As the global spotlight on Russia for the 2014 Sochi Olympics ends, seven peaceful protesters have been imprisoned following an unfair trial.
“It’s not a coincidence that just 24 hours after the Sochi Olympics Closing Ceremony, the Russian authorities have convicted seven people for protesting peacefully against the inauguration of President Putin,” said Thomas Hughes, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.
“The government knew very well that sentencing these seven protesters while the global spotlight was on the Olympics would have been a further public relations blunder, and so it’s not a coincidence that the conviction came after the television cameras had packed up,” he added.
“Their arrest for protesting against the inauguration of Vladimir Putin on 6 May 2012, the charges brought against them, and their trial, culminating in comparatively lengthy prison sentences, are widely believed to be politically motivated and an attempt to instil fear and prevent others from exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly,” he added.
Despite these barely masked threats, civil society rallied to support the seven defendants, who were charged with “participating in mass riots” and “using force against law enforcement officers”. The authorities responded to civil society by arresting at least 230 people peacefully protesting outside the court, and arrests in the centre of Moscow are ongoing. Those arrested include opposition activist, Aleksei Navalny, opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, as well as Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, who were recently released from prison for staging the “punk prayer” in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral.
The seven “Bolotnaya prisoners”, named after the square where the demonstrations were held, received sentences ranging from two-and-a half to four years. They are Sergei Krivov, Andrei Barabanov, Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich, Aleksei Polichovich, Artem Savelov, and Yaroslav Belousov.
Another peaceful protester, Mikhail Kostenko, was sentenced separately in October 2012 to compulsory psychiatric “treatment” and locked away in a closed institution.
None of the court trials recognised the “presumption of innocence” as a legal principle, as demonstrated by the way the trials were conducted as well as in their predictable outcomes.