The Moscow City Court has sentenced well-known opposition activist Konstantin Lebedev to 2.5 years in prison for organizing public unrest in Moscow under the notorious “Bolotnaya Case”. Technically, this sentence cannot have any legal implications for the outcome of the upcoming major trial of Leonid Razvozzhaev and Sergei Udaltsov; however, their attorneys have expressed concerns that it could make things more complicated.
This is the second sentence under the “Bolotnaya Case:” previously they convicted Maxim Luzyanin, who, by the way, was never charged with organizing public unrest. He got 4.5 years in prison for participating in clashes with police and for violent acts against law enforcement officers. The rest of the defendants—both the participants and their alleged leaders— deny the charges.
The attorneys do not rule out the possibility that Lebedev’s sentence could have implications for the other defendants.
“The prejudice principle (Article 90 of the CPC) does not apply in this case,” said Dmitri Agranovsky, the defense attorney for Leonid Razvozzhaev, an opposition leader now under house arrest. “Lebedev’s case was tried under special proceedings, without any investigation, and the court did not have to establish any facts.”
That is why he thinks that the sentence should not have any legal implications for the other defendants under the “Bolotnaya Case.” However, the attorney stressed that he could not speculate about possible verdicts. He noted that there are still some “vestiges of democracy” in Russia, and that he still has some confidence in the judicial system.
“From the legal point of view this case is insignificant. Some of those guys have been charged under Article 318 of the Criminal Code (“Violence against a public official”, “Izvestia”), and nothing else. Politically motivated trials are unpredictable, especially since this is the first ever case dealing with street protests.”
He also noted that under the circumstances the court simply could not give Lebedev probation. However, he is confident that soon he will be released one way or another under amnesty or parole. The attorney stressed that his colleagues do not try to “put pressure on anybody” and act in the best interests of their clients, but thinks it’s unlikely that any of the defendants will plead guilty.
Valery Shukhardin, who represents Mikhail Kosenko, another “participant in the unrest,” also thinks that Lebedev’s sentence will not have direct implications for all the other defendants, but might affect objectivity and fairness going forward.
“Overall, of course, it will reflect on the outcome. In a way it puts some pressure on the court and the judges develop a certain action plan. It’s very unlikely that any judge would dare to acquit when there is a guilty verdict.”
A similar opinion was expressed by attorneys who do not represent any of the opposition activists.
“From the legal point of view, nothing prevents the judge from acquitting the other defendants, even though one of them may be found guilty,” explained Evgeny Abarinov, Chairman of the “Jurist Pro” Bar Association. “You have to know the facts of the case.”
According to Abarinov, a lot will depend on Lebedev’s testimony against other defendants. Under the Criminal Procedural Code (CPC), his statements are not subject to verification by the court because they have been taken into consideration in a different trial and incorporated into the sentence. But even if during investigation they are rebutted by other evidence, it is very unlikely that some new facts might have any consequences.
“Technically it can serve as a basis for overturning the previous sentence, and would mean that the defendant testified against himself. Unfortunately I have never come across such precedents,” Abarinov said.
He thinks that apart from this sentence the other defendants’ situation is complicated by the political character of the “Bolotnaya Case,” and by the remarks of the country’s leadership regarding the case.
Roman Glinin, another attorney unconnected to the “Bolotnaya Case” didn’t go into political details, and spoke only about the legal implications of the case.
“The principle of prejudice has nothing to do with that. However, the sentence and the testimony will serve as circumstantial evidence that can be used to prove the other defendants guilty at the coming trial.”
However, he noted that it cannot serve as direct or prima facie evidence of guilt against the other opposition activists. Based on his experience, Roman Glinin agreed with the argument that Lebedev’s sentence will have implications for future trials, but couldn’t tell how far reaching those implications could be.
It should be noted that Lebedev was charged under the Article 212 of the Criminal Code (“Organization of mass riots attended by violence, pogroms, arson, destruction of property”), and the Article 30(1) therein (“Preparations for a Crime, and Attempted Crime”).
According to investigators, on May 6, 2012, Mr. Lebedev and the leaders of the opposition movement Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhaev, as well as Givi Targamadze, a Georgian politician, organized mass riots in the center of Moscow in Bolotnaya Square. The investigators allege that the leaders of the opposition also planned other actions in Russia. After Lebedev plea-bargained, his case was tried under special proceedings in the Moscow City Court.