NHC. Bolotnaya square trials are political and should be dropped

Photo: Rustam Adagamov

On 8 October 2013, Mikhail Kosenko, one of the defendants in the so-called Bolotnaya square case was found guilty of taking part in mass disorder (article 212 of the Russian Criminal Code) during the “March of the Millions” on 6 May 2012. The Zamoskvoretsky Regional court also found him guilty of physically assaulting police officers (article 318 of the Criminal Code) . – The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is critical of the trial, which did not comply with fair trial standards, said Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General. – The conclusions of the court were not backed by solid evidence. Two police witnesses were unable to identify Kosenko as a person who had been involved in any violence. In the photo, Aleksandra Dukhanina, another of the victims from Bolotnaya awaiting trial is arrested. 

Mikhail Kosenko

The court sentenced Kosenko to psychiatric treatment, due to his registration as a disabled person for more than ten years. – This might be part of an alarming trend returning in Russia and some other former Soviet countries to use psychiatric treatment as a tool to punish political opponents or others disliked by the authorities, Ekeløve-Slydal continued. – There is considerable reason to doubt the conclusion that Kosenko pose a threat to society.

Kosenko has been detained for more than a year, and during this period he was not allowed to attend the funeral of his mother. – Kosenko was kept in pre-trial detention for a protracted period before trial in poor conditions, said Ekeløve-Slydal. – This is illustrative of how Bolotnaya square defendants have been treated.”

Court cases against Bolotnaya square demonstrators are still ongoing, while excessive use of violence by security services so far has not been investigated. – The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is concerned about the situation for the accused demonstrators, said Ekeløve-Slydal. – They are facing from eight to 13 years of imprisonment. It seems that the judicial process serve the purpose of threatening the opposition into passivity. The judiciary is clearly being used to stifle opposition. Norwegian and European authorities should demand that political trials stop and that Bolotnaya square and other political prisoners be released.

Background: Bolotnaya square case

The case against Bolotnya Square demonstrators originally included 27 people; however one of the accused has committed suicide. Defendants were accused of taking part in mass disorder, assaulting police officers and disobeying police instructions.

Dukhanina during court hearing. Photo: Dmitry Borko

According to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which monitors the trials, none of the witnesses from the security services have told of arson attempts, destruction of property or of armed resistance from the part of the demonstrators. On the contrary, they witness how they themselves were prepared to detain the participants in a coordinated action against “improper” slogans and posters.

The organizers had sought approval of authorities for organizing the event but this did not prevent the demonstration from being dissolved by the police. About 600 persons were arrested, including opposition leaders Alexey Navalny, Boris Nemtsov and Sergey Udaltsov.

The Bolotnaya square rally followed a series of peaceful protests prompted by allegations of electoral fraud at the December 2011 parliamentary elections, won by United Russia – a party loyal to Putin.

According to eye witnesses, the police suddenly blocked the way to Bolotnaya square where the sanctioned rally was planned to take place, thus provoking a clash with the protesters. The police announced that the rally had been cancelled and immediately attacked the protesters; beginning to disperse protesters violently using truncheons and special equipment and weapons (for more information, consult: http://6may.org/en/).

Brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. Photo: Rustam Adagamov

Putin’s only comment on the Bolotnaya square case has been to say that violence against police is unacceptable. Senior United Russia lawmakers have said the clashes were financed from abroad as “a provocation”, citing a dubious documentary broadcast on state TV that claimed to show opposition leaders and a Georgian politician plotting the clashes.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee follows the trials and the situation of some of the defendants (for more information on the defendants, see Wikipedia article on the Bolotnaya square case,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolotnaya_square_case). Four of the defendants are women. Alexandra Dukhanina faces 13 years of imprisonment. Waiting for her trial, she has been placed under house arrest for over a year.