) at the He’s No Tsar to Us opposition protest rally at Pushkin Square in Moscow on May 5, 2018. Photo by Ilya Varlamov

Сossacks Were Not Part of the Plan: Men with Whips Take Offense at the Opposition
Alexander Chernykh
Kommersant
May 8, 2017

The Presidential Human Rights Council (PHRC) plans to find out who the Cossacks were who scuffled with supporters of Alexei Navalny during the unauthorized protest rally on May 5 in Moscow. Meanwhile, the Moscow mayor’s office and the Central Cossack Host claimed they had nothing to do with the Cossacks who attempted to disperse opposition protesters. Kommersant was able to talk with Cossack Vasily Yashchikov, who admitted he was involved in the tussle, but claimed it was provoked by Mr. Navalny’s followers. Human rights defenders reported more than a dozen victims of the Cossacks have filed complaints.

The PHRC plans to ask law enforcement agencies to find out how the massive brawl erupted during the unauthorized protest rally on May 5 in Moscow. PHRC chair Mikhail Fedotov said “circumstances were exacerbated” when Cossacks and activists of the National Liberation Front (NOD) appeared at the opposition rally.

“It led to scenes of violence. We must understand why they were they and who these people were,” said Mr. Fedotov.

“Our main conclusion has not changed: the best means of counteracting unauthorized protest rallies is authorizing them,” he added.

On May 5, unauthorized protest rallies, entitled He’s No Tsar to Us, called for by Alexei Navalny, took place in a number of Russian cities. In Moscow, organizers had applied for a permit to march down Tverskaya Street, but the mayor’s officers suggested moving the march to Sakharov Avenue. Mr. Navalny still called on his supporters to gather at Pushkin Square, where they first engaged in a brawl with NOD activists and persons unknown dressed in Cossack uniforms. Numerous protesters were subsequently detained by regular police. Approximately 700 people were detained in total.

The appearance on Pushkin Square of Cossacks armed with whips has provoked a broad response in Russia and abroad. The Guardian wrote at length about the incident, reminding its readers that Cossacks would be employed as security guards during the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The Bell discovered a Central Cossack Host patch on the uniform of one of the Cossacks photographed during the brawl. According to the Bell, which cites documents from the Moscow mayor’s office, the Central Cossack Host was paid a total of ₽15.9 million for “providing security during large-scale events.”

However, Vladimir Chernikov, head of the Moscow Department of Regional Security, stressed, during an interview with Kommersant FM, that on May 5 “no Cossacks or any other organization were part of the plan and the means of providing security.”

Chernikov said police and the Russian National Guard acted impeccably. Spokesmen for the Central Cossack Host also said they had not dispatched any Cossacks to guard Pushkin Square, and that the Cossacks who, wearing their patches, did go to the square, had “voiced their civic stance.”

Bloggers have published information about the Cossacks they have been able to identify from photos and video footage of the rally. One video depicts a bearded man who grabs a placard, bearing the slogan “Open your eyes, you’re the tsar’s slave!”, from a young oppositionist before arguing with Open Russia coordinator Andrei Pivovarov. The Telegram channel BewareOfThem reported the man was Vasily Yashchikov, member of the Union of Donbass Volunteers. Mr. Yashchikov has confirmed to Kommersant he was, in fact, at the rally and was involved in the brawl with opposition protesters. Yet, he claimed, most of the Cossacks at Pushkin Square had nothing to do with the Central Cossack Host, as claimed by the Bell. According to Mr. Yashchikov, the brawlers mainly consisted of nonregistered (i.e., unaffiliated with the Russian government) Cossacks from two grassroots organizations, the First Hundred and the Crimean Regiment. Moreover, they allegedly showed up at the rally independently of one another.

“The rally was discussed in Cossack groups, and someone suggested we go and talk to people,” Mr. Yashchikov told Kommersant. “We have nearly a hundred people in the  Hundred, but only fifteen decided to go. At the square, we met Cossacks from the Crimean Regiment, which is actually not Crimean, but from the Moscow Region. But our organizations are not friendly, so we were there separately.”

He admitted there were several people from the Central Cossack Host at Pushkin Square, but his group did not interact with them, either.

KMO_165050_00034_1_t218_200833So-called Cossacks at the He’s No Tsar to Us opposition rally at Pushkin Square, Moscow, May 5, 2018. Photo by Alexander Miridonov. Courtesy of Kommersant

According to Mr. Yashchikov, the Cossacks came to Pushkin Square to talk with Mr. Navalny’s supporters, but had no intention of being involved in dispersing the rally.

“There were one and half thousand people there [the Moscow police counted the same number of protesters—Kommersant]. There were thirty-five of us at most, and we had only two whips. You could not have paid us to wade into that crowd,” claimed Mr. Yashchikov.

Mr. Yashchikov claimed he managed to have a friendly chat with Mr. Navalny, but opposition protesters were aggressive, he alleged.

“Someone picked on us, asking why we had come there, that it was their city. Another person tried to knock my cap off, while they swore at other Cossacks and blasphemed the Orthodox faith,” Mr. Yashchikov complained. “Well, we couldn’t take it anymore.”

People who attended the rally have denied his claims.

“The Cossacks acted cohesively, like a single team,” said Darya, who was at the rally [Kommersant has not published her surname, as she is a minor]. “They formed a chain and started pushing us towards the riot police, apparently, to make their job easier. The Cossacks kicked me, while they encircled my boyfriend and beat him. They retreated only when they realized they were being film and photographed.”

Darya planned to file a complaint with the police charging the Cossacks with causing her bodily harm. Currently, human rights defenders from Agora, Zona Prava, and Public Verdict have documented more than fifteen assault complaints filed against the Cossacks.

Oppositionists have claimed the police mainly detained protesters, allegedly paying almost no attention to the Cossacks and NOD activists. Kirill Grigoriev, an Open Russia activist detained at the rally, recounted that, at the police station where he was taken after he was detained, he pretended to be a NOD member, and he was released by police without their filing an incident report.

“When we arrived at the Alexeyevsky Police Precinct, a policeman immediately asked who of us was from NOD. I jokingly pointed at myself. He took me into a hallway and asked me to write down the surnames of other members of the organization,” said Mr. Grigoriev.

He wrote down the surnames of ten people, after which everyone on the list was given back their internal Russian passports and released.

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Cossacks Confront Navalny Supporters for First Time
Regime Prepares for Fresh Protests, Including Non-Political Ones, Analysts Argue 
Yelena Mukhametshina and Alexei Nikolsky
Vedomosti
May 6, 2018

He’s No Tsar to Us, the unauthorized protest rally in Moscow held by Alexei Navalny’s supporters, differed from previous such rallies. On Tverskaya Street, provocateurs demanded journalists surrender their cameras. By 2:00 p.m., the monument to Pushkin was surrounded by activists of the National Liberation Front (NOD). When protesters chanted, “Down with the tsar!” they yelled “Maidan shall not pass!” in reply. Behind the monument were groups of Cossacks, who had never attended such rallies. In addition, for the first time, the police warned people they intended to use riot control weapons and physical force, and indeed the actions of the security forces were unprecedentedly rough. The riot police (OMON) detained protesters by the hundreds, and Cossacks lashed them with plaited whips.

The Moscow police counted 1,500 protesters at the rally, while organizers failed to provide their own count of the number of attendees. Navalny said the nationwide rallies were a success. His close associate Leonid Volkov argued that “in terms of numbers, content, and fighting spirit, records were broken,” also noting the police’s unprecedented brutality. According to OVD Info, around 700 people were detained in Moscow, and nearly 1,600 people in 27 cities nationwide. Citing the PHRC, TASS reported that 658 people were detained in Moscow.

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“He’s No Tsar to Us, May 5: A Map of Arrests. 1,597 people were detained during protest rallies on May 5, 2018, in 27 Russian cities, according to OVD Info. According to human right activists, during nationwide anti-corruption protests on March 26, 2017, more than 1,500 people were detained. Source: OVD Info.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

PHRC member Maxim Shevchenko demanded the council be urgently convoked due to “the regime’s use of Black Hundreds and fascist militants.” According to a police spokesman, the appearance at the rally of “members of different social groups” was not engineered by the police, while the warning that police would use special riot control weapons was, apparently, dictated by the choice of tactics and the desire to avoid the adverse consequences of the use of tear gas.

According to NOD’s leader, MP Yevgeny Fyodorov, 1,000 members of the movement were involved in Saturday’s rally.

“We wanted to meet and discuss the fact the president must be able to implement his reforms. Because we have been talking about de-offshorization and withdrawing from a unipolar world for five years running, but things have not budged an inch,” said Fyodorov.

NOD did not vet their actions with the Kremlin, the leadership of the State Duma or the Moscow mayor’s office, Fyodorov assured reporters.

On Sunday, the Telegram channel Miracles of OSINT reported that, in 2016–2018, the Central Cossack Host, whose members were at the rally, received three contracts worth nearly ₽16 million from the Moscow Department for Ethnic Policy for training in the enforcement of order at public events. As Vedomosti has learned, according to the government procurement website, the Central Cossack Host received eleven contracts, worth nearly ₽38 million, from the Moscow mayor’s office over the same period.

Gleb Kuznetsov, head of the Social Research Expert Institute (EISI), which has ties to the Kremlin, argued there was no brutality at the rally.

“In Paris, the scale of protests is currently an order of magnitude higher, but no one speaks about their particular brutality. In Russia, so far the confrontation has been cute, moderate, and provincial. The only strange thing is that, in Russia, people who are involved in such protests, which are aimed at maximum mutual violence, are regarded as children. But this is not so. Everything conformed to the rules of the game, common to the whole world. If you jump a policeman, don’t be surprised if he responds with his truncheon,” said Kuznetsov.*

The Russian government has allied itself with the Cossacks and NOD, which are essentially illegal armed formations, argued Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Moscow Carnegie Center.

“This does not bode well. Apparently, in the future, such formations will be used to crack down on protests,” said Kolesnikov.

The authorities are preparing for the eventuality there will be more protests. Even now the occasions for them have become more diverse, and they are spreading geographically, noted Kolesnikov.

Grassroots activism has been growing, and the authorities have realized this, political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov concurred. They are always nervous before inaugurations. In 2012, there was fear of a virtual Maidan, while now the example of Armenia is fresh in everyone’s minds, he said.

“The security services had to flex their muscles before the new cabinet was appointed. Although, in view of the upcoming FIFA World Cup, law enforcement hung the regime out to dry contentwise,” said Vinogradov.

* In September 2017, the Bell reported that state corporations Rosatom and RusHydro were financing EISI to the tune of ₽400 million each, and it could not be ruled out that the so-called social research institute was receiving subsidies from other state companies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Varya Mikhaylova: Legal Nihilism

varya-morningDawn outside the October District Court, on Pochtamskaya Street in Petersburg’s Admiralty District. The Central Post Office is visible in the background. Photo by Varya Mikhaylova

Varya Mikhaylova
Facebook
May 7, 2018

I greeted the morning of the day Vladimir Putin started his new term as president in a way that was more than symbolic. At five in the morning, as the first rays of the sun were peaking over the horizon, I left the October District Court, where for the past thirteen hours I had defended people detained during the He’s No Tsar to Us protest rally in Petersburg.

I was afraid to go to court, because what happened in March could easily have happened again. The police had then tried to detain the activists who had come to support their friends right in the courtroom. But by Sunday afternoon this excuse seemed utter rubbish, and I rushed to the October District Court.

Friends of the detainees stood outside the courthouse with bags of food and things. They were not allowed into the courthouse, and the bailiffs refused to take their care packages and give them to the detainees. It was a miracle that me and another human rights activist, Maria Malysheva, were let into the courthouse. By current standards, that was a cause for joy.

There were five detainees in the courthouse. Some of them had been consciously involved in the protest rally and made no bones about it, while the others had come along for the ride, had come to gawk or had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One of my future defendants was an amazing mathematics teacher who, at that point, had not eaten or drunk water for twenty-six hours. After we arrived, we tearfully persuaded the bailiffs to at least send in the food and water brought by the people waiting outside.

A policeman in the courthouse refused to give one young woman her telephone. He sat next to her holding the phone in a cellophane packet and was very proud of his perserverance. After I called the police HQ hotline, however, he handed over the phone to the detainee while looking down at the floor.

After four hours of waiting, we went into the first hearing at 7:15 p.m., while the final hearing commenced at four in the morning. We made around fourteen motions total during the hearings, and all of them were rejected except motions to admit a social defender to the hearings and view a video. Our motions to summon a prosecutor, witnesses, and public officials, request access to a video, enter evidence into the record, and transfer a hearing to another jurisdiction were all turned down. The last motion led to a particularly funny exchange with the judge.

“Defender, why do you think the case should be transferred to another jurisdiction?”

“Your honor, the alleged violation came to light in the area covered by the 78th Police Precinct, and the case should be heard by the Kuibyshev District Court.”

“Why do you say that? It came to light in the 1st Police Precinct.”

(In other cases, it would be the 77th Police Precinct, the 34th Police Precinct, and so on.)

“So, it turns out my defendant was detained and delivered to police custody, but only subsequently, at the police station, did the violation come to light?”

“It turns out that was what happened.”

Neither the judge nor her female clerk concealed their contempt for the protest rally in the slightest.

“You, an educated person, a professor, what induced you to go there?”

“If I had been in your shoes, I would have left as soon as I saw what was happening.”

“Schoolchildren with time on their hands.”

“You should have thought about the possibility of jail time, your job, and your pupils when you were going to the protest, not now, when you ask me not to pass this sentence.”

And so on, and so forth.

The video that was introduced into evidence in every case deserves special attention. It was very long (over an hour), but it contained no footage either of the rally’s beginning, in the Alexander Garden, or its finale, when the police detained protesters. Two of my defendants, who insisted they had not taken part in the march, were not in the video. Another of my defendants was in the video, and the video corroborated exactly what he said during the hearing: that he was involved in the march, but he had not chanted any slogans and was not carrying a placard. So, the video was on our side in absolutely every case, but this did not ruffle the court at all, because the principal mantra that all judges repeat in such cases is, “There are no grounds for not trusting the testimony of the police officers.”

The police are a separate conversation. They have learned to do a better job of compiling the case files than in 2012, but they still make a royal mess of it. Therefore, in the case files of the people I defended, there was no mention of a single witness to the alleged administrative violations or a single official attesting search witness [i.e., a “poniatoi,” as required under Russian law], although all of them had their personal effects confiscated. But the most enchanting episode had to with my defendant Yulya, whose case was heard last, from 3:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. I will write a separate post about it now.

The outcomes of the court hearings in which I served as a social defender were as follows. My defendant who was in the march, but did not chant any slogans, was sentenced to a fine of 15,000 rubles [approx. 200 euros] and three days in jail. The two random bystanders were each sentenced to a fine of 10,000 rubles and three days in jail. In the courtroom next door, a female protester who was heavily involved in the rally was sentenced to four days in jail and fine of 10,000 rubles, while another innocent bystander was slapped with two days in jail and a fine of 10,000 rubles.

We plan to appeal all the verdicts, of course.

I gather that the point of these court hearings against people who are involved in protest rallies is not to intimidate everyone, but to inculcate total legal nihilism in each and every one of us. People who deliberately go to a rally, waving flags and bearing placards, are sentenced to four days in jail and 10,000-ruble fines, while random passersby receive the same sentences or worse. Human right defenders who attempt to give detainees blank court appeal forms are slapped with fines of 170,000 rubles [approx. 2,250 euros] and fifteen days in jail.

***

Recently, I was asked how activists could establish links with human right defenders who would stand for them at hearings. My reply was that life in 2018 is such that activists and human rights defenders are quite often one and the same people.

These were the first hearings in which I defended detainees on my own, so feel free to congratulate me.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Varya Mikhaylova: Yulya’s Hearing

Varya Mikhaylova
Facebook
May 7, 2018

Now I want to write separately about Yulya’s hearing, which was the last.

Here is how it was.

At three in the morning, the judge said, “Let’s recess until morning, because, as it is, no one can think straight anymore.”

This was a good suggestion for the judge and me, whose warm beds awaited us at home, but not for Yulya, who would have been shipped backed till morning to a police station where she had not been issued any sleeping gear, and where there was a terrible stench and bedbugs.

So, we begged the judge, if she wanted to postpone the hearing, to do it lawfully and humanely: by releasing Yulya on her own recognizance and letting her go home. Because this was what should have happened to all the detainees, who despite all the regulations and common sense were tried on the weekend in emergency court hearings that were closed to the public.

It was such an emotional conversation, I cried as I appealed to the judge to give my defendant the chance at least to take a shower, get her wits about her, and prepare a normal defense.

But there was a snag, you see. If Yulya had gone home and later failed to appear in court, it would have been impossible to slap her with a jail sentence, which cannot be handed down in absentia. All the court could have given her in absentia was a 1,000-ruble fine. So, the judge told us almost in no uncertain terms that was why Yulya would not go home under any circumstances.

Then we pleaded with the judge to hear Yulya’s case right away. As it was, I could not make it to court in the morning, Yulya would not be able to find another social defender, and she would be shipped immediately back to the stinky police department. Whereas, after the judge made her decision, Yulya would be sent to the temporary detention facility on Zakharyevskaya Street, where she would at least have linens and blankets.

The judge could also have exonerated her and sent her home.

That whole conversation was also quite funny, because the judge did nothing at all to conceal the fact the verdict could only be guilty, although we had not even begun to hear the case, and the judge knew nothing about Yulya whatsoever.

The judge ultimately relented, and the hearing kicked off. Usually, people are initially tried for violating Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code (violating the regulations for holding public events), and only then for violating Article 19.3 (failure to obey a police officer’s lawful requests). During each previous hearing, I had argued to the judge that if the defendant had already been convicted under Article 20.2, and the aggravating circumstances were failure to obey a policeman’s orders, it would be wrong to try the individual separately for failure to obey a policeman’s orders, since this would violate the basic principle of double jeopardly, something the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office had addressed.

Apparently, the judge was heartily tired of my speech, so she decided first to try Yulya for violation of Article 19.3. She found Yulya guilty and sentenced her to three days in jail.

Then the second hearing, on the charge Yulya had violated Article 20.2, commenced. It was four in the morning.

The case file on this charge had been compiled worst of all. It was such a mess the report confirming Yulya had been delivered to a police station was not signed at all. There was no name and no policeman’s signature. It was just a piece of paper.

We pointed this out to the judge, of course, and that was our big mistake. Because the whole point of these hearings was for the defendants and defenders to take home the message that the more you showed off, the worse it would be for you. Having noted the mistakes in the case file, the judge postponed the hearing until 11:15 a.m. on Monday.

So, Yulya was tried at four in the morning and was sentenced to jail, but she was taken from the courthouse back to the stinky police station anyway.

The police station where Yulya was taken did not have even a chair for her to sit on, and so she was taken to another precinct, where she slept for an hour and a half sitting on a chair. By eleven o’clock, she had been taken back to the October District Court, where her hearing resumed.

She was found guilty of violating Article 20.2 and fined 10,000 rubles [approx. 130 euros]. The police officer whose signature had missing from the delivery report simply put his signature on the report, already bound and filed in the case file.

These photos of Yulya and me were taken at four in the morning when we were waiting for the judge to deliver her verdict in the first case.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Варя Михайлова, selfie and closeup

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, selfie and closeup

Translated by the Russian Reader

OVD Info: He’s No Tsar to Us in Facts and Figures

traffic sign in spbSlava Ptrk, Traffic Sign in Petersburg, 2018. Photo courtesy of OVD Info

OVD Info, That Was the Week That Was Email Newsletter, Special Edition:
How the He’s No Tsar to Us Protests Played Out Nationwide

Saturday, May 5, 2018, witnessed large-scale, nationwide protests by supporters of Alexei Navalny, who voiced their opposition to Vladimir Putin’s new term as president. This was how the protests went down in facts and figures.

The police behaved roughly. They detained not only demonstrators but also random passerby, children and reporters, and OVD Info’s hotline got more than one call about police brutality. In Moscow, so-called Cossacks joined regular police in dispersing the rally.  The so-called Cossacks beat people using whips, and a man with a raccoon was among the detainees. The Bell discovered the so-called Cossacks had ties with the mayor’s office. In Chelyabinsk, local activists were detained before the protest rally on suspicion of theft, while in Saratov, police detained a 12-year-old boy.

According to the information we have available, a total of 1,600 people were detained in 27 cities. Around 300 spent the night in police stations.*

  • 719 detainees in Moscow were taken to 42 police stations; around 154 people spent the night in custody.
  • 217 detainees in Petersburg were taken to 29 police stations; around 95 people spent the night in custody.
  • 185 people were detained in Chelyabinsk.
  • 75 people were detained in Yakutsk.
  • 64 people were detained in Krasnodar.
  • 63 people were detained in Togliatti, half of them minors.
  • 48 people were detained in Voronezh.
  • 45 people were detained in Krasnoyarsk.
  • 28 people were detained in Kaluga.
  • 24 people were detained in Astrakhan.
  • 22 people were detained in Novokuznetsk.
  • 20 people were detained in Belgorod.
  • 18 people were detained in Vladimir.
  • 16 people were detained in Samara.
  • 10 people each were detained in Barnaul and Blagoveshchensk.
  • 9 people were detained in Penza.
  • 6 people each were detained in Tver and Kurgan.
  • 5 people were detained in Sochi.
  • 2 people each were detained in Kemerovo, Naberezhnye Chelny, and Rostov-on-Don.
  • 1 person each was detained in Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Smolensk, and Tomsk.
*You can view the complete list of detainees, including names and the police stations where they were taken, here.

In the aftermath of the rallies, criminal charges have been filed against one detainee.  In Petersburg, a policeman named Sukhorukov has accused Mikhail Tsakunov of knocking out his tooth “deliberately, motivated by enmity.” Charges were filed under Article 318 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code: health- or life-threatening violence against a police office. Tsakunov could be sent to prison for ten years if found guilty. Video footage of the young man’s arrest can be viewed here.

The detainees were tried on Sunday in Petersburg, Vladimir, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don, and Chelyabinsk. 

Alexei Navalny was detained on Pushkin Square in Moscow. At the police station, he was written up for two administrative offenses: repeated violation of the procedures for holding public events and failure to obey a police officer’s lawful order. He was not kept in the police station overnight. His court hearing will take place on May 11.

What Did We Do?

We helped detainees in twenty police stations in Moscow and coordinated the rendering of legal aid in Chelyabinsk, Kaluga, and Krasnoyarsk.

In the space of twenty-four hours,* our hotline received 2,156 calls for a total duration of 64 hours and 45 minutes.

  • 5 hours and 24 minutes of that time was taken up by 93 legal consultations.
  • We were called 1,014 times.
  • We called back to verify information 1,142 times.

* From six in the morning on May 5 to six in the morning on May 6.

We do intake not only on our hotline but also using our Law Bot and our Red Button application.

  • 147 people reported being detained through Law Bot.
  • 78 reports of people being detained were received through the Red Button.
  • 1,993 people had installed the bot as of May 3.

43 volunteers helped us gather information on the detentions, putting in approximately 260 hours of work. You can sign up to join our team of volunteers here.

We can help a lot of people, but we need money to do it. Donations keep the 24-hour  hotline running. They pay for legal services. They pay people to write the news and analyze human rights violations in Russia. You can support us here.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Mari Davtyan: Thinking about the Police

ivan krasnov-takedown
Photo by Ivan Krasnov. Courtesy of RTVI and Mari Davtyan

Mari Davtyan
Facebook
May 6, 2018

Today I am thinking about police officers.

Some time ago I was in a police station in downtown Moscow, one of the police stations where detained protesters are routinely taken. On the bulletin board there was a photograph of a child, accompanied by a request to help the family of someone who worked at the station, someone whose son was seriously ill.

They were trying to raise around three million rubles [approx. 40,000 euros] to take the baby abroad for treatment.

But I look at these other photographs, and there is something I can never understand.

The men in the helmets have no yachts, private jets or hefty accounts in banks. Interior Ministry clinics will not even treat their children, and ambulances will refuse to pick up their elders and take them to hospital, because, “What do you want? He (or she) is seventy years old?!” They themselves will endure systematic violatons of their rights as employees, and when they are dismissed for reasons of health or due to budget cuts, they will have to sue the courts for years to be paid their pensions and other benefits. But if they die in the line of duty—no, not while detaining those awful protesters, but while trying to arrest actual criminals—their families will be paid kopecks in compensation and forgotten within six months.

They know quite well that if a conflict arises—say, an FSB officer hits them with his car—the Interior Ministry will throw them under the bus without batting an eye. They know better than we do how dangerous it is for their children and wives to walk outside in Russia, how easy it is to buy narcotics in Russian schools, and what their commanding officer’s summer cottage is like. They know perfectly well how senseless, illogical, and merciless the “system” is. They talk about it all the time.

But I look at them and I just cannot get my head around one thing. What is it they defend so vehemently?

Thanks to Varya Mikhailova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader