Judgments are clearly wrong and should be corrected
- The judgments by a Moscow court of eight Bolotnaya protesters to prison terms from two and half to four years must be seen in the context of Kremlin efforts to stifle opposition, said Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General. - The judgments send a chilling message to ordinary Russians that they should refrain from taking part in protests against President Vladimir Putin and his rule. If not they may face serious consequences. The judgments target Russian civic activism and basic freedoms.
Altogether 11 persons have so far been sentenced for participating in protests on 6 May 2012, on the eve of the inauguration of Vladimir Putin for a third time as president. The Bolotnaya protesters have been found guilty of “participating in mass riots” and for "use of violence against a representative of the authority” (articles 212 and 318 respectively of the Russian Penal Code).
- The cases have been marred by serious irregularities. Evidence has not been presented in the cases that demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendants conducted serious violence against the police”, said Ekeløve-Slydal. - Characterizing the protests as “mass riots” have been strongly criticized by human rights groups and independent experts. In June 2012, Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s human rights ombudsman criticized the mass rioting charges. In December 2013, an international panel of experts found that although there was violence during the protests, it did not reach the threshold of “mass riots”.
In a previous case, Mikhail Kosenko was found guilty. However, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court decided on 8 October 2013 that he should not be subject not imprisonment but to compulsory psychiatric treatment. The Court had requested an official evaluation from the Serbsky State Scientific Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry, which concluded that during the riots Kosenko could neither fully comprehend his actions nor understand their danger to others.
The Serbsky Center had a reputation during Soviet times of sending dissidents to special psychiatric hospitals. Human rights organizations and other critics maintain that the center had returned to punitive psychiatry in the case of Mr Kosenko. In August 2013, the head of Russia’s Independent Psychiatric Association, Yuri Savenko, told that the examination by the Serbsky Center had been flawed.
Amnesty International enlisted Kosenko as a prisoner of conscience: “Mikhail Kosenko is a prisoner of conscience put behind bars for peacefully exercising his right to protest and should be released immediately.”
Another Bolotnaya defendant Maxim Luzyanin, was sentenced on 9 November 2012 to a four and a half years prison sentence after pleading guilty of taking part in “mass riots” and "using violence against a representative of power"; reportedly admitting to beating a police officer and throwing rocks. Critics pointed to the punishment being excessive, given his confession.
A third defendant, Konstantin Lebedev, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on 25 April 2013 for participation in “mass riots”.
Russian and international human rights groups argued that footage of Russia’s riot police beating protesters proved that police abuse was widespread. The police’s actions were also criticized by Ombudsman Lukin. However no charges or punishment have been issued against the police.
- The prosecution of protesters while police abuse is left unaccounted for show that Russian prosecution services are not independent, said Ekeløve-Slydal. - It is well-known from many cases in recent years and clearly demonstrated again in the Bolotnaya case that Russian executives are able and willing to use the courts against opposition and ordinary protesting Russians, Ekeløve-Slydal continues.
Background on the Balotnaya case
The Bolotnaya Square protest on 6 May 2012 was the only one to turn violent in the nearly year-long wave of demonstrations that included tens of thousands of people opposed to Putin's return to the presidency. Reportedly, clashes broke out after police blocked access to the protest site to thousands of protesters.
International experts reviewing the protest have concluded that the violence did not amount to “mass riots. Their report criticizes police change of plans and conduct leading to the violence. The report is available both in Russian:
and in English:
So far there are 11 judgments in Balotnoya Square related cases:
- Alexandra Naumova (previously Dukhanina ) sentenced to 3 years and 3 months conditioned sentence on 24 February 2014;
- Andrei Barabanov sentenced to 3 years and 7 months in prison on 24 February 2014;
- Stepan Zimin sentenced to 3 years and 6 months in prison 24 February 2014;
- Sergey Krivov sentenced to 4 years in prison on 24 February 2014;
- Alexey Polikhovich sentenced to 3 years and 6 months in prison 24 February 2014;
- Denis Lutskevich sentenced to 3 years 6 months in prison 24 February 2014;
- Artem Savelov sentenced to 2 years and 7 months in prison 24 February 2014;
- Yaroslav Belousov sentenced to 2 years 6 months in prison 24 February 2014.
- Mikhail Kosenko, sentenced to compulsory psychiatric treatment on 8 October 2013;
- Konstantin Lebedev, sentenced to two and a half years in prison on 25 April 2013;
- Maxim Luzyanin, sentenced to four and a half years in prison on 9 November 2012.
All judgments are or will be appealed. Seven of the eight defendants judged on 24 February have been in custody since their arrests in 2012. Alexandra Naumova has been under house arrest since May 2012.
Four people previously on trial with the eight, but accused only of taking part in “mass riots”, were amnestied in December 2013.
On February 18, the trial of two other men charged with organizing mass riots on 6 May 2012 opened. At least four more people are awaiting trials on 6 May 2012 related charges.
Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Left Front opposition movement, and Leonid Razvozzhayev, a member of the same leftist group, have been charged with plotting to incite mass riots at Bolotnaya. They face up to 10 years in prison.