Free the Bolotnaya 3!

Three men arrested in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square have come to symbolize President Putin’s recent crackdown on peaceful political protest.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to Moscow’s streets the day before Vladimir Putin’s third inauguration as Russia’s President, on 6 May 2012.

They planned to walk through the city centre to an opposition rally at Bolotnaya Square, near the Kremlin. The local authorities had given the go-ahead to both the march and the meeting.

At the last minute, the police blocked one of two agreed entrances to the square, creating a bottleneck. As protesters approached the police line, pressure and tension grew. The protesters finally pushed through the police line and clashes broke out.

Hundreds of people were arrested across Moscow on that day, and 13 are currently standing trial. Among them are Vladimir Akimenkov, Artiom Saviolov and Mikhail Kosenko. The men didn’t know each other before, but their stories have since followed a similar path.

Released on 7 May, they were rearrested in June and have been detained ever since. All three were charged with participating in “mass riots”. Artiom Saviolov and Mikhail Kosenko were also accused of violence against police officers.

Amnesty considers all three to be prisoners of conscience.

Mikhail Kosenko says he was in the front row of protesters when a police officer was violently attacked and fell on him. Mikhail then pushed the police officer away, without using violence. This is consistent with video footage. The authorities still accuse him of beating and kicking the officer, who later said that he had never seen Mikhail before.

Mikhail is mentally ill and very vulnerable. His condition is thought to have worsened drastically, and he isn’t receiving the medication he needs. He was recently denied permission to attend his mother’s funeral.

In October, a Moscow court ordered Mikhail to receive forcible psychiatric treatment, even though he was successfully treated as an outpatient for a decade. He could be deprived of his freedom indefinitely. He doesn’t belong to any political party or group and has never been accused of violence in the past.

Vladimir Akimenkov is an activist with the opposition Left Front movement. He was arrested minutes after protesters breached the police line. He thinks he was detained because he is well-known to the police as a political activist. Video footage clearly shows that he stayed in front of the police line, without breaching it and without using violence.

The only evidence against him seems to be a police officer’s allegation that Vladimir threw a flag pole that hit another officer. This initially vague testimony changed substantially six months later, becoming much more detailed than the original version.

Vladimir had a serious eye condition before he was arrested, which has since deteriorated. His lawyer and family are deeply concerned about his prison conditions, and are afraid that he might soon go blind.

Artiom Saviolov was detained immediately after the first police line was breached. He claims that he was pushed through it, and video footage seems to corroborate this.

He is charged with using force to prevent a police officer from detaining another protester, and shouting “down with the police state”. He firmly denies both accusations, saying that he actively tried to avoid any contact with the police. As he has a serious speech impediment, it is difficult for him to speak, let alone shout slogans.

Artiom doesn’t belong to any political party or group. He simply came to Bolotnaya Square, along with thousands of others, to participate in an authorised protest against Russia’s controversial presidential election results.

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