OSCE Expert’s Opinion on the “Bolotnaya Case”

posted 3 Sept 2013, 07:46 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Sept 2013, 07:50 ]
31 July 2013 

Source: HRO.org (info)
Evgeny Zhovtis – OSCE expert on the “Bolotnaya Case”, member of the International Commission investigating the events of May 6 2012, and director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law – has visited Moscow City Court where he observed the trial in the “Bolotnaya Case”. 

The Commission was formed at the initative of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Federation for Human Rights. It drew experts from the UK, Moldova, the Ukraine, Poland, and the USA. Members of the OSCE Panel of Experts on Freedom of Assembly joined the Commission in a private capacity. The Commission’s task is to ascertain whether international standards of freedom of assembly were respected during the events of May 6. Everything is under consideration, including Russia’s legislation regarding the right to assembly, the relations between organizers and participants and the authorities, and the actions of the police in this paricular situation.

Evgeny Zhovtis told RBKDaily that the Commission sent dozens of questions to organisers of the protest, human rights activists, and representatives of the authorities (to Moscow City Hall, the Investigative Committee of Russia, law enforcement agencies, and the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights. According to Evgeny Zhovtis, he only received answers from organisers of the protest and human rights activists who monitored the events. They submitted videos, witness testimonies, news reports and documents to the Commission, making it possible to reconstruct the sequence of events.

Zhovtis remarked with regret that even the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights did not answer the International Commission’s questions.

“A spokesman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented on the creation of our Commission and expressed his hope that our work would not be biased. Well then, please give us some information!” said Evgeny Zhovtis in an interview with RBKDaily.

The expert remarked that state authorities are obviously worried about real or imagined threats to public order. He called this fear “a presumption that citizens are acting illegally”. On the other hand, Zhovtis believes that the government is duty-bound to guarantee its citizens the right to freedom of assembly.

Zhovtis stated that the Commission did not find convincing evidence for the threat allegedly posed by the protestors to the police, a threat that supposedly gave the police grounds to respond in such a harsh manner. The following questions remain unanswered: what were the reasons for the arrests? What was the cause of the aggression: actions by the police towards someone, or the reaction of the assembled protestors?

According to Evgeny Zhovtis, the 3-hour video shown in court by the General Prosecutor’s Office did not reveal what caused the clashes.

Evgeny Zhovtis observed that the atmosphere in the courtroom was tense. According to the expert, Special forces personnel in bulletproof vests keep watch over the members of the public in the courtroom as if the latter represented a potential threat to public order. “You get the impression that it’s a trial of a terrorist like Carlos the Jackal”, said Zhovtis.

The Commission will also evaluate the use of metal detectors at mass meetings. Zhovtis believes that the need for them is questionable from the perspective of international standards. According to the expert, metal detectors cannot prevent much, whilst using them implies a presumption that the protestors are being deceitful.

Both the Supreme Court of Russia and the European Court of Human Rights will be able to benefit from the Commission’s findings. “If either party wishes to add the Commission’s findings to the case files, it will be perfectly appropriate to make reference to them in court,” said Evgeny Zhovtis.