Human Rights activists stand up for artists

15.06.2011
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Social activists Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev not released by court

On January 14 the Moscow district court of Saint Petersburg examined the objections submitted by the lawyers of Vorotnikov and Nikolayev on prolonging preliminary custody of the artists. The attorneys suggested releasing the accused activists charged with Article 213 Part 1(b) of the Criminal code of the Russian Federation (hooliganism motivated by political, ideological, racial, ethnic or religious hate/ hate against some social group).

The activists are accused of organising the “Palace coup” action in the autumn of 2009 in Saint Petersburg. The designers of the action are imputed to be the art group “War” (Voyna). At the action police cars were used in an artistic installation, some of which were over-turned.

The lawyers appealed for the artists to be released on bail of 2 million roubles. The prosecutor’s office required to prolong the custody till February 24, 2011. In spite of serious arguments provided by the lawyers against the custody and large bail, the court decided to prolong the custody for one month.

Vorotnikov and Nikolayev were arrested on November 15, 2010 in Moscow, and the flat where the artists stayed was searched. All information storage devices were confiscated. The arrested artists were transferred to St Petersburg where they were placed in a detention centre and then moved to remand centre No. 4.

The decision was signed by the judge of the Dzerzhinsky district court, A. Morozova, the secretary, N. Shelobod and the investigator A. Borodavkin. Criminal case No. 276858 was brought on the grounds of Article 213 Part 1 (b) of the Criminal code against an unidentified group of people.

The decree against Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov was issued on November 17 by the judge of the Dzerzhinsky district court of St Petersburg, Olga Andreyeva. An appeal against this decision was filed on the time prescribed by the law but it has not yet been examined. That is why the lawyers lodged another appeal: “Examination of the question of prolonging the custody is illegal and groundless as the decision on the measure of restraint on Nikolayev and Vorotnikov has not come into effect. Such a decision infringes upon the arrestees’ right to timely examination of appeals and proceedings. The court also violates the right to defend L. Nikolayev as it is unknown what restraint a reviewing court would approve.”

The lawyers arguing against prolonging the custody made following statements:

1.      Without any ground the court ignored experts’ opinions on the activities of the “War” art group. They show that the activities of the group cannot be considered as criminal and does not cause any danger to society as they are a form of art and have artistic value;

2.      The court did not indicate that the data on the activities of the War art group from the Internet provided by the investigators are not relevant to  the case and cannot  act as evidence of guilt;

3.      The court did not pay attention to positive references of the arrestees and to the fact they had never been tried before. They lived, worked and  were registered in Moscow and the Tula region (respectively for Nikolayev and Vorotnikov) and were brought to St Petersburg against their will , so, according to the law, they did not need any permanent registration (the absence of which was indicated by the prosecution as a reason to prolong the custody);

4.      The appeal on the decision on the 17th of November, 2010 on the measure of restraint has not been examined by the city court of Saint Petersburg by the trial on prolonging this restraint. In other words, the court of the Moscow district of Saint Petersburg prolonged the decision which did not come into effect which automatically makes the prolonging illegal;

5.      The court denied changing restraint and accepting bail saying that there is a lack of information about the person providing bail. The lawyers outlined in the appeals that according to Article 106 of the procedure-criminal code of the Russian Federation anyone can provide bail, and the law does not oblige the court to identify the person . So when the court denied releasing the artists on bail because of lack of information about person who was ready to pay 2 million roubles for each artist, the court did not keep within the terms of reference and illegally denied granting the appeal.

It can be concluded that the decision on prolonging the custody of Vorotnikov and Nikolayev is not judicially grounded. The only explanation can be politically motivated persecution. The trial itself seems to be political case as the prosecution accuses the artists of being “dangerous for society and the government / state”. The lawyers explained the position of Vorotnikov and Nikolayev as a concern of social justice. The artists state they are not hostile to any social group. The speeches made by the lawyers and the opinions  provided by experts proved that artistic and protest activities should be considered as assertion of political rights, first and foremost , the right to freedom of expression, social criticism, and holding to account the state and its representatives over violations of human rights.

21/01 the City Court of St.Petersburg rejected the complaint of the defense on Mr. Vorotnikov case and left the first-instance dicision on prolonging the custody for Vorotnikov without change.

The press conference “Artistic protest – a right or a crime?”, held on December 13, at 13.00 at the Regional Press Institute in St.Petersburg, was dedicated to the issues of self-expression and freedom of speech; in relation to the recent arrest of activists from the art group “Voina” (War). Participants included the lawyer of Oleg Vorotnikov, Anastasia Ekimovkaya, Ramil Ahmetgaliev, a lawyer from the human rights association “Agora,” Mariya Rozalskaya, an expert from the information-analytical center “Sova,” Dmitriy Dubrovskiy, the program director for Human Rights at the Smolny Institute, and Elena Kostyleva, as a representative of the artistic community.

The organizers of the Moscow Civil Constitutional Forum on December 12 addressed the public with the following declaration, assessing the current situation in Russia: “Citizens’ free access to information is limited. There has been an implementation of unofficial censorship. Any criticism of authority has been made equivalent to a state crime.”

The reasons for such concern about the situation in the country are many-founded: here in St.Petersburg, activists from the art group “Voina” have been detained for nearly a month now; artists Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov were charged with hooliganism with intent of inciting social discord, in reference to their activism in St.Petersburg this previous summer and autumn. The premise for their arrest prompted a widespread public discussion: some unequivocally condemned the provocative nature of political activism, while others stood by the freedom of expression and artistic street activism.

Disturbing public peace through such activism should never be considered a criminal offense, nor should it be punished by lengthy imprisonment. “Voina didn’t commit any act that could be legally pursued by anti-extremist legislation,” claimed experts of the Information Analytical Center SOVA, after presenting their report at the press conference, which analyzed the charges against the activists.

The repression of the activists of the art group is yet another vivid example of the excessive use of force of the authorities against those expressing social and political criticism: the arrest of the artists was carried out violently, after which- handcuffed and with bags over their heads- they were thrown on the metal floor of the minivan and were held there in a supine position for 10 hours while being taken to St.Petersburg. All of the actions of the authorities were carried out in a harsh manner with numerous violations, not even taking into account that the very fact of their detention is an unjust and excessive measure. The participants of the press conference emphasized the consistent legal violations of the Department for Combating Extremism (Center “Э”), bringing up similar situations taking place recently in St.Petersburg in which personnel of Center “Э” went beyond any existing legal framework, and flagrantly violated the established legal norms of Russian legislation.

The persecution of the art group “Voina” is consistent with other political repression in modern day Russia- repression against human rights activists, environmentalists, anti-fascists. The case is seen precisely in this context by lawyers of the human rights association “AGORA” who were also present at the conference, and who have recently become involved in the case.

The expert Dmitry Dubrovsky considers it appropriate to compare the current practice in the Russian Federation of criminally prosecuting representatives of radical contemporary art (the charges against organizers of the exhibition “Forbidden Art”), and the position of the European Court of Human Rights, which allows certain restrictions to forms of self-expression in art, without allowing this to become repression.

The participants of the press-conference brought up the fact that the artistic merit of the performances of the art group “Voina” was recognized by many, including artists renowned around the world. Contemporary artists who expressed support for the activists include those from England, France and Norway, among others. It is imperative to have a more pronounced public reaction from Russia, one in defense of the right to critical opinions, freedom of information and freedom of expression.

We demand the immediate release of the activists of the art group, the recognition of their innocence against charges of hooliganism with intent of inciting social discord, and our and their rights to freedom!

 

Media:

Novaya Gazeta

Argumenti i Fakti

St.Petersburg Times

Radio Svoboda

Interfax

Indymedia Peter

***

Stephania Kulayeva: Open letter to all

“War” or enmity? Protest is not a crime!

“Here lies the water. Good. Here stands the man. Good. If the man go to this water and drown himself, it is, will he nill he, he goes. Mark you that. But if the water come to him and drown him, he drowns not himself.” (W. Shakespeare, Hamlet)

On November 24, 2010, two cases appeared in the St.Petersburg media about violations of Article 213 (hooliganism). One was ascribed to two activists of the art group “Voina” (War), who were declared to be charged (10 days previous they were considered suspects) with the criminal offense listed in Article 213, part 1, paragraph b: “hooliganism with the motive of ideological, political, racial, national or religious hatred or enmity, as well as on the motives of hatred or enmity towards any one social group.” The charges were against art activists Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev, for their involvement in an art campaign of overturning police cars, which they directed as a protest against rampant police corruption, or so called “werewolves in uniforms.” The events of the campaign, entitled “Palace Revolution,” were published by the activists themselves on the internet through blogs and other sources, which included pictures and videos of the events. The two activists arrested on charges of hostile hooliganism were transferred from their temporary detention to a prison, with any appeals of their lawyers proving futile.

The second case of hooliganism, involving an unemployed resident of St.Patersburg who was also charged with breaching the article on hooliganism motivated by hatred or enmity, was played out in a completely different manner. On November 24 it became known that a “24 year old resident of the Nevskiy district was arrested by the 17th division of the Office of Criminal Investigation KM police in St.Petersburg and the Leningrad region as a result of a search operation. The young man is suspected in assaulting a 31-year-old citizen of Cameroon on June 6, near house 76 on Martinov waterfront, causing him bodily injuries. After the incident, a prosecution was filed based on Article 213 of the criminal code (hooliganism). The suspect was released on parole.” (AJUR, Fontanka)

The events at first glance appear to be incomparable; the charge is the same: both are accused of hooliganism with the motive of hatred or enmity. The only formal difference is in that the individual who is accused of a racist crime against an individual is at large, while the two who symbolically overturned cars are sitting in jail, and will continue to do so. Let’s put aside the question of whether the suspect and the accused actually perpetrated the crimes they are said to have committed, which is the basis for their being charged. That is a question for the court, which will have to convince the investigators and lawyers of the accuracy of their decision. From the perspective of social significance another question is of interest- whether the actions committed should be considered criminal, is the punishment justified in the context of the crime? In relation to the racist assault which resulted in bodily harm, it is clear that a crime was committed. The question of whether the charge of “hooliganism” is appropriate in this case is less obvious: there could have been a much more serious charge. The motives behind this crime demand significant attention: to prove that the “hooligan” attacked his victim as a result of visually identifying him as an African, to whom he harbors racial hatred or hostility, is difficult, but if the motive was exactly this, then proving it is an imperative in my opinion.

It is important to differentiate mere attacks of ruffians and the fights that break out between personal enemies, with assaults on people which are motivated by nothing other than an ideological justification which is criminal in it’s very nature- based race, nationality, or some other prejudice.

Some profess the opinion that we should remove social groups out of the list of subjects of hooligan hatred, and leave only national/racial and religious groups. This opinion isn’t unfounded, as the concept of social groups can have a wide interpretation; a fact that prosecutors and judges often misuse. However this opinion remains contestable, because if an individual commits violence on ideological grounds against, for example- the homeless or other vulnerable groups, which unfortunately happens all too often to groups despised by those espousing hateful ideology, then here the motive of hatred is also important and relevant to the indictment.

Yet is this same motive of hatred relevant in the charge against an art group that overturned police vehicles? In this situation I don’t see anything resembling hooligan actions motivated by hatred, nothing that could be likened to an attack on a black student carried out by those calling for “race purity,” nor to the beatings of homeless people motivated by some other “cleansing” ideology. I don’t see a crime in their action. Disturbing public peace- sure, property damage- possibly. Damage can (and likely should) be recovered; there already exists a system of fines and administrative penalties for such violations. But there is no hate crime to be found here!

I am no lawyer, and I won’t have to defend my position in a court. But what I find to be more important is participating in the growing public discussion about the actions of the arrested artists. Some speak out in their defense, while others condemn them and demand for their being put to justice, but what I find strange is that on both sides of the debate, it is accepted that their actions undoubtedly qualify as a crime. Even those speaking in their defense from the art world often (and frequently with a strange ecstatic nature) claim: “this of course is it; hooliganism and hatred, but let’s forgive them”- for “art’s sake” or for “freedom” or for some other reason. Any attempt to disagree with the claim that there is no basis to constitute the matter as a crime is taken by them as an insult: “ah, leave your human rights tricks alone; we are certain that they take responsibility for the matter, and for this we admire them for their courage and genius.” Personally I don’t exalt them, and I don’t want to judge the artistic merit of their acts; now is not the moment. Let the fans of the director Polanski and the conductor Pletnev stand up for their idols and call for the acquittal of geniuses, who were caught committing dirty and despicable crimes. But in a discussion about “Voina” this approach is inappropriate.

The activists of “Voina” are in no way guilty of hooliganism motivated by hatred towards a social group- they didn’t call for violence against all people in uniform, nor did they commit a crime for the sake of committing a crime. What they did is voice their protest- whether through art or not is of little consequence- and for this protest they are accused of felony. This is a political matter. If they are convicted, then all of us will be to blame, and it won’t just be the activists who are giving up their freedom, but it will be all of us.

Prison is not for the free people! Freedom for “Voina!”

Stephania Kulaeva

***

Social activists Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev not released by court

On January 14 the Moscow district court of Saint Petersburg examined the objections submitted by the lawyers of Vorotnikov and Nikolayev on prolonging preliminary custody of the artists. The attorneys suggested releasing the accused activists charged with Article 213 Part 1(b) of the Criminal code of the Russian Federation (hooliganism motivated by political, ideological, racial, ethnic or religious hate/ hate against some social group).

The activists are accused of organising the “Palace coup” action in the autumn of 2009 in Saint Petersburg. The designers of the action are imputed to be the art group “War” (Voyna). At the action police cars were used in an artistic installation, some of which were over-turned.

The lawyers appealed for the artists to be released on bail of 2 million roubles. The prosecutor’s office required to prolong the custody till February 24, 2011. In spite of serious arguments provided by the lawyers against the custody and large bail, the court decided to prolong the custody for one month.

Vorotnikov and Nikolayev were arrested on November 15, 2010 in Moscow, and the flat where the artists stayed was searched. All information storage devices were confiscated. The arrested artists were transferred to St Petersburg where they were placed in a detention centre and then moved to remand centre No. 4.

The decision was signed by the judge of the Dzerzhinsky district court, A. Morozova, the secretary, N. Shelobod and the investigator A. Borodavkin. Criminal case No. 276858 was brought on the grounds of Article 213 Part 1 (b) of the Criminal code against an unidentified group of people.

The decree against Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov was issued on November 17 by the judge of the Dzerzhinsky district court of St Petersburg, Olga Andreyeva. An appeal against this decision was filed on the time prescribed by the law but it has not yet been examined. That is why the lawyers lodged another appeal: “Examination of the question of prolonging the custody is illegal and groundless as the decision on the measure of restraint on Nikolayev and Vorotnikov has not come into effect. Such a decision infringes upon the arrestees’ right to timely examination of appeals and proceedings. The court also violates the right to defend L. Nikolayev as it is unknown what restraint a reviewing court would approve.”

The lawyers arguing against prolonging the custody made following statements:

1.      Without any ground the court ignored experts’ opinions on the activities of the “War” art group. They show that the activities of the group cannot be considered as criminal and does not cause any danger to society as they are a form of art and have artistic value;

2.      The court did not indicate that the data on the activities of the War art group from the Internet provided by the investigators are not relevant to  the case and cannot  act as evidence of guilt;

3.      The court did not pay attention to positive references of the arrestees and to the fact they had never been tried before. They lived, worked and  were registered in Moscow and the Tula region (respectively for Nikolayev and Vorotnikov) and were brought to St Petersburg against their will , so, according to the law, they did not need any permanent registration (the absence of which was indicated by the prosecution as a reason to prolong the custody);

4.      The appeal on the decision on the 17th of November, 2010 on the measure of restraint has not been examined by the city court of Saint Petersburg by the trial on prolonging this restraint. In other words, the court of the Moscow district of Saint Petersburg prolonged the decision which did not come into effect which automatically makes the prolonging illegal;

5.      The court denied changing restraint and accepting bail saying that there is a lack of information about the person providing bail. The lawyers outlined in the appeals that according to Article 106 of the procedure-criminal code of the Russian Federation anyone can provide bail, and the law does not oblige the court to identify the person . So when the court denied releasing the artists on bail because of lack of information about person who was ready to pay 2 million roubles for each artist, the court did not keep within the terms of reference and illegally denied granting the appeal.

It can be concluded that the decision on prolonging the custody of Vorotnikov and Nikolayev is not judicially grounded. The only explanation can be politically motivated persecution. The trial itself seems to be political case as the prosecution accuses the artists of being “dangerous for society and the government / state”. The lawyers explained the position of Vorotnikov and Nikolayev as a concern of social justice. The artists state they are not hostile to any social group. The speeches made by the lawyers and the opinions  provided by experts proved that artistic and protest activities should be considered as assertion of political rights, first and foremost , the right to freedom of expression, social criticism, and holding to account the state and its representatives over violations of human rights.

21/01 the City Court of St.Petersburg rejected the complaint of the defense on Mr. Vorotnikov case and left the first-instance dicision on prolonging the custody for Vorotnikov without change.