Public Commission Presents Report on Bolotnaya Events

23 April 2013 

By Vera Vasileva

On 22nd April 2013, a public hearing of the results of the public report into the ‘Bolotnaya case’ was held in the cinema and concert hall of the Kosmos Hotel in Moscow. The report’s authors came to the conclusion that the events on 6th May 2012 should be classified as “a deliberate and targeted violation of the Russian Constitution” perpetrated by the authorities, “carried out with particular brutality and cynicism and organised in advance.” 

The Commission looking into the events on 6th May was formed in December 2012, on the initiative of the Republican Party of Russia – People’s Freedom Party (RPR-PARNAS) and a host of other opposition groups.

As Mikhail Kasyanov, Co-chair of RPR-PARNAS and member of the Commission, stated in his opening speech at the hearing, only evidence from the special police forces has been used when compiling the facts and accusatory arguments for the case. In the meantime, the working group has questioned and recorded over 600 eyewitnesses and event participants. These citizens are ready to give evidence in court, but, according to the politician, nobody “is asking” them anything, “nor do they plan to”.

“The working group, made up of 17 people, worked day and night studying the video material. Without this, the members of the Commission would not have been able to analyse anything or come to any conclusions. And today we can answer the questions we set ourselves. The Commission has clear answers”, Mikhail Kasyanov said.

Photographs courtesy of Vera Vasileva,

The Commission is made up of the following public figures: Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group Ludmila Alekseeva, human rights defender Valery Borshchev, human rights activist and journalist Zoya Svetova, human rights defender Lev Ponomarev, writer and human rights activist Aleksei Simonov, People’s Artist of Russia Liya Akhedzhakova, writer Vladimir Voinovich, scholar and public figure Dmitry Zimin, film director Andrei Smirnov, documentary film director Vitaly Mansky, animation director Garri Bardin, journalist Alexander Ryklin, People’s Artist of Russia Igor Yasulovich, poet Lev Rubinstein, sociologist Georgy Satarov, academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences Yury Ryzhov, journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, photographer and volunteer activist Mitya Aleshkovsky, journalist and human rights activist Olga Romanova, People’s Artist of Russia Natalia Fateeva, economist Evgeny Yasin, film director Vladimir Mirzoev, animation director Yuri Norstein, human rights defender Natalya Gorbanevskaya and journalist Vladimir Korsunsky. 

Commission member and President of the INDEM Foundation Georgy Satarov presented the report.

The document describes how a large number of strange things happened for the first time at the 6th May protest. “Firstly, there was the unsolicited movement of the cordon. Secondly, the authorities, who according to current legislation should have been in charge of coordinating relations between the authorities and the demonstration organisers, did not turn up”, Georgy Satarov said.

“You are all well aware of the pre-emptive arrests that the authorities are now resorting to. But this time all the people that they could have accused of some kind of aggressive action were not detained”, he continued.

The political analyst explained that a large amount of evidence has been collected which shows orchestrated coordination between the law enforcement agencies and stooges in the crowd - aggressive, powerfully-built young people. These people were allowed to pass unhindered through the cordon into the crowd and back again. The stooges shouted extremist slogans and threw plastic bottles at the cordon.

“There is proof that the tarmac, which the prosecution talk about as if it were worth its weight in gold, was broken up beforehand. There is also evidence that it was the stooges that used this tarmac”, Georgy Satarov noted. However, he professed: “I did not see any of those who were inciting people to clash with the special security forces amongst the detainees”.

The Commission also claimed that enough police equipment for mass arrests had been brought to the Bolotnaya Square area beforehand.

The law enforcement officers lacked the identification badges required by law on their clothing. According to the Commission, this anonymity was intentional, in order to “aid lawlessness”.

“The police documents state that participants were made to move. However, in reality, the exits on the other sides were blocked. This was an intentional move to squash the crowd. People were falling over and gasping for breath”, Georgy Satarov said.

The political analyst cited many examples of evidence of the unwarranted use of brute force by the special forces:

“I have an image seared into my brain. A man was lying, prostrate and beaten up, with several special forces officers holding him. Another officer waddled past, stopped, hit him in the liver as hard as he could, and then waddled on.

We saw the special forces hit people in the head, on the arms, in the genitals, in the kidneys, with professionally-aimed blows.

I saw with my own eyes a special forces officer hitting an elderly woman over the head with a baton, before dragging her behind the cordon by her arms and legs. Several people tried to wrestle her from his hands, shouting “let the woman go!”, but, having been on the receiving end of a few blows of his baton, they retreated”.

Satarov confided that they had come for him too:

“I told them not to twist my hands behind my back, saying I would come of my own accord. Later my joints hurt for a very long time. I asked them to introduce themselves, to show their identification, but they only reacted by swearing. The same occurred in the prison truck. They would not answer any questions, did not show any ID, and did not respond to any of my requests”.

Meanwhile, the Commission did not uncover any evidence of participants at the protest acting in a way which could be described as “rioting”. No such incidents were captured on video or in photographs, and not even in the materials of the criminal case.

The Commission came to the conclusion that people were peaceful from the outset, and were even in a festive mood. It was the actions of the authorities which led to the clashes between police and protesters.

According to the Commission, the primary cause of the escalation of the peaceful protest into a conflict between police and demonstrators was the fact that the city authorities and the police forces changed the previously agreed arrangements for the protest. This was done unilaterally and without the approval of the organisers of the public protest. Specifically, the police unilaterally changed the boundary of the protest, without consent.

The mass arrests were carried out irrespective of whether those detained had done anything to warrant them. The force applied was disproportionate and illegal.

“These unlawful acts were planned in advance and, in our opinion, had the following aims: to scare people, to create panic, to provoke retaliation, to create the conditions for bringing accusations of rioting, and to justify mass disregard for the law and the use of violence. The actions of the law enforcement officers led to numerous threats to citizens’ life and health”, Georgy Satarov stressed.

Any actions which those detained did commit, according to the Commission, were carried out to defend themselves from the acts of the officers.

“And finally - why did the authorities decide to do this? After the parliamentary elections, the whole protest movement began to shift towards the area of the illegitimacy of the government which had formed in front of our eyes. People were prepared to protest under this banner on 6th May. On 7th May, as you know, Putin was to have his inauguration. If this large-scale protest had happened, if the slogans about the illegitimacy of the government had been voiced, it would hardly have been a glorious background to his inauguration. We believe that both this fear and the recognition that his authority was illegitimate led to this widespread disregard for the law. The Commission also believes that these events were only possible with following the agreement of the top leadership”, Georgy Satarov stated.

He announced that the Commission does not plan to cease its work until the “people involved” in the “Bolotnaya case” are released:

“Our aim, including through this report, is to draw as much attention as possible to what happened, how it happened and who was responsible. Corresponding appeals have already been prepared to be sent to the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigative Committee. If we do not manage to use the legal tools within the country you and we share, we will, naturally, turn to the European Court of Human Rights”.

The Commission also decided to organise a parallel trial, which will analyse all that happens during the official investigation. Witnesses that the prosecution and court do not want to summon will be invited to speak.

Sergei Davidis, Boris Nemtsov, Gennady Gudkov, Alexei Sakhnin, Natalya Vytnova, Lyubov Novoselskaya and Viktor Zakharov also took part in the discussions about the events of 6th May, and shared their impressions of what took place. Liya Akhedzhakova and Maxim Sukhanov read out a letter from prisoners on stage. This was followed by a performance by the pianist Polina Osetinskaya.