This morning’s Constitutional Court ruling in Saint Petersburg scaling back Russia’s draconian rules on public protest offers a rare glimmer of hope for the right to peaceful assembly, Amnesty International said.
In the case brought by Ildar Dadin, a prisoner of conscience who is the first and so far only person thrown behind bars because of the law, the Court stated clearly that criminal liability of protesters should be based on harm caused, or the threat of such harm, rather than the mere fact of holding an ‘unauthorized’ peaceful gathering.
This ruling represents a chink of light in an otherwise bleak outlook for the right to peaceful assembly in RussiaDenis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International
“This ruling represents a chink of light in an otherwise bleak outlook for the right to peaceful assembly in Russia. It sends a strong message to the authorities who have used this draconian legislation to persecute peaceful protesters like Ildar Dadin,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
The Court also required a review of Ildar Dadin’s case. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his rights. The authorities must promptly conduct the review to ensure he is immediately and unconditionally released.
While this is a step in the right direction, Russia’s anti-protest laws remain chillingly harshDenis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International
“While this is a step in the right direction, Russia’s anti-protest laws remain chillingly harsh. We reiterate our call on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Dadin and to ensure that nobody else is prosecuted solely for holding a peaceful protest,” said Denis Krivosheev.
Ildar Dadin’s legal challenge questioned the constitutionality of Article 212.1 of Russia’s Criminal Code. The Article was introduced in July 2014 to criminalize the repeated violation (more than three times within 180 days) of Russia’s unduly restrictive rules governing public assemblies. This “crime” is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
A Moscow court applied the rule to sentence Ildar Dadin to three years’ imprisonment on 7 December 2015 (reduced to two and a half years on appeal).
The Constitutional Court did not find the article to be unconstitutional but ruled that criminal punishment for these violations must be proportionate to the actual public danger caused by an offense. Furthermore, courts are now required to prove a person’s criminal intent to commit such violations.
The Court called on Russian lawmakers to adjust the Criminal Code accordingly.
Ildar Dadin’s first “violation” was for peacefully protesting – as a lone picketer – against the conviction of peaceful activists from Bolotnaya demonstration of 6 May 2012 in Moscow, for which he was detained and fined. He has since been either fined or detained on three more occasions for similar “offences”.
On 1 November 2016, in a letter to his wife published on a news site, Ildar Dadin described the torture and other ill-treatment he was subjected to, including severe beatings and rape threats, in Segezha prison colony (Republic of Karelia), around 1,200 km north of Moscow. Since then, Ildar Dadin was moved to another prison colony in Southern Siberia, thousands of kilometres away from his home and family. This appears to be intended as a form of harassment for his complaints about torture and other ill-treatment.