20 years under Putin: a timeline

In May, the Russian state continued to put pressure on civil society activists, as several cases against them ended in guilty verdicts on trumped-up charges. The Perpetual Protest activists Olga Missik, Ivan Vorobyevsky, and Igor Basharimov were convicted of vandalism; the opposition politician Nikolai Platoshkin of inciting mass riots and spreading false information about the coronavirus; and the Left Resistance movement leader Daria Polyudova of public justification of terrorism.

 

Upper row (left to right): Igor Basharimov, Ivan Vorobyevsky. Lower row: Olga Missik, Nikolai Platoshkin, Darya Polyudova. Photos: Perpetual Protest Telegram channel, Twitter, Radio Baltkom, Memorial.

 

Activists of the Perpetual Protest: restriction of freedom for “desecration” of the prosecutor general’s office

  • On May 11, a Moscow court handed down a verdict in the so-called “booth of federal significance” case. Activists Olga Missik, Ivan Vorobyevsky, and Igor Basharimov were found guilty under the article on vandalism committed by a group of people (part 2, Article 214 of Russia’s Criminal Code). Missik was given 2 years of restriction of liberty, Vorobyevsky and Basharimov 1 year and 9 months. They are forbidden to leave their homes at night or travel outside the cities in which they are registered (Voskresensk, Moscow, and Arkhangelsk, respectively).
  • Missik (19), Basharimov (28), and Vorobyevsky (24) are members of the Perpetual Protest movement, which was formed after a violent police crackdown on a rally against pension reform in September 2018; the movement’s activists across Russia call for a decentralized, indefinite peaceful protest. According to investigators, on August 8, 2020, the defendants first hung posters on the fence at a district court in Moscow, then doused the booth at the entrance of the prosecutor general’s office with paint and put up a banner displaying offensive content. The action was organized in support of those convicted in the fabricated case of the Novoye Velichiye (New Greatness) movement (IMR wrote about it here).
  • On August 9, 2020, the defendants were detained, and on the following day, the court gave them a measure of restraint in the form of a “ban on certain actions.” The imposed restrictions meant that Basharimov had to stay at his registered home address in Arkhangelsk and at the same time regularly appear at court sessions in Moscow (a trip by train that takes 23 hours one way). Missik, who is a student at Lomonosov Moscow State University, could not study full-time.
  • Three activists were charged with “deliberate desecration” of the buildings of the court and prosecutor general’s office and causing material damage (a small amount valued at about 3,500 rubles, or about $50). In early March, the defense found signs of falsification of documents submitted by the prosecution as evidence of the damage caused. In particular, the date when the damage had been estimated was amended to look as if it was done before the repairs, not after.
  • According to the defense lawyers, the case lacks corpus delicti: “the paint was easily washed off, and the security guards immediately removed the poster—therefore, there is no damage.”
  • “In any case, [the defendants] can only be held to administrative, not criminal, liability for causing damage and putting up… posters,” the Memorial Human Rights Center noted.
  • Memorial experts also believe that “the criminal prosecution of activists is carried out for political reasons to intimidate Russian civil society and prevent citizens from exercising their right to freedom of expression.”
  • Perpetual Protest activists were repeatedly detained at rallies in Moscow and other cities. Olga Missik gained publicity in the summer of 2019, when, during a rally against the non-admission of independent candidates to the Moscow City Duma elections, she read aloud the Constitution to the riot police who dispersed the demonstrators.

 

Nikolai Platoshkin: suspended sentence for criticizing the government

  • On May 19, another politically motivated case ended in a guilty verdict: opposition politician and public figure Nikolai Platoshkin was sentenced to 5 years of probation and a fine of 700,000 rubles ($9,600) on charges of inciting mass riots (part 1.1, Article 212 of the Criminal Code) and spreading deliberately false information (Article 207.1). The prosecutors had requested six years in prison for the defendant.
  • Nikolai Platoshkin is a historian, former employee of the Russian Foreign Ministry, head of the Department of International Relations and Diplomacy at Moscow University for the Humanities, and leader of the unregistered left patriotic movement “For a New Socialism.” On his YouTube channel, where he has over 600,000 subscribers, Platoshkin spoke out on topical political issues, criticized the authorities and last year’s amendments to the Constitution, and called on his supporters to register as election observers.
  • “In the winter of 2020, Platoshkin announced the transformation of [his] movement into a party whose candidates will be ready to participate in the [next] elections. Answering a question from a journalist: ‘Who, if not Putin?’ Platoshkin snapped: ‘Me!’ The authorities’ reaction to the politician’s unexpected popularity was not long in coming,” wrote
  • In early June 2020, Platoshkin’s apartment was searched, after which he was detained. The court placed him under house arrest, forbidding him to go out for walks, use any means of communication, or interact with anyone besides close relatives, lawyers, and investigators.
  • The evidence for his criminal prosecution included over two dozen videos, which, according to investigators, contain incentives to organize mass riots under the guise of “legitimate rallies,” as well as “deliberately false information” about the COVID-19 measures taken by the Russian authorities (in one of the videos, Platoshkin discussed with his colleagues the difficulties of the pandemic situation in the Russian regions).
  • The trial featured numerous violations. For instance, it took the prosecution only one hour to speed-read through 27 volumes of case materials, while this procedure normally spans several court sessions; the defense was not allowed to question a single witness.
  • Memorial and Amnesty International have recognized Platoshkin as a political prisoner and a prisoner of conscience, respectively.
  • Human rights activists noted that in the spring of 2020, “under the pretext of fighting the coronavirus epidemic, the federal center and regional authorities engaged in an unprecedented attack on the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of the Russian Federation,” which was accompanied by “the adoption of a number of repressive legal norms and the appearance of vague and potentially extremely dangerous compositions” in the Criminal Code and the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation.
  • In particular, the criminal article on “fakes” (Article 207.1 of the Criminal Code) “has become a convenient tool for cracking down on public critics of the authorities” (activists, journalists, bloggers, and deputies). “Since the beginning of the pandemic, the state has openly declared a monopoly on the truth <...>. From now on, information coming from authorized officials is presumed to be reliable and legitimate. In contrast, any unofficial socially significant information is considered illegal until it is confirmed by the state,” the experts of the Agora International Human Rights Group said in a statement.

 

The case of Daria Polyudova: criminalization of activism

  • Civil and political activists in Russia are also given real prison terms. On May 31, a court in Moscow sentenced the leader of the Left Resistance movement, Daria Polyudova, to 6 years in prison under the article on public justification of terrorism (parts 1 and 2, Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code).
  • The criminal case against Polyudova was initiated in January 2020 on the basis of her reposting a video on the Russian social network VKontakte. The author of the video claimed that “The Urals and other republics, that will later secede from Russia, need such personalities as Dzhokhar Dudayev, Shamil Basayev, Aslan Maskhadov. Great sons of the Chechen people.”
  • Polyudova also published a post explaining why she was “in favor of the dissolution of Russia.” “Take Europe’s countries—they are very small, but united within the European Union. Yes, they are also capitalist, but they live much better than every region of Russia,” she wrote. The text was accompanied by a map of Russia on which the regions were labeled as “independent states,” the investigation claimed.
  • “This repost and this call to consider the model of the European Union means that she meant ‘Let’s divide the Russian Federation into several independent states by the same methods that Basayev used,’” the lawyer explained, outlining the FSB’s version of events. (Editor’s note: Shamil Basayev was a terrorist and a senior leader of the Chechen independence movement; he masterminded a series of terrorist attacks in Russia, including the 2004 school siege in Beslan.)
  • Initially, Polyudova was also charged with publicly calling for violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation (part 1, Article 280.1 of the Criminal Code) on the grounds that she held a one-person picket, where she had a poster reading “Kurils! Stop feeding Moscow! Long live the Far Eastern Republic!” Subsequently, prosecution for separatism was discontinued due to partial decriminalization of the article.
  • In September 2020, the activist was charged with another incident of “public justification of terrorism” due to her statements about the attack on the FSB building in Lubyanka that was committed in December 2019 by Yevgeny Manyurov. Investigators found a video on her phone in which Polyudova utters the following remarks: “Well, unfortunately, all the FSB people were not shot down,” and “Well, we want the Lubyanka to be completely destroyed in the future.” In addition, the indictment alleged that she publicly called Manyurov’s actions “correct.”
  • The attack itself was not qualified as a terrorist attack; instead, a case was opened under Article 317—an attack on the life of law enforcement officers.
  • Human rights activists point to the absurdity of the charges and “Polyudova’s apparent innocence, even from the point of view of the current criminal legislation.” In their opinion, “Despite the probably inappropriate ambiguity of the repost made by Polyudova, her actions did not pose a real threat to national security, territorial integrity, or public order. As for the comment about the shooting outside the FSB building, the additional charge is a typical attempt to artificially increase the number of charges in a criminal case and to artificially criminalize the actions of persons objectionable to the special services.”
  • Polyudova had already been accused of calling for separatism and extremism in the summer of 2014. The activist, who lived in Krasnodar Krai at the time, was going to hold a “March for the federalization of the Kuban” (it was planned as part of the all-Russian protest against the war with Ukraine). In December 2015, she was sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment in a penal colony. Memorial recognized her as a political prisoner.
  • After being released in the fall of 2017, Polyudova moved to Moscow and continued to engage in activism: first she joined Sergei Udaltsov’s Left Front, then organized her own Left Resistance movement and participated in one-person pickets in support of political prisoners, against the war in Syria, and for the return of Crimea to Ukraine.

 

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