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Maxim Butkevych: The judge’s ruling for some reason states that I expressed remorse

20.07.2006    source:
Maryana Pyetsukh
The journalist stresses he can feel no remorse for haivng simply photographed a peaceful protest action, and describes gratuitous aggression from the Russian riot police

The return from two days in a Russian prison is expected today of three Ukrainians whom the Russian authorities deemed hardened anti-globalists and stirrers attempting to stop the G8 Summit being held in St. Petersburg passing off peacefully.  As already reported, during a protest action held by anti-globalists by the hotel where the participants were staying, “spetsnaz “ [special anti-riot / anti-terrorist units] officers detained 37 people. Among them were three Ukrainians: Maxim Butkevych  a journalist from the TV Channel “1+1”, Vlasta Pidpala an activist from the movement “The World is not a commodity” and an under-age lad.  The latter two were jailed for two days, Maxim for three. However, following his appeal and the efforts of the General Consul, the term was shortened by one day.

By last night he was already supposed to have left for Kyiv since, according to the Federal Migration Service of the Russian Federation, the permit for foreign citizens being on Russian territory ended on 19 July. Our correspondent was able to make contact with Maxim who told us of his experience.

“I came to St. Petersburg to see the city which I’d never been to before. Besides, as a journalist on international matters I was interested in being there while an international forum was taking place. I had previously been in other countries when similar events were taking place.  I also wanted to ensure more open communication between those who were attempting by peaceful means to express their views regarding the policies of the G8 and journalists, since such communication is usually anything but open”.

- So you had no intention in going to St. Petersburg of taking part in anti-globalist protest actions?

“No, the only thing that I did during this protest action was to take photographs. I’m absolutely bemused by the fact that I was arrested for several days just for taking photographs of what was happening on Nevsky Prospekt. I didn’t expect anything like it.  I especially had no desire to spend my birthday, 16 July, in a police station”.

- And do you personally share the ideas of the anti-globalists? Have you ever taken part in such protests?

“It depends what is understood by “the ideas of the anti-globalists”.  As an individual, and professionally, as a journalist, I agree with a lot of the non-authoritarian opponents of non-economic globalization. That’s my personal stand, and I don’t think there’s anything surprising in it. On the other hand I am also in favour of any demands to observe human rights, to exercise them, and to reduce poverty. If such demands are globalist, then I’m all for them. In my view they’re what any normal person would want”

- . Have you every taken part in such anti-globalist protest yourself?

“I was involved in various organizations while a student. Then while studying in Britain there was just such a summit of the G8. I was happy then to help student organizations who were expressing their protest since they had the right to voice their opinion. And the fact that in Russian the demonstrators  resorted to a radical measure like blocking the hotel is, in my opinion, simply because the Russian authorities, unlike the governments of the other member states, closed all legal avenues for expressing protest. They therefore had no choice but to use such actions to get their position heard”.

- So if you were a normal bystander with a camera, what did they convict you of?

“Of resisting a police officer, something  which never happened. After all, not obeying an officer of the Russian OMON [riot police] can be hazardous for the health. I therefore obeyed all their orders whatever foul language they used when issuing them.  I hoped at first that this was some kind of misunderstanding. In the police station I realized that things were more serious. Incidentally, goodness knows why the under-age lad from Ukraine was detained.  According to the information I received, he just happened to be there at the wrong time. He had come to Moscow to enrol for an educational institution, and went off with some friends to St. Petersburg.  He ended up there just at the time when the police were grabbing everybody in sight.

In the police station I showed them my identity card issued by the International Federation of Journalists, but it changed nothing.  Besides that, they refused to let me speak to my civic defence lawyer who spent several hours waiting outside the station.  

When I asked to be put in contact with the Ukrainian Consul, they said that they wouldn’t let me speak with him if I was planning to complain. It was only when the Consul found out that we Ukrainians had been arrested, and came to the police station, that the police let me receive a food parcel waiting. A separate thing to mention would be the contact with the Russian riot police: their behaviour when detaining the protesters was quite brutal. And the officer who took us to the court had no explanation for his aggression: I saw those detained being punched, kicked, hit around the head, and all was expressed in totally foul language and abuse.  After several of my questions aimed at them, they decided not to touch the Ukrainians”.

-  How do you explain your release a day early?

“It was thanks to the efforts of the Consul. On Monday we lodged an appeal with all the evidence In my favour which for some reason the court chose not to take into account.  On Tuesday the Consul advised me to write an extra application stating that I was a journalist and that I had not been taking part in the protest action, and also that I had not broken any law.  The court allowed this application and reduced the period of custodial arrest to two days. However for some reason in her ruling, the judge added to the content of my appeal that I had acknowledged participating in the protest action and had expressed remorse. This was frustrating, since I cannot express any remorse for having simply stood there and taken photos of the demonstration”.

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