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06.02.2015 | Halya Coynash

Russia criminalizes peaceful protest

   

   Ildar Dadin

Three Russian activists, including a 75-year-old pensioner, could face 5-year prison sentences for taking part in peaceful protests following application of draconian new measures introduced in July 2014.  The Memorial Human Rights Centre has cried foul, warning that the latest legislative moves destroy freedom of assembly in Russia.  It has declared Ildar Dadin to be a political prisoner, and considers that the prosecution of 75-year-old Vladimir Ionov and Mark Galperin is politically motivated. 

Memorial has declared Ildar Dadin to be a political prisoner, and considers the prosecution of Vladimir Ionov and Mark Galperin to be unlawful and politically motivated. 

Charges under the new Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code were brought against Ionov and Galperin on Jan 16, and on Jan 30 against Dadin.  Each is accused of having committed four infringements of the rules on holding and organizing public events in the space of 180 days.

  Vladimir Ionov

Galperin is currently serving a 30 day term of imprisonment under the Code of Administrative Offences.  Afterwards he, like Ionov, will be under a signed undertaking not to leave the city.  Dadin has been placed under house arrest.

Memorial states that the prosecution in each of these cases is unlawful and politically motivated because they are under Article 212.1.

New offensive against peaceful assembly

The new amendments to legislation in July 2014 introduced draconian fines and the possibility of up to 30 days imprisonment under the Code of Administrative Offences.  This, however, was nothing to the other innovation. Criminal liability – via a new Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code – was imposed if a court handed down a third administrative offence within 180 days.  This means that a person who has only formally infringed the strict rules on holding gatherings three times could be sent to prison for up to 5 years.

Grounds for concern have ceased to be theoretical as three people are already facing such charges, with serious doubts as to some of the court rulings in their cases only heightening fears about these new measures.

The authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre stated on Feb 4 that the new legislation destroys freedom of peaceful assembly in Russia. 

Article 212.1 breaches Russia’s Constitution and legislation, as well as international law for a number of reasons.  It imposes double punishment for the same actions, first via administrative legislation, then criminal. The criminal charges can carry a term of imprisonment of from 3 to 5 years despite the fact that the supposed ‘offences’ are of a formal nature and do not present any danger to the public.

   Mark Galperin

Of particular concern here is the way the ‘offences’ are effectively manufactured.  Both Ionov and Galperin are accused over single-person pickets which do not require authorization.  A standard form of provocation is to have someone go up to the picketers, and refuse to go away.  The police immediately turn up and detain both (the provocateur only nominally) for ‘holding an unsanctioned meeting’. 

All of these tactics were used in Soviet times and it is immensely disturbing that they have been reinstated so many years after the USSR collapsed.

Memorial speaks of an offensive against freedom of peaceful assembly in Russia.  It is an aggressive one, in which the law is effectively ignored. 

Memorial notes, for example, that Galperin’s case refers to ‘previous infringements’ in February, March and June 2004 – all, therefore, before the new article was added to the Criminal Code.

Both Ionov and Galperin are, as mentioned, accused in part over single-person pickets.  Ionov was arrested on Jan 10 when he stood alone with a placard reading «Je suis Charlie» and was approached by a provocateur, making this a ‘mass meeting’ needing to be authorized.

Memorial points out that the material of administrative cases which will now be used as the basis of criminal charges under Article 212.1 are also highly dubious, with people often wrongfully detained and then accused of actions they didn’t commit.  The judges often ignore not only the ‘defendant’s’ testimony, but also that of witnesses, including photos and video footage, if it clashes with what the police assert. 

Ionov is currently under a signed undertaking not to leave the city and Galperin is imprisoned on the latest administrative sentence.

On Feb 3, Ildar Dadin, the third person facing charges under Article 212.1 was placed under house arrest until March 27.  The investigator had asked for his detention, so the fact that the prosecutor did not support this can be welcomed.  There is nothing else positive to report on the ‘case’ against Dadin who was noted by the court to have left for Ukraine in January 2014 where “he took part in anti-government protests”.

Dadin did indeed take part in EuroMaidan, serving at one time in a self-defence unit.  He is adamant that his actions during recent protests were in full accordance with Russia’s Constitution.

At the hearing on Feb 3 he stated:

“I have committed no crime and therefore consider that any restriction is unlawful since all my actions during three years of protest were always on principle peaceful, non-violent with this totally complying with Article 31 of the Constitution… I was exercising my right to express my views which is also guaranteed by Article 29 of the Constitution”.

Ildar Dadin is quite right, however the house arrest and the nonsensical charges against him, Ionov and Galperin give little scope for optimism.  Russia’s leaders are determined to crush protest and the country’s own Constitution is their last concern.  

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