Hundreds still in jail after anti-corruption protests in Russia

A photo of Olga Polyakova, a jailed activist.

Hundreds of protesters were arrested during anti-corruption protests on 12 June. Many of the detained have been mistreated by police and officials in St Petersburg, Moscow, and other Russian cities. Among them was Olga Polyakova, a young social entrepreneur from St Petersburg.

The St Petersburg City Court has renegotiated its verdict against Olga Polyakova for participating in the anti-corruption demonstration on 12 June. The young woman attended the anti-corruption protest in St Petersburg for about half an hour—she protested peacefully and neither carried a poster nor participated in protest chants. She has been in police custody since her first trial on 13 June.

Olga and her defenders, Valya Frolova and Olia Karacheva, presented their arguments at court yesterday, 20 June, referring to numerous violations of human rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, including Article 10 (Freedom of Speech and Opinion), Article 11 (Freedom of Assembly), and Article 6 (Right to a Fair Trial)—the fundamental freedoms that were violated on that day. However, the judge ruled to uphold her 12-day long prison sentence. When asked, he declined to give further comments.

Olga was detained during the mass detentions and arrests that happened at the Russia-wide anti-corruption rallies on 12 June, the Day of Russia, a national holiday that has celebrated the country’s sovereignty since 1992. Her trial lasted for just a few minutes, after which Olga was charged and sentenced to 12 days of administrative arrest.

Earlier, the online news platform openDemocracy reported that at least 350 court hearings have already been held in St Petersburg, in which over 100 people were sentenced to jail terms ranging from one to 15 days. Others have received fines ranging from 3,000 to 15,000 roubles. Detentions in Moscow have been less numerous: according to reports, 11 people who have been jailed so far, though the main body of court cases is yet to be heard.

More people have raised attention to Olga’s case, especially after her friend Kirill Moizik published a blog post about her situation. His article and Olga’s story went viral on the Runet: it was liked and shared many times by people on major social networking sites like Facebook, VKontakte, and Twitter. Kirill described his friend Olga as “a wonderful and exceptional person.”

The challenging legal environment

Lawyers have been doing their utmost to defend the many peaceful protesters that have been detained. They have provided qualified legal assistance to clients in difficult situations and have also often acted as psychologists.

According to Sergey Golubok, a St Petersburg-based lawyer involved in Olga’s case and familiar with many similar cases involving peaceful protesters: “If you can not save your clients from a prison sentence, it does not mean that you cannot help.”

Their work is anything but easy, but it is significant. “I believe that Olga’s case is an arbitrary deprivation of freedom for peaceful protest,” says Gleb Bogush, an Associate Law Professor at Moscow State University who is familiar with many cases comparable to Olga’s. According to Bogush, “her case raises many important issues such as (in)dependence of the judiciary, the procedure on so-called ‘administrative offences’ and others. Most importantly, this case manifests a concerted attack on dissent by using criminal and quasi-criminal justice in open defiance of international law and the Russian constitution.”

Police and authorities send questionable signals

“It appears the authorities in Russia wanted to send an additional message by making these detentions slow, humiliating and painful,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International (AI) in an official statement. He also added that “hundreds of peaceful protesters in Moscow and St Petersburg were locked up in police stations overnight, in plainly degrading conditions.”

According to Golubok, other Russian lawyers and international human rights organisations like Human Rights Watch should push for the Russian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all peaceful protesters detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly during anti-corruption rallies.

According to Olga’s´s defenders she will be released after 12 days in prison, on Saturday 24 June at 14:45 or 15:45 authorities seem to disagree on the exact time. Her family, friends, and supporters are all awaiting.

Olga’s flatmate Anastasia Senicheva, had this to say about the situation:

We are supporting Olga these days and we are carefully following the updates on her situation. We are the witnesses of numerous unacceptable violations of human and civil rights

“These days have completely changed our notions about how our state treats its citizens and made us understand that we have to work hard to live in a truly democratic country.

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