The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Pavel Ustinov
On Thursday, September 12, 2019, a prosecutor asked the court to sentence Pavel Ustinov to six years in jail. According to investigators, the man was an active participant in an unauthorized rally in central Moscow on August 3, 2019. While under arrest, Ustinov resisted a National Guard officer causing the officer to suffer a dislocated shoulder. The defendant pleads not guilty.In accordance with international guidelines defining the term ‘political prisoner,’ Memorial Human Rights Center (HRC), has recognized Pavel Ustinov as a political prisoner. Memorial HRC demands the immediate release of Ustinov, and others, who were unlawfully detained and assaulted in the public events of July and August 2019, and further demands that those guilty of violating the rights and freedoms of participants and bystanders be brought to justice.
On August 3, 2019, a protest was held in Moscow calling for independent candidates to be registered in the Moscow City Assembly elections. Participants were also protesting the mass detentions, beatings, and jailing on remand of those who took part in the protest of July 27, 2019. Despite the peaceful nature of the protest, and as had happened the previous week, the police and National Guard carried out mass detentions of both participants and bystanders. In all, 1,001 people were arrested that day – a significant number of them were bystanders who had not taken part in the protest. One of detainees was actor Pavel Ustinov who, judging from information obtained by Memorial HRC, had been quietly waiting for a friend at the entrance of a metro station and took no part in the protest. At about 15:30, riot police officers roughly detained Ustinov and according to media reports, one of the officers dislocated their left shoulder during the arrest.
Investigators allege that Ustinov actively resisted riot police officers and intentionally used force that was dangerous to an officer’s life and health and resulted in a riot police officer suffering a dislocated left shoulder. Memorial HRC, however, having analyzed video footage posted by Ustinov’s sister, has concluded that Ustinov is innocent. Based on this footage, there is no evidence in Ustinov’s actions to indicate the crime of an intentional act of violence against a representative of public authority. It is plain to see that Ustinov’s movements were reflex actions and were in no way aggressive, while the riot officers detaining him used force and non-lethal weapons excessively in that situation.
In the remand court hearing the defendant stated: “I physically could not cause harm to a person three times stronger than me. I did not take part in the protest rally and had no intention to cause harm. I was standing out of the way. In one hand I had a telephone, in the other headphones. They twisted my arms behind my back and began to beat me with non-lethal weapons. I did not resist once.” Nonetheless, on August 5, 2019, Ustinov was remanded in custody by decision of the judge of Moscow’s Tverskoy district court, M.V. Sizintseva.
The political nature of Ustinov’s prosecution follows from investigator Zavarzin’s request that the court choose a preventive measure for Ustinov in the form of detention, arguing – without evidence – that Ustinov allegedly had been “an active participant in illegal protests in Moscow city.” The political motivation for the criminal case can also be seen in the context of a sharp increase in repressive measures against those taking part in peaceful demonstrations and rallies, and against bystanders who happen to be in locations where large numbers of arrests are being made. The mass arrests that took place throughout downtown Moscow on August 3, 2019 were arbitrary and a violation of human rights. There was no justification for them in terms of public security.
The most egregious aspect is how the investigation based its position on word-for-word testimonies of riot police officers A.R. Savchenko and K.A. Astashev. In the opinion of leaders at Memorial HRC, the court should recognize such evidence as unacceptable, and circumstances of their “interrogation” should be investigated for possible violation in accordance with part 2 of Article 303 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Falsification of evidence in a criminal case by the interrogator, investigator, prosecutor, or defense attorney.”) It is obvious that such a comprehensive textual coincidence in their testimonies means the interrogation was either not conducted or the “witnesses” read out reports that had been prepared earlier, drawn up on the orders of a senior officer (as happens in the preparation of cases against those accused of violating the norms of the Code of Administrative Law of the Russian Federation at demonstrations). It is significant that the interrogations of Savchenko (19 minutes) and Astashev (20 minutes) took virtually the same amount of time.