A year-long court case

This story started on November 13, 2012, the seventh anniversary of the murder of antifascist Timur Kacharava by neo-Nazis in Saint Petersburg. The scene of the murder in front of a bookstore on Vosstaniya square each year becomes a meeting point for friends and relatives of Timur, his comrades in antifascist struggle, all those opposed to right-wing extremism, people who are concerned about racism and xenophobia. On that day three activists requested permission for a picket from local authorities and about 15 persons participated in it. People kept coming, brought flowers to the place where Timur was killed, met each other and the journalists that were present, held a banner and handed out leaflets. Nothing was troublesome, probably with the exception of the police that was present. Police colonel Martynov, a tall and heavy guy, called me to talk several times: he was extremely worried by the “large number of people” who came to the picket and kept on giving various orders – to get people off the pedestrian walk, to call on them to disperse in order not to create obstacles for passers-by, etc. But all of these orders and recommendations could not concern the picketers – the 15 persons that stood in front of the bookstore until the picket ended (with my arrest). As soon as the picketing time was over Martynov called me in order “to explain something” to me. But instead of explanations, two policemen forced me into their car and brought me to police station.

There, in the police station, a protocol was filed, which read that I had “violated the norms of maximal density” of people on a certain territory and “the allowed number of participants of the picket”. Policemen were absolutely sure that the picketers were one and the same with all the people who came to lay flowers, came completely out of their free will and even with no connection to the picket. I was charged with violation of Article 20.2 of the Code of administrative violations based on the fact that the picket which I had organized “had a big public resonance” and the number of participants of the picket was over 15 persons.

The unreasonable nature of these “grounds” became obvious when we came to the Justice of Peace of 210th district. Policemen Yermakov and Kulikov, who had arrested me, couldn’t agree on the number of people who, according to them, participated in the picket or the description of how these people supposedly created obstacles to passers-by or how I was to blame for any of this. All that the policemen were able to agree on was the following: not more than 15 persons had stood there and held banners, the rest of the persons that had been present, simply had come, laid flowers and left the place, these people hadn’t stood there and possessed no threat to the passers-by and there had been no complaints concerning our activities there. Policemen even testified that the event “proceeded in a peaceful way”. The witnesses that testified before the judge also confirmed that they had not been acquainted with the organizers of the picket and had come to the place on their own account in order to pay tribute to the murdered antifascist.

Policemen apparently expected a lot out of demonstrating the video footage of the event, although they failed to show how “the norms of maximal density” were violated. Nevertheless the judge didn’t discover a group of people larger than 15 persons on the footage that was presented and the policemen failed to explain what were the grounds for the arrest of one of the picket organizers or what could have been the grounds for declaring this assembly dangerous. In the end the judge took into account the arguments presented by my attorney and declared me not guilty based on the absence of violations on my part, explaining in her statement that greater number of participants of the picket was not a violation in itself if it hadn’t lead to any damage or public threat and that the organizer of the picket could not be held responsible for the behavior of any other participant of the event if the latter’s behavior couldn’t be foreseen. Thus I was declared not guilty back on January 21, 2013. Police officer Afonina didn’t like the judge’s ruling and tried to appeal it in Smolninsky district court, but the court declined to consider this appeal in February 2013.

This should have been the end of the story. However, following opening a case against ADC “Memorial” this administrative case against me was re-opened, too. In May 2013 already after the ruling of the district court was in force and half a year after the picket itself, procurator’s office made an appeal to Saint Petersburg city court regarding the earlier ruling of Smolninsky district court. Strangely, this time the protest of procurator’s office was treated positively and the appeal by police officer Afonina was accepted by the district court. The court procedures started again.

In her appeal, officer of 76th police department Afonina, who by the way had not been in any way connected to my previous arrest, expressed her disagreement with the ruling of the Judge of Peace and stated that the judge had failed to take into account the protocols on administrative arrest and the testimonies of police officers, as well as had failed “to adequately study” video footage of the picket and gather testimonies of police officers who had made the decision on my arrest, namely head of the Central district’s department of the Ministry of interior Martynov and chief inspector Afanasyev. It was not clear what new information Martynov and Afanasyev could provide to the court (they didn’t file in the protocols of my arrest in the first place), it was not clear how watching the same video could result in a radically opposite judgment and how the protocols and police testimonies could serve as the only sound proofs of a violation.

Nevertheless Afanasyev and the head of public order department of the Central district Lozovaya were questioned on November 15, 2013 (Martynov abstained from coming to court). According to their testimonies, my fault was that while seeing that the number of picket participants was higher than expected, Yakimov (me) “was not able to handle this situation, asked police officers for help while at the same time abstaining to deal with this situation and handing out leaflets to passers-by instead”.

It appears that according to the logic of the Central district’s department of the Ministry of interior, the very fact that more than 20 people laid flowers where an antifascist had been killed required an immediate police intervention, while the picket organizers themselves were expected to disperse people, who came there to express their opposition to racism and xenophobia. However, policemen failed to prove to the court that an antifascist picket possessed any threat to the public, property or, in fact, “created obstacles to people entering or stepping out of the buses leaving for Finland”: it turned out that with the exception of police officers not a single person had complained about any obstacles created by the picket. In the end the judge of Smolninsky district court ruled that the fact of greater than expected turnout for the picket was not a ground for claiming the organizer responsible for this and stressed that none of my actions had created any dangerous situation or threat of any possible damage.

Thus, on November 15, 2013, Smolninsky district court confirmed the earlier ruling regarding organizers of the picket to commemorate Timur Kacharava, which had been made on January 21, 2013 and read that “no administrative violation was found”. But my prosecution on this ridiculous case lasted for over a year! Some may say that we should be glad that a court made a grounded decision and ruled me not guilty, but… During the court hearings on this case policemen didn’t try to hide the fact that the real reason for prosecution was the “wide public resonance” that our picket had and the fact that it had been organized by a member of staff of ADC “Memorial”. While the Saint Petersburg procurator’s office kept opening more and more cases against the human rights activists, forcing them to accept the label of “foreign agents”, the law enforcement officers tried to use any small pretext to push a court case against antifascists for over a year. Unfortunately they managed to have some success in this: in 2013 the picket to commemorate Timur Kacharava was not allowed based on some formal legal grounds and flowers were laid near the place where he had been killed in an informal fashion. Policemen thus were able to avoid the “public resonance” they fear so much.

But what shall we do about the other phenomenon, which clearly has great “public resonance” – the dramatic growth of xenophobia, anti-immigrant and anti-Caucasian sentiments, mass disturbances, pogroms on the markers and in hostels? What is to be done about the hate crimes, attacks against LGBT activists, ultra-right and Cossack patrols on the streets and the murders of immigrants? What is to be done about neo-Nazi groups, thirsty for blood and flaming inter-ethnic conflicts? This appears to be a set of rhetoric questions for the police, as they succeed so well in their fight against antifascists and human rights activists.

by Andrey Yakimov