Help the Bolotnaya Prisoners

22 July 2013 

Source: (info)
I am not a frequent visitor to the internet, but I cannot refrain from writing about what is troubling me deeply: the trial of the Prisoners of 6 May. I am glad that the unfair trial of Aleksei Navalny and Peter Ofitserov, and the harsh sentences given to them, stirred people up, not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg but in many other cities. The angry, immediate response to this outrage proves that there is civil society in Russia, and that the authorities have to take this into account in their actions. This is shown by the way in which the authorities took a step back after initially taking Navalny and Ofitserov into immediate custody after the verdict, and by the behaviour of our law enforcement officers during the spontaneous protests that followed the announcement of the verdict. It’s true there were arrests, but nonetheless the authorities decided not to launch a brutal crackdown on the demonstrators who had taken to the streets without any prior approval. This is wonderful.

But here's what has been troubling me as I watched all this. The day before I had been in Moscow City Court at the trial of the prisoners of 6 May. In a small courtroom, on the public benches, there were empty spaces, and in the square outside the court there was not a single picket, all was empty. Why during the trial of the young women from Pussy Riot crowds of sympathizers gathered round the court, but here, where participants in a rally that had been broken up by the authorities were being tried, there was no one. It was as though this didn’t concern us. The ten defendants sitting in a glass fishtank were rank and file participants in a march in which there had been tens of thousands of others, citizens like them, and anyone could be in their place. Why don’t people gather around the court, why don’t they protest against the torturous conditions in which the defendants are being held? Are they tired of the flood of trials going on? Do you not believe that the outcomes of the trials can be influenced? You don’t need a fortune teller to tell you that the sentences will be severe, if the prisoners of 6 May remain without broad public support.

This lack of public support is particularly disappointing because these guys deserve it. Not only are they victims of an unfair trial, but, unexpectedly finding themselves defendants in a trial, they have not pleaded guilty, and they have rejected the idea that on 6 May there were any riots.

Let each of us put ourselves in their place. They came to a rally that had the permission of the authorities. Such rallies have repeatedly occurred in Moscow, and have been perfectly peaceful and pleasant for the participants. But then suddenly they found themselves up against a line of riot police and fell under the blows of their batons. Some were beaten, others, possibly indignant at the surprise attack, pushed the riot police officer attacking them out of the way. And incidentally, it must be said that self-defence of this kind is lawful. Others, acting on impulse, went to the aid of a stranger who was being beaten. And these people ended up in a police cell facing a considerable jail sentence for allegedly causing riots. Those participants in the march who reached home safely were only saved by the fact that they had arrived at the rally later, and for that reason ended up further from the riot police who were blocking the path. Imagine yourself in the place of these guys, see how it would feel to be facing their fate, and help them by your actions, as it has been possible to help Navalny and Ofitserov. The prisoners 6 May really do need our help.

We need to make sure that the long trial is no longer torture for them, as it is now. Now it is real torture. They make them get up very early and take them to court before breakfast, while they are still hungry. Then they have to wait several hours, standing, for the trial to begin in tiny allotted spaces ("glasses"). During the proceedings, all ten of them are held throughout the whole day in a glass structure like a fishtank, where there is no air to breathe, only benches without backs, and it is very crowded. For lunch they are given dry rations, but their quality is such that they do not dissolve in the hot water they are given. So they don’t get any lunch either. At the end of the day in court, they again have to wait for a long time in the “glass”, until the convoy comes to take them back to their cells. As a rule, they have no time for supper, and very little time is left for sleep. And the court hearings are held every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, so this means that three days each week they have no food, they don’t get enough sleep, and they are tormented by sitting in the ‘fishtank’ – where, it should be noted, the voices of the judge and prosecutors, who intentionally do not use the microphone, are almost inaudible, and where it is not possible to speak with a lawyer.

I have no doubt that these torturous conditions are created deliberately. The trial will be lengthy, and not everyone can bear such suffering for long.

The broadest public attention to these court proceedings is needed, not only to give moral support to the defendants, which is important in itself, but also because this trial has been designed in advance by the authorities as a show trial. It is no accident that the people in the dock are not publicly known figures, but ordinary members of the public. Those who planned these reprisals had hoped that it would be easy to intimidate and confuse these defendants, and to force them to recognize what occurred on 6 May as riots, and on this basis to legally abolish our constitutional right to hold rallies, demonstrations, and so on, and pass laws to ensure that participation in such public events would be severely penalized. Those who planned this show trial miscalculated, that is obvious now. What destroyed their plans has been the steadfastness of those in the dock. At a show trial defendants are supposed to repent, to confess their guilt. They should be broken people. But these guys who were picked up at random at the rally have turned out to be heroes. And their families and their friends support them, and also behave impeccably. A Committee of 6 May has been set up. The Roundtable of December 12 (Constitution Day) has created a commission to support the prisoners of 6 May. The leadership of the People’s Freedom Party has actively helped them. Much has been done. But what is needed is the support of Muscovites, as it was at the trial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, as it was at the trial of the young women from Pussy Riot, as has been happening now in connection with the trial of Aleksei Navalny and Peter Ofitserov.

The trial of the prisoners of 6 May will last, it seems, all summer. It is being held in Moscow City Court (8, Bogorodsky Val) each week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 am in courtroom No. 338. After 11:30, no more people are let into the courtroom. There is a break at 14:30. You can also attend the second half of the day’s hearings. The trial is being broadcast in another room where you can go at any time. To enter the courthouse, you need to have your passport. Near the court there is a square with benches and a fountain. Those sympathetic to the defendants can also gather there, meet with the defence lawyers, with relatives of the accused, and with those who have attended the trial.

Do come. I ask you most sincerely.

Ludmila Alekseeva