Human rights defenders approach the Council of Europe over the beating up of demonstrators in St Petersburg on 3 March
Human rights defenders have sent a letter to Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammerberg asking that the Council of Europe look into the flagrant violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms during the events in St Petersburg on 3 March 2007. These violations particularly concerned freedom of peaceful assembly and security of person guaranteed by the for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
Given the need to respond swiftly by approaching international institutions, signatures have not been gathered although we are convinced that such a petition would receive wide support.
To the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner
Dear Mr Hammerberg,
We are writing to you in connection with grave violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms during the events in St Petersburg on 3 March 2007. These violations particularly concern freedom of peaceful assembly and security of person guaranteed by the European Convention.
In accordance with current legislation, a group of members of the public, including a deputy of the Legislative Assembly of the city, notified the St Petersburg authorities of their plan to hold a demonstration and procession on 3 March, called the “March of those in disagreement [Marsh niesoglasnykh].
A previous march analogous to this had been announced in Moscow in December 2006, however the city authorities there, in violation of Russian legislation, prohibited the demonstration, surrounding Triumph Square with military troops and cars, and physically preventing the demonstrators from moving onto central (Tverskaya) Street. The court hearing into the appeal against the ban on the demonstration was scheduled with a delay of three months.
The authorities were planning to act in the same fashion in St Petersburg. The organisers of the march had notified the authorities in advance that on Saturday 3 March at 12.00, their supporters would be moving along Suvorovsky Avenue to Proletarian Dictatorship Square where the Governors residence Is located and would be holding a rally there. The procession and rally were to be of a totally peaceful nature and were aimed at publicly expressing dissatisfaction with the policy being followed by the City Administration, as well as with the policies of the federal authorities.
In contravention of Russian legislation, this demonstration was prohibited by the city authorities and the form of the protest action was changed from a demonstration to a rally, and also moved to a railway station square far removed from the centre.
At the same time the mass media controlled by the authorities circulated false and defamatory information about the planned procession and rally. Loudspeakers were used in the metro telling passengers that a nationalist “Russian march” was being planned. The Governor Valentina Matviyenko publicly stated that the demonstration had been banned. She called the organizers rabble rousers and threatened to apply police measures against participants in the banned demonstration.
Riot police [OMON] units were brought into St Petersburg from several neighbouring regions. It was specifically these units which acted with particular brutality during the events which followed. Both in the city and in other regions, law enforcement officers threatened potential participants in the demonstration, demanding that they sign documents agreeing not to take part.
On 3 March hundreds of people began gathering in the place originally announced – outside the Concert Hall “Oktyabrsky” which had been cordoned off since early morning by hundreds of OMON officers. Several dozen people were detained already at the approaches to the gathering place. Ways onto Suvorovsky Avenue were blocked, and as a result the demonstrators made their way along Nevsky Prospect where they were constantly subjected to attacks, beating and detention by the police and OMON officers. Dozens of people were detained and beaten up, including Deputy from the St Petersburg Legislative Assembly from the “Yabloko” Party Sergei Gulyaev who has deputy immunity.
During the brutal detentions and beating, participants in the demonstration, many of whom are not young, needed medical aid, yet the police actively obstructed attempts to provide such assistance.
We are convinced that such actions by the St Petersburg City Administration and the law enforcement agencies are in flagrant violation of the Russian Federations commitments to ensure civil rights. Experience of persecution of those taking part in entirely legal events – the conference “Other Russia” (Moscow, July 2006), the Second Russian Social Forum (St Petersburg, July 2006), the “March of Dissenters” (Moscow, December 2006) – has shown that the Russian Prosecutor and courts are not capable of defending the legitimate rights of participants in public actions who have suffered as the result of gatherings being forcibly dispersed and of being detained.
We are therefore compelled to ask you to raise the issue of this grave violation of human rights in St Petersburg on 3 March 2007 at the Council of Europe. We would ask that you investigate the situation and present the Council of Europe with detailed information about the violations of the law and human rights by the St Petersburg City Administration and the law enforcement agencies in unlawfully dispersing a rally and procession of members of the public warned about in accordance with the law. We would stress that we are only speaking of the events which have received the greatest coverage however there have been dozens of similar actions in dispersing or prohibiting demonstrations, albeit on a smaller scale, over recent years.
We would also ask you to raise with the Council of Europe the systematic nature of violations of the right to freedom of assembly and gatherings in the Russian Federations and the police action used against the opposition. We call upon the Council to appoint a PACE special rapporteur to look into this issue.
Ludmila Alexeeva, Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Lev Ponomaryov, Executive Director of the nationwide movement “For Human Rights”
E.M. Polyakova, Co-Chair of the human rights organization “Soldiers Mothers of St Peterburg”
B.P. Pustyshev and Y.I. Vdovin St Petersburg human rights organization “Civic Control”