Alla Frolova on the actions of law enforcement agencies during the 23rd January protests and violations committed in police stations

25 January 2021

By Alla Frolova, coordinator of OVD-Info’s legal team and winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group award

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: ОВД-Инфо]

OVD-Info reports that at least 3,711 people were arrested in 125 cities across Russia on 23rd January in the nationwide Free Navalny Protests. Alla Frolova, coordinator of OVD-Info’s legal team and winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group award, discusses the actions of law enforcement agencies at the protests and the violations committed by police. 

Protests were brutally supressed in several regions; it is obvious the special police squads were given permission beforehand to disperse protests with force. We can conclude this from the number of people arrested and from the video recordings showing the protests being broken up. Besides Moscow and St Petersburg, this happened in Kazan, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk and Ekaterinburg. The number of arrests in Nizhny Novogorod and Voronezh was almost a hundred people. From the point of view of law enforcement, there was no need for the use of violence. 99% of the people who came to take part in these protests did so peacefully. They weren’t such a threat the police needed to act the way they did. Very many of the people who came out onto the street had never taken part in a protest before and weren’t ready for such rabid violence.

At the beginning they released many of the arrested people after they had been charged with administrative offences, but after 7pm they began to hold people in police stations and stopped allowing lawyers to go in to see their clients. The police began acting aggressively. I suggest that an order for this action was given after one of Aleksei Navalny’s colleagues, Leonid Volkov, announced there would be new protests in the future. From that moment on the authorities’ aim became clear: to punish more people and intimidate potential future protesters. 

At first only people who had committed repeat offences under Article 20.2, Part 8,  of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences remained in custody before the trial. They then started citing Article 20.2, Part 6.1,  of Code of Administrative Offences, which allows police to hold arrested persons until their trial. In some stations departments they began charging arrested persons simultaneously with offences under Article 20.2 (Violating the orderly conduct of public assemblies) and Article 19.3 (resisting the police). This is in contradiction to a ruling of the Supreme Court. All those held in police stations prior to their trial face possible terms in jail (excluding people caring for young children, teenagers or persons with disabilities). 

At the start, those arrested in Moscow were taken to over 90 different police stations, a figure which increased during the course of the night of 23rd-24th January in order to conform to rules related to those detained on administrative grounds. One group, for example, was first taken to Zelenograd, and from there to Kriukovo, and finally to Matushkino-Savelki. They were left in the police van for an hour, and another hour on the street, with no lawyer allowed access for three hours. They were later all released.

There were many instances where lawyers were not allowed access, while officers from the Investigative Committee attended a great many police stations. Now after having been sentenced to terms in jail in court, people are taken from court back to police stations for interrogation by investigators. That is, whilst the jail terms are ongoing, investigators have the time to search for evidence. It is to be expected that those who haven’t been taken to court will be harassed. It is already clear that certain investigations are underway at the headquarters of the Moscow Investigative Committee on Novokuznetskaya Street. 

We’ve been informed of violations of the law in police stations in at least 39 cities: in 25 stations torture and violence were used against detainees, in 37 police stations detainees were threatened, and in more than 20 police stations telephones and passports were taken and detainees were forced to be photographed. In 19 police stations detainees were not given any food, water or somewhere to sleep. All of the above are violations of the rights of detainees. 

There were so many violations in police stations that we have been compiling information non-stop for two days, and we cannot say that our data is comprehensive. The worst treatment of protestors was seen in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Voronezh, Kazan and Novosibirisk. Here’s what protestors were faced with:

— ОВД-Инфо (@OvdInfo) January 25, 2021

We always say that you shouldn’t go to a police station for charges to be processed. Yesterday (25th January) some people on the protests were arrested and kept overnight to be taken to court, yet the next day were released. In police stations, an illegal process of questioning those detained is taking place. Some minors were questioned without the presence of their parents. 195 minors were detained overall. This may seem a lot, but this is only 5% of the total figures of detainees, so to say that protestors hid behind children is inaccurate.

The protests of 23 January differ from previous mass protests in Moscow in terms of the large number of criminal prosecutions brought various charges, including damage to property, blocking roads, spreading coronavirus, violence against police officers. We can expect that some people are already being detained on criminal charges, and anything at all may happen in the future.

Translated by Fergus Wright and Cameron Evans

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