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The 26 March case: how Russia is cracking down on freedom of assembly

In March 2017, Russia witnessed its largest public protests in years. But investigations into the events of that day are being used to punish participants. RU

1,043 people were detained at the 26 March anti-corruption rally in Moscow. (c) Xinhua/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.

On 26 March 2017, Russia witnessed the largest public protests for the last few years. According to different reports, between 36,000 and 88,000 people in 97 cities took part in the country-wide anti-corruption protest.

In Moscow, 1,043 people were detained on 26 March — more than the Bolotnaya Square protest in May 2012. But since the crowd was dispersed this spring, nine people have faced criminal prosecution. All of them have been charged under Article 318 of Russia’s Criminal Code for using force against police officers. Seven people have already been sentenced to prison terms of between 18 months (suspended sentence) to three years, eight months. The investigation into the events of 26 March has been extended to spring 2018.

Opening a case under Article 318 (or threatening to) in order to frighten or punish people who complain of police brutality is a common practice in Russia. In most cases where people are beaten during arrest or at a police station, police officers face few consequences.

Moscow

During the dispersal of the crowd in central Moscow on 26 March, police and National Guard officers used excessive force against protest participants. We received reports of beatings during detentions, in riot vans and at police stations. The police beat protesters with batons in the process of detaining them (sometimes several police officers beat a single person at once, sometimes beating them in the head), twisted people’s arms behind their backs, pressed them to the ground, used painful methods of restraint, even walking on people’s backs. The police was particularly aggressive on Pushkin Square.

After these events in Moscow, seven people have been subject to criminal prosecution.

Yuri Kuliy

Yuri Kuliy, an actor originally from Volgograd, works as a film production manager in Moscow. He studied at the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Art and, at the moment of arrest, was a graduate student in the sociology faculty. He applied five times for the Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS). He appeared in the theatre comedy Potapov, to the blackboard (2007) and TV serial Teachers (2014).

Kuliy was arrested on 4 April. According to the investigation, Kuliy grabbed National Guard officer Dmitry Gavryutin “by the arm, near the shoulder”, causing him pain. There was no material evidence of bruising or trauma to Gavryutin taken. Kuliy himself said that he “rushed to save an old man”, on whom a police officer had fallen. One of the people who provided testimony against Kuliy was Alexander Petrunko, an activist of the SERB pro-Kremlin organisation.

Lawyer Alexey Liptser only managed to become involved in the case on 12 April. By that time, Kuliy had already confessed to the crime he was charged with. In exchange for the confession, police investigators promised to release Kuliy under travel restrictions. However, on 6 April he was arrested and kept in pre-trial detention until sentencing.

The events of 26 March where Yuri Kuliy allegedly hit a National Guard officer.

In May 2017, Kuliy was sentenced to eight months in prison colony, where he worked in a silica factory. He was released on 1 December.

Alexander Shpakov

Alexander Shpakov, a joiner from the Moscow satellite town of Lyubertsy, is a sole parent. The 26 March protest was the first time he went to a public meeting with his daughter Alisa, a journalism student.

Shpakov was arrested on 28 March. The investigation believes that he tried to free other people detained on Tverskaya Street and hit police lieutenant Valery Gonikov “no less than twice” in the process. Shpakov stated that he was beaten by police officers in the riot van, which was confirmed by Alexey Navalny, who was in the same van at the time. Shpakov was taken from the police station to hospital, where doctors found signs of swelling and damage to his ribs.

Shpakov admitted to the charges presented, but said that he had no intention of committing a crime, and apologised to Gonikov, who asked the judge not to send Shpakov to prison. “I think he’s been inside enough, he’s got a mother who needs care, a daughter, he’d probably just had a drink.”

Back in 2014, Gonikov gave evidence as part of the Bolotnaya case, and figured in the trials of Alexey Gaskarov, Alexander Margolin, Ilya Gushchin and Elena Kokhtareva. During the events of 6 May 2012, Gonikov’s radio was broken, though he himself was unharmed. He requested that his name be taken off the list of people harmed at the protest, but the court refused.

Alexander Shpakov, draped in a Russian flag, before the incident which he has been prosecuted for.

Yuri Kuliy described how he met Shpakov in an interview:

“We were in the same holding prison in the Moscow City Court for two hours, we chatted. He told me what had happened to him and how. He was chucked in the same police van as Navalny, beaten up there. Then the people outside tried to prevent the van from moving away. The driver was trying to be careful, but then lieutenant Gonikov, who Shpakov injured, shouted to him: ‘Squash them, squash them!’ Then the bus braked sharply, and Gonikov hit his head. That’s where he got the bruising from, the next day it had already faded.”

In May, Shpakov was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

You can write a letter to: 215500, Russia, Smolensk oblast, g. Safonovo, pos. Shakhty-3, Colony No.3, Shpakov Aleksandr Yurevich (1977 g.r.)

Stanislav Zimovets

Stanislav Zimovets is an activist from the nationalist Resistance movement, and is a veteran of the Chechen war. He has worked as a builder, and is originally from Volgograd.

Prior to arrest, Zimovets was fined 2,000 roubles (£25) for not following lawful request of a police officer during the protest on 26 March.

Zimovets was arrested on 1 April. According to police investigators, Zimovets threw a brick at Vladimir Kotenev, a National Guard officer, before hiding in the crowd. Here, he apparently changed his clothes to disguise himself, took a non-lethal (traumatic) pistol and returned to the location where he “continued to provoke people into unlawful actions”. Kotenev received the injury in question, which was forensically diagnosed, before the protest, at the gym.

“It all happened by accident. The police were committing crimes: grabbing people, beating them, and people were just walking around. But even if it was a protest, they didn’t have the right to behave like that. I couldn’t resist and chucked a brick, but I wasn’t aiming for a person, just an empty spot [in the crowd].”

During the investigation, Zimovets was held in a cell block for people accused of crimes associated with life imprisonment. Under pressure, Zimovets admitted his guilt, though he later revoked that testimony.

The detention of Stanislav Zimovets on 26 March.

In July, Zimovets was sentenced to two years, six months of general regime prison colony.

You can write a letter to: 404103, Russia, Volgograd oblast, g. Volzhskiy, ul. Aleksandrova, 86, IK-12, Zimovets Stanislav Sergeevich (1985 g.r.)

Andrey Kosykh

Andrey Kosykh is originally from Tambov region, and has worked as a loader. He wrote music, and moved to Moscow to teach it.

Kosykh’s legal counsel Evgeny Velizhanin apparently recommended the family not to talk to journalists, which is why there was practically nothing know about Kosykh’s case before the trial. Kosykh’s mother is a United Russia local council deputy.

Kosykh was arrested on 13 April, and is the only person in the 26 March case who was charged with two articles of the Criminal Code simultaneously: for dangerous and “not dangerous” violence for the life and health of a police officer. According to the investigation, Kosykh hit police officer Sinegubova on the helmet, and warrant officer Gavrilov in the neck and lower jaw. Gavrilov was also declared a victim in the Bolotnaya Square case, where he “suffered” from the actions of Ivan Nepomnyashchikh.

Kosykh admitted his guilt and agreed to have his case examined under special procedures. During trial, Kosykh apologised to the “victims”: “I wasn’t in my right mind, I was shocked by the brutal detentions.”

In his final word before the court, Kosykh said that “it was hard to imagine that you could harm the health of a riot police officer with his full equipment on.”

In August, Kosykh was sentenced to four years of general regime prison colony, but then Moscow City Court reduced the sentence by four months — to three years, eight months.

Unfortunately, we have not yet found out where Kosykh is serving his sentence.

Alexey Politikov

Alexey Politikov, an activist from the Artpodgotovka movement, is originally from Ussuriysk, where he worked as a dispatcher. He is married, has three young children, the youngest of which was born in 2016.

Politikov was arrested on 11 June. According to the investigation, Politikov tried to knock police captain Alexander Shvetsov to the ground, and hit him in the stomach. He admitted to the crime, and agreed to have his case examined under special procedures. During the trial, Politikov said that he was sorry for what he’d done, and apologised to Shvetsov.

In his final word, Politikov said:

“I want to go back to my wife and children most of all. What I did was accidental, and I really regret it — it was an impulsive action.”

In October, Politikov was sentenced to two years of general regime prison colony. In November, an appeal court reduced the sentence to 18 months.

You can write to him via the address: 127055, Russia, Moscow, ul. Novoslobodskaya, d.45, SIZO No.2, Politikov Alexey Vladimirovich (1972 g.r.)

Dmitry Krepkin

Dmitry Krepkin is an electronics repairman, is into tuning cars and snowboarding. He is originally from Kharkiv, Ukraine. He cares for his mother, who has a nervous condition.

Krepkin was arrested on 17 May. According to the investigation, he hit National Guard officer Zvonarev in the right thigh, causing Zvonarev pain. Krepkin himself claims that he didn’t hit Zvonarev, but hit his riot baton instead. The charges are based on a video clip, but the video is taken from behind — from the video, it’s hard to say what actually happened. It’s clear that Krepkin does make some kind of movement, but we don’t see the kick itself.

Krepkin did not admit to the crime. During the trial, his lawyer Ilnur Sharapov said that the video evidence does not show Zvonarev, but some other National Guard officer. The face of the victim is not clearly shown, but a radio is — and radios are only issued to unit leaders. Zvonarev is a senior sergeant, and isn’t issued a radio. The video does not show a victim with any sergeant’s insignia.

According to Sharapov, the colour of safety cord on the victim’s pistol also indicates that the victim was not Zvonarev. On the video the cord is light-coloured, whereas Zvonarev stated that his was black. When this was pointed out to him, Zvonarev stated that he had two pistols. However, the case files do not state that Zvonarev was in fact issued with a pistol during the protest.

Dmitry Krepkin (in orange coat) on 26 March.

In his final word, Krepkin thanked everyone who supported him during the court and investigation: “I admit that I acted up a bit, but no one suffered from this. I did not hit the man who is the ‘victim’ here. Thank you to all who spared the time to come and support me.”

In December, Krepkin was sentenced to 18 months of general regime prison colony.

You can write a letter to: 127055, Russia, Moscow, ul. Novoslobodskaya, d.45, SIZO No.2, Krepkin Dmitry Mikhailovich (1984 g.r.)

Dmitry Borisov

Dmitry Borisov is an activist with the Moscow-based 14% social movement. He is originally from Moscow, and worked in a small hotel business.

Borisov was arrested on 9 June. According to the investigation, when Borisov was carried to the police van by five police officers, he kicked officer Ilya Yerokhin in the head twice. There was no physical injuries to Yerokhin, who did not seek medical help. He first made a statement about his injuries, according to the case files, in the middle of May, roughly two months after the events in question.

Borisov did not admit to the crime he was charged with. Three police officers who carried Borisov said in court that they’d seen him wave his leg, but didn’t see him hit anyone. Yerokhin, the victim, described the kick in court. The trial continues.

You can write a letter to: 127055, Russia, Moscow, ul. Novoslobodskaya, d.45, SIZO No.2, Borisov Dmitry Valerevich (1985 g.r.)

Volgograd

The public action initially started as a public meeting, then - a march. Thirty one people were detained during the protest, and at least four of them were under 16. After the protest, police officers visited Volgograd universities to search for participants.

Maxim Beldinov

Maxim Beldinov is a history student at the Volgograd state Social-Pedagogical University. He is an anarchist, and says that he supports opposition politician Alexey Navalny, although he isn’t a “fierce supporter”.

According to the investigation, Beldinov kicked police officer Bareishy in the crotch as the latter was trying to detain an underage protester. Bareishy was pushing the young man, grabbing his hair.

Forensic examination revealed a injury in Bareishy’s right groin area. Bareishy experienced “physical pain and moral suffering”.

After the conflict, Beldinov was detained and taken to a police station. He soon made a written statement admitting to the crime, and explained that he was angered by the violence towards underage children during the peaceful action. He admitted his guilt, and agreed to have his case examined under special procedures.

Maxim Beldinov on 26 March, Volgograd.

In May, Beldinov was given an 18 months suspended sentence.

Petrozavodsk

The organisers of the 26 March event in Karelia did not manage to receive permission from the city administration to hold it. At least six people were detained during the protest.

On the evening of 26 March, three unknown persons tried to put the organiser Vitaly Fleganov in a car and take him away. Fleganov’s neighbours didn’t allow it to happen — they called the police and a lawyer. The police refused to take a statement on the attempted kidnapping and detained Fleganov.

Evgeny Vladenkov

Evgeny Vladenkov is an arbitration manager. According to the investigation, Vladenkov hit a police officer three times in the course of the protest. The case is currently at trial.

Vladenkov did not admit to the charges, and has signed an undertaking that he will not leave his place of residence.

All illustrations by Anastasia VilkulovaFind out how you can help OVD-Info here.

 

About the author

OVD-Info was launched by volunteers in 2011 as a means of quickly monitoring arrests during mass protests. It has evolved into a full-scale analytical project dealing with law enforcement issues in Russia. Find out how you can help here.

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