Memorial: New legislation is destroying freedom of assembly in Russia

posted 4 Feb 2015, 12:40 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 9 Feb 2015, 07:21 ]
2 February 2015

Source: (info
According to a statement released by the Memorial Human Rights Centre, attacks on the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly have taken on a fresh dimension now that the first criminal cases have been initiated under the new Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“‘repeated infringement of the established order for organising or holding” public events).

Cases were initiated on 16 January 2015 against Vladimir Ionov, on 20 January against Mark Galperin and on 30 January against Ildar Dadin, all of the defendants having been detained at public demonstrations. Whereas earlier we were dealing with systematic violations of the right to freedom of assembly, these new provisions of criminal and administrative law do more than simply breach that right - they represent the final abolition of freedom of assembly in Russia.

In our opinion, Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation flies in the face of Russian legislation, the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the provisions of international law, in particular because it is based on the premise of being punished twice for the same offence (first under administrative law, and then under criminal law).

The Article provides for prison sentences of up to five years, despite the fact that the risk posed to the public by this “offence” is negligible or entirely lacking. The demonstrations in which Vladimir Ionov and Mark Galperin participated were furthermore individual pickets which do not require authorisation, but which were deemed by the police and the court (with the help of provocateurs) to be mass protests.

Another significant development is that the new law makes criminal liability dependent not on the risk to the public of the “crime” in question, but on repeated infringements, which in legal terms may only be used to characterize the individual person, but not the act itself.

The new criminal legislation is part of a wider attack on freedom of assembly in Russia. Exorbitant fines and administrative arrests for repeated infringements of the rules on mass demonstrations were also introduced into administrative legislation last summer, at the same time as the adoption of Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code.

Vladimir Ionov and Mark Galperin were sentenced under these provisions: Ionov on 16 January to a fine of 150,000 rubles and Galperin to 30 days of administrative arrest in accordance with the recently adopted Article 20.2(8) of the Code of Administrative Offences.

The “previous offences” cited in Galperin’s case had taken place in February, March and June 2014, or in other words before the relevant article on repeated infringement had come into force. As indicated above, it should also be noted that some of the charges against Ionov and Galperin related to the organisation of individual pickets, which require no authorisation under Russian legislation, and hence they cannot have violated the relevant rules.

Ionov was detained on 10 January while manning an individual picket with a sign reading “Je suis Charlie”. A provocateur came up and stood next to him, thus turning his individual picket into a “mass demonstration” which required authorisation (this is a common method used to disperse individual pickets and have the demonstrators arrested).

The very evidence used in the administrative cases which form the basis for the criminal cases initiated under Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code is also questionable to say the least: people are often unjustly detained at mass demonstrations and accused in the administrative records of offences which they did not commit, while the rulings handed down by judges frequently ignore not only the statements provided by the “offenders”, but also eyewitness accounts and photographic and video evidence if these contradict police statements. 

Unjust rulings by judges in administrative cases may ultimately be used as a convenient excuse to initiate criminal cases under Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code.

Source: For the full text in Russian, see: Memorial Human Rights Centre, Moscow

Translated by Joanne Reynolds