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Russia, February 25, 2014

Russia: Guilty verdict in Bolotnaya case – injustice at its most obvious

Original source

Amnesty International

Today's guilty verdict against defendants in the Bolotnaya Square protest trial is a hideous injustice, said Amnesty International.

In what was clearly a show trial, a Moscow court found guilty eight defendants in the Bolotnaya case. The sentences are expected to be announced on Monday.

During the trial nearly 200 of the peaceful supporters and journalists gathered around the Moscow court were reportedly detained by police, including Vladimir Akimenkov, himself a former Bolotnaya defendant and prisoner of conscience. Some of those detained have been released but are expected to face fines of up to RUB 30,000 (around USD 800) for participating in an "unauthorised gathering".

"What happened on Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012 was not the quelling of a riot, but the crushing of a protest. The Bolotnaya trial has not exposed orchestrated violence, but rather a criminal justice system that is entirely malleable to the dictates of its political masters," said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

"The defendants in this trial were confronted by abusive use of force by police. Some of them sought to prevent violence, others to protect themselves. A few were just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. All are victims of a politically motivated show trial.

"Contrary to the official line, there was not a mass riot. There was violence, but most of it was at the hands of the police. To this day, however, not a single police officer has been brought to justice for these abuses."

Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Artiom Saviolov, Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich, Aleksey Polikhovich, Sergey Krivov and Yaroslav Belousov. They are prisoners of conscience, and all charges against them should be dropped. Two other co-defendants, Aleksandra Dukhanina (Naumova) and Andrey Barabanov, have been caught up in the same injustice. Their convictions on charges of participating in mass riots should be overturned.

The verdicts in the Bolotnaya case are part of a wider clampdown on freedoms of assembly, association and expression since Vladimir Putin resumed the Russian presidency on 7 May 2012. A day earlier, the Bolotnaya protest took place against his controversial return to power.

Amnesty International calls on the Russian authorities to repeal legislation introduced following Vladimir Putin's return to the Presidency restricting the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. Background
Hundreds of peaceful anti-government protesters were arrested during the Bolotnaya Square protest on 6 May 2012 which police dispersed using excessive and unlawful force.

Criminal proceedings have subsequently been initiated against 28 individuals. Although the demonstration was predominantly peaceful, and all violence limited to certain areas and involving only a small number of protesters, the authorities described the event as "mass riots", which allowed them to bring heavier charges against the accused.