The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Cases of Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov
On November 5, 2017, Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov attempted to hold a protest demanding the resignation of the regional government. In preparation, they had made two posters and about 30 flyers and purchased a megaphone. However, soon before they began protesting, they were arrested. They were subsequently charged with attempting to organize and participate in mass riots – punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment – and have been detained ever since.
Yan Sidorov, an 18-year-old student, and Vladislav Mordasov, an 21-year-old worker from Rostov-on-Don, have been charged with attempting to organize riots under Article 30, Section 3, and Article 212, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code, for which the penalty is up to 11 years and three months’ deprivation of liberty, and with attempting to take part in riots under Article 30, Section 3 and Article 212, Section 2, of the Russian Criminal Code, for which the penalty is up to six years’ deprivation of liberty.
Sidorov and Mordasov have formally been held on remand since November, 10 2017. However, in real terms they have been behind bars since November, 5 2017 when they were detained on Ploshchad Sovetov, opposite the Rostov Region government building, where they were trying to organize a picket, and for which they were sentenced to a short jail term under administrative law.
The charges against Sidorov and Mordasov amount to the allegations that on November, 5 2017 they «actively sought to engage persons present in a protest action by means of the public demonstration of protest materials, to draw together a crowd, and also to commit provocative actions in relation to police officers attempting to detain the said participants in the disorder and by that means trying to begin the said disorder.” In other words, they tried to hold a picket.
Analysis of the materials of the criminal case to which Memorial Human Rights Centre have access allows them to state with certainty that Yan Sidorov and Mordasov are innocent. The investigative officers cannot provide any material evidence that those accused actually tried to organize riots, or even plan them.
The version of the alleged offences set out by the investigative officers seems to us unlikely. All Sidorov’s testimony, on the contrary, is realistic, logical and coherent. He consistently asserts that he planned to hold a peaceful protest that had no relation to Artpodgotovka or Vyacheslav Maltsev and that he opposes the use of violence for political ends. On this basis, it seems much more likely that the two young people had planned to hold a picket and not to organize a riot or to try to overthrow the regional government. They were without weapons and merely held up placards that were not extremist in nature («Return the land to the Rostov residents who lost their properties in the fire» and «The government must resign»), distributed leaflets and spoke over megaphones, having spent 3,500 rubles on the event.
The official investigation fails to explain why, if Sidorov and Mordasov allegedly committed not even the «preparation» of the organisation of riots, but only an «attempt» to organize them, there was no evidence that these riots might begin. The notion that riots could begin as a result of the holding of an ordinary picket with quite ordinary demands is absurd. On that basis, an intention of this kind could be ascribed to any participant in any picket, including one that had official permission and was not taking place on November, 5 2017 but on any other day. There is no evidence that the alleged plan was realizable or had any objective basis.
During their detention, the rights of Sidorov and Mordasov have been egregiously violated. Both were repeatedly interrogated without a lawyer present, tortured, and forced to confess. Mordasov, in particular, was struck on the head, stomach, kidneys, and lower abdomen, and investigators twice put a gas mask on his head, suffocating him.
Amnesty International has recognized both men as prisoners of conscience. Memorial Human Rights Centre considers Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov political prisoners and calls for their immediate release.