Will this be a new Bolotnaya Square for Navalny’s supporters?
On 26 March 2017, Russia witnessed its largest demonstrations since the wave of protests in 2011 and 2012. Some aspects of the 26 March protests had no precedents in the past decade, says SERGEI DAVIDIS. The government reacted to the organization of such mass protests in a familiar manner, with a mixture of repression and threats.
(The protests went under the popular slogan “He’s no mate of ours!” OR “Don’t you go calling him ‘Dimon’ “, a laddish version of Dmitry — referring, in this case, to Medvedev, the Russian Prime Minister, ed.)
It is possible that no fewer than 100,000 people hit the streets in around 100 Russian cities, prompted by Alexei Navalny to issue anti-corruption demands — even though the protests were illegal in most of the cities, not having been approved by the authorities.
In central Moscow, where the mayor, in violation of the law, refused to approve the protest, between 15,000 and 30,000 people took to the streets. It was perhaps the largest demonstration to take place in the capital without the permission of the city authorities since the early 1990s.
The 26 March demonstrations marked the end of the post-2012 decline in protests in Russia, and gave rise to a sense of hope in society.
A mass of illegal but peaceful demonstrations
In the lead-up to 26 March, most of the protests failed to receive official permission. In several cities there were attempts to prevent the protests through pressure on organizers and participants.
Although all protests were peaceful, participants were detained in many cities.
Across Russia, more than 1,500 people in total were wrongfully detained, and no fewer than 1,043 of them were in Moscow—far more than at any other protest in the past decade.
Unwarranted and unlawful detention was frequently carried out in a rough manner, with violations of established procedure and the use of physical force. Many of the detained demonstrators were also beaten.
According to the authorities, a police officer was injured at the protest in Moscow. It was asserted that he was kicked in the head by a person who then escaped. As it turned out, the police officer had been involved in the Bolotnaya case as the alleged victim of Ivan Nepomnyashchy. (Then, he suffered no specific harm.)
A criminal case was already opened on 26 March 2017 regarding the incident.
The charge was violation of Article 317 of the Russian Criminal Code, “Endangering the life of an employee of a law enforcement agency”, punishable by up to life in prison.
During the night of 26-27 March, Investigative Committee detectives visited about half of the 50 Moscow police stations where demonstrators were being held, and questioned them.
Two days later, it was announced that other criminal cases were being opened, concerning violations of Article 213, “Hooliganism” (up to 5 years loss of liberty) and Article 318, “Violence toward representatives of the authorities” (up to 10 years loss of liberty).
Some victims of this extensive repression
Soon thereafter, lawyers revealed that the unit investigating these charges numbered between 100 and 150 detectives. Many belong to the unit responsible for handling the Bolotnaya case, and were responsible for falsifying the evidence that secured the conviction of those charged in that affair. The head of the new investigative group, Major General Rustam Gabdulin, also headed the investigative group on the “Bolotnaya case.”
Within the scope of the criminal cases opened at the end of March and in the first half of April, a 28-year-old sociologist and actor Yury Kuly, 40-year-old joiner Alexander Shpakov, 32-year-old builder Stanislav Zimovets, and 31-year-old goods transporter Andrei Kosykh were arrested and remanded in custody. Later, on 14 May, 33-year-old engineer Dmitry Krepkin was also arrested and placed in pre-trial detention.
All, apart from Kosykh, were charged under Article 318 of the Russian Criminal Code, i.e. with the use of force against police that did not threaten the life or health of the latter.
Kosykh is accused of striking two police officers, one of whom consequently received a trauma to the head. The case was initiated because of this episode, a case under Article 317 (“Endangering the life of a police officer”), but it is not known whether charges have already been brought against him.
Kuly is accused of having grabbed an officer by the shoulder, thus causing him pain; Shpakov of having struck an officer twice, resulting in two lesions; Zimovets of hitting an officer in the buttock with a brick; and Krepkin of striking an officer in the thigh.
Shpakov and Krepkin were seriously beaten during their arrest on 26 March, and sustained bodily injuries confirmed by doctors as a result.
The first four of the detainees initially admitted guilt, and the courts continued under special proceedings without examining evidence as a result. Even so, Kuly was sentenced to deprivation of freedom in an open prison, and Shpakov to 18 months in a correctional colony with an ordinary regime.
After the pronouncement of the sentences, Kuly and Shpakov indicated that they had made a plea bargain and agreed to special proceedings. In the hope of avoiding a prison term, they had given in to the persuasion of the investigators and government-appointed lawyers (initially, all the accused had been totally isolated from the outside world and did not have access to private counsel).
Zimovets, whose case has been under consideration since the end of May at Moscow’s Tverskoi district court, refused a plea bargain. Krepkin denied striking a police officer from the very beginning.
The investigation of the cases of Krepkin and Kosykh continues.
In practice, the accusations against all defendants except Kosykh, about whom almost nothing is known, are based on injuries, unconfirmed by medical records. They were supposedly suffered by police officers who didn’t sustain any actual bodily harm, but merely experienced pain. They are based on video recordings that are too unclear to allow one to make any conclusion as to whether the accused indeed used the violence imputed to them against police.
The case of Dmitry Bogatov
Related to the “26 March case” is that of mathematics lecturer Dmitry Bogatov.
Directly after 26 March anonymous calls began appearing on social media sites and internet forums calling for a further protest on 2 April. A number of these appeals had a relatively radical character and, as a result, several hundred peaceful protestors took to the streets and squares of Moscow on that day. More than 100 of them were detained.
A case was opened on 1 April on the charge of incitement to riot, and on 6 April Bogatov was arrested. It later turned out that Bogatov had a TOR network exit node on his computer, thanks to which one of the many re-posts of calls to participate in the 2 April protest, located on a professional forum for system administrators, was identified by its IP as coming from Bogatov’s computer.
Other similar messages from the same forum user came from different IPs in different countries. The investigators decided, however, that the owner of the only Moscow address among them was the author.
When the court refused to place Dmitry Bogatov in custody on charges of incitement to riot, he was charged under three Articles of the Russian Federation Criminal Code — Article 30, part 1; Article 212, part 1 (“Preparation to organise riots”); and Article 205.2, part 2 (“Public appeals via the internet to carry out terrorist activity”) — and then taken into custody.
The prosecution of Bogatov, who has no link with political protests, is obviously intended to scare internet users and prevent new public calls for protests that have not been given official sanction. Dmitry Bogatov has been recognised as a political prisoner by the Memorial Human Rights Centre in Moscow.
It has been reported that criminal proceedings have been opened against people who participated in the 26 March action in towns other than Moscow.
However, in none of these cases has anyone been arrested. The only one case to come to the attention of the court is that of Volgograd student Maxim Beldinov who was given an 18-month suspended sentence for violence against an official.
On 5 June, it emerged that 33-year-old bankruptcy liquidator Yevgeny Vladenkov from Petrozavodsk had been charged under Article 318, part 1, of the Criminal Code. He has been placed under house arrest.
The tactics of the authorities
As the Moscow protest on 26 March was the largest in the country, and the authorities attach special significance to controlling protest activity in the Russian capital, further repressive acts linked to the “26 March Affair” can be expected there.
The nature of the charges against those already indicted in this case, and the creation of such a large body of investigators to investigate a peaceful mass action, during which — or in fact after which — there was only one incident of real violence against a police officer, leads us to conclude, considering the experience of many of the members of the group of investigators involved in the 2012 Bolotnaya Square case, that the aim, then as now, is the extensive criminalisation of innocent people in order to intimidate civil society.
This interpretation is supported by the unprecedented rapidity of the investigation.
The investigation of those accused in the Bolotnaya Square case took months or even years: the cases of three detainees in the new “26 March case” went to court in less than two months.
The haste is related, it seems, to the need to bring the e threat of criminal investigation for participation in peaceful protest necessity of bringing to bear on society before the next mass demonstration, which is scheduled for 12 June. But it also quite likely that this criminal case will be investigated further, and more innocent participants in peaceful protests will be charged with similar crimes.
P.S. Human rights activist Sergei Davidis states: “While this report was being prepared for publication, a new suspect emerged in the case in Petrozavodsk.”
Translation, Anna Bowles and Lincoln Pigman
Published on 5 June by HRO.org in English,
Source: The Home of Free Russia («Дом свободной России»)