The Bolotnaya Case: Half a Year Later

December 3, 2013
Police detain participants of the March of Millions protest rally on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square.(RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin)

In the case of the riots on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, the discovery of evidence stage hasn’t been completed yet: only 40 out of 453 declared witnesses have been questioned. However, according to the Bolotnaya prisoners’ attorneys, “the court began to ‘push’ the participants in the trial ‘to make sure everything is completed before the Olympics.'” For example, now the hearings can go on for four days in a row.

“The trial has turned into complete mockery. Under the guise of proof they are trying to create some semblance of due process. The courtroom, the judge, the parties, the defendants, the dog, that is there ostensibly to ‘discipline the parties’ — all of these attributes are present. The word ‘evidence’ can be heard quite often, as well as the word ‘charge,’ people take the stand and say something. The only problem is that the words that they say prove or confirm nothing of what the prosecution argues,” says Vadim Klyuvgant, the attorney for Nikolai Kavkazsky. By the order of the Moscow City Court his client was released from jail and put under house arrest in early August. The basis for the decision was the medical condition of the defendant who suffers from a number of diseases. In addition, he had a “good reputation within his community” and did not have a criminal history. However, if this principle is to be followed, all the 12 defendants should be released, according to lawyers and human rights activists.

The trial began with a viewing of all the collected video: from police footage to amateur videos and TV coverage. From the perspective of a lawyer absolutely all footage suggests that the events at Bolotnaya Square were in part provoked by law enforcement officials: “No matter how hard they tried to retouch and edit those videos, in the final analysis only one thing is obvious: people were deceived by agreeing with them to one option for the event and staging something completely different. Even according to the police plan, which was never communicated to the organizers, the very first chain of riot police had to stand further away. As a result, a ‘bottleneck’ was formed there. Since the organizers did not know anything about it, the result could be nothing but a stampede.”

“Some say the words ‘mass riots.’ Then when asked what exactly made them mass riots, confidence sharply diminishes. Nobody can coherently say what they mean when they say that there were mass riots,” continues Klyuvgant. His colleagues nod in agreement.

According to the lawyer, the Criminal Code defines “riots“ as organized actions, attended by a large number of people, and leading to disruption of normal life in the city. Closing transport arteries, violence, arson, armed resistance to the authorities – all this also falls under Article 212 of the Criminal Code. “Something that is aimed at creating chaos. Simply put, a riot is nothing but mass violence, a pogrom. Not a single legal attribute of a riot was confirmed in that case,” says the attorney.

The defendants’ relatives do not risk to make predictions, they just speak about what they see in court almost every day. “You have the feeling that you are in a different reality, in another country, because clemency and compassion that the mass media speaks so much about are not observed at this trial at any time,” said Natalia, the mother of Nikolay Kavkazsky.

Particular attention Vadim Klyuvgant has given to the questioning of victims and witnesses who could not clearly articulate their testimony. Sometimes it comes to the ridiculous: “All that people say, is that there were provocateurs who called on storming the Kremlin, and for this purpose just sat down on the pavement. That is, riots in the form of a sit-down strike with the purpose of breaking through to the Kremlin – that’s essentially what some statements mean. Others say that someone shouted: ‘Break through!’ It is said that people were throwing pieces of asphalt. But no one suggests that these people were аt least detained. Not to mention that among the 12 accused there is no one of whom they say were the provocateurs who agitated the crowd.”

Once the 17 victims and 23 witnesses were interrogated it transpired that no one from the ranks of law enforcement officers knew what kind of event was going on and what the route was. The municipal and riot police acted solely on the orders of their commanders. Consequently, the first chain of riot police, who met the protesters before the turn to Bolotnaya Square, also consisted of people who did not know what was going on.

Dmitry Agranovskiy, the attorney for Yaroslav Belousov and Vladimir Akimenkov, adds to his colleague’s words: “They say: ‘Udaltsov sat down and blocked the road.’ Well, just move the cordon at least twenty meters back, so even if a notional Udaltsov lies down across the street, he cannot do anything. Instead the cordon is kept there for a few hours, which only aggravates the situation.”

“Illegal identification, incorrect questioning, selective exclusion of those questions that are either inconvenient or threaten to disprove the charges – all this clearly shows that the whole thing was set up in such a way as to serve a certain pre-determined purpose,” says Klyuvgant.

According to Dmitry Agranovsky, the European Court on Human Rights took a complaint against the conditions of detention and transportation of defendants, procedural irregularities and illegal extension of arrest “to heart.” The attorney did not expect that the ECHR would pay attention to the legality of the defendant’s arrest. Usually this issue is not even considered. The lawyer said that the ECHR combined all the complaints by the Bolotnaya prisoners into one case and “presented 26 questions to the Russian Federation.” The Russian government is obliged to respond to them before January 17, 2014.

In conclusion, Agranovskii described some of the procedural violations, specified in the complaint: “During the trial any contacts between the attorney and the defendant are not allowed. While in custody, Yaroslav Belousov developed a case of vegetative-vascular dystonia. He has a young child, we keep bringing the documents, confirming that he needs a surgery, we have brought many such documents. All in vain. With perseverance worthy of a better cause they are holding the guys inside. I call this trial meaningless and merciless.”

Lyudmila Alekseeva, the Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, emphasizes that revealing in this situation is the fact that all the citizens’ complaints about use of excessive force by the police on May 6, 2012, were rejected. Because the authorities were unable to determine which police officer injured a specific person. And although the affected riot policemen are in a similar situation, the case of the riots was opened anyway.

“As long as we do not have an independent court, no one is immune from ending up behind bars. Everything is set up in such a way as to intimidate us, they want us to be afraid , just like Soviet citizens were afraid of that regime. Yes, now do not shoot people, but nobody wants to end up behind bars either,” said the human rights activist. “We must treat the Bolotnaya Case as a personal matter.”

She said that initially the trial was openly delayed for more people to “lose interest,” and now they are rushing it. According to Lyudmila Alekseeva, the only way out of this situation is a broad amnesty on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Constitution. She also noted that the Bolotnaya prisoners are not subject to amnesty, since participation in mass riots is associated with violence. “We will keep on fighting against this stigma of riots,” she said.

Valery Borschev, a human rights activist, spoke about his meeting with another defendant in the Bolotnaya Case, Sergei Krivov. For more than 60 days he’s been on a hunger strike, that he began in protest against procedural irregularities.

“He really looks very disturbing. In principle, he is ready to end the strike, but getting off a hunger strike is a very serious and dangerous process. He totally legitimately requests that he doesn’t have to appear in court for a week. As far as I know, the jail officials do not mind, but a strong pressure by the court is obvious,” Borschev said.

Lev Ponomarev, the leader of the movement “For Human Rights,” said that the other day the human rights activists had sent a letter to the President requesting amnesty for the defendants in the Bolotnaya Case. “I hope that he is still hesitant on this matter. That’s why we wrote a letter directly to the President,” he said, and noted that if the Bolotnaya prisoners are not released, “this trial will go down in the history of Russia.”