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Anti-corruption protests declared "illegal", hundreds arrested

Riot police detain a demonstrator during an anti-corruption protest organised by opposition leader Alexei Navalny, on Tverskaya Street in central Moscow, Russia, 12 June 2017
Riot police detain a demonstrator during an anti-corruption protest organised by opposition leader Alexei Navalny, on Tverskaya Street in central Moscow, Russia, 12 June 2017

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

This statement was originally published on article19.org on 13 June 2017.

Yesterday hundreds of protesters were arrested and detained across Russia during a series of anti-corruption protests initially called for by opposition politician and lawyer, Alexei Navalny.

Thousands attended large protests in Moscow and St Petersburg with over 150 smaller protests taking place across the country.

Navalny, who was also arrested and sentenced to 30 days' imprisonment, timed the protests to coincide with the 12 June Russia Day celebrations in an effort to encourage Russians to express their anger against the high levels of corruption in the country.

Protesters were met by a heavy police and National Guard presence who declared the protests 'illegal' and began to detain individual protesters and journalists, bussing them to detention centres where many of them remained overnight without charge.

In many of the detention centres protesters were held in cramped and uncomfortable conditions and there are reports that some individuals were beaten and had their phones confiscated.

According to Open Russia, over 1800 arrests were made during the protests with 1550 of these in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Katie Morris, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19 has expressed concern at the actions of the authorities against the protesters. "These arrests and detentions represent a serious violation of the human rights enshrined in the right to protest. The Russian government should immediately release these individuals without charge and bring Russia's protest-related legislation in line with international standards."

Those protesters who have already been sentenced in relation to yesterday's protest have received a range of charges, including allegedly having assaulted a policeman ('violence dangerous to life or health' Part 2, Article 318, Criminal Code), 'disobeying the lawful order of a policeman' (Article 19.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses) and 'violation of the procedure for holding a public event' (Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code). Sentences include between 5 to 15 days' imprisonment and fines of up to 10,000 roubles (approximately £140).

Navalny was himself detained yesterday morning on leaving his apartment and charged under Part 8 of Article 20.2 of Russia's Administrative Code for 'repeatingly violating the procedure for holding a public event'. He has been sentenced to 30 days' administrative arrest.

Russian legislation requires organisers to request permission to hold protests. Navalny was granted permission to hold the protest at Sakharova Avenue in Moscow but changed the location without permission to Tverskaya Street, closer to the Kremlin.

"However, says Morris, "the detention of protesters and the charges made against them violates the universally recognized human rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and are unacceptable within international law".

ARTICLE 19 urges the Russian authorities to:

  • Immediately release all protesters and journalists detained during participation in the 12 June protests, including Alexei Navalny, and withdraw the charges made against them
  • Bring protest-related legislation within the Russian Constitution in line with international standards
  • Ensure the protection of internationally guaranteed human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association is applied during all protests


BACKGROUND


What are the applicable international standards?

ARTICLE 19 has long advocated for the right to protest and has published a series of recommendations for both states and protesters to ensure this right is protected.

The right to protest is the individual and/or collective exercise of existing and universally recognised human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, among others. According to international standards as outlined in ARTICLE 19's Principles on protection of human rights in protests, states should fulfil the following obligations relating to the right to protest:

1) Restriction: States should not prevent, hinder or restrict the right to protest except to the extent allowed by international human rights law;

2) Legislation: States should abolish all legislation, regulations and practices that require, in law or effect, prior permission or licenses in order for protests to take place. Notification regimes for protests should be voluntary;

3) Location: States should guarantee the freedom to choose the location of a protest, and the chosen location should be considered integral to its expressive purpose;

4) Timing: States should ensure the freedom to choose the manner and form of a protest, including its duration and should refrain from introducing time restrictions on protests in certain locations;

5) Policing: States should ensure that the policing of protests should be guided by the human rights principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination. Decisions to disperse protests should be taken as a last resort, in line with these principles.

6) Use of force: States must ensure, in law and in practice, that they resort to the use of force only against violent protests, and only when strictly necessary and in proportion to the threat of violence;

7) Liability and sanctions: Participation in a protest must never be the basis for suspicion of criminal activity. Any preventative arrests must be based on a reasonable suspicion that a criminal offence is planned;

8) Accountability and transparency: State should investigate, prosecute, and ensure accountability for human rights violations committed in the context of protests and must ensure accessible, effective and cost-free remedies for violations of the rights of protesters;

9) Reporting on protests: States should allow and actively facilitate reporting on and the independent monitoring of protests by all media and independent observers.


What is the context in Russia?

Russia is rated 'Not free' in Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2017 report with critics of President Vladimir Putin's government attacked and imprisoned and opposition forces side-lined, including during the 2016 legislative elections. The Russian government has increasingly targeted protests critical of authorities, refusing permission to hold protest activities and detaining and charging participants.

On 26 March 2017, protests calling for an inquiry into alleged corruption by Prime Minister Medvedev were held in more than 90 cities across Russia. The protests were held in response to a video posted online by Navalny claiming that Mr Medvedev controlled mansions, yachts and vineyards worth much more than his salary. In response, the Russian authorities detained over 1000 protesters, including a number of journalists. Some protest leader leaders received jail sentences ranging from one week to 25 days on administrative charges.

"The right to protest is essential to securing all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights," said Katie Morris. "The arrests made yesterday are just the latest in a series of protest-related human rights violations in Russia which severely restrict the freedoms of expression, assembly and association in the country."

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