Repressive measures against anti-corruption action, March 26th, 2017
Anti-corruption actions that took place in dozens of Russian cities on March 26th have turned into a new political repression campaign against activists and civil society. Repressive measures beyond detentions, administrative arrests and penalty charges, at this time the government is putting tremendous pressure on activists as a response to the massive participation in protest actions. A new political criminal process and mechanism of intimidation and pressure on activists throughout the country is under way.
At the moment at least five people have already been arrested in Moscow and placed in the pre-trial detention centers as part of the investigations of several criminal cases related to the events of March 26. They face serious prison terms, up to life imprisonment. There are also many accused individuals in separate incidents related to anti-corruption actions and ongoing protests in at least four other Russian cities.
Unfortunately this is not the whole story. The analysis of daily data collected by OVD-Info allows us to state unambiguously: the law enforcement agencies are deliberately engaged in pressure on detainees and arrested persons in order to prepare evidence for a criminal case with a possibility to bring an accusation against any participant of the event. The investigation already initiated by the Investigative Committee can impact hundreds and thousands of people, dozens of people can be arrested. Oncoming criminal case can turn into the most ambitious political crackdown in the modern history of Russia.
Detentions and administrative prosecution
In many cities the actions ended up with detentions — over 1500 people were under police custody. At least 1043 of them were arrested in Moscow, in Tverskaya street and in the environs. The arrests were made in rough manner, with the use of physical violence and severe means of bodily restraint, a visible contrast to the peaceful nature of the action. Moreover, police arrested over 70 persons under 18 years of age.
During arrests and in transit to police stations many participants were beat up by police officers. OVD-Info became aware of it from: detained individuals who called the hotline, video materials, accounts of eyewitnesses, independent observers, and media representatives.
The statement from Tatiana Moskalkova, the Human Rights Ombudsman, that «there were no cases of bodily injures» does not correspond to the facts. The absence of official complaints from detained persons could not and should not be treated by Human Rights organizations, including the Ombudsman Establishment, as the evidence of absence of police officers wrongdoing.
OVD-Info has been recording the practice of initiating criminal cases under Article 318 СС (use of violence against a representative of authority) when beaten activists tried to complain or initiate criminal cases against police officers. Significantly, on the nights of March 26th to 27th the Investigative Committee members asked apprehended persons whether they had any injuries from police officers. Afterwards, criminal cases under Article 318 CC were initiated against four action participants. One of them, Aleksandr Shpakov, reported to the press that he had been beat up by police while being detained and taken to a hospital in an ambulance. The majority of apprehended are facing administrative charges. In total, according to OVD-Info statistics, 586 trials were carried out up to April 18th in Tverskoy District Court, some cases were deferred to future dates. According to the data provided by the City Court of Moscow, 732 administrative cases against participants of the protests have been taken to the Tverskoy District court.
According to City Court of Moscow statistics, 138 individuals have been held administratively responsible under Article 19.3 (Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses). According to OVD-Info data, 64 individuals received a sentence of 2–25 days of jail time, 646 days in total. Others apprehended spent up to 48 hours in police custody and were released with fines.
469 trials have proceeded under basic «anti-protest» Article 20.2 (Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses) in Tverskoy Court. All the trials that we are familiar with ended up with convictions and penalty charges from 10000 to 20000 RUB (total penalty sum is over 5 MLN RUB). Administrative cases will be heard in Tverskoy District Court and City Court of Moscow throughout May and June. OVD-Info has followed the cases and judicial decisions on Article 20.2 and could state that all rulings are unmerited and partisan.
Fabrication of the criminal cases
Starting from the evening of March 26th, a systematic simultaneous process of preparing criminal cases had been actively underway. At the moment, the authorities announced the initiation of several criminal cases under a number of articles, reportedly five people in Moscow were put under arrest, and the number of suspects is rising.
OVD-Info is aware of the fact that at least 145 investigators are involved in the case. Among them are those who worked in the «Bolotnaya Square case» including the head of the acting group of investigators, Major General Rustam Gabdulin who also led the investigation of the former case.
On the evening of March 26th it became known about the initiation of the case under Article 317 of the Criminal Code (encroachment on the life of a law enforcement officer). It became apparent later the victim is Evgeny Gavrilov, member of the 2nd operational regiment of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Moscow, who previously went to court as a victim in the «Bolotnaya Squarr case», — according to the investigation, the accused Ivan Nepomnyashchikh «has inflicted violence» upon the officer for which he is currently serving a term in the colony. According to some unconfirmed reports, on March 26th Gavrilov received a craniocerebral injury.
The Investigative Committee’s investigators interrogated detainees at least 24 of the 50 known police department locations by OVD-Info on the evening of the 26th. At the same time, according to the detainee reports from multiple police departments the investigators had been providing them different information about the criminal case they were approached about: some investigators said charges of mass riots, others spoke about «extremism». Due to serious procedural violations (for example, after the Investigative Committee’s arrival to the police department, detainee’s lawyers were no longer allowed to be present), as well as the known facts of putting detainees under pressure during the «conversations», one can now confidently talk not about gathering materials, but about a full-scale falsification of the criminal case.
After that, many detainees began to receive summons for questioning in connection with the participation of school students in the protest. School principals and other employees of the schools where the detainees are studying were summoned to the Investigative Committee.
In addition, on March 26th, information appeared about the initiation of a criminal case of inciting hatred or enmity (Article 282 of the Criminal Code): according to Kira Yarmysh, the press secretary of Aleksey Navalny, during the search in the office of the Anti-Corruption Fund, this article was imputed to Leonid Volkov, the head of Navalny’s election headquarters. According to RBC, those detained in the office were interrogated under this article, but this incident has not yet developed.
On March 27th, the Investigative Committee filed a report about a criminal case involving three articles: Article 317 (encroachment on the life of a law enforcement officer), Article 213 (hooliganism), and Article 318 (the use of violence against a government official) of the Russian Criminal Code. Within this case, according to the Investigative Committee, a review is being conducted about «the offers of compensation given to teenagers and other participants (in case of arrest) for taking part in the unsanctioned mass demonstration on March 26th." The Investigative Committee’s message appeared soon after the announcements of Putin’s Press Secretary, Dmitri Peskov, about the facts regarding the «bribing» of teenage participants of the event.
Within the same case against Aleksey Navalny at Special Detention Center No. 2, where they sent him to serve out his arrest sentence, they confiscated his personal belongings, including his shoestrings.
A few days later it became known that those participants of the Moscow demonstration, whom the court had placed under administrative arrest, had been subjected to illegal interrogations. Representatives of unknown security agencies, without introducing themselves or showing any documents interrogated those who had been held in detention centers, including the one on Petrovka Street 38 where the head department of the interior of Moscow is situated. Furthermore, the arrestees were threatened and subjected to inhumane treatment and various forms of psychological torture/harassment. Unknown agents made it perfectly clear to those being interrogated that they were preparing a new «Bolotnaya Square case».
Тhese interrogations might also form the basis of a falsified criminal case.
Arrests in Moscow
The Case about Violence on March 26th
On April 13th, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation published a press-release in which it reported the arrest and indictment of four defendants in the criminal case which arose in response to the supposedly illegal actions committed by participants in the mass demonstration on March 26th, 2017 on Pushkin Square and its surroundings, which was not approved by the authorities. According to the report, the following articles of the Russian Criminal Code were mentioned: 213, 317, and 318.
All of the detainees (Yuri Kulii, Aleksandr Shpakov, Stanislav Zimovets, and Andrei Kosykh) were arrested by court order and placed in a pre-trial detention center for two months. The trials took place consecutively on March 28 and April 1, 6, and 13. A final indictment has not yet been produced.
It is important to underscore that the Investigative Committee’s declaration came unexpectedly for the human rights community. No one from among those arrested or their relatives (apart from the family of Yuri Kulii) sought out professional legal assistance, there was no information about the arrests or the searches that preceded them in the public sphere. Accordingly, «designated» lawyers-in other words, lawyers working without obtaining their client’s agreement, at the initiative of the investigating officer or the court-have worked and continue to work with all of the individuals who have been arrested, except for Kulii. This, together with pressure from the investigative authorities, could be a reason for the admission of guilt by two defendants It is often the case that designated lawyers convince their clients to admit their guilt or to agree with the so-called «special order» of a court ruling when the circumstances of the case are not investigated in the court.
OVD-Info managed to establish the location of all defendants:
Andrei Kosykh (born in 1986) was held in a temporary isolation ward of the main administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow (Petrovka Street 38). His location now is unknown but he was to be transferred to a pre-trial center on April 23rd, not later than in ten days after being sent to the isolation ward.
Yuri Kulii (born in 1989) and Aleksandr Shpakov (born in 1977) are being held in Pretrial Detention Center No. 5 (also known as «Vodnik»).
Stanislav Zimovets (born in 1985) is currently being held in Investigative Isolation Ward No. 2 («Butyrka»). According to information from Dmitri Piskunov, a member of the Public Monitoring Commission over the places of detention in Moscow, Zimovets is located in a bloc for «lifers»; in other words, for those accused of crimes carrying the punishment of a life sentence. According to Piskunov, there is another person accused in a different criminal case located in the same cell. These cells are equipped with video surveillance. It is unclear to us why Zimovets was incarcerated there, but one cannot exclude the possibility that he is being charged with committing a crime under Article 317 of the Russian Criminal Code, which carries a punishment from twelve years in prison to a life sentence or even capital punishment that is temporarily forbidden in the Russian Federation.
The lawyer Aleksey Liptser is defending Yuri Kulii. Up until today, the lawyer who agreed to defend Zimovets have been unable to intervene in the case due to the bureaucratic obstacles she is encountering from the Investigative Committee.
Yuri Kulii’s case
Yuri Kulii, 27, is an actor. Kulii’s home town is Volgograd, but he was arrested at his apartment in Moscow. On April 4th the police came to his place to search it, then an interrogation and confrontation were organized and already on April 6th Basmanny District Court of Moscow sent him to a pre-trial center for two months.
Kulii informed his lawyer that he only wanted to pull an old man and a policeman apart. Kulii’s arrest was based on a video made during the protest action. But Kulii’s lawyer says it is difficult to see the details on that video so it cannot be considered to be a proof of any kind of violence. The case also contains the account of the policeman in question saying that Kulii had grabbed his arm and caused him pain (despite that fact that the policeman doesn’t have any injuries).
Lawyer Aleksey Liptser said in an interview that he doesn’t consider that incident worthy of a court investigation. Yuri Kulii admitted his guilt during the interrogation before the court session. Liptser emphasized the fact, that a designated state lawyer was working on the case at that moment and he doesn’t consider Kuliy’s admission of guilt correct.
«I’m accused of a sharp pain in the policeman’s elbow, a torn policeman’s pocket and an attempt to take away a club, but even on the video that is published, it can be seen that I just stretched out my hands. This is not an attack at all» Kuliy told Kogershyn Sagieva, a member of the Public Monitoring Commission.
Aleksandr Shpakov’s case
Aleksandr Shpakov, 39, is a carpenter from a small city Lyubertsy near Moscow. On March 26th Shpakov walked along Tverskaya Street with the flag of Russia in his hands. At some point people started shouting that Aleksey Navalny was detained. «Then people rushed to the nearest police bus and I was in this crowd and I was smashed on the head with a truncheon next to the bus. After that, already in the bus where they pulled in, I felt blows again, this time to the kidneys,« — said Shpakov to the members of the Public Monitoring Commission.
Shpakov was taken away to the hospital from police station by an ambulance. The doctors documented beatings, he underwent MRI and a scan of his ribs, and went home afterwards. «About 3am I woke up to the doorbell ringing, I looked through the peephole and saw people trying to force my lock. Then they took me, seized all the documents, phones, computer, clothes that I wore to the demonstration, and that very flag," Shpakov told.
According to the investigation, Shpakov hit Lieutenant-Colonel Valery Gonnikov twice. Shpakov said that one of the investigators had offered him to admit his guilt. Shpakov refused to do that. By the way, Gonikov, as well as Gavrilov mentioned above, was qualified as a victim in «Bolotnaya Square case».
On April 24th, the City Court of Moscow approved the ruling to put Shpakov in the pre-trial center although the representative of the prosecution asked to put him under home arrest. Lawyer Sergei Badamshin who had entered the case under agreement with Shpakov did not rule out that the case would soon be sent to the court because Shpakov had already been questioned numerously, several policemen had also been questioned as witnesses, confrontations and expert examinations had already been held.
Dmitry Bogatov’s case
On April 1st the Investigative Committee started another case under Article 212 p. 3 of the Criminal Code (mass riots appeals) which was about some messages of unknown origin in social networks which called people to protest on Red Square. On April 6th the Investigative Committee arrested the first suspected person regarding this case; on April 7th his name was revealed, 25-years old IT specialist and mathematician Dmitry Bogatov. The Court has not satisfied the petition for arrest of Bogatov from the Prosecutor’s office. He was not let go, the next day even more serious charges were added to the initial one, such as justifying of terrorism (Article 202.2 of the Criminal Code) and preparation of organization of mass riots (Article 30 p. 1, Article 212 p. 1 of the Criminal Code), and after that Bogatov was given pre-trial detention of two months.
Bogatov teaches mathematics at the Moscow University of Finance and Law. He graduated from the Moscow State University, department of Mechanics and Mathematics, had been working as an IT specialist for Samsung and Skontel. According to the case Bogatov supposedly tried to provoke mass riots in Moscow on April 2nd by distributing some data on the Web under the name of Airat Bashirov; Bogatov’s IP address is the only proof for that statement for the Court so far. The mathematician denies his guilt, and the person with a nickname «Airat Bashirov» who keeps posting messages on the Web all the time has made a statement, that he has nothing in common with Bogatov (by the way there are three users with such a nickname on the Web forum where that «extremist» data was found). Bogatov calls himself a «free software follower» and used to be one of the administrators of one of the Tor network nodes, what means any user of that network could post anything using his IP-address.
Hundreds and thousands of people, who have posted announcements of the protest actions of April 2nd, may have troubles just like Bogatov is caught up in.
First interrogations of the witnesses have already taken place regarding this case. People arrested during different protest actions on April 2nd were interrogated or investigators tried to interrogate them. They were asked questions about the protests of March 26th. At least three people arrested at the protest action on April 2nd were called to the Investigative Committee; one of them gave a detailed description of the questions that were asked, the questions were for instance about political views, Web social networks accounts and hobbies.
Vyacheslav Maltsev’s case
On April 13th the homes of a nationalist Vyacheslav Maltsev and his supporters were searched. Maltsev was detained in Saratov and then brought to Moscow. Following subjects were also searched: Saratov home place of Sergey Okunev, Maltsev’s co-worker (Artpodgotovka Web resource), so-called Public House of Artpodgotovka in Moscow region, homes of nationalists Yuri Gorsky and Ivan Beletsky in Moscow and the home of one of the activists named Aleksei in Ussuriysk. Gorsky and Beletsky were detained as well (Beletsky was probably beaten). It became known that Maltsev’s arrest was in common with the case about the violence towards a policeman dated March 26th. Beletsky was taken to Moscow central police office where, as he has told OVD-Info later, he was interrogated regarding the case dated March 26th. He has signed a gag order regarding the search, arrest and interrogation. Gorsky received a paper calling him to the Investigative Committee and when he arrived with his lawyer he was told he would be called to come another time. He has signed a gag order regarding the search details as well and a protocol paper was compiled fixing failure to comply the investigator’s legitimate demands. There was another protocol compiled regarding Maltsev’s and his assistant Konstantin Zelenin’s failure to compile the policemen legitimate actions regarding the protest action on the 26th of March. Next day both of them were arrested for 15 days.
Criminal cases in other cities
Initiation of criminal cases in other Russian cities are proceeding as well. In Volgograd Maxim Beldinov, a student, is named as a suspect in a criminal case on the use of violence against a representative of authority (Article 318 of the Criminal Code), he has given a recognizance not to leave. According to Novaya Gazeta, Beldinov was detained while trying to help a schoolboy, whom the police carried away by his legs and arms. The schoolboy was also detained and released from the police department without a record. Maxim Beldinov’s lawyer contacted MediaZona and mentioned that the incident between his client and the policeman occurred after the March 26 rally, «when the rally had already grown into a procession, and the procession had grown into walking the streets.»
Defending the detained teenager, Beldinov ran up and punched a policeman in the side. Beldinov pleaded guilty and repented. By now, the investigation is over and Beldinov’s defense is hoping for a punishment not related to imprisonment.
In Tomsk, a criminal case was initiated on knowingly making a false communication about an act of terrorism (Article 207 of the Criminal Code) following the opening of Navalny’s campaign office headquarters on March 21st — on that day the police evacuated all activists into the street because of a aligations a bomb had been planted in the building. The Department for Countering Extremism began to call in the participants of the action on March 26th for questioning. As «Novaya Gazeta» pointed out, according to the activists, most of the questions concern their attitude toward Navalny.
Another criminal case, indirectly related to March 26th, was initiated in Irkutsk. On April 8th, several people were detained, all of them had participated in the action of March 26th and were planning to hold a meeting on April 9th devoted to the events of March 26th. One of the detained activists, Igor Martynenko, was later arrested for ten days under an administrative clause on failure to follow a lawful demand of a police officer. The appeal court sent his case for revision, after which the decision was again made on his arrest, this time for six days. On April 24th, the ruling was cancelled. Later it turned out that against one of the detainees, Dmitry Litvin, a case was initiated on insulting the feelings of believers (Article 148 of the Criminal Code) for some publications in social networks. All the rest of the detained are named as witnesses. Nevertheless, at the Department for Countering Extremism they were asked questions about attempts to organize mass riots and incitements to commit an act of terrorism. Litvin is in the status of the accused and under a recognizance not to leave, the court-appointed lawyer works with him.
In Petrozavodsk, during the rally of March 26th the police detained six participants of the anti-corruption action. Almost all of them were released without drawing up records except for Evgeny Vladenkov, an insolvency practitioner. For him a record was drawn up under part 1 of Article 19.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (failure to follow a lawful demand of a police officer). On March 27th Petrozavodsk City Court returned his case to the police twice, because the record was drawn up by unauthorized persons. According to the newspaper «Chernika», law enforcement agencies are trying to start a criminal case against Yevgeny Vladenkov, under part 1 of Article 318 of the Criminal Code (use of violence against a representative of authority). According to Vladenkov, to fabricate the case the police major wrote a report that he had beeen struck. Vladenkov believes that in his report the police major relied on a video made on March 26th, where he ran screaming after the detainee who was being led to a police transport, after which he was impudently detained. By now, Vladenkov has received no summons.
After a rally on March 26th, law enforcement officers tried to bring charges of administrative liability to the organizer of the action Vitaly Flegnov and the unknown persons tried to kidnap him.
Intimidation and pressure on big scale
Criminal cases are not the only long-term consequence of the protests on March 26th. In all the Russian regions where the actions took place, participants (and youth’s parents) are facing huge amounts of pressure. The activists are being detained, interrogated, expelled or threatened with expulsion from the universities and parents intimidated.
The flow of such messages to the hotline for OVD-Info is not stopping, and we will quote only a few examples that illustrate what is happening now throughout the country. In Cheboksary a violinist who took part in the protest was detained right at the rehearsal of his orchestra, and in Arkhangelsk police forcefully took an elderly woman from the hospital and brought her to court. In Primorye school principals are required to prohibit students from participating in opposition actions. In Volgograd schoolchildren are summoned to the Investigative Committee, and police goes to universities with photographs of participants and detains them right at the lectures.
In Chita the Federal Security Service called a mother of action organizer and asked her to «restrain her son». In Saratov students are also detained directly at the college; there were no detentions during the action, authorities still promise to bring to justice a hundred participants, and also the activist was summoned to the police by a phone call him from the mother’s phone. In Krasnoyarsk police call with questions about corruption and Navalny (also to non-participants of actions). In Orsk employees of Criminal investigation departmentcame to the activist’s home. The teacher from Cheboksary, Alena Blinova, who was fired after the protest, was fined 1000 rubles for posting a photograph of State Duma deputy Vitaly Milonov in a T-shirt with the print «Orthodoxy or Death!» in social networks. In the same city the protesters are fired and expelled from the universities, and also witnesses in court are being detained and then fined. In Nizhny Novgorod police drafted protocols about «non-fulfillment of duties on the upbringing of minors» on the parents of young activists.
In addition, in several regions authorities tightened restrictions related to freedom of assembly. In Tomsk the local «Hyde Park» was moved from the city center to industrial zone. In Samara the park where the action of March 26 took place was excluded from the list of «Hyde Parks». In Tatarstan the rules for filing a notice of the event were complicated.
In response to the action on March 26th, authorities started preparing a new political criminal crackdown and launched a mechanism of intimidation and pressure on activists throughout the country.
OVD-Info has valid reasons to assume that repressions will continue and we will find out about arrests in criminal cases related to March 26 very soon.
The Investigative Committee (IC) has already stated that the investigation into the events of March 26th in Moscow is continuing, as well as investigatory actions with «other defendants» in the criminal case. Constant reports of summons for interrogations to the IC, the process of preliminary «gathering» of evidence (interrogations in the absence of lawyers at police department and detention centers, psychological pressure and threats), the fact that those arrested the first did not have lawyers and some of them admitted their guilt — it all unambiguously testifies to the existing plans on expanding the number of suspects and those arrested.
We are calling on the Russian civil society and international human rights institutions to pay close attention to the situation.
We are calling for an international investigation of the events of March 26th and subsequent repressions.
We also urge for the representatives of the executive power and judiciary to be brought to responsibility for all the human rights violations already committed with regard to the participants of the protests of March 26th.
It is still possible to stop the actively working repressive machine. And undoubtedly, it is still possible to help many people who might soon be crushed by a cynical, inhuman and faceless repressive system.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the actions organized on March 26th illegal, charged their organizers with provocations and bribery of participants and, on the contrary, positively assessed the actions of the police which were «absolutely tactful, highly professional and lawful». Deputy head of the MVD of Russia Igor Zubov, also called the actions of the participants a provocation, at the same time giving a positive evaluation of the actions of the police and promising to act harsh in future. Chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council (SPCh) Mikhail Fedotov stated, that the «police were merely fulfilling the requirements of the law», refused to support the initiative of the Council members to collect and analyze evidence and draft a public report on the events of 26 March, and promised on behalf of the SPCh to assist in «solving the housing problem for policeman Evgeny Gavrilov», the victim of the violence, according to the Investigative Committee. Head of Department for Regional Security and Corruption Fighting of Moscow Vladimir Chernikov positively assessed the actions of the police and stated, that those detained «deliberately violated the law having come to this event». Human Rights Ombudsman Tatiana Moskalkova stated, that as a result of her inspection «35 cases of unjustified administrative penalties have been detected» and noted that «there was not a single case of infliction of bodily injuries [on the part of the police]», and also gave a positive evaluation to the police actions: «the fact that there was no bodily harm inflicted on 26 March means that professional ethics is growing».
UN Special rapporteur on freedom of assembly Maina Kiai, UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst and chair of the UN working group on arbitrary detention Sètondji Roland Adjovi spoke out with a joint statement, in which they urged Russian authorities to «release immediately all protesters still being detained, and to quash the sentences imposed on them», as well as «fulfil their positive obligation under international human rights law to protect and facilitate the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of association, and not to interfere with the exercise of these rights». Memorial Human Rights Center appealed to «immediately put an end to all persecution of the participants in peaceful assemblies and release those who were subjected to administrative arrests», demanded that «officials responsible for the violation of rights and freedoms of the participants of the action of protest on 26 March» should be held liable and called what was going on «a new wave of political repressions»: «today it is necessary to do our utmost to put an end to this wave and avoid subsequences catastrophic for our present and for the future of our country». Amnesty International stated that «the authorities cynically violated the right of the citizens to freedom of peaceful assembly» and that «all peaceful protesters detained on Sunday, 26 March, in Moscow and other cities of Russia should be immediately and unconditionally released».
Thanks to: Robert Lieber, Daniil Aronson, Harrison King, Katerina Bakhrenkova and Alexey Medkov for text editing and translation.