Russia: End of the road for those seeking to exercise their right to protest
Russian authorities have eroded the right to freedom of peaceful assembly by using increasingly restrictive laws, brutal police tactics and criminal prosecutions to silence peaceful dissent – to the point that it is nearly impossible for the Russians to protest significantly, Amnesty International said in a new briefing today.
In “Russia: no room for protest”, the organization documents how the crackdown on peaceful protests, which began with the Federal Assemblies Act of 2004, has accelerated in recent years through a succession of legislative amendments and their increasingly selective and restrictive application. As a result, there is now a plethora of legal restrictions on when, where, how, for what purpose and by whom the right to take to the streets can be exercised.
“The Russian authorities have been restricting the right to freedom of assembly with incredible persistence and inventiveness for years. No other question has received so much energy at all power levels. Therefore, peaceful street protests are now considered a crime by state officials and an act of heroism by Russians who still believe they have the right to exercise it, ”said Oleg Kozlovsky , researcher on Russia at Amnesty International.
Peaceful street protests are now seen as a crime by state officials – and an act of heroism by Russians who still believe it is their right to exercise it
“The illegal restrictions, demands and severe penalties that Russian protesters face can only be described as Kafkaesque in their absurdity. It took the Russian authorities 16 years and 13 cases of parliamentary overhaul to render the right to freedom of peaceful assembly devoid of any real meaning.
Nine of the 13 main legislative amendments that have been used to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Russia have been introduced since 2014, as part of the crackdown on anti-government protests and human rights guaranteed by international human rights law. human rights and Russia’s own constitution.
Local authorities followed the trend established by federal law and introduced new restrictions on peaceful assembly. These changes have emboldened both the police and the criminal justice system, with police using increasingly brutal tactics to silence peaceful protesters and courts handing down harsh penalties against them.
Legal restrictions on public gatherings
Protest conditions have become lengthy and increasingly restrictive under the law in its current form. For example, those convicted of “crimes against constitutional order, state security, social security or social order” or administrative offenses related to demonstrations more than once in 12 consecutive months , are prohibited to organize any public gathering.
Under federal regulations, gatherings cannot take place near courthouses, prisons, presidential residences and since December 2020, emergency services. But regional legislation makes these restrictions even more drastic: in Kirov Oblast, for example, local law prohibits any gathering near cultural, educational, medical or entertainment facilities, shopping malls, playgrounds and more. even public transport stops – in fact, virtually anywhere in cities. . Spontaneous, that is, unplanned, gatherings are universally prohibited and dispersed with excessive force when they occur.
Since December 2020, foreign citizens, foreign and international organizations as well as Russian nationals and NGOs qualified as “foreign agents” by the authorities have been prohibited from funding public gatherings. In addition, assemblies of more than 500 participants must be organized and financed using a designated bank account, otherwise they become illegal.
The organizers of almost all types of events must notify the authorities in advance.
“’Prior notification’ procedures are commonly used by authorities to limit, under various pretexts, the number of participants in a rally, to move it to a sparsely populated part of a city, or to ban it altogether. In addition, under legislative amendments passed in 2021, authorities were granted the power to “recall” authorizations under vague and unfounded pretexts such as a “real threat” of “emergency or terrorist attack”. “Said Oleg Kozlovsky.
“Prior notification” procedures are commonly used by authorities to limit, under various pretexts, the number of participants in a rally, to move it to a sparsely populated part of a city, or to ban it altogether.
Heavy fines, administrative detention and criminal proceedings against peaceful protesters
Over the years, the Code of Administrative Offenses and the Penal Code have been significantly expanded with provisions restricting the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as the imposition of more severe penalties for various alleged “offenses”. .
Since 2011, the number of specific and legally defined violations of the Meetings Act has increased from three to 17. The maximum fines have increased from 2,000 rubles (US $ 60) in 2012 to 300,000 (US $ 4,000 ) in 2021, and administrative detention for up to 30 days was introduced as a possible sentence for 12 of those 17 offenses.
The most repressive measure was the introduction in 2014 of criminal liability, with a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment, for repeated violations of the law on assemblies under the infamous “Dadin Article” 212.1 of the Criminal Code.
“In addition to being criminalized for exercising their right to demonstrate peacefully, demonstrators detained in Russia are also subjected to unfair, almost parodic trials, which sometimes last as little as five minutes, without any key witnesses being called. and the veracity of police reports accepted without dispute, ”said Oleg Kozlovski.
In addition to being criminalized for exercising their right to peaceful protest, demonstrators detained in Russia are also subjected to unfair, almost parodic trials, sometimes lasting as little as five minutes, without any key witnesses being called and the veracity of police reports accepted without dispute.
Excessive use of force
The briefing also details the excessive use of force by police officers, who have been documented using martial arts techniques against protesters, hitting them mercilessly with batons and, as of this year, stunning them with guns. electroshock weapons.
Despite public outcry over cases of excessive use of force by police, such as the case of Margarita Yudina in January 2021 – a peaceful protester who ended up in an intensive care unit after being kicked in the stomach by a riot police officer – either authorities take no action to investigate and bring the alleged perpetrators to justice, or they clearly derail such investigations, which reinforces the climate of impunity.
“This sends a clear signal to the police force that any excess is tolerable, that violence is encouraged and that total impunity is guaranteed,” said Oleg Kozlovsky.
Calls for a comprehensive reform of the law on gatherings
Amnesty International calls on the Russian authorities to reform national laws and practices to bring them into line with the country’s constitution and international human rights obligations. Authorities should prohibit measures that change the purpose or location of public gatherings, as well as the number of participants allowed, unless such decisions are taken in court proceedings.
Authorities should also respect spontaneous peaceful assemblies – which should be considered lawful, when submitting a notification within the time limit prescribed by law is impossible or impracticable.
“Next month’s parliamentary elections give Russia the opportunity to change its approach to commit to promoting and protecting human rights, including the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. We want to remind election candidates and future lawmakers that the right to peaceful protest is not something they can give or take away. It is something to which everyone has a right, and the government should respect, protect and promote this and devote its energy to securing, not undermining this right, ”said Oleg Kozlovsky.