The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Moscow Case
On September 2, 2019, in accordance with the international guidelines, the Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Daniil Beglets, Aidar Gubaidulin, Yegor Zhukov, Kirill Zhukov, Evgeny Kovalenko, Alexey Minyaylo, Ivan Podkopaev, Samariddin Rajabazov, Sergei Fomin, and Konstantin Kotov as political prisoners.
On July 30, all of these individuals were named as defendants in the criminal case of “Mass Riots” which had allegedly took place three days earlier, on July 27, 2019 in Moscow as thousands of Russians went to the streets to protest the illegal exclusion of opposition candidates from participation in the Moscow City Assembly elections.
All ten individuals named in the criminal case have been charged under Part 2 of Article 212 of the Russian Criminal Code (participation in riots accompanied by violence and destruction of property).
Four of those arrested – Daniil Beglets, Kirill Zhukov, Evgeny Kovalenko, and Ivan Podkopaev – have been charged under Part 1 of Article 318 of the Criminal Code (use of violence not dangerous to life and health against a representative of the government).
On September 3, 2019, Ivan Podkopaev was sentenced to three years, and Daniil Beglets to two years in general-regime penitentiary.
The prosecution has charged Aidar Gubaidulin and Samariddin Radzhabov with participation in mass riots, and conspiring to commit violence against law enforcement: Part 3 of Article 30 and Part 1 of Article 318 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (attempted use of violence against a representative of the government).
On September 3, once the prosecution had realized that its “mass riots” charges against Yegor Zhukov lacked grounds, it replaced them with new charges of “calls for extremism via the internet” (Part 2 of Article 280 of the Criminal Code).
Konstantin Kotov has been charged under Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code – “repeat violation of regulations on organizing a public assembly, rally, demonstration, march or picket”. He has been sentenced to 4 years in jail for participating in three protests in support of political prisoners; publishing a post on Facebook calling on people to join a protest on July 19, 2019 against the elimination of opposition candidates from Moscow City Assembly elections; and taking part in the August 10, 2019 protest march against political repression and to urge authorities to register independent candidates for participation in the Moscow City Assembly elections.
Representatives of the Memorial Human Rights Center were at the scene of the July 27 events. They have documented and examined in detail all available records of protests and “clashes” between the demonstrators and security forces. They have also analyzed available criminal case materials. Based on this expert assessment, the Memorial Human Rights Center has determined that the demonstrations on July 27, 2019 were peaceful and non-violent. There were no riots in Moscow.
According to Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, freedom of peaceful assembly is one of the most important civil rights; and it is the duty of authorities to facilitate organization of such functions to ensure public safety. On July 27, 2019, Russian government authorities did the opposite: they attempted to prevent a peaceful action, worked to disperse it, and in the course, detained about 1,500 participants, using disproportionate violence. Unlawful obstruction of a rally, demonstration or assembly is punishable under Article 149 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation with imprisonment for a term of up to three years.
The acts of “violence” incriminated to several protesters now being prosecuted under Article 318 of the Criminal Code, in fact, never took place. Samariddin Radzhabov, for example, in no way could render bodily harm on the riot police officers equipped in full riot gear (including helmets and body armor) by throwing a plastic bottle at them. Likewise, Kirill Zhukov’s tapping with his fingers one of the officers’ helmets, or Daniil Beglets’ grabbing a hand of a policeman cannot be defined as violence. In addition, it should be kept in mind that these incidents occurred spontaneously, and in response to the unlawful and disproportionate violence exercised by the security forces against the demonstrators.
The Memorial Human Rights Center, further declares that the persecution of the July 27 protesters is politically motivated and seeks to intimidate protestors and discourage further expression of political opinion.
It is also clear that the sentences against these individuals had been determined in advance of their actual arrests. It was public statements by the Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and Putin’s Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov who claimed that “mass riots” had occurred in Moscow, that served as calls to action. These statements were an implicit order to the Russian law enforcement and judiciary.
State television and other pro-government media outlets dutifully complied and started producing reports of the alleged “riots.” They claimed simultaneously that protesters were criminals, sponsored by the West, “nonresidents” (implying that they were not Muscovites and therefore their rights were not violated by the exclusion of independent candidates for the Moscow City Assembly elections).
The Memorial Human Rights Center asserts that these unlawful and immoral actions are carried out by the authorities with the aim of depriving the political opposition of public support, intimidating citizens and dissuading them from participation in the protest movement, and further encroaching on the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression of the Russian citizens.