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

Advertisements

“Young People Gathered to Voice a Silent Reproach”: Dmitry Borisov’s Closing Statement in Court

“Young People Gathered to Voice a Silent Reproach”: Dmitry Borisov’s Closing Statement in Court
OVD Info
February 21, 2018

Dmitry Borisov. Photo by Irina Yatsenko. Courtesy of OVD Info

Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court is scheduled to pass sentence on Dmitry Borisov at twelve noon on February 22. Borisov is a defendant in the so-called March 26 Case, involving various “forceful actions,” allegedly taken by protesters against policemen and Russian National Guardsmen on Pushkin Square during a March 26, 2017, rally inspired by Don’t Call Him Dimon, a video exposé posted on YouTube on March 2, 2017, by anti-corruption activist and would-be presidential candidate Alexei Navalny. The video accused Russian prime minister and former president Dmitry Medvedev of wide-ranging corruption. The prosecution has asked the judge to sentence Borisov to three years in prison.

The court heard the defense’s and prosecution’s closing arguments, as well as Borisov’s closing statement on February 20. According to our count, forty-six people came to the hearing to support Borisov, many of them wearing t-shirts emblazoned with his picture. Prosecutor Larisa Sergunyayeva rattled off her closing argument, a printed text that she read out to the court. During her speech, activist Ildar Dadin called her a few rude names. Dadin was removed from the courtroom, but Sergunyayeva did not slow down her rapid-fire delivery.

According to Sergunyayeva, the testimony given by policemen was believable, while the testimony of protesters could not be trusted because they had a stake in the case’s outcome. Borisov’s malicious intent was allegedly proven by the discovery of a chat session on Telegram chat on his elephone in which he had written about planning to go to the rally with friends. Many positive character references were made on Borisov’s behalf, and he had no criminal record, but if the prosecutor has her way, he will spend three years behind bars for violating Article 318 Part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code, which stipulates a maximum punishment of five years in prison.*

Borisov’s attorneys, Ilya Novikov and Nikolai Fomin, spoke for about an hour and a half. They explained Borisov had been standing calmly at the rally when, for no apparent reason, police seized his friend and dragged him to the paddy wagon. Borisov grabbed his friend. The police knocked Borisov to the ground and beat him. Four of them dragged him to the paddy wagon. The lawyers explained the prosecution’s claim Borisov had wrested a leg free from one of the policemen carrying him and kicked him in the helmet was untenable, since the policeman who had testified he had seen this was located somewhere where he could not have seen the incident. They also argued the policemen who were witnesses in the case had perjured themselves when discussing the administrative charges also filed in connection with the events of March 26, 2017. They argued that if Borisov really had kicked the policeman’s helmet, he probably would have broken his visor, because Moscow police are currently outfitted with extremely poor-quality helmets. Finally, the defense pointed out the alleged victim did not immediately file charges. He did so two months later, apparently under pressure from Investigative Committee detectives Alexander Uranov and Rustam Gabdulin, notorious for their involvement in the Bolotnaya Square case. They handled the investigation of the March 26, 2017, case in exactly the same manner.

The defense attorneys predicted the court would hand down the worst sentence possible.

OVD Info has published Dmitry Borisov’s closing statement in court, below. The transcript may contain a few mistakes, because the accused spoke softly.

Dmitry Borisov: Closing Statement in Court
Your honor, the lawyers spoke very professionally, for which I am quite grateful. I did not use violence against police officers, nor did I intend to do so, because, at very least, it would have been senseless to do so. I had been captured by four policemen and was in a vertical position. All I could see was the sky.

I honestly do not understand why for nine months running I have been traveling to interrogations and court hearings not from home, but in trucks in which fifteen people sit in a three meter square cage. After sitting in this cage for seven hours, they faint and have to urinate in bottles, because the truck is parked in the garage of the Moscow City Court.

I also do not understand why I have spent many hours in the so-called assembly cells at the remand prison, that is, halfway between my cell and the trip to court. These cells are sixteen meters square, and fifty men, all of them smoking, are crammed into them. That is more than three persons per square meter. Try and imagine three men smoking in a one square meter space. Try and imagine how they feel. These cells are so filthy many people would not believe such a thing was possible in the capital of our mighty country. I do not want that to sound too sarcastic. I love my country, and that is a partial explanation of why I was in Pushkin Square on March 26. There are people who say you can judge a city by the cleanliness of its toilets. If you saw the toilet in the assembly cell you would think you were in a village on the outskirts of a godforsaken banana republic.

As for the cells in Butyrka Prison, they are scruffy, filthy dungeons with a view, for example, of an unimaginably dirty brick wall. That is the view in my cell. There is no heat. We have a single radiator in our cell, but it does not work. The ventilation consists of nine tiny holes, although the cell houses twenty-eight smokers.

My lawyers have spoken about how the case was politically motivated from the get-go. The actions of the investigators and their assistants were aimed from the very outset at proving my guilt. Although Ilya Novikov has spoken about it, I would like to mention the photograph of eight defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case that proudly hangs above Investigator Uranov’s desk, with the sentences they received written below each defendant in increasing order. If I am not mistaken, the longest sentence was four years. Apparently, Mr. Uranov is especially proud of this picture. I personally witnessed him getting on the internet and searching for news about how he had apprehended “enemies of the people.” He was upset when he discovered his name spelled incorrectly in one article. I cannot remember whether his first name is Alexei or Alexander, but it was written incorrectly in the internet. He was quite adamant on this point.

As for the case itself, my guilt consists only in the fact I tried to prevent my friend from being abducted. In the opinion of some people, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time on March 26 in Pushkin Square. I am convinced it is wrong to grab people in the center of our country’s capital as if they were animals and drag them to a paddy wagon without identifying yourself and explaining the charges, even if you are wearing a security services uniform.

And that day more than a thousand people were detained.

They were detained not for holding an unauthorized rally, but for making a silent reproach. It took me a long time to find the right word to express what happened there. Young people gathered there to voice a silent reproach, to force the authorities to think a little.

We did not gather to engage in bloody revolution, but to remind the authorities it is worth giving things some thought. Otherwise, their actions really will lead to hungry bloody riots. Therefore, I ask you to exonerate me. I am not guilty of anything. I have been in jail for nearly eight and a half months for no reason at all.

*Use of violence that does not endanger human life or health, or threats to use violence against a representative of the authorit[ies], or his relatives, in connection with the discharge [of] his official duties, shall be punishable by a fine in the amount of 200 to 500 minimum wages, or in the amount of the wage or salary, or any other income of the convicted person for a period of two to five months, or by arrest for a term of three to six months, or by deprivation of liberty for a term of up to five years.” Source: The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation

••••••••••

OVD Info reported that on February 22, 2018, the Tverskoy District Court found Dmitry Borisov guilty as charged and sentenced him to one year in a medium-security penal colony.

Translated by the Russian Reader