Statement by members of the Presidential Human Rights Council on the events of 23 and 31 January

5 February 2021

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Echo Moskvy]

The events of 23 and 31 January created a schism in society. People stopped listening to each other, the State and the people have been speaking different languages. Today we face a difficult task: finding a positive level for both discussion and actions. The demand for strict observance of the law applies both to participants in mass protests and to the police to an equal degree.

Members of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, supported by materials from the media and reports received from observers of the protest actions that took place in Russia’s cities on 23 and 31 January 2021, establish the following:

1. The detention of citizens began before the protests started. In this process, people who happened to find themselves in the area where the actions were being held were also detained. The detention of these citizens continued even while the protests were going on.

2. Calls for minors to participate in public protests did not meet with enthusiasm. Such participants were vanishingly few, which corresponds to police reports on the detention of minors. We consider it impermissible to expose children to danger.

3. The places where protests were held, most often in city centers, were blocked off, which inhibited the movement of citizens who not involved with the protests.

4. Citing normative legal acts of Russian Federation subjects that imposed restrictions related to the pandemic, a ban was introduced on holding public events. However, only acts of civil protest have been subjected to the ban, whereas concerts, fireworks, sports holidays, and other mass events have been approved by the authorities as restrictions have been lifted.

5. Photos and video materials demonstrating instances of brutal treatment of peaceful citizens by law enforcement officers wielding rubber batons and tasers have been posted in the mainstream and social media. People detained sat for hours in police vans and then in police stations without paperwork being done and without food, water, and medicine.

6. Law enforcement agencies’ response to the actions of provocateurs, who, once inside a group of participants in unapproved protests, tried to provoke participants into illegal actions, was insufficient.

7. Police officers’ actions were in most cases anonymous because, when detaining a person, police officers, in violation of the law’s requirements, did not identify themselves or explain the reason for the detention and often were not wearing badges, or else their badges were not visible. Nearly all the Rosgvardiya officers lacked identity badges.

8. The police detained journalists, who had special clothing, official passes, and newspaper assignments, thereby creating obstacles for their fulfillment of their legal professional duties. In an analogous way, the police detained observers from various human rights organizations, even though they had the proper documents and badges in their possession.

9. The “Fortress” plan was announced in several police departments in various cities, although the public’s representatives had not found any threat of attack on the departments, and they have not given lawyers or members of public oversight commissions access or accepted packages for those detained.

10. Some of those detained have had their personal belongings illegally confiscated, including telephones.

11. Compulsory fingerprinting not provided for by law has been done on citizens to whom only voluntary fingerprinting is applicable, under threat that they would not be released and would be kept at the internal affairs agency for 48 hours, despite their possession of passports and the lack of need to establish their identity.

12. Hundreds of people detained spent the night in police vans, buses, police stations, and spaces not equipped for lodging without paperwork being done and without food, water, and medicine. Although by law administrative detention cannot exceed three hours if they have documents establishing their identity.

13. Judicial hearings were held both during the day and at night. So many decisions about administrative arrest were issued that there wasn’t enough room in the special detention centres and lines formed from the vans and buses with people whom the courts had assigned administrative arrest. Citizens complained of the impossibility of sleeping, the cold, and the lack of food and water. Municipal special detention centres are overcrowded, and in some cities the holding cells where those under administrative arrest are sent are not meant for the execution of administrative punishment. 

14. Instances have been observed when participants in unapproved actions assaulted citizens with other slogans and police and Rosgvardiya officers, provoked them, behaved rudely and disrespectfully toward them, and committed illegal actions. We condemn such actions, which run counter to the principles of civic accord.

We believe, bearing in mind the position of the Russian Constitutional Court, that the State should not treat mass events that do not have prior official approval as nonpeaceful, regardless of the actual conduct of demonstration participants, in the absence of violent actions on their part.

We propose:

1. To change the regulatory acts and law enforcement practice of Russian Federation subjects by approving the holding of rallies and marches on a level with other public events, with restrictions no greater than for other mass and public events, and to continue to apply this approach should restrictive measures ease as the epidemic threat diminishes.

2. To stop the use of special means in the detention of peaceful participants in events regardless of their slogans and in the absence of violent actions on their part.

3. To initiate both official and procedural inquiries into reports of official authorities being exceeded and the work of lawyers and journalists being impeded, not only in those instances when statements about this are submitted but also based on reports in the mass media.

4. To ensure lawyers’ timely access to police buildings and special detention centres where individuals have been taken or are serving their administrative sentence.

5. To ban the practice of preventing journalists from performing their professional activities.

6. To collaborate with observers from public human rights organizations who have identification and assignments from their organizations in resolving conflicts during public actions.

7. Individuals against whom the courts have issued decisions of administrative arrests are often taken to special detention centres where the established limit has been exceeded, or to an IVS (temporary remand centre), or are not accepted at special detention centres for a long time due to overcrowding. In these cases, prosecutors should immediately file appeal recommendations to postpone execution of the administrative sentence verdict.” Courts must review these recommendations as a top priority.

We call on participants in protest rallies and local authorities to enter into talks in search of compromises for the approval of public events so as to avoid an escalation of violence in public life. Members of the Council are prepared to act as intermediaries in organizing and holding such talks.

Council members:

1.  Tatyana Konstantinovna Andreeva

2.  Aleksandr Grigorievich Asmolov

3.  Andrei Vladimirovich Babushkin

4.  Aleksandr Markovich Verkhovsky

5.  Ekaterina Vladimirovna Vinokurova

6.  Nataliya Leonidovna Evdokimova

7.  Ivan Ivanovich Zasursky

8.  Igor Aleksandrovich Kalyapin

9.  Anatoly Ivanovich Kovler

10. Boris Evgenievich Kravchenko

11. Svetlana Gennadievna Makovetskaya

12. Tatyana Ivanovna Margolina

13. Tatyana Georgievna Merzlyakova

14. Eva Mikhailovna Merkacheva

15. Leonid Vasilievich Nikitinsky

16. Igor Nikolaevich Pastukhov

17. Mara Fedorovna Polyakova

18. Genri Markovich Reznik

19. Vladimir Vasilievich Ryakhovsky

20. Nikolai Karlovich Svanidze

21. Aleksandr Nikolaevich Sokurov

22. Igor Yurievich Yurgens

23. Evgeny Grigorievich Yasin

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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