The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of the Protestors in Magas
On March 27, 2019, in Magas, Ingushetia, clashes occurred between participants of a protest rally and The National Guard (RosGvardiya) and police officers after they tried to disperse the rally. 10 police and RosGvardiya officers reportedly received various injuries. The Investigative Committee opened a criminal case on the use of violence against law enforcement officers.
In September 2018, the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, and the head of Ingushetia Yunus-Bek Evkurov signed an agreement redefining the border between the two regions, according to which Ingushetia would transfer seven percent of its territory to Chechnya. The agreement was prepared in secret without public discussion. The signing of the agreement ignited a widespread movement of protest against this agreement.
On March 26, 2019 in Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, 20,000 people took part in a rally demanding resignation of the head of the region, as well as resignation of the heads of the region’s parliament and holding a free and fair elections. The authorities gave permission for the rally to be held in the course of one day, but the participants declared that the rally would become indefinite. On the morning of March, 27, several hundred people remained on the square. They presented no threat to public order. However, troops of the National Guard [RosGvardiya] tried to disperse the crowd. Protesters resisted and ten law enforcement officers were injured.
A criminal investigation was opened and about thirty activists were arrested. Six leaders of the Ingush opposition were charged with an offence under Article 33, Section3, and Article 318, Section 2, of the Russian Criminal Code (organisation of violence that endanger life or health of public officials on duty; punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment). Memorial Human Centre declared them political prisoners. We demand that officials guilty of the unlawful prosecution of the Ingush opposition leaders be brought to justice.
Grounds for declaring the case politically motivated
Investigators cite three ‘facts’ demonstrating the guilt of those ‘ who organized the crime’:
1) About 400 protesters remained at the location of the rally and declared that they would not disperse until their demands had been met as a result of a decision by Barakhoev, Malsagov, Nalgiev, Uzhakhov and Chemurziev.
2) The five leaders ‘issued calls to national unity’ and ‘took steps to unite’ the people present on the square, morally supporting them, saying that soon new participants in the rally would arrive. They also called on the protesters to stand firm if the law enforcement officers tried to break up the rally.
3) Barakhoev, speaking at the rally on March 27 to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ingushetia, Dmitry Kava, and other representatives of law enforcement agencies, stated that resistance by force to representatives of authority was possible.
Under Russian criminal law, an offence is only committed if the organizer of a crime acts with direct intention. Not one of the above circumstances cited by the investigators shows the opposition leaders had any such intention, i.e. that they wished for and incited violence.
There is no evidence that they intended to cause harm to the health of public officials, sought to bring that about, organized or led it.
Judging by videos of the events and the evidence of witnesses, the Ingush leaders urged the protesters to depart and not to allow clashes with law enforcement officers.
Thus on one video made on the morning of 27 March, the elder Akhmed Barakhoev, standing next to others who have also been charged, is seen telling protesters: «So that no harm will be done to us. So that no blood will be spilled. These lads, who are opposing us — they also have fathers and mothers waiting for them at home. These are people who were ordered to come here. We don’t need either their blood or our blood to be spilled. We did not come here to spill blood or to fight. We have talked with the authorities and they promised they will permit another rally. We have submitted the required notification… I shall go forwards, and you will all follow me. Let us remember God Almighty and we shall all leave. We shall leave here unbroken!»
Members of a working group consisted of human rights organizations (including Memorial Human Rights Centre) that worked at the scene of events in April 2019 concluded: «We have the impression that the decision to use force was made at a level higher than the head of the Republic of Ingushetia. A minimal knowledge of local specifics would have been enough to prevent law enforcement officers from other regions being sent out against the crowd that included elderly men — this caused aggression among young people and clashes occurred. Only the competent and responsible behavior by officers from a local battalion of traffic police made up of residents of Ingushetia enabled the situation to be defused. These officers saved RosGvardiya officers who had been knocked over and injured, pulling them away from the square, separating other RosGvardiya officers from the crowd, and thereby stopping clashes. Jointly with opposition leader Akhmed Barakhoev, they then persuaded young people to voluntarily leave the square.»
Based on the documents gathered during the investigation and on the circumstances of the event, we conclude that the opposition leaders did not organize acts of violence and there is no basis for the charges brought against them.