The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Mark Galperin
Memorial Human Rights Center (HRC) included a well-known Russian opposition activist Mark Galperin in the list of political prisoners for the second time. Previously, Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Galperin as a political prisoner in 2018 when he was under a house arrest on charges for extremism.
On March 7, 2018, he was released from custody, having been sentenced to two years of probation with a trial period of three years. On December 4, 2019, the Reutov City Court changed the punishment for Galperin from suspended sentence to one year and six months in a penal colony. The court’s decision has made Memorial Human Rights Center to add Galperin to the list of political prisoners for the second time. We demand his immediate release.
The court based its decision to change the suspended sentence to a prison time for Mark Galperin on a number of Galperin’s administrative offences. In recent months, Galperin has been arrested twice for a 30-day term. The first time it was when the opposition activist was arrested for calls to participate in a protest unapproved by the authorities in support of independent candidates to the Moscow City Duma on July 27, 2019. For the second time, the activist was detained for participating in an unsanctioned march against political repression on August 31, 2019.
Obviously, those arrests were unlawful since those events were absolutely peaceful. It should be reminded that the right to freedom of assembly is enshrined in the Article 31 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The fact that the authorities refused to coordinate with organizers a place, time and procedure for their demonstration does not give grounds to consider events and participation in them an offense. Moreover, it is unacceptable to deprive of liberty for that. However, Galperin received a real prison term of one and a half years. The court took into account the time that the activist spent under the house arrest.
We believe that the ongoing persecution of Mark Galperin is connected with his active non-violent opposition and criticism of the authorities. We demand his immediate release.
In 2018, Mark Galperin, a founder and a leader of the organizations called New Opposition and For a Change of the Government, had been charged with an offence under Article 280 (Section 2) of the Russian Criminal Code (public incitement to extremist actions in the Internet, punishable by up to five years in prison). According to the FSB, in two videos Mark Galperin called on Russians to change their government by violent means.
The phrases that the investigators consider, in particular, to be criminal in nature are: «I urge everyone to come out on to the streets and [join the] struggle;” «We must come together in the streets and train for confrontations of that kind, there will be confrontations with the riot police, and then there will be confrontations with the National Guard, and finally we shall win;” «I urge [people to take part] in a democratic revolution;” «I urge [people to] throw out those in the Kremlin over the Kremlin wall.”
We consider that these statements by Mark Galperin do not constitute incitement to violence or to actions of an extremist nature.
For example, in the words, «there will be confrontations with the riot police, with the National Guard,” there is clearly no incitement to attack officers of these law enforcement agencies. As a rule, in contemporary Russia, confrontations of this kind occur during the illegal dispersal by law enforcement agencies of lawful public events organized by the opposition. The phrase, «I urge [people to] throw out those in the Kremlin over the Kremlin wall,” cannot be interpreted as a direct incitement to physically throw those people inside the Kremlin over the 19-meter-high brick wall. The author, evidently, is using the words «throw out» in a figurative sense, having in mind their removal from positions of authority.
Calls to take part in a democratic revolution, to join mass public demonstrations, to change the government, or to overthrow the president and the cabinet, without a direct indication that this should be done by means of violence through an armed attack on people, are not unlawful and cannot be considered criminal offences.
Memorial Human Rights Center considers that the prosecution of Mark Galperin to be related to his active engagement in non-violent opposition and his criticism of the government. Mark Galperin is a political prisoner.