The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organizations, Anti-Discrimination Center Memorial and Citizen Watch, urge Russian authorities to release and drop all charges against peaceful protesters and to allow independent candidates to run in next month’s election for Moscow City Council.
After Moscow’s election commissions arbitrarily banned opposition candidates from running for the Moscow City Duma—the City Council—a wave of peaceful protests for free elections began in Russia’s capital on 14 July. The Russian National Guard and the police responded by brutally suppressing the protests, egregiously violating the right of Russian citizens to participate meaningfully in the political process, the right to peaceful assembly, and other civil and political rights.
While some of the previous protests were authorized and somewhat tolerated by the authorities, including the 10 August demonstration which brought out some of the largest crowds in the country’s recent history, the application for authorization for the upcoming Saturday, 17 August protest was refused, leading protesters to believe that further arrests and beatings are likely.
Yan Rachinsky, a board member of Memorial Human Rights Center, a leading Russian human rights organization, attended each of the rallies.
Security forces responded to this perceived threat by beating up dozens of peaceful protesters with rubber batons and arbitrarily detaining thousands of individuals, including minors, journalists and evenpassers-by.
Detained protesters were ill-treated in police vehicles, detention centers and courtrooms. To date, since the beginning of the movement on 14 July, the authorities have detained close to 3,000 peaceful protesters and opened dozens of administrative and several criminal cases.
The authorities’ forceful suppression of the peaceful protests amounts to egregious and wide-scale violations of the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed by Article 31 of Russia’s Constitution and international human rights law treaties ratified by Russia, including the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits government interference with peaceful meetings by resorting to force.
The brutality of the suppression tactics used against these summer 2019 peaceful protests in Moscow have surpassed those used against all previous mass movements protesting violations of fundamental rights committed by President Vladimir Putin’s regime, including the 2011-2012 Bolotnaya Square protests.
“The non-violent expression of support for a political candidate is a fundamental right of every citizen,” said Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President.
Authorities’ repression of protests amounts to mass violations of Russian citizens’ right to participate meaningfully in the political process, their freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom to be free of arbitrary detention and inhumane treatment. Even minors, who are entitled to special protections under international law, including the Convention on the Rights of Child, also ratified by Russia, are not spared from these abuses.
Youth protest leaders targeted by “mass unrest” charges
State investigators from the Investigative Committee filed a criminal complaint against 14 individuals, mostly young men, charging them with organizing “mass unrest”—a riot—despite the absence of actual calls by the organizers to engage in violence, or any evidence of violent actions by the protesters. Twelve of the 14 young men have already been arrested, including 21-year-old Yegor Zhukov, a student at one of Russia’s top universities, the Higher School of Economics, who has become emblematic of the protests. State media reported on the supposed “mass unrest” on television, thus stigmatizing protesters as criminals sponsored by the West, isolating the opposition and intimidating citizens from joining the protest movement.
Since no credible evidence was proffered by the authorities that ”mass unrest” occurred or was about to occur, FIDH and its partners consider the case as politically motivated and contrary to both Russian and international laws protecting individuals against arbitrary detention.
Yan Rachinsky, of Memorial Human Rights Center, highlights the significance of youth participation and leadership of the protests. “What is important is that independent candidates, and their teams are all relatively young individuals; for the most part they are students. Because of their age they perceive injustice more acutely, and the lack of experience living in the Soviet Union has allowed them to keep their dignity a lot more than the previous generations. They believe that their rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, cannot be manipulated by bureaucrats.”
The government-sponsored persecution of those suspected of being sympathetic to the Moscow protest movement escalated following the 27 July rally: students were threatened with expulsion from universities, bailiffs carried out sudden raids on debtors, and people who have passed draft age received summonses to the army. In one Kafkaesque case, state investigators brought charges against a young couple who came to the rally with their young child for putting the child in danger (Article 125 of the Criminal Code) and for failure to fulfill obligations to raise a minor (Article 156 of the Criminal Code).
FIDH and its member organizations, alarmed by the scale and violent character of repressions against the political opposition and their supporters expressing their protest in a peaceful manner, ask the authorities of Russia:
• to drop all charges and liberate the accused in the criminal case of “mass unrest”, including Yevgeny Kovalenko, Kirill Zhukov, Ivan Podkopaev, Samariddin Rajabov, Egor Zhukov, Alexey Minyailo, Daniil Konon, Vladislav Barabanov, Sergey Abanichev, Aidar Gubaidulin, Danila Beglets, Dmitry Vasiliev, Valery Kostenok, and Sergey Fomin;
• to drop all charges and stop judicial and other forms of harassment in connection with protests that took place in Moscow and other cities of Russia since 14 July 2019, against individuals accused, including but not limited to, of participating or organizing an unauthorized event (Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses), disobedience to the lawful order of a police officer (Article 19.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses);
• to stop all the attempts of depriving Olga and Dimitry Prokazovy of their parental rights and drop all charges against their family;
• to allow independent candidates, which were banned from participating in the election, including opposition leaders Gennady Gudkov, Dmitry Gudkov, Sergey Mitrokhin, Elena Rusakova, Ilya Yashin, Andrey Babushkin, Anastasia Bryukhanova, Julia Galyamina, Konstantinas Yankauskas, Ivan Zhdanov, Lyubov Sobol, Kirill Goncharov, to run for the 8 September 2019 elections for the Moscow City Council.
Timeline of events since 14 July
Every five years in September, Muscovites vote for candidates to the Moscow Parliament, previously a largely ceremonious legislative body under the control of Moscow’s longtime mayor and President Vladimir Putin’s protégé, Sergey Sobyanin. The registration of candidates on the eve of this year’s elections, to be held on 8 September, was marred by an unprecedented level of fraud on the part of the election commissions, which banned 57 opposition candidates from running for elections on fabricated grounds, resulting in a series of peaceful protests.
The rallies began on 14 July, as opposition candidates organized a meeting attended by approximately one thousand of their voters in front of the Moscow Parliament building. Representatives of the police declared the meeting to be an unauthorized rally and detained 38 individuals, using unprovoked brute-force. Some protesters were struck repeatedly with batons on the head and body, pulled by the hair and dragged to police vehicles, suffering bruises and broken limbs which required hospitalization. Detainees were thereafter charged with violations of article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation (CAO) – “Violation of the established procedure for organizing or holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, procession or picket”.
After the rally on 14 July, not only did the authorities fail to register the candidates, but they also opened a criminal case for “obstructing the exercise of electoral rights or the work of election commissions” on the basis of Article 141 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. In connection with the latter case, the homes of several candidates and one municipal deputy, as well as relatives of the candidates, were searched from 24-26 July, most of them during the night. Searches also took place at the headquarters of prominent opposition candidates Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov, Ilya Yashin and Dmitry Gudkov.
At peaceful but unauthorized rallies held on 27 July in various places in the center of Moscow, police and National Guard troops detained 1,373 people (every 16th protester). A week later, on 3 August, protesters gathered once more. Using the same harsh tactics, heavily equipped security forces detained more than one thousand people, often snatching individuals randomly from the crowd. Most of those arrested were accused of participation in an unauthorized meeting (Article 20.2 CAO) and of disobedience to the lawful order of a police officer (Article 19.3 of the CAO) and charged with fines of up to 250,000 rubles or administrative detention of up to 30 days.
On 10 August, more than 50,000 citizens gathered on Sakharov Avenue in Moscow to support their candidates in a peaceful protest, among the largest in Russia’s modern history. After the rally ended, the authorities resumed the crackdown, targeting protesters who headed towards another gathering in the center of Moscow, detaining 244 individuals by the end of the day. Numerous individual picketers were punched and, with their arms twisted, dragged to police vans, including a young woman who appears on a widely-circulated video being punched in the stomach by a member of National Guard, causing a public outcry.
During the 10 August protest, participants demanded that the authorities put an end to the criminal case of “mass unrest”, liberate all of the accused and allow independent candidates to run in the upcoming elections. The same day, solidarity actions with similar demands took place in more than 40 Russian cities, attended by several thousand people across the country. In Saint Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don and Bryansk, police detained 96 individuals, including 28 minors and three journalists.