Russia: Entire Bolotnaya process marred by institutional lie

Press release
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Paris, 20 February 2014 - Tomorrow a Moscow court will issue its verdict in the Bolotnaya case. Eight participants of the “March of the Millions” on 6 May 2012 on Bolotnaya Square risk years of imprisonment for participating in “mass riots” and “violence against the police”. These people have already endured a year and a half in arbitrary detention. FIDH demands the immediate release of Bolotnaya prisoners.

“The entire Bolotnaya process was marred by an institutional lie supported by witnesses who gave self-contradictory testimonies, by judges, state-controlled media and the highest officials. This lie aims to stifle voices of dissent in Russia and to send a signal that no protest will be tolerated”, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. “Rather than prosecuting peaceful protesters, the Russian authorities should allow an independent judicial investigation into the police use of force on 6 May 2012”, he added.

The “March” in question was organised by opposition activists on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for his third term as Russian President. FIDH, along with other international human rights groups, recently commissioned a group of experts to study hundreds of oral, written and recorded items of evidence, including testimonies of the events. These experts have concluded that whilst there were single episodes of violence, there is insufficient evidence to qualify the whole event as "non-peaceful" and even less to qualify them as “mass riots”.

Moreover, the report “6 May 2012 Events on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow: Expert Evaluation” notes that the protests on Bolotnaya Square took place in conditions that were likely to provoke violence: a large number of protesters were cordoned off by police in a small compressed space for a long time. Video evidence suggests that the police used disproportionate force on numerous occasions and arrested a number of demonstrators who were not involved in the violence, but happened to be nearby when the police advanced into the crowd. Following the clashes, a few hundred protesters were detained, including some activists detained in other parts of the city.

Until the end of 2013 the Bolotnaya case saw the imprisonment of a group of nearly 30 activists who seem to have been deliberately selected as representatives from all political opposition groups and orientations. Media coverage on state channels and the conduct of the judges presiding over this case were highly politicised and biased, evidencing an approach to justice that simply follows orders from above. This case has gone far beyond Moscow: many activists from different cities have been subjected to searches, with some forced to request political asylum abroad. Ten were amnestied between late December 2013 and February 2014. The verdict for eight of them is expected on Friday 21 February 2014. Others will spend long months awaiting the outcome of their trials.

In its recent report “Russia 2012-2013: Attack on Freedom” FIDH and its member organisation ADC Memorial present an alarming picture of increasingly repressive legislation and practices in Russia. The report concludes that the persistent repression and harassment of every form of protest is without precedent since the fall of the Soviet Union.

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