Russia: Run-up to local Moscow election marred by unprecedented attacks on rights

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The multiple new ways in which the authorities trampled on freedom of assembly and expression ahead of the Moscow City Duma (local parliament) election on 8 September marks a new, deeply disturbing crackdown on human rights in Russia, said Amnesty International today.
“This summer, the authorities have done all they can to suppress human rights. In an atmosphere marked by a growing public discontent in both Moscow and across the country, they have not only used every trick in their book to persecute and intimidate a mounting chorus of dissent, they have gone way beyond the familiar script,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Director.
“First, they took a patently discriminatory approach by disqualifying some electoral candidates on arbitrary grounds and with an inherently flawed process through which to appeal. When thousands took to the streets in protest, riot police were drafted in and used excessive force. The police clearly provoked violence, but the protests remained overwhelmingly peaceful. More than 2,600 people were detained, and dozens of peaceful protesters were beaten by police officers.”
Following demonstrations on 27 July and 3 August, thousands of peaceful protesters and bystanders were detained and issued with extortionate fines. Leaders of the protest, real and assumed, were arbitrarily detained for between 10 and 30 days under Russia’s unduly repressive administrative legislation, often on multiple occasions. One of the protest leaders, Ilya Yashin, the elected head of Krasnoselsky municipal district in Moscow, is now serving his fifth administrative sentence in a row. He was first arrested on 29 July.
To further isolate those arrested in the city centre, the authorities put some of them on trial in remote courts serving peripheral areas of Moscow and dispatched those sentenced to “administrative arrest” to prisons up to 70 kilometers outside Moscow.
Absurd criminal investigations against protesters
Despite the overwhelmingly peaceful character of the rallies, the authorities have opened criminal investigations against several participants – most of whom haven’t done anything remotely violent – using at least four different articles of the Criminal Code. These include the totally unfounded charge of “mass disorders”, as there were no mass disorders. Some protesters have been charged with using violence against police officers.
One of the accused, Yegor Zhukov, a 20 year-old student, was charged with instigating “mass disorders” on account of him allegedly telling people to keep away from the road and stay on the sidewalk. Due to their patently arbitrary nature, the “mass disorders” charges against him were dropped and immediately replaced with charges of “instigation of extremist activities” for his YouTube videos posted two years ago.
The Russian criminal justice system typically takes months or even years to conclude a case, but in this case some individuals were convicted and imprisoned with lightning speed. Among them is one of the peaceful protesters, Konstantin Kotov. It took the investigation just three days to complete his case; he was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison, his ‘crime’ being nothing more than repeatedly taking part in “unauthorized” assemblies. Remarkably, he has been convicted for something which, according to Russia’s own Constitutional Court, should not be criminalized.
“The authorities are engaged in a mass intimidation campaign. Scores of people faced intrusive house searches or were snatched from their homes or the streets at night. At least two couples were threatened with deprivation of parental rights for bringing their young children with them to the rallies. Using children as pawns against their parents is a despicable new low for the authorities, and one we hope we won’t see repeated,” said Natalia Zviagina.
Amnesty International is calling on the Russian authorities to terminate any criminal proceedings instigated under trumped-up charges, such as those brought under the unfair charge of ‘mass disorder’ which is being used to stifle the right to peaceful assembly. They must immediately and unconditionally release Konstantin Kotov and all those arrested for trying to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The Russian government must demonstrate full respect for the rights of all people without discrimination, and in particular the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.
People took to the streets of Moscow in numbers not seen in many years in peaceful assemblies to protest against the barring of independent candidates from running in the election. The Moscow electoral officials arbitrarily invalidated the candidacy of politicians challenging candidates backed by the ruling United Russia party and the Mayor of Moscow, staunch Kremlin supporters.
For further information or to organize an interview please contact: Lucy Scholey, Media Relations, Amnesty International Canada (English branch), 613-744-7667 ext. 236