* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Tweet Widget Facebook Like Email A Russian court's guilty verdict against eight people in relation to an anti-Putin rally in May 2012 was a miscarriage of justice. The court will announce their sentence on February 24.
(Moscow) - A Russian court's guilty verdict against eight people in relation to an anti-Putin rally in May 2012 was a miscarriage of justice, Human Rights Watch said today. The court will announce their sentence on February 24.
"This case has been deeply flawed from the start because the charges were inappropriate," said Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director at Human Rights Watch. "We hope this injustice will be corrected on appeal."The "mass rioting" charges stem from a protest on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, the eve of President Vladimir Putin's inauguration. Several dozen of the estimated tens of thousands of protesters clashed sporadically with police. Twenty-nine police officers and 55 protesters reported injuries, most of them minor. However, Russian investigative authorities alleged that the violence was planned and was part of a conspiracy to destabilize the country.
Under Russian law, "mass riots" are defined as mass actions that involve "violence, pogroms, destruction of property, use of firearms, or armed resistance to the authorities."
In June 2012 Russia's human rights ombudsman criticized the mass rioting charges, saying they were disproportionate. In December 2013 an international panel of experts on freedom of assembly publisheda report that found that although there were individual violent episodes, they did not reach a threshold to characterize them as "mass riots." The panel said the criminal charges were disproportionate and concluded that the May 6 clashes were "in a large part a consequence of the actions by the authorities." The experts' detailed findings are consistent with Human Rights Watch's inquiries into the May 6 events.
"The facts on the ground simply did not justify mass rioting charges against the protesters, let alone conviction," Lokshina said.
Video recordings of the May 6 clashes showed one of the defendants, Andrei Barabanov, kicking a policeman once, and another, Alexandra Dukhanina, throwing stones, though it is not clear if the stones hit anyone. There is no video evidence linking to violence the other six defendants (Yaroslav Belousov, Sergey Krivov, Denis Lutskevich, Alexey Polikhovich, Artem Savelov, and Stepan Zimin), whom Amnesty International has designated as prisoners of conscience.
Seven of the eight defendants have been in custody since their arrests, between May and October 2012. The eighth has been under house arrest since May 2012. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for the release of the demonstrators from custody. The failure to take basic steps to establish whether their continued detention was necessary violates the standards required by the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Russia is a party, Human Rights Watch said. In December 2013, four people previously on trial with the eight but accused solely of "mass rioting" were given amnesty, transforming what came to be known as the "trial of twelve" into a trial of eight. Russia's broad federal amnesty covered people charged with participation in "mass riots" as a stand-alone charge, but not in combination with violence against police or organization of "mass riots."
On February 18 the trial of two other men charged with organizing mass riots on May 6, 2012 opened in a Moscow court. If convicted on that charge, Leonid Razvozzhaev and Sergei Udaltsov could face maximum 10-year prison sentences. Udaltsov is under house arrest. Razvozzhaev disappeared in Ukraine in October 2012 as he was applying for political asylum, and reappeared in Russian custody several days later.
He alleged that Russian special services kidnapped him and that he was subjected to cruel treatment and threatened with torture while held incommunicado to compel him to confess and implicate others. Russian authorities held a preliminary inquiry but refused to open a criminal investigation into his allegations.
In April 2013, following a plea bargain, a third man, Konstantin Lebedev, was found guilty of organizing mass riots and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.Two other people were also sentenced in connection with the May 6 protest. Maxim Luzyanin, convicted in 2012, is serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence. Mikhail Kosenko, sentenced in 2013 and designated prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, is in prison and is appealing a ruling ordering his indefinite detention in a psychiatric institution.
At least four more people are awaiting trial for mass rioting and violence against police during the May 6 protest. Two of them have been in pretrial custody since February 2013, and one since April. The fourth is not in custody but has travel restrictions. Their trial dates have not yet been set.
"The Bolotnaya case is a stark example of political manipulation of justice in Russia," Lokshina said. "This disproportionate prosecution appears to be aimed at discouraging people from participating in public protests."