Moscow resident Sergey Surovtsev has been sentenced to two and a half years in a prison colony for ‘causing pain’ to a National Guard officer at the protest for free and fair elections on 27 July.
The Memorial Human Rights Centre believes Surovtsev’s prosecution for his non-violent realisation of the right to peaceful assembly is politically motivated. According to international guidelines, Surovtsev is a political prisoner. Memorial demands his immediate release.
The charges: a ‘blow’ with a piece of railing
The criminal investigation into alleged violence against public officials and riot in Moscow began on 30 July. The rioting in question was alleged to have taken place on 27 July 2019 at a protest that did not have official permission but was attended by many thousands of people. More than 20 people were charged.
Thirty-year-old Sergey Surovtsev was arrested on 28 November. He was charged with an offence under Article 318, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (use of non-dangerous force against a public official). According to the investigators, Surovtsev lifted up a section of the metal barrier and with it ‘struck’ the fingers of Warrant Officer Aleksandr Ostroverkhov of the National Guard, causing him physical harm.
On 24 December Surovtsev was sentenced by Moscow’s Tverskoy district court to 30 months in a general regime prison colony.
Why Memorial considers Surovtsev innocent
The video recording of Sergey Surovtsev’s ‘crime’ shows that, in a crowd of demonstrators trying to reach Moscow City Hall, he took hold of a section of the barrier with which law enforcement officers had fenced off the pavement. Surovtsev lifted up this barrier and began to move quickly towards the line of National Guard officers. The officers put their hands out and seized the barrier. After this, Surovtsev ran off. The whole episode lasted for less than 10 seconds.
It is evident that Surovtsev did not intentionally strike Warrant Officer Ostroverkhov on the fingers.
The ‘victim’ received no injuries, even of a minor nature, and, as he told the court, he gave this incident no significance that day. The Warrant Officer did not seek medical aid. His statement that he felt physical pain has no evidence to support it.
Memorial’s representatives who were at the scene of events on 27 July have also studied in detail the videos taken of the protest and of the ‘clashes’ between demonstrators and the police, as well as other materials in the case. We are convinced that the demonstration was peaceful in nature.
According to Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, the right to peaceful assembly is one of the most important civil rights. The authorities must facilitate the conduct of assemblies and protect their safety. On 27 July the authorities did the opposite: they obstructed the peaceful protest and forcefully dispersed it, arresting about 1,500 participants. The unlawful obstruction of a rally, demonstration or march is punishable under Article 149 of the Russian Criminal Code by deprivation of liberty for a term of up to three years.
Why the Memorial Human Rights Centre believes Surovtsev’s prosecution to be politically motivated
We are convinced the authorities are conducting this criminal prosecution in order to intimidate potential participants in public protests, to frighten them and thus to prevent similar events.
Those expressing opposition to the authorities who were arrested at the protest were virtually declared guilty in advance. Both the Moscow mayor and also, tangentially, the press secretary of the Russian president declared that there had been riots in Moscow, thereby putting pressure on the law enforcement agencies and the courts.
State television and other pro-government media broadcast 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 pressure from public opinion confirms the charges were based not on the law but on a political order issued by the authorities.
You can read more about this case here.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that the Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions.
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