12 February 2013
By Agora Human Rights Association
A non-governmental report
In this report Agora Human Rights Association presents the results of the monitoring it has conducted of the harassment of civic activists in Russia in 2012. Last year Agora recorded over 500 public protests in 60 regions in Russia, resulting in the arrest of more than 5000 participants. Agora’s legal team registered 42 criminal prosecutions against civic activists, three murders, 27 attacks and 38 searches.
Agora Monitoring Summary Table (2006-2012*)
Trends and Key Cases
The number of public protests in 2012 is comparable to the number of such events that took place in 2011. The number of participants in protests has risen sharply, by approximately 200,000 people. While in 2011 the average number of participants in a protest was around 550, in 2012 this rose to 1200. It should be noted that in 2011 the main attendance at public events centred on the two December protests in Moscow at Sakharov Prospect and Bolotnaya Square (10 and 24 December) which attracted many thousands of participants. Until these events the average attendance at protests was significantly lower. It is worth taking into account that in 2012 the bulk of protesters took part in protests in Moscow, where OVD-Info registered over 200 protests. Overall across all regions the number of public demonstrations was greater, although the number of people arrested during them was three times smaller, as the numbers at these protests were not as high as in Moscow.
Throughout virtually the entire country the authorities ceased using administrative detention as a form of punishment for participation in public protests. Since the amendments to the Administrative Offences Code came into force, raising monetary fines, the authorities' policy regarding protesters has been of an exclusively financial nature. Authorities across Russia have taken up the practice of levying substantial fines against protest participants of between 10,000 and 20,000 roubles, thus effectively introducing a separate tax for exercising one's constitutional right to freedom of assembly. Indeed, many jurists consider this practice unconstitutional, in relation to which in the last year at least 10 activists, including Aleksei Navalny, have submitted appeals to the Constitutional Court. Detention has only continued to be used in isolated incidents concerning actions which could clearly be considered disobedience or disorderly conduct.
The situation in Russia's regions differs, however, from one region to another. For example, in Chuvashia in 2012 there was a breakthrough in the judicial defence of the organisers and participants of public demonstrations. More than 10 similar administrative cases were dismissed in the courts due to lack of evidence. On several occasions the courts ruled that local councils' refusal to agree to protest rallies was unlawful. In Tatarstan too, participants in public demonstrations can boast of a series of court victories regarding protests. However there have also been examples of setbacks. For example, in Nizhny Novgorod on 10 March 2012 the police heavy-handedly dispersed those taking part in a march; 85 people were arrested and taken to police stations. Along with St. Petersburg. Nizhny Novgorod can be added to the list of cities with noticeably more aggressive police actions against protesters.
Aside from this, in 2012 regional authorities actively passed rules regulating the holding of public protests to limit the maximum numbers permissible at protests, possible venues and other aspects. We also observed an increase in the influence of regional and local authorities on policy regarding public demonstrations. Policy mainly depends on the region's distance from the federal centre, the extent of its autonomy, the absence of a tradition of mass protests and the presence of legal groups working for activists' legal defence.
Violence (murders, attacks, kidnappings)
With regard to incidents of violence against public figures, there are various lines of intersection to consider.
On 18 August in a Moscow café a confrontation occurred involving Dmitry Tsorionov, Andrei Kaplin and several unidentified individuals. They went up to Denis Bochkarev and demanded that he take off his t-shirt reading "Mother of God, rid us of Putin." After he refused, the Orthodox activists called the police and summoned the café's manager. For over forty minutes Tsorionov and his friends demanded that Bochkarev take off his t-shirt, arguing that the slogan was offensive to Orthodox Christians and incited "religious hatred." Human rights defenders have written that certain members of the group suggested to Bochkarev that they "take this [dispute] outside", implying the intended use of physical violence against him. The police officers on the scene took all those involved in the confrontation to Dorogomilovo Police Station, where the two sides gave statements on the crime.
On 27 August information was received about an attack on Aleksei Myslivets by unknown assailants at Paveletsky Station. On the platform for the Aeroexpress train to Domodedovo Airport, one of the attackers (who was later established as Dmitry Tsorionov) tore off Myslivets's t-shirt showing the "Free Pussy Riot" slogan and masked icon and ripped it up. According to the victim, after this one of the attackers started to bless himself and speak while holding the ripped t-shirt in his hands: "Blessed Rus, protect the Orthodox faith... It will be like this with every 'blasphemer'..." Myslivets submitted a statement regarding the disorderly actions and clear theft of his property on 30 August to the transport police at Paveletsky Station.
On 29 August Dmitry Tsorionov arrived at the Tochka G museum on New Arbat with a group of young men in order to remove an aggressive advertisement and also, in his words, to speak to the museum's employees about chastity, marriage and God's intentions. The museum's employees mentioned that the Orthodox activists behaved extremely aggressively and frightened the museum workers.
On the whole, the results for 2012 show that attacks by radical Orthodox Christians have a clear geographical link to Moscow. In other regions there have been no recorded incidents of violence or threats of violence on the part of ultra-Orthodox activists.
In terms of investigations of the most high-profile crimes, the most significant was the trial in the Anna Politkovskaya murder case. The guilty plea and subsequent sentence handed down to a former Moscow police officer removed all doubts as to the involvement of state bodies in the assassination of the Novaya Gazeta columnist.
Criminal Prosecution. Searches
Criminal prosecution of activists in 2012 can be clearly divided into two periods: before and after the inauguration of Vladimir Putin. The first period was characterised by a single prominent criminal case, which to a large extent provided a backdrop for the entire year. This was the case of Pussy Riot and three of its members: Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samutsevich. The women were arrested in March 2012. On 17 August Khamovniki district court sentenced Alekhina, Tolokonnikova and Samutsevich to two years in a penal colony. On 10 October 2012 the sentence was left unchanged for Alekhina and Tolokonnikova after appeal, while Samutsevich's sentence was suspended.
The Pussy Riot case gave rise to a powerful discussion of the role of the Russian Orthodox Church and its influence on the authorities, prompted a legislative initiative to tighten the criminal law concerning insulting the feelings of believers, and a statement from President Putin that witnessed a departure from the principles of a secular state, evidencing the Kremlin's unambiguous policy aimed at using the Russian Orthodox Church as a power base for its conservative domestic policies.
After Putin's inauguration the number of criminal cases against activists began to grow exponentially through to the end of the calendar year. The March of Millions on 6 May 2012 served as a starting point. In the resulting ‘Bolotnaya case’ the number of people charged has been increasing right through until February 2013, and now numbers 20 individuals. For the first time Russia's Investigative Committee utilized a huge amount of human resources – over 150 investigators working on an overtly politically-motivated case. Before this, large-scale investigative groups were only formed after major natural disasters and other catastrophes. In 2012 the Investigative Committee was used by the Russian authorities for the first time ever to conduct mass criminal prosecutions in politically-motivated cases. The Bolotnaya case provided an opportunity for a huge number of searches to be carried out at the residences of civic activists. In essence, searches became the single form of pressure exerted on activists which rose in 2012, according to Agora's records, increasing more than threefold since 2006. As such, Agora wishes to highlight the constant increase in the number of searches relating to civic activists. This trend is confirmed by the court statistics for the number of rulings on conducting searches.
Beginning in June 2012, Aleksei Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov and several members of the opposition's Coordinating Committee (founded in the autumn) who are of a nationalist persuasion have been faced with criminal prosecution. State television has actively played along with law enforcement agencies in these cases by creating a corresponding backdrop to the Anatomy of a Protest documentaries.
The repression of civic activists at the federal level could not but be reflected in pressure at the regional level. Consequently, in its 2012 report Human Rights Watch named Krasnodar Region as a centre of human rights violations in Russia. It should be noted that the Kuban has always remained one of the regions with the highest level of prosecution of civic activists. Here we can make separate mention of the criminal cases against ecologists Suren Gazaryan and Evgeny Vitishko.
Meanwhile, with the change in governor from Gromov to Shoigu, the situation surrounding the criminal prosecution of activists in the Moscow region (the region immediately outside the capital) has somewhat stabilised.
Another significant point related to criminal prosecutions is that of political emigration. While activists may have been leaving the country "quietly" until 2012, last year saw it become a distinct public trend, especially after what happened to Leonid Razvozzhaev, who was brought back to Russia from Ukraine by Russian security service officers. We can also highlight the story of Alexander Dolmatov which ended tragically in January 2013.
We make separate mention of the enduring yet relatively low-level practice of using psychiatric committal against civic activists, such as Altai opposition journalist Ruslana Makarova and Mari El activist Evgenia Pirogova in 2012, in both cases for criticizing their regional leaders. Investigators also attempted to send Maksim Efimov, the author of the blog post "Karelia is tired of priests", to a psychiatric hospital. However, it must be said that this practice is not in any way applied on a large scale. Nevertheless, it remains among the arsenal of methods used, and has the potential to grow.
The data on which this report is based was obtained from public sources and from people who contacted Agora for assistance.