Left-wing activist Darya Polyudova, charged with inciting separatism and justifying terrorism, is a political prisoner, Memorial says

21.09.2020

We are against the criminal prosecution of Darya Polyudova based as it is on an excessively broad interpretation of statements made by the activist that present a negligible danger to society

Memorial Human Rights Centre considers the left-wing activist and leader of the Left Resistance movement Darya Polyudova a political prisoner. We believe the criminal prosecution of Darya Polyudova is related to her political activism and is inappropriate given the negligible danger to the public of the actions of which she is accused. Memorial Human Rights Centre calls for the immediate release of Daria Polyudova.

Who is Darya Polyudova and what are the charges against her?

The 31-year-old Communist Darya Polyudova first came to public attention in 2014 when she became the first victim of the newly introduced Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (incitement of separatism) after an attempt to organise a ‘March for the Federalisation of Kuban’ in Krasnodar. In 2015 the activist was found guilty and sentenced to two years in a low security penal colony. Memorial at that time declared Polyudova a political prisoner.

In the autumn of 2017 Darya was released and continued her political activism.

In January 2019 she held a single-person picket in Moscow displaying a poster that read: ‘Hey, Kuril Islanders! Stop feeding Moscow! Long live the Far Eastern Republic!’

The activist suggested that the residents of these islands hold a referendum on withdrawing from the Russian Federation. On her page on the Vkontakte social network site she wrote that it would benefit Russia if it divided into several countries.

In February of the same year on VKontakte Polyudova reposted someone else's publication which consisted of a photo of the militant Shamil Basayev with the inscription ‘when we demanded a referendum, the Russians came and killed everyone who did not have time to hide.’ This was accompanied by a text that stated: ‘the Urals and other republics that will separate from Russia in the future need individuals such as Dzhokhar Dudayev, Shamil Basayev, Aslan Maskhadov’ and that the residents of the Urals must learn to ‘fight against the Muscovites to defend their independence.’

In January 2020 the FSB initiated criminal proceedings against Polyudova under Part 1 of Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (public incitement of separatism, punishable by up to four years’ imprisonment) and Part 2 of Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism using the Internet, punishable by up to seven years in prison). In mid-January the activist was taken into custody.

Why does Memorial consider Polyudova a political prisoner?

  • We believe that Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code as it exists in its current form must be repealed. We believe that the state may criminalise only those manifestations of separatism that are related to violence and advocacy of violent actions aimed at the withdrawal of regions from the Russian Federation, but not theoretical deliberations about the admissibility of their separation. 
    Darya Polyudova did not urge the residents of Kuril to take part in an armed struggle for independence. When proposing a referendum, she expressed her view that local residents have the right to decide their own destiny. Criminalisation of calls to hold a referendum, even if the questions proposed for it are unlawful, contradicts the basic principles of Russian statehood enshrined in the Constitution. After all, the preamble to the Constitution states that the democratic foundations of the state are inviolable, and Article 3 states that ‘the bearer of sovereignty and the only source of power in the Russian Federation is its multinational people’ whose ‘highest direct expression of power [...] are referendums and free elections.’

  • The charge against Polyudova under Part 2 of Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code that she justified terrorism in reposting someone else's publication seems to us far-fetched. 
    Addendum 1 to Article 205.2 defines the public justification of terrorism as a ‘public statement recognising the ideology and practice of terrorism as correct, in need of support and emulation.’
    The texts for which Polyudova has been charged do not endorse terrorist practices or affirm a need to support or emulate terrorism. Such an assessment is based on an excessively broad interpretation of her publications that is intentionally unfavourable to the accused.
    The real danger presented to the public by Polyudova's actions is negligibly small. In March 2020 the repost made by the activist, who is of sound mind, had 60 views, and that includes views by the staff of Memorial and the FSB, but not a single like or comment.
    We believe that despite the inappropriate ambiguity of the repost made by Polyudova, her actions do not fall under restrictions that are ‘prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals’ (Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms).  

  • From the circumstances of Darya Polyudova's criminal prosecution we conclude that it is politically motivated and directly connected to her social and political activities. Polyudova is a consistent critic of the Russian political leadership and actively opposes the war with Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea and political repression.

Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines defining the term ‘political prisoner,’ believes there are no grounds for the criminal prosecution of Polyudova. The prosecution is based solely on her political opinions related to the non-violent exercise of freedom of expression and is intended to force her to terminate her public activities in violation of the right to fair trial and other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

More information about the opinion of Memorial Human Rights Centre regarding the prosecution of Darya Polyudova is available on our website

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner or as a victim of politically motivated prosecution does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.

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