Six individuals have been charged with violence against law enforcement officers during the dispersal of the opposition protest on 27 July 2019 in Moscow, although only protesters were assaulted.
In line with international guidelines defining the term ‘political prisoner,’ the Memorial Human Rights Centre has recognised Andrei Barshai, Vladimir Yemelianov, Yegor Lesnykh, Maksim Martintsov, Aleksandr Mylnikov, and Pavel Novikov as political prisoners and demands their immediate release.
More than 20 people face charges as a result of the criminal investigation that began on 30 July into violence against public officials during alleged riots in Moscow on 27 July 2019 in the course of the demonstration, in which many thousands took part, against the exclusion of opposition candidates from the Moscow City Assembly elections.
Andrei Barshai, Vladimir Yemelianov, Yegor Lesnykh, Maksim Martintsov, Aleksandr Mylnikov, and Pavel Novikov were detained in October. They have been charged under Article 318, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (use of force not dangerous to life or health against a public official). Lesnykh, Mylnikov and Martintsov, according to investigators, pushed an OMON riot police officer to the ground, while Lesnykh and Martintsov also kicked him. According to the Investigative Committee, Yemelianov ‘forcibly seized’ a riot police officer ‘from behind by his uniform’ and Barshai pushed another. Novikov allegedly struck a police officer on helmet and hand with a plastic water bottle.
Why Memorial Human Rights Centre Considers the defendants innocent
It is evident from the video recording that Barshai, Yemelianov, Lesnykh, Martintsov, and Mylnikov, without weapons or other objects, sought to prevent violence by law enforcement officers against a young woman and a young man lying on the road. In response, they were beaten with batons.
Pavel Novikov struck a half-litre plastic bottle against the helmet and protective jacket of a riot police officer. On the video recording published by the Investigative Committee, it can be seen that the riot police officer was in no way affected by this blow.
According to the materials of the case, the law enforcement officers who were the alleged victims suffered no injuries, not even the slightest scratches. The claim that they momentarily suffered ‘physical pain’ cannot be proved. Sentencing defendants to terms of incarceration for ‘causing pain’ in this manner clearly contradicts both the law and common sense.
Furthermore, it must be taken into consideration that these incidents occurred as a spontaneous reaction by demonstrators to the unlawful violence of law enforcement officers against them.
Representatives of Memorial were at the scene of events on 27 July and have studied in detail video recordings of the protest and the clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement officers, as well as the materials of the case. We are convinced the demonstration was peaceful in nature.
According to Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, freedom of assembly is one of the most important civic rights. Authorities are obliged to enable the conduct of public assemblies and to protect their security. On 27 July they did the opposite: they hindered the peaceful protest and dispersed it, detaining approximately 1,500 participants by force. Unlawful obstruction of the holding of a rally, demonstration or march is punishable under Article 149 of the Russian Criminal Code by deprivation of liberty for up to three years.
We are convinced that the authorities intend the criminal investigation to intimidate potential participants in public protests in order to deter them and to prevent such events.
The protesters who were arrested had in practice been declared guilty in advance of their trial when the mayor of Moscow announced there had been riots in Moscow and the press secretary of the Russian President also indicated the same, thereby putting pressure on the law enforcement agencies and the courts. State television and other pro-government media reported the lie that there had been ‘riots,’ branding the protesters as criminals.
The fact that charges against a number of individuals were dropped as a result of public pressure confirms that the charges were based not on the law but on the political wishes of the authorities.