The decision of the Moscow City Court to reject an appeal against the conviction of eight Bolotnaya protesters imprisoned after a politically motivated trial is yet another nail in the coffin for freedom of assembly and expression in Russia, said Amnesty International.
“This decision sends a ‘warning signal’ to anyone thinking about taking to the streets in Moscow. The trial was clearly politically motivated and carried out with the specific aim of deterring future protests. There’s no reason to keep them behind bars,” said John Dalhuisen, Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
“Freedom of assembly is fast becoming a crime in Russia with authorities barely hesitating to lock up those whose views or peaceful activism they see as a political threat. Whether for brief detentions or longer periods as in this case, this must stop.”
Hundreds of peaceful anti-government protesters were arrested after police brutally dispersed a protest in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012.
The demonstration was predominantly peaceful but authorities used isolated incidents of violence to describe the event as “mass riots” and bring heavier charges against the accused.
In February of this year, eight of those who had taken part in the protest stood trial and were convicted of participation in “mass riots” and, separately, of using violence against public officers.
Andrey Barabanov, Yaroslav Belousov, Sergey Krivov, Denis Lutskevich, Aleksey Polikhovich, Artiom Saviolov and Stepan Zimin were sentenced to prison terms. Aleksandra Dukhanina (Naumova) received a conditional sentence.
The court ruled today to reduce the sentences of Sergey Krivov and Yaroslav Belousov to three years and nine months, and two years and three months, respectively. However, the sentences of the other defendants remained unchanged.
Before their sentencing most of the protesters had already spent around one and a half years in detention.
Amnesty International considers six of them – Artiom Saviolov, Denis Lutskevich, Yaroslav Belousov, Sergey Krivov, Stepan Zimin and Aleksey Polikhovich – prisoners of conscience, individuals imprisoned solely for peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of assembly and expression.
The organization is also calling for the release of Andrey Barabanov. Irrespective of whether he committed the offence of “using violence against a public official” or not, he has already served more time than the sentence he has been given.
“The events in Bolotnaya Square were designated ‘mass riots’ for political, not factual, considerations. We believe this was done to increase the penalties faced by the defendants in this case, which, in turn, was intended as a warning to all potential protesters that street demonstrations are a ticket to prison,” said John Dalhuisen.
Four other protesters and two men accused of having organized the “mass riots” on 6 May 2012 in Bolotnaya Square are currently on trial in Moscow.