Newsletters / A Human Rights Update With Open Russia

Hello everyone! We feel it’s time for an update from Open Russia’s human rights team. As usual, dealing with the Russian judicial and court system is exhausting business, and not every day yields positive news.Once again we’d like to thank you all for your help and support, both material and moral.Without you, our work wouldn’t be able to get off the ground, so if you’d like to see Open Russia continue its battle with human rights issues in Russia, please consider making a donation.

The Russian Supreme Court has made amendments to Russia’s draconian laws on organising public events. In essence the new court order can be split into two parts. The first section deals with when and where a public event may take place. Firstly, the court order states event organisers must give notification of an event no less than three days before the event itself. Secondly, notification should still be given to the local authorities even when events are held on private property. Finally, local authorities are prohibited from acquiring preventative court orders at the last minute, unless there are clear conditions which compromise the previously agreed time and location of the public event.

The second section concerns the definition of individuals considered organisers of  public events. Individuals who spread news of an event, participate in or enable preliminary demonstrations, act with the goal of preparing for the event are considered organisers. Organisers bear responsibility for any illegal actions carried out during the public event, which may include breaching the peace, or even carrying placards not deemed ‘appropriate’ to the officially approved event.

In short, the new Supreme Court ruling has established an extremely comprehensive, yet highly ambiguous set of rules that determine where, when and by whose responsibility a public event may take place. This leaves many Russians vulnerable to political targeting during demonstrations and ultimately keeps jurisdictional power in the hands of pro-Kremlin authorities.

Prosecutors in Moscow and Saint Petersburg have accused Konstantin Saltykov and Mikael Tsakunov of violence against police officers. Saltykov attended the Voters’ Strike in Moscow in January 2018, where thousands of Russians protested in the run-up to the sham presidential elections. The twenty-year-old is a volunteer for Alexey Navalny, a vocal and persecuted opponent of President Putin. Saltykov has been accused of allegedly striking two policemen during the time of his arrest.  Saltykov has had three court dates postponed, and he is currently due to appear before judges on September 25.

Mikhail Tsakunov, aged 25, has had similar charges brought against him. Whilst attending the “He’s not our Tsar” demonstration – organised in opposition to the autocratic nature of President Putin’s rule – Tsakunov allegedly attacked a police official who was trying to arrest him. The prosecutor stated that Tsakunov has caused bodily injury to the officer. However, a video of this incident highlights that Tsakunov was himself a victim of police brutality. Despite this, Mikhael Tsakunov is due to appear in court for a second time on September 21.

Prosecutors in Russia have undertaken a new two-pronged approach as a means to convict members of protest group Pussy Riot who took part in the protest pitch invasion during the World Cup final.  This new approach could see the activists prosecuted according to both criminal and administrative law simultaneously. However, under both international and Russian constitutional law it is illegal to take such an approach. Even if the members were tried under criminal law, which obviously has more serious implications, Russian prosecutors barely have a leg to stand on for the following reason: the criminal clauses under which Pussy Riot members could be tried cannot, when rational interpretation is applied, be applied to the pitch invasion that spoiled Russia’s World Cup.

The first criminal clause, the organisation of civil unrest, requires that the accused in some way incited violence, damage to private property or presented a threat to members of the public. From what we know, four unarmed pitch invaders could not have achieved this.

The second clause, understood simply as hooliganism, entails a breaching of the peace that expresses disrespect towards society. What is meant by “disrespect towards society” is unclear and unfortunately leaves Pussy Riot detainees vulnerable to questionable legal interpretations, even though nothing witnessed during the pitch invasion would, in any democratic society at least, be considered as hooliganism.

The case of activist Maksim Shulgina, a member of a broad far-left alliance “Left Block”, has shed light on violent and illegal law-enforcement practices in the Tomsk region. On April 29 ten members of the “Block” were taken into custody on the premise of inciting hatred towards a social group, in this case towards law-enforcement officers. Shulgina and his colleagues were first detained at their office, after which Shulgina was forced into a law-enforcement car and driven to his home, where a search was conducted. During this journey Shulgina had been forced onto the floor of the car on top of the central heating unit. From this he received burns which will remain with him for the rest of his life.

Particularly concerning is that upon Shulgina’s arrival to the police station, many of his colleagues noticed the burns, which, in turn, led them to understand previous police threats of physical violence to be true. What’s more, many of the detainees were pressed by interrogators to give up their constitutional right to not testify. Should the activists have refused, they then would have been named suspects in the investigation. Open Russia was able to supply the detainees with a lawyer, however. The case highlights the willingness of law-enforcement officers to rid fellow citizens of the human and constitutional rights.