Don’t be afraid

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The Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court has overturned the verdict in the case of activist Ildar DADIN, who was convicted of repeated infringements of the law on public assembly. It has ordered his release, and also recognized his right to rehabilitation following the quashing of his sentence.


Zoya Svetova

This decision is unique. For one thing, on 6 December 2016 this same Supreme Court refused Dadin’s lawyers when they filed a complaint to the Presidium, pointing out that there were no grounds for revising the sentence. And now, two months later grounds have somehow appeared.

It is important to understand that such cases, where the Supreme Court cancels a sentence and releases the convicted person from custody, are extremely rare. The most recent case of this kind is the Supreme Court ruling on the release of businessman Alexei Kozlov, and the review of his case — although, true, the sentence resulting from the review turned out to be similar to the previous one, and Kozlov was sent back to jail.

By law, the Supreme Court has the right to acquit the convicted person and release him from jail. But it very rarely uses this right, preferring to cancel the sentence and refer the case for retrial. Things then go round in circles: the case goes back to the district court. There, as a rule, a sentence is passed that is similar to the first one, and then there is an appeal, cassation and, perhaps, at the level of the Moscow City Court Presidium, when the convicted person has already served most of their sentence, they are released.

It also happens that the case comes before the Supreme Court again, and the Supreme Court passes a new guilty verdict, forgetting that a few months ago their own judges had canceled that verdict and sent the case for review.

What happened, and why?

What happened in the Ildar Dadin case? Why did the Prosecutor General support his release, and the court listen to the Prosecutor, recognizing the right of the civic activist, political prisoner and passionate opponent of the authorities to rehabilitation? What’s going on, a thaw?

I repeat, this is a purely political decision.

First, the Constitutional Court recognizes problems with the article on criminal liability for repeated participation in rallies, demands that it be clarified, and refers Dadin’s case to the Supreme Court. And then the Supreme Court recalls that it can release the innocent, and does so.

To be honest, I was sure that the Supreme Court would do this. I even wanted to bet a bottle of champagne with someone that it would, but unfortunately didn’t have time.

Why was I confident things would turn out in precisely this way? Let me try to explain.

Firstly, following Ildar’s letter about torture in prison, this case has garnered a great deal of attention. We must pay tribute to Human Rights Ombudsperson Tatiana Moskalkova, who visited Ildar in prison in Karelia. The organization For Human Rights, the //Council for Human Rights, all the human rights organisations, newspapers, and internet sites wrote screeds about Dadin, his case, his torture. And something had to be done about that. Just then, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Russian government will not pay money to Yukos, in spite of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights. The Constitutional Court badly needed to make a more “just” decision on a significant issue, and so it did.

We have to take into account the fact that Dadin was due to remain in jail until summer, and the politically expedient thing would have been to release him in order to diffuse the tension around him, his case and the endless conversations about the system of torture in Russia.

In any case, there has been no good news from the justice system since the release of Nadezhda Savchenko, Gennady Afanasyev and Yury Soloshenko. On the contrary, there have been continuous arrests: people have been jailed for several years for treason for sending a text message, Evgenia Chudnovets was jailed for reposting an item on a social media site, and when she caught a cold she was put in solitary confinement.

Arrests in high-profile cases continue non-stop: high-ranking FSB officers are sent to Lefortovo prison for treason; the former Kirov Region governor Nikita Belykh is getting all kinds of bad treatment on remand, where they deny him the right to marriage and medical treatment. In general, the courts and prison system are giving us nothing but reason for concern. Hence the decision in the presidential administration that a positive news story was required.

So that’s what they did.

What does all this mean? Dadin’s case makes it clear that //they have learned from the examples of Pussy Riot, the Bolotnaya Square case, the Savchenko case, and the case of Pyotr Pavlensky: if you or someone close to you is unjustly imprisoned, in defiance of the law, then, if you are certain of this, don’t be afraid, nothing worse can happen: speak about it, write about it, call the press and human rights activists, and it’s entirely possible  the system will back down under pressure from the media and civil society.

Especially if your story happens to attract attention at a timely moment, as happened with Dadin.

I’m not saying my version is the only truth. Maybe everything was completely different and let’s say someone like Sergei Kirienko, or maybe even Putin himself, decided that the regime had to soften and throw a bone to civil society, so they free Dadin and allow a march in memory of Nemtsov. After all, the presidential elections are coming very soon.

But of course, all these suppositions are based on very little real knowledge. Yet that’s not what’s most important.

The main thing is that Ildar Dadin will be free …. He will return a hero to Moscow.

We shall see what happens next.

Translated by Anna Bowles

The author is a journalist and human rights activist, winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize for the protection of human rights, and former member of the Moscow //Public Monitoring Committee.

Moscow Helsinki Group, 22 February 2017
(original source — Open Russia)