Russia: today's decision in Bolotnaya case sends signal that protests are 'a ticket to prison'

Police dispersing a protest in Moscow after verdicts were handed down in the Bolotnaya case earlier this year © Alexander Baroshin / Amnesty International
Case is ‘a warning to all potential protesters that street demonstrations are a ticket to prison’ - John Dalhuisen
 
A decision earlier today by the Moscow City Court to reject an appeal against the conviction of eight “Bolotnaya” protesters imprisoned after a politically-motivated trial has been condemned by Amnesty International. 
 
The court ruled today to reduce the sentences of two of the protesters - Sergey Krivov and Yaroslav Belousov - to three years and nine months, and two years and three months, respectively. However, the prison sentences of the other defendants - Andrey Barabanov, Denis Lutskevich, Aleksey Polikhovich, Artiom Saviolov and Stepan Zimin - remain unchanged, as does the a conditional sentence against Aleksandra Dukhanina (Naumova).
 
On 6 May 2012 hundreds of peaceful anti-government protesters were arrested after police brutally dispersed a protest in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square. The demonstration was predominantly peaceful but authorities used isolated incidents of violence to describe the event as “mass riots” and bring heavier charges against the accused. 
 
In February of this year, eight of those who had taken part in the protest stood trial and were convicted of participation in “mass riots” and, separately, of using violence against public officers. Before their sentencing most of the protesters had already spent around one and a half years in detention. 
 
Amnesty considers six of them - Saviolov, Lutskevich, Belousov, Sergey Krivov, Zimin and Polikhovich - prisoners of conscience, individuals imprisoned solely for peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of assembly and expression. Amnesty is also calling for the release of Barabanov, irrespective of whether he committed the offence of “using violence against a public official”, as he has already served more time than the sentence he was given.
 
Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director John Dalhuisen said:
 
“This decision sends a warning signal to anyone thinking about taking to the streets in Moscow.
 
“The trial was clearly politically-motivated and carried out with the specific aim of deterring future protests. 
 
“Freedom of assembly is fast becoming a crime in Russia with the authorities barely hesitating to lock up those whose views or peaceful activism they see as a political threat. 
 
“The events in Bolotnaya Square were designated ‘mass riots’ for political, not factual, considerations. We believe this was done to increase the penalties faced by the defendants in this case, which, in turn, was intended as a warning to all potential protesters that street demonstrations are a ticket to prison.”
 
Four other protesters and two men accused of having organised the “mass riots” on 6 May 2012 in Bolotnaya Square are meanwhile currently on trial in Moscow.
 

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