Sergey Davidis
Sergey Davidis
Board Member of the "Memorial" Human Rights Center
A new crackdown in Russia: the aftermath of March 26 protests

March 26, 2017 became the day of the most massive protest rallies since the protest wave of 2011-201 2 in Russia. According to some characteristics, the protests on March 26 did not have precedents over the past decades.

Both the initiative to hold such mass protest actions, and the actions themselves also impressed the authorities. But they reacted in traditional ways: repression and threats.

Probably no fewer than 100,000 people went to the streets of about 100 Russian cities with anti-corruption demands on the appeal of Alexei Navalny, despite the fact that in most cities protest actions were illegally not agreed by the authorities. So, in the Center of Moscow from 15 to 30 thousand people went for a walk along the sidewalks, despite the fact that the City Hall in direct contradiction with the law refused to allow the rally.

The protest actions on March 26 marked the end of the decline in the protest activity in Russia, which lasted from 2012, gave rise to a sense of hope in the society.

Directly on March 26, despite the peaceful nature of all events held, in many cities some of the participants were detained. In total, across Russia, the number of illegally detained persons amounted to more than 1500 people, of whom at least 1043 people in Moscow – more than at any other action in recent decades. Mainly, unjustified and unlawful detentions took place in a crude form, in violation of the established procedure and with the use of physical violence. Many participants of the action were beaten during the detention.

At the public action in Moscow, according to the authorities, one police officer was injured. It was alleged that he was kicked into the head by a person who had disappeared after that (as it turned out, this policeman had already been allegedly injured by Ivan Nepomnyashchikh’s actions in the “Bolotnoe Case”, but at that time no specific harm was caused to him). In this regard, on March 26, a criminal case was opened under Art. 317 of the Criminal Code (encroachment on the life of a law enforcement officer, to life imprisonment). Investigators of the Investigative Committee of Russia at night from 26 to 27 March visited about half of the 50 Moscow police departments, which contained citizens detained for actions, and conducted their interrogations.

Two days later, it was announced that criminal proceedings were also opened under other articles of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation: Art.213 (hooliganism, up to five years of imprisonment) and art. 318 (application of violence to a law enforcement officer, up to ten years of imprisonment). Soon, lawyers who entered the case learned that to investigate these crimes a large investigative group of 100, and, according to some reports, 145 investigators, was established. Many investigators are part of the investigation team for the “Bolotnoye Case” and participated in the fabrication of evidence of the guilt of the accused and convicted in this case. The head of the new investigation group, Major-General of Justice Rustam Gabdulin also heads the investigation team for the “Bolotnoye Case”.

Within the framework of the initiated criminal cases, in the end of March and the first half of April, 28-year-old sociologist and actor Yuri Kuliy, 40-year-old carpenter Alexander Shpakov, 32-year-old builder Stanislav Zimovets and 31-year-old loader Andrey Kosykh were detained and placed in remand prisons. Later, on May 14, 33-year-old engineer Dmitry Krepkin was detained and placed in remand prison. Everyone, except Kosykh, was charged under Article 318 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (application of violence, not dangerous for life and health to the police). Kosykh is accused of striking two policemen, one of whom received a traumatic brain injury. It was for this episode that the case was brought under Article 317 (encroachment on the life of a policeman), but whether such accusation of Kosykh is made is unknown.

Kuliy was accused of grabbing a policeman by the shoulder, what caused him pain, Shpakov is accused of having dealt two blows to a policeman, the result of which were two abrasions, Zimovets is accused of having got a piece of brick in the buttocks of a policeman, and Krepkin is of hitting a policeman in the hip.

Shkapov and Krepkin were severely beaten while having been detained on March 26, resulting in bodily injuries recorded by doctors.

The first four of the detainees initially pleaded guilty, in this connection the courts over Kuliy and Shpakov were held in a special order – without examining the evidence. Despite this, Kuliy was sentenced to 8 months in a colony-settlement, and Shpakov – to 1.5 years in a colony of general regime. After sentencing, Kuliy and Shpakov reported that they pleaded guilty and agreed to a special order, having succumbed to the free state lawyers’ intentions (originally all the defendants were completely isolated from the outside world and had no lawyers by agreement) and investigators and hoped to receive a non-custodial punishment. Zimovets, whose case from the end of May is considered in Tverskoy court of Moscow, refused to admit guilt, and Krepkin hasn’t  admitted his guilt in the blow of the policeman from the very beginning.The investigation of the cases of Krepkin and Kosykh continues.

In fact, the accusations of all the defendants of the case, except for Kosykh, about whom almost nothing is known, are based on the evidence of allegedly injured policemen, that were not corroborated by medical documents, who did not receive real bodily harm, but only suffered pain, and  on the  illegible videos that do not allow to conclude that the accused Indeed applied violence against the police officers.

The case of the teacher of mathematics Dmitry Bogatov adjoins the “Case of March 26”. Immediately after March 26, virtually anonymous calls for protest actions on April 2  began to appear on social networks and online forums, some of them had a relatively radical character (As a result, on April 2 a few hundred peaceful protesters came to the streets and square in Moscow, more than 100 of which were detained). In this regard, on April 1, a case was opened on the fact of appeals for mass riots, and on April 6, in the framework of this case, D. Bogatov was detained. As it turned out later, the TOR network outlet was placed on his computer, therefore, one of the many calls for participation in the action on April 2, posted on the professional board of system administrators, was identified by IP as being posted from Bogatov’s computer. Other similar messages from the same board user were posted from different IPs from different countries, but the investigators appointed the owner of the only Moscow address of these addresses to be the author. Since the court refused to take Bogatov into custody on charges of calling for mass riots, he was charged under part 1 of Art. 30, part. 1 of art. 212 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Preparing for the organization of mass riots”) and Part 2 of Art. 205.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Public Appeals for the Terrorist Activity via the Internet”), and then after all he was placed in custody.

The persecution of Bogatov, which has nothing to do with political protest, is obviously aimed at intimidating Internet users and preventing new public appeals for disapproved ralies. D. Bogatov was recognized as a political prisoner by the Memorial HRC.

It was reported that criminal proceedings were brought against the participants of the actions on March 26 and in other cities besides Moscow, however, no one was arrested on these cases, and only one case has reached the court at present: in Volgograd, student Maxim Beldinov was sentenced to 1.5 year suspended sentence for the use of violence against a policeman.

Nevertheless, since the action on March 26 in Moscow was the most populous, and since The authorities attach special importance to the control over the protest activity in the capital, the continuation of repression in connection with the “March 26 case” should be expected precisely here.

Both the nature of the charges against those already brought to criminal responsibility in this case, and the creation of such a large investigative group to investigate a peaceful mass action, during which (in fact, after it) there was only one episode of real violence against a policeman, especially given the experience of many members of this group in the “Bolotnoye case”, force us to believe that its aim has become, similarly to the purpose of the investigation group for the “Bolotnoye case”, the massive prosecution of innocent citizens to intimidate civil society. This understanding is reinforced by an unprecedentedly rapid investigation. If the case of any of the accused in the “Bolotnoye case” was investigated for months and even years, then the cases of three of the detainees in the new “March 26 case” were brought to court more quickly than in 2 months. It seems that such a rush is connected with the need to have time to transfer to society the threat of criminal prosecution for participating in a peaceful protest until the next mass action scheduled for June 12, but it is very likely that the criminal case is going to be investigated further and, therefore, new innocent participants of peaceful protest  to be put behind bars.