Russia: Drop charges against protesters and protect the right to protest

ARTICLE 19 condemns a recent crackdown against the right to protest in Russia and misuse of problematic legislation to criminalise protest and target dissent. We call on the Russian authorities to immediately terminate all criminal proceedings brought against protesters and unconditionally released them. The Russian Government must also bring all its protest related legislation to full compliance with international human rights standards.

Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19, said: “By targeting individuals who exercise their right to protest, Russian authorities are in flagrant violation of their obligations under international human rights law. All those convicted under these trumped up charges must be released. No person should stay behind bars because of peacefully expressing their rights on the street or online. ”

“The Russian government must stop criminalising individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and respect its obligations under international and European human rights law.”

On 27 July 2019, hundreds of people took to the streets of Moscow in protest following the electoral commission’s decision to block several independent candidates from standing in the 10 September municipal elections. Protesters were met by police and the national guard, who declared the protests ‘unauthorised’ and arrested and detained hundreds of people for participating.

Since 3 September, among the hundreds arrested and on trial, at least 15 people have been sentenced to years imprisonment for ‘breaching’ Russian Protest Law, and under trumped up charges of ‘extremism’, ‘threats of violence’ and resisting police officers. For example:

  • Activist Konstantin Kotov, who participated in the Moscow protest, was sentenced to four years imprisonment for “multiple breaches” of the Protest Law. The Law criminalizes participation in more than one unsanctioned protest within a 180-day period;
  • Blogger Vladislav Sinitsa was sentenced to five years in a colony under charges of extremism with the threat of violence, after he wrote a tweet about the children of police officers. The prosecutor claimed that Sinitsa had called for “the kidnapping of the children specifically of law enforcement officers with subsequent acts of violence against them”. Sinitsa admitted to writing the message but denied during court proceedings that his tweet amounted to a concrete threat. Sinitsa was convicted of extremism with the threat of violence;
  • Activits Kirill Zhukov was sentenced to three years in prison for using violence against police. The prosecution claimed he made contact with the helmet of a security officer who was involved in a cordon during the unsanctioned the 27 July protest. However, it appears from footage of the incident that he barely touched the officer’s helmet;
  • Ivan Podkopayev was sentenced to three years in prison for pepper-spraying police;
  • Danila Beglets was sentenced to two years in prison for grabbing a police officer by the wrist;
  • Yevgeny Kovalenko was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for throwing a trash can at a riot police officer.