‘What happened on Bolotnaya Square … was not the quelling of a riot, but the crushing of a protest’ - John Dalhuisen
Amnesty International has denounced today’s guilty verdicts in Russia’s “Bolotnaya Square protest” trial as the outcome of a “politically-motivated show trial”.
Earlier today a Moscow court found eight defendants guilty of assaulting police and of rioting in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012, when police - using excessive and unlawful force - broke up a mass anti-government protest on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s resumption of the Russian presidency on 7 May. The eight’s sentences are expected to be announced on Monday.
Amnesty is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Artiom Saviolov, Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich, Aleksey Polikhovich, Sergey Krivov and Yaroslav Belousov. They are prisoners of conscience, and all charges against them should be dropped. Two other co-defendants - Aleksandra Dukhanina (Naumova) and Andrey Barabanov - have similarly been dealt with injustly, and their convictions on charges of participating in mass riots should be overturned.
The verdicts in the Bolotnaya case are part of a wider clampdown on freedoms of assembly, association and expression since Mr Putin’s return to the Russian presidency. Amnesty is calling on the Russian authorities to repeal recent legislation that restricts the rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association.
During the Bolotnaya trial itself nearly 200 peaceful supporters and journalists who had gathered around the Moscow court were reportedly detained by police, including Vladimir Akimenkov, himself a former Bolotnaya defendant and prisoner of conscience. Some of those detained have been released but are expected to face fines for participating in an “unauthorised gathering”.
Although the Bolotnaya demonstration was predominantly peaceful, and all violence limited to certain areas and involving only a small number of protesters, the authorities described the event as “mass riots”, which allowed them to bring heavier charges against the accused. In total, criminal proceedings have been initiated against 28 people.
Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director John Dalhuisen said:
“What happened on Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012 was not the quelling of a riot, but the crushing of a protest.
“The Bolotnaya trial has not exposed orchestrated violence, but rather a criminal justice system that is entirely malleable to the dictates of its political masters.
“The defendants in this trial were confronted by abusive use of force by police. Some of them sought to prevent violence, others to protect themselves. A few were just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. All are victims of a politically-motivated show trial.
“Contrary to the official line, there was not a mass riot. There was violence, but most of it was at the hands of the police. To this day, however, not a single police officer has been brought to justice for these abuses.”