Russia: Massive detention of peaceful protesters, including Mr. Lev Ponomarev

Urgent Appeal

New information
RUS 004 / 1218 / OBS 141.2
Arbitrary detention /
Obstacle to freedom of association / Beatings
March 18, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your intervention in the following situation in Russia.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the detention by the Moscow police of approximately 50 peaceful protesters who gathered on March 14, 2020, near the headquarters of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). When arresting the protesters, the police officers beat several of them, including a prominent human rights defender and Head of the recently dissolved Moscow-based movement “For Human Rights”, 78-year-old Mr. Lev Ponomarev. [1]

According to the information received, on March 14, 2020 Moscow police violently dispersed solitary pickets against political repressions in Russia. The pickets started at approximately 2 p.m. and, just a few minutes later, the police announced that the action was not authorized. After the announcement, the police illegally detained all the solitary picketers who participated in the action.

Some of the protesters also spoke out against the proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution, which, if adopted, would among other things allow Russia’s current President to stay in power until 2036. Overall, about 100 protesters attended the protest. Police also broke up smaller protests in Saint-Petersburg and other cities in Russia.

The police officers used disproportional physical force against the picketers. The officers were wearing masks and had no identification signs. They did not explain the reasons for detentions, and used brute physical force against those who refused to get escorted to the police buses. After the detentions, police buses took the protesters to different police stations, including the Taganskyi and Basmannyi police stations, in Moscow.

Among the detainees there were four minors. One of them was detained as he tried to film the rally: the police damaged his equipment and refused him medical attention when he developed asthma symptoms. The police broke an arm of another minor while arresting him.

After the first detentions, Mr. Ponomarev approached a police colonel Mr. A. Makhonin, and urged him to stop violating the law by detaining picketers. In reply, the colonel ordered to detain Mr. Ponomarev, alleging that the latter was participating in an unauthorized rally. As Mr. Ponomarev refused to go to the police wagon, several police men, grabbed him by the arms and forced him in the wagon.

At the Taganskaya police department, the police urged the detainees to hand in their passports and mobile phones and threatened to draw up a Protocol on charges of disobeying the police (Article 19.3 of the Administrative Code) in case of failure to do so. The authorities also refused the detainees access to lawyers. After refusing to enter the interrogation room without a lawyer, Mr. Ponomarev was forcibly dragged 20-30 meters. Mr. Ponomarev suffered a bruise under his eye and other injuries. Another detained individual, a young man who was being dragged along with Mr. Ponomarev, was punched several times.

On March 18, 2020, Mr. Ponomarev filed a complaint to the Moscow Prosecutor’s office asking to verify the legitimacy of the police actions in connection with the March 14 pickets. According to the complaint, the police officials “tried to seize his passport” on their way to the Tagansky police department, where Mr. Ponomarev “received a face hematoma”. These facts were also described in letters previously sent by Mr. Ponomarev to the Russian Ombudsman, Ms. Tatyana Moskalkova, and to a number of members of the presidential Human Rights Council (HRC).

The Observatory notes that the current established procedure for conducting a peaceful rally in Russia contradicts the Constitution, and existing standards on freedom of assembly at the regional and international levels, as embodied in Article 11 the European Convention on Human Rights and as stated by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights [2], as well as the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) [3].

Prior to the action, various public organisations submitted a request to the Moscow Mayor’s Office to authorise a mass protest with human rights and political demands. The authorities refused the rally in the center of Moscow, instead suggesting to hold this action on the outskirts of Moscow. After that, a decision was made by the organisers of the rally to hold solitary pickets, which are allowed under Russian law, on March 14, 2020, from 14:00 in front of the FSB building on Lubyanka Square.

The Observatory strongly condemns the violent dispersal of the peaceful action and disproportionate use of force against Mr. Ponomarev and other peaceful protesters by the Russian police. The Observatory urges the Russian authorities to respect in all circumstances the right to freedom of association as enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Russia asking them to:

i. Immediately put an end to all forms of harassment against peaceful protesters in Russia;

ii. Amend the legislation regulating freedom of assembly so as to uphold the highest international human rights law standards in line with the recommendations issued by the Venice Commission and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights;

iii. Ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders and organisations are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1, and 12.2;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Russia.


• Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, Fax: + 7 495 606 3602; + 7 495 625 3581Mr. Mikhail Mishustin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Twitter:@GovernmentRF
• Mr. Sergueï Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Fax: + 7 495 644 2203
• Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 734 40 44, E-mail:
• Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, Belgium. Fax: +32 2 374 26 13. E-mail:
• Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe, France. Fax: (+33) (0) 3 88 24 19 74. Email:

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Russia in your respective countries.


Paris-Geneva, March 18, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail:
• Tel and fax FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
• Tel and fax OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29

[1] The movement “For Human Rights” was dissolved by the Russian Supreme Court at the request of the Russian Ministry of Justice in November 2019. For details please see:

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