Russian Federation: Immediate release for prisoners of conscience

Amnesty International considers four members of the political opposition in Russia to be possible prisoners of conscience as they may have been detained by police solely to prevent them from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Four members of the Other Russia coalition in the city of Nizhnii Novgorod were sentenced to five days’ administrative detention for allegedly swearing in public and for resisting police orders. Considering all the information available to Amnesty International, it appears that these allegations may have been fabricated and gives rise to the fear that the four were solely detained in order to prevent them from attending anti-government demonstrations, due to take place on Saturday 31 January.

“Planning to express dissenting views is not a violation of the law,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programe Director at Amnesty International.

“Administrative detention should not be used as a preventive measure to stop people from exercising their right to freedom of assembly.”

Ekaterina Bunicheva, Anton Zakharov and Aleksandr Zaitsev were detained on 28 January, while approaching a demonstration of government supporters. According to the information available to Amnesty International, the three were accused of swearing at police and continuing to do so when asked to stop. Although Amnesty International has not been able to talk to an independent person who witnessed the incident, the circumstances surrounding it, as well as reports from the court hearing the same day, give reason to fear that the allegations against the three were fabricated.

The fourth member of the opposition movement, Yurii Staroverov, was detained the same day, while entering the building where he works. According to him, the initial report of his detention was signed by a member of the “Police Department for the Fight Against Extremism”. On 29 January the court based its sentencing on the report of another police officer, who had allegedly detained Yurii Staroverov for swearing at him, a charge he denies. Amnesty International is concerned that his sentencing may be based on fabricated charges, too.

Neither the police reports nor the court hearings gave specific information on what the police claimed these four members of the opposition said, which led to their five-day detention.

“The right to freedom of assembly can be restricted if necessary, for example in the interest of public safety or to prevent disorder. However, detaining people ahead of demonstrations on what appears to be fabricated charges is not in line with Russian and international law governing the right to freedom of assembly.” said Nicola Duckworth.