Article 318: Criminalizing Protest in Russia

wehatecops

Criminalizing Protest Has Become a Tool for Combating Rallies
Experts Studied Use of Law Criminalizing Violence Against Authorities
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
February 28, 2019

Defending Protest (Apologiya protesta), an organization that provides assistance to people detained at protest rallies, has analyzed the use of Russian Criminal Code Article 318 against people involved in protest events. Article 318 makes violence against authorities a criminal offense. Between 2009 and 2017, a total of 65,046 people were convicted on this charge. Typically, the charge has been filed against people involved in drunken brawls broken up by police units or people involved in roadside altercations with traffic police. But Article 318 has also become the primary tool for charging activists with using violence against the security forces.

Demonstrative Cruelty
There are no separate figures for protesters charged with violating Article 318, but between 2013 and 2015 the number of people convicted on such charges rose annually by 600 to 800 people before decreasing slightly. The authors of Defending Protest’s report argue this increase stemmed from a rise in the number of protests and protesters in 2012: it was on May 6, 2012, that the March of the Millions took place, leading to the show trials of the Bolotnaya Square Case. After the protests peaked in 2015, there was a cooling off period, and the number of convictions nearly returned to their 2009 levels. However, there has been a growing tendency to sentence people convicted under Article 318 to actual prison time.

The experts note that when defendants confess their guilt and are tried in special expedited trials, it should theoretically mitigate their punishments, but in reality it does not increase chances they will be sentenced to probation or other non-carceral penalties. Besides, courts in Moscow have made a point of not invoking the option, stipulated by law, of dismissing cases because the parties have been reconciled or defendants have sincerely apologized for their crimes, since, in the opinion of Moscow judges, cases cannot be dismissed in so-called double-ended crimes, crimes committed not only against the victim as such but also against law and order.

The report notes that customary Russian methods of criminal investigation and judicial procedure have now been applied to the cases of grassroots activists, including double standards in weighing evidence, the presumption that law enforcement officers tell the truth, and giving priority to testimony made by suspects prior to their trials. The experts note the charges in such cases can be trumped up easily. The key evidence in these cases is the testimony of the victim and witnesses, all of them police officers. If necessary, their statements can be coordinated and entered into the court record in literally identical form.

Nonpunishable Violence
The flip side of the process is the inability to hold police officers criminally liable for using violence against demonstrators, says Alexei Glukhov, head of Defending Protest. If justice is served, this happens only if and when the European Court of Human Rights rules on a case, although Russian policemen and security services officers have been dispersing peaceful demonstrations and detaining grassroots activists and random bystanders with ever-greater ferocity. But nearly the only well-known case in which a Russian police officer was held criminally liable for violence against protesters was the case of Vadim Boyko, the so-called Pearl Sergeant, who hit a man over the head with a rubber truncheon at a demonstration in Petersburg in July 2010. In 2011, Sergeant Boyko was sentenced to three and half years of probation.

It is common practice to reject complaints filed by victims of police violence by claiming they are means of self-defense against the counter charges faced by the complainants. Thus, in the formal refusal to open a criminal case based on the complaint filed by lawyer Mikhail Benyash, the police investigator wrote, “M.M. Benyash’s testimony should be treated skeptically because he is thus attempting to build his own defense against criminal charges and thereby avoid prosecution.” In turn, the police officers who denied they had beaten Benyash testified he had beaten his own head against the window, door, and other parts of the car in which they abducted him, and when they dragged him out of the car, he beat his head against the pavement.

No less noteworthy were the reasons police investigators gave for refusing to open a criminal case based on a complaint filed by Danil Bolshakov and Daniil Markelov of Krasnoyarsk. Their testimony was not corroborated since Markelov was a supporter of Alexei Navalny, “who is a well-known opponent of the leadership of the Russian Federation, as headed by President V.V. Putin.”

Crackdown
Generally, the police crackdown has been intensifying. Lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky agreed Article 318 has been used to intimidate people.

“I would encourage everyone to compare the verdicts in the Bolotnaya Square Case, in which a demonstrator brushed away a policeman’s arm and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, with the sentences handed down in the wake of the recent unrest in France, in which protesters have been fined or sentenced to a few months in jail at most,” he said.

In fact, Agranovsky explained, any physical contact with Russian police would result in the “offender” being charged under Article 318. Ultimately, people have become wary of attending protest rallies, although, formally speaking, Russia has signed all the relevant international conventions encouraging  peaceful protest.

Agranovsky recalled that ex-Russian MP Vladimir Bessonov was stripped of the right to engage in politics after he was charged with using violence against police officers at a protest rally.

Opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov agreed the police crackdown has intensified.

“There is a desire to extinguish protests, and that is something you can only do with a stick. The powers that be have run out of carrots,” he said.

Gudkov argued all the available tools have been brought into play in order to artificially criminalize protest. For example, the so-called Ildar Dadin article in the criminal code had been revived after it was all but outlawed by the Russian Constitutional Court. The article criminalizes repeated involvement in “unauthorized” protest rallies.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

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Unionized Independent Russian Truckers Persecuted by Putin Regime

Opponents of Plato Road Tolls System Complain to European Court of Human Rights They Have Been Victims of Political Persecution
Their Organization Was Earlier Ruled a “Foreign Agent”
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
December 26, 2018

The Association of Russian Carriers (OPR), an organization of independent truck drivers  the Russian Justice Ministry placed on its list of “foreign agents” late last year, has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) in Strasbourg, claiming its right to freedom of association had been violated and it had been subjected to political persecution, in violation of Article 11 and Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as reported by Alexei Glukhov, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group who represents the OPR in Strasbourg.

The OPR emerged during the campaign for the rights of truckers that kicked off after the Plato road tolls payment system went online in November 2015. The OPR brought together independent truck owners and truck drivers. In June 2017, it announced it was planning to nominate its chair, Andrei Bazhutin, as a candidate for the Russian presidency. Shortly thereafter, the Justice Ministry launched an audit of the OPR, resulting in its being ruled a “foreign agent.” The ministry cited four donations from private individuals in Germany, totaling 3,620 euros, as evidence of “foreign financing.”

In a report on its oversight of the work of “foreign agent” NGOs in 2017, the Justice Ministry claimed the OPR had engaged in “political activity” by “organizing and holding  events calling for the resignation of the Russian federal government.” In June of this year, the Krasnogvardeisky District Court in Petersburg fined the OPR 400,000 rubles [approx. $5,755] for failing to voluntarily [sic] register itself as a “foreign agent.”

The complaint says the OPR has been a nuisance to the Putin regime since the organization has led the campaign against the Plato road tolls payment system, which ultimately benefits businessmen closely allied with the Kremlin. The truckers are certain it was their grassroots activism that caused the authorities to persecute them. The fine leveled against the OPR not only was far in excess of the foreign donations it received but has also financially ruined the organization.

Glukhov points out the ECHR has received several dozen complaints from Russian NGOs labeled “foreign agents” by the Russian government, but the court has not yet ruled on Russia’s “foreign agent” law and its application in practice. However, the court has communicated the facts of the first large group of cases to the Russian authorities, while a second group of cases was nearing completion, meaning that a ruling on complaints filed by Russian “foreign agent” NGOs could be expected next year, argues Glukhov. The OPR’s complaint is part of a third wave of complaints filed in Strasbourg. As they await the court’s ruling, Russian NGOs continue to suffer from the harsh law.

Everyone has the right to complain to the EHCR, but the Russian Justice Ministry begins to work with a complaint [sic] only after the court has communicated its consent to hear the case, says Andrei Fyodorov, head of the office of Russia’s representative to the EHCR.

Lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky says the EHCR has rarely ruled that Article 18 of the European Convention has been violated. Recently, however, in response to a complaint filed by opposition politician Alexei Navalny, the court ruled Russia had violated Article 18. The ruling was a precedent of sorts. Agranovsky has the sense that, before the Navalny case, the court’s Grand Chamber had postponed other cases in which Article 18 had been invoked, but now it had worked out a common set of rules that could be applied in other cases as well. On the other hand, there was a risk Article 18 would be devalued, Agranovsky warns [sic].

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[Three] Years of Plato: How Russian Authorities Forced Truckers to Pay Road Tolls

fullscreen-118c.jpg[Three] years ago, on November 15, 2015, Russian authorities launched the Plato system (“Plato” is an acronym for “payment for a ton” in Russian) to collect tolls from owners of heavy-duty trucks traveling on federal highways. The authorities claimed their goal was to compensate for the damage the trucks caused to roads. It was decided the toll would be applied to owners of trucks weighing over twelve tons. Photo courtesy of Maxim Stulov/Vedomosti and RBC 

fullscreen-12pmThe right to develop and implement Plato was awarded to RT Invest Transport Systems without tendering. The company is owned on a parity basis by Igor Rotenberg and RT Invest, which is 25.01% owned by Rostec and 74.99% owned by Andrei Shipelov’s firm Tsaritsyn Capital LLC. The Russian government agreed to pay Plato’s developer and operator 10.6 billion rubles [approx. $153 million at current exchange rates] annually.  Photo of Igor Rotenberg courtesy of Nikolai Galkin/TASS and RBC 

fullscreen-123u.jpgOpposition politician Alexei Navalny and Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) lawyer Ivan Zhdanov asked that the courts declare the government’s agreement with RT Invest Transport Systems null and void. Their lawsuit was rejected first by the Moscow Court of Arbitration, and later by the Russian Constitutional Court. Photo of Alexei Navalny courtesy of Yevgeny Razumny/Vedomosti and RBC 

fullscreen-12do Truckers in forty Russian regions protested against Plato in November 2016. They demanded Plato be turned off, a three-year moratorium imposed on its use, and the system be tested for at least a year. Photo by Yevgeny Yegorov/Vedomosti and RBC

fullscreen-12suWhen Plato was launched in November 2015, truck drivers paid 1.53 rubles a kilometer. Four months later, the authorities planned to double the toll, but after negotiations with truckers they made concessions, reducing the toll increase to 25%. Since April 15, 2017, the authorities have charged trucks 1.91 rubles a kilometer. Photo courtesy of Sergei Nikolayev/Vedomosti and RBC 

fullscreen-12d8However, even the discounted [sic] toll increase did not sit well with all truckers [sic]. On March 27, 2016, the OPR went on what it called an indefinite nationwide strike. Truckers protested the toll increases and demanded fairness and transparency at weight stations. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny/Vedomosti and RBC. [The slogans read, “Down with Plato!!! It’s Rotenberg’s Feeding Trough” and “We’re Against Toll Roads.”

fullscreen-12jxIn October 2017, the government approved a bill increasing fines for nonpayment of Plato tolls from 5,000 rubles to 20,000 rubles. If passed, the law would make it possible to charge drivers for violations that occurred six months earlier. The new rules were set to take effect in 2018. Photo of Dmitry Medvedev courtesy of Dmitry Astakhov/TASS and RBC 

fullscreen-1ghbPlato’s database has registered 921,000 vehicles weighing over twelve tons. According to the Russian Transport Ministry, during its first two years of operation, Plato raised 37 billion rubles for the Federal Roads Fund. In the autumn of 2017, the government selected three projects that would be financed by the monies raised by Plato: a fourth bridge in Novosibirsk and bypasses around the cities of Chusovoy (Perm Territory) and Khabarovsky. Photo courtesy of Georgy Shpikalov/PhotoXPress and RBC

fullscreen-11h3.jpgVehicles that transport people are exempt from Plato tolls, as are emergency vehicles, including vehicles used by firefighters, police, ambulance services, emergency services, and the military traffic police. Vehicles used to transport military equipment are also exempt from the toll. Photo courtesy of Gleb Garanich/Reuters and RBC

 

Russia: Great Cops, Wicked People

police vs youthThe 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
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
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

Saturday Vespers

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The course of history screams to us that Russian Orthodoxy is either a form of dementia or a form of permissiveness, a mandate for “therapeutic” violence. It is not clear to me how this leaky boat has not drowned in the waters of our time, and what causes people to get into it and go to the bottom, while also returning fire. A specter haunts Russia, only the specter of what? It’s obviously a stinking, rotting fleshy corpse.

Sofiya Yakimova

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Moscow art smashed as Orthodox activists denounce blasphemy
Anna Malpas
August 15, 2015
AFP

Moscow (AFP) – Sculptures by a renowned Soviet artist on show in central Moscow were smashed after being denounced by Orthodox activists as “blasphemous.”

“Delusional people came to the exhibition who broke several works belonging to the Manege collection, by Vadim Sidur,” said a spokeswoman for the Manege art centre by the Kremlin walls, Yelena Karneyeva, referring to the activists.

“Several sculptures are completely smashed,” she told AFP, adding that police had come and led away the activists. The works were made of plaster and linoleum.

A police spokesman told AFP that he could “confirm the incident happened and that currently all the participants of the conflict have been taken to the station to write statements.”

A well-known Orthodox activist Dmitry Tsorionov, known by the nickname Dmitry Enteo, earlier said he was at the Manege exhibition centre.

“We called the police,” he said. “They will close the exhibition for offending believers.”

Enteo, quoted by Interfax news agency, had said the exhibition included an “indecent” depiction of Jesus Christ and was “dirty, harsh mockery of Jesus Christ and the saints.”

The head of the nationalist God’s Will group is a prominent conservative activist. He cites Orthodox values while picketing and heckling at arts events and protests, sometimes with a television camera crew in tow. This year he attempted to stop a gay pride rally in Moscow.

The exhibition called “Sculptures that We Don’t See,” showed works by Soviet sculptors that did not see the light of day during the Soviet period because they were non-conformist.

The show, which opened to the public Friday, included some works with religious themes including a crucifixion bas-relief.

Sidur was an avant-garde artist unable to show his non-conformist works publicly in the Soviet era. He died in 1986. A museum in Moscow is now dedicated to his work and his art has been sold at international auction houses such as Sotheby’s.

Friday’s attack on his works swiftly prompted condemnation.

“Now Orthodox warriors are smashing a sculpture exhibition in the centre of Moscow. Hail the Russian IS,” Vladimir Varfomoleyev, a journalist at popular Echo of Moscow radio station, wrote in a Tweet.

‘Warning, religion!’

Artist Alexei Knedlyakovsky, whose installation about the Russian protest movement was damaged by Enteo last year, wrote in a Tweet: “Maybe after this Enteo will finally get jailed?”

An Orthodox Church spokesman, Vladimir Legoida told RIA Novosti news agency there must be a “legal assessment” of the attack, while stressing that believers “undoubtedly have the right to protest.”

In recent years, religious fundamentalist activists have targeted a number of exhibitions in Moscow and forced them to shut down, while organisers have been fined for inciting hatred.

In 2007, activists attacked an exhibition at Moscow’s Sakharov Centre called “Warning, Religion!,” complaining it insulted believers.

The exhibition included a print of Jesus with the head of Mickey Mouse and a spoof ad for Coca-Cola with the slogan “This is my Blood.”

Russia in 2010 convicted the organisers of inciting religious hatred and fined them.

The Sakharov Centre’s director was earlier fined in 2005 for inciting religious hatred with another exhibition called “Warning, Religion!”

Activists had poured red paint on the walls and paintings and smashed windows at the 2003 exhibition.

Such attacks on exhibitions carry echoes of brutal Soviet-era treatment of contemporary artists seen at the time as being ideologically unsound.

The Manege exhibition centre was the scene of one of the most famous Soviet-era crackdowns on contemporary art.

In 1962, then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited an exhibition of abstract painting at the gallery and angrily denounced the artists as “fags” and “bastards.”

In 1974, the authorities sent in a bulldozer to destroy an improvised exhibition in a park in southwestern Moscow by avant-garde artists.

Photo by the Russian Reader

A Muted Joy: Who Got Left Out of Putin’s Amnesty

Lenta.Ru
December 19, 2013
A Muted Joy
Four Defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case Amnestied

The amnesty passed yesterday by the State Duma has enabled charges against four defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case to be dropped. Today, December 19, opposition activist Vladimir Akimenkov and journalist Leonid Kovyazin, who had been held in a remand prison for over a year, were released. Human rights activist Nikolai Kavkazsky was released from house arrest, and charges were likewise dropped against Maria Baronova, who had been under travel restrictions. Our correspondent went to the hearing at the Nikulinsky District Court in Moscow to see how the “prisoners of Bolotnaya” were freed.

Lawyers and journalists waited for the hearing to begin in a small, five-table cafe on the first floor of the Nikulinsky District Court. It had been known since yesterday evening that motions to amnesty four defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case—Maria Baronova, Vladimir Akimenkov, Nikolai Kavkazsky and Leonid Kovyazin—would be filed today. The four had been charged under sections 2 and 3 of Article 212 of the Criminal Code (participating in rioting and incitement to riot). Yesterday, the State Duma amended the president’s amnesty bill, extending it not only those convicted of such crimes but also to suspects and defendants charged under this article. However, the hearing had already been delayed by two hours and the people in the cafe were nervous.

Someone suggested the motions would not be accepted until Vladimir Putin’s press conference was over, because Judge Natalya Nikishina was waiting for a go-ahead from the Kremlin. Someone else claimed that traffic jams were to blame: because of them, the defendants had not been delivered to the court on time.

“In our difficult times, any delay gives rise to conspiracy theories,” lawyer Sergei Badamshin said by way of summing up.

When asked whether the four defendants would be released, lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant answered quite cautiously.

“It often happens that courts like to drag things out until the verdict. In Russia, the authorities don’t like letting people go. Today, I heard that some lady from the Federal Penitentiary Service said that for Nadya [Tolokonnikova] to be amnestied they would need a paper from child protection services saying that Nadya had not been deprived of her parental rights. Can you imagine? What grounds do they have for suspecting her of this? Her daughter has a birth certificate in which Nadya is identified as the mother. But in Russia, if they don’t want to let someone go, they always come up with an excuse.”

Dmitry Agranovsky, Vladimir Akimenkov’s lawyer, was categorical.

“I prepared the draft amendments to the amnesty bill along with MPs from the Communist Party. We ensured that the cases against people eligible for amnesty who have been charged under Article 212 would be dropped not after the verdict, but at the stage where they are currently are. From a legal perspective, Akimenkov should be released today, end of story. Since yesterday, there has no longer been any need for his detention. His complaint has already been filed with the European Court of Human Rights, and if he’s kept in the remand prison even for a day after the amnesty bill is published, that will be tantamount to a real abuse of power, since they are no legal grounds for detaining him. He should be released in the courtroom.”

Agranovsky recited [the final stanza of Pushkin’s poem “Deep in Siberian mines”] with expression.

“The heavy fetters will fall, / The jails will crumble. And freedom / Will joyfully hail you at the entrance, / And brothers will give you back your swords.”

Lawyer Alexei Vetrentsev, who was representing defendant Leonid Kovyazin, did not think his client would be released today.

“I think Leonid will be released from the remand prison only tomorrow. There’ll be paperwork at the prison, and he’ll have to gather his things.”

The expression on Vetrentsev’s face was extremely sad.

“For us, the amnesty is a good decision, but I feel embarrassed before the others. It is inhuman to carry out an amnesty this way, releasing some people while others are left in jail.”

Nine other people were to appear with his client in the cage for defendants at the Nikulinsky District Court. Only two of them, Kovyazin and Akimenkov, were supposed to be released. Baronova, the mother of a young child, had been under travel restrictions, while Kavkazsky had been under house arrest.

“I’m ashamed, but I’m glad, and that’s an objective feeling,” said Baronova. “You can feel as guilty as you like because the others aren’t being let out, but now for the first time in two years I can leave the country for at least a few days. I’m looking here at names of banks that give consumer loans for the New Year holidays, so I can go to Berlin.”

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(Left to right) Sergei Krivov, Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich, Andrei Barabanov and Artyom Savyolov. Photo: Gennady Gulyaev/Kommersant
Anatoly, grandfather of anarchist Alexei Polikhovich, another defendant, sat motionless not far from Baronova. Anatoly’s grandson was first charged under “amnestied” Article 212, for involvement in rioting. But after a press conference last year in which President Vladimir Putin spoke out strongly against people who had [allegedly] assaulted police officers, Article 318 (“use of violence that does not endanger human life or health […] against a representative of the authority”), the standard charge, was added to the charges against Polikhovich. Riot police officer Igor Tarasov had then suddenly remembered that at the May 6, 2012, rally, Polikhovich had “hit him in the wrist, causing severe pain.”
Immediately after the defendants were brought into the courtroom, the four lawyers moved to have their clients released in connection with the amnesty decree published yesterday in [official government newspaper] Rossiiskaya Gazeta. The appeals were wholly supported by the prosecution. Judge Natalya Nikishina then asked whether the appeals were supported by the remaining defendants not covered by the amnesty—that is, Polikhovich, Alexandra Dukhanina, Denis Lutskevich, Stepan Zimin, Sergei Krivov, Andrei Barabanov, Yaroslav Belousov and Artyom Savyolov.

Polikhovich replied by chuckling ironically a few times, but the other defendants unanimously seconded the appeals. Stella Anton, Denis Lutskevich’s mother, wept loudly. Twenty minutes later, Judge Nikishina returned to the courtroom and read out her decision: to grant the motions and dismiss the criminal charges.

The first to exit the courtroom was Leonid Kovyazin. His wife Yevgenia threw her arms around him.

“The guys aren’t getting out, and that’s bad,” said Kovyazin, now free. “My joy is severely muted for this reason.”

When asked what conditions had been like for him in the Butyrka remand prison, Kovyazin answered calmly.

“At first, I had conflicts in the remand prison. Then I got used to it: the only tough thing was the waiting. Other than that, the people in prison, who are mostly there on drugs charges, are often quite outstanding. Incidentally, I was surprised it wasn’t only young people who used drugs: there were fortysomething men in jail with me who told me how they had got hooked on heroin on their birthdays. Basically, I can’t say anything good about jail: any term of imprisonment means stress, unhappiness and a few years deducted from your life. For example, it is physically painful to ride in the paddy wagon: it is very cold in winter, and extremely hot in summer.”

Kovyazin had been accused of overturning portable toilets that had been set up in Bolotnaya Square during last year’s May 6 rally, which ended in massive clashes between protesters and police. Kovyazin was frank about his actions that day.

“I had gone to the square to shoot video for the Vyatsk Observer newspaper, but then I lost my cool. When I saw the case materials, the video shot from above, I noticed that at the moment [when police dispersed the rally] only around fifty people remained in the square, but the police were on both sides. I had shot scenes of people being beaten by the police, but then I had put away the camera and yet was unable to leave. Perhaps that was my mistake: the camera distances you from what’s happening, but when you’re involved in the events, it’s different.”

Kovyazin did not deny that he had pushed the toilet stalls.

“It was an emotional decision. After the fact you can discuss it at length and reflect on it, but when you see [people being beaten] . . . I was caught up in the action. Later, when the task force came to arrest me, I said to my brother, ‘See you in five years.’ Fortunately, that hasn’t come to pass.”

After a pause, Leonid continued.

“If I could play it back, I would do what I did, only I would have gone without the camera. As Vova [Vladimir Akimenkov] joked to me, ‘When you get out, the journalists are going to slap you first, then shake your hand.’ Because that kind of involvement is, of course, a violation of professional journalistic ethics. But I don’t believe I was involved in rioting.”

“There was no rioting in the square,” asserted Nikolai Kavkazsky, one of the amnestied defendants and a lawyer with the human rights organization Civil Assistance. “It is obvious to everyone that on May 6 there was a sanctioned march and rally that the authorities wanted to disrupt. People who went to that rally are now on trial, but not the policemen who actually violated the law, which prohibits dispersing rallies. What happened to me, for example? I saw a police officer hitting some unknown people with a truncheon. He was beating them severely, you might say. I went up to the police officer and wanted to say to him, ‘Why are you violating the law on police conduct? Why are you beating citizens?” But I didn’t manage to say anything. He raised his truncheon. I wanted to cover myself with hands, but the blow landed on my arm, and to protect myself from this police officer, I lifted my leg. That was it.”

Kavkazsky was arrested on July 25, 2012, when he left his home to buy new pants. (He never did buy those pants.) Later, in the remand prison, he found that the hardest thing to endure was being cut off from the familiar, everyday world.

“When you’re cut off from the phone and Internet, from interacting with your usual circle of people, you feel completely isolated. That’s the scariest thing. And there’s not knowing. Conditions in prisons are horrible: they’re not meant to observe human rights but to violate them. Everything is forbidden there. Why do they forbid you from listening to music you want to listen to? Why can’t you put duvets on your blankets? Why can’t you eat the food you like?”

Kavkazsky spent nearly a year in the remand prison. He was switched to house arrest only in August of this year because endocrine disorders he suffers from had flared up while he was in custody.

Vladimir Akimenkov, an activist with the now-routed Left Front, was also released from the remand prison on Thursday. At first, he had wanted to turn down the amnesty.

“It’s a Byzantine decision: they’re planning to release some and not others. I don’t understand how I’m better than the others, why guys who have become real comrades to me, people with serious health problems, including fathers and men separated from their other halves, have to be in prison.”

His lawyer convinced Akimenkov to sign the appeal. He did not consider himself guilty.

“I did none of the things I’ve been charged with. I was not involved in a riot that, incidentally, did not happen.”

Akimenkov looked out the window and rubbed his wrists.

“I find it strange to go outside, strange to feel my hands without handcuffs on them. But after I find a job, I’ll be going to the Bolotnaya Square trial, making care packages, giving money and doing everything possible to ensure there is not a single political prisoner in this country.”

In the very near future, Akimenkov plans to attend another trial, that of Left Front coordinator Sergei Udaltsov, accused of organizing the “riot” in downtown Moscow a year and a half ago. The court has yet to begin examining the charges against him.

Svetlana Reiter

NB. The original article features a four-minute video of the December 19 court hearing and its aftermath.

A Fiancee’s Diary: At the Bolotnaya Square Trial

Originally published (in Russian) at:
http://www.snob.ru/profile/27375/blog/64533
http://gaskarov.info/post/59772586016

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Anna Karpova
A Fiancée’s Diary: “The defense’s question is disallowed since it is irrelevant to the case”
August 30, 2013

I already find it trying either to write or read about the Bolotnaya Square case. The trial began in early June. The court hearings are held three times a week, Tuesday through Thursday, from eleven-thirty in the morning to six or seven in the evening, but each new hearing is a repeat of the previous ones, the same combination of utterances by the judge and state prosecutor, except in a different order. “The defense’s question is disallowed a) as stated; b) since it is irrelevant to the case; c) as repetitive.”

I would not be following these events so closely myself did they not concern me personally. But my fiancé, Alexei Gaskarov, is under investigation and in police custody, and I have no choice but to monitor the “Trial of the Twelve” carefully in order to gauge my chances of seeing Alexei freed as soon as possible.

All this time I have deliberately avoided going into the courtroom at the Moscow City Court where the Bolotnaya Square case is being heard, preferring to watch the live broadcast in the court hallway or observe the circus from the press balcony. If I had the chance not to go to the court hearings in Alexei’s case, I would skip those as well. It is one thing to talk with the emotional parents of the prisoners outside the courthouse and see photos of the defendants in the press, but quite another thing to see relatives and loved ones silently communicating through the glass of the “aquarium” in which the defendants are caged during the hearings, and realize they have had no other means of supporting each other for over a year now.

Yesterday, August 29, I went to the trial to keep Tanya Polikhovich company. It was the birthday of her husband, Alexei Polikhovich, one of the twelve defendants. Alexei’s dad, Alexei Polikhovich, Sr., happily greeted us in the hallway of the court.

“Alexei already celebrated his birthday with the guys in the cell as best he could. They drank soda pop from the pretrial detention facility store, and he blew out three lit matches. Why three? Because he has turned twenty-three!”

A bailiff opened the door and ushered relatives into the courtroom. Although Alexei Gaskarov is not among the first twelve defendants, Alexei Polikhovich, Sr., put his arm around my shoulders and led me to the seats near the dock. The guys in the dock pressed themselves against the glass and waved to their loved ones, smiling. Stepan Zimin was particularly glad to see his girlfriend Sasha. She had come to the trial for the first time: she was no longer considered an official witness in the case, something that had prevented her from attending the hearings. Sasha and Stepan made eye contact and kept their eyes on each other until the very end of the hearing, which would be disrupted by people in the gallery. (But more on that later.)

Yaroslav Belousov, Andrei Barabanov and Denis Lutskevich were seated in the dock closest to where I was sitting. Alexei Polikhovich sat in the farthest section of the dock. Tanya attracted his attention by waving to him. Then she unfolded a t-shirt with Dandy the Elephant emblazoned on it. Polikhovich gave a two thumbs-up sign: the t-shirt was a birthday present for him. Lutskevich kept his eyes glued on his lovely mother, Stella. Throughout the hearing they would surprise me with their amazing ability to hold a conversation merely by glancing at each other. Andrei Barabanov was looking at other people in the gallery, because his girlfriend, Katya, is unable to attend the hearings: she is an official witness in the case.

a6f62022c6ef135f3dd63c3831be8f39While I was examining the animated faces of the guys in the dock, Judge Natalya Nikishina entered the courtroom. As always, defendant Sergei Krivov addressed her.

“I have a motion I haven’t been allowed to enter for two days running!”

“Shut up, Krivov,” the judge cut him off.

“No, listen, you have to hear my motion!”

“I am cautioning you for causing a disruption in the courtroom, Krivov!”

“And I’m cautioning you for not hearing my motion!”

Then the testimony of the sixth “victim” in the case, riot police officer Alexander Algunov, began: the case file contains a medical certificate stating that his right hand was injured during the alleged “riots” on May 6, 2012, in Moscow, during a sanctioned opposition march. I stopped listening to Algunov’s monotonous, muddled testimony and looked back to the dock, making eye contact with Lutskevich. Denis smiled broadly, and I wrote the phrase “Gaskarov says hi!” in big, block letters in my notebook. I tried to quietly raise my postcard so the guys would see it, but the bailiffs noticed it as well. “Well, now they’ll kick me out of the courtroom,” I thought, and a bailiff, dressed in black, moved towards me. I put the notebook away and got a warning. The bailiff took up a spot next to the glass cage, blocking my view of the guys, but they leaned forward and, peering from behind him, waved at me and smiled.

While this was going on, the state prosecutor was asking to hold a police lineup right in the courtroom, despite the fact it violated court rules.

“Do you see the person or persons who assaulted police officers among those present in the dock?”

The lawyers jumped up from their seats. Defense attorneys referred to the sections of the law under which the procedure could not be carried out in court. Chin propped on her hand and smiling, Judge Nikishina slowly said, “Algunov, answer the prosecutor’s question.”

Algunov “recognized,” as he put it, “the man in the t-shirt,” nodding towards Krivov, then he also pointed out the two female defendants, Alexandra Naumova (née Dukhanina) and Maria Baronova. After which he told the court how protesters had, allegedly, shouted “Let’s go to Red Square!” and “Let’s take the Kremlin!”

As always, Makarov, who is defending Krivov, was completely prepared to cross-examine the victim, but as the hearing entered its sixth hour, people in the court gallery interrupted his cross-examination. Two young women jumped up on their seats and began singing “Bella Ciao,” the Italian Anti-Fascist Resistance song. But they did not succeed in unfurling a small banner congratulating Alexei Polikhovich on his birthday: six men in plain clothes grabbed them and removed them from the courtroom, along with everyone else in the gallery, including the relatives. Artyom Naumov, husband of Alexandra Naumova, recognized two of the men as people who had carried out a search at Alexandra’s apartment.

Everyone was now standing in the hallway, and the parents were upset. It would have been better to stage the unsuccessful performance after the hearing was over. Alexandra Naumova left the courtroom, and the judge announced a recess until next Tuesday.

Before leaving, Judge Nikishina remarked, disgruntled, that come September, hearings should be held five days a week to get this over quickly.

From left to right: Sasha (Stepan Zimin’s girlfriend), Tanya Polikhovich, Anna Karpova