Memorial Human Rights Centre: Ilya Pershin, participant in a St. Petersburg rally in support of Aleksei Navalny, is a political prisoner

7 October 2021

Ilya Pershin was sentenced to three years in a low security penal colony on charges of using violence against a police officer at a protest rally on 31 January 2021. We consider the charges unproven and demand his conviction be quashed.

Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre


Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines, considers the criminal prosecution of Ilya Pershin politically motivated and Pershin himself to be a political prisoner. We believe Pershin has been imprisoned for his political beliefs and exercise of the right of assembly and freedom of expression. 

We demand that the conviction of Ilya Pershin be quashed, all charges against him be dropped for lack of evidence and that he be released from custody.

The charges against Ilya Pershin

On 31 January 2021 a second nationwide series of rallies took place in support of Aleksei Navalny, who had first been the victim of an assassination attempt with a weapons-grade chemical agent and then jailed on fabricated charges in a politically motivated prosecution. 

One of the largest solidarity rallies took place in St. Petersburg. One of its participants was the artist Ilya Pershin. The St. Petersburg police acted with extreme brutality in breaking up the protests, using rubber truncheons, tasers, and tear gas. Many protesters were injured. All told, on 31 January more than 1,300 people were arrested in the city.

Pershin was arrested on the evening of 17 February 2021. Law enforcement officers searched his apartment and then took him to the Investigative Committee. The next day the court remanded Pershin in custody on charges of using violence against a public official (Article 318, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code).

According to the investigators, after the start of the crackdown on the protest on St. Isaac’s Square, participants began to run away. A riot police officer (OMON) chased Pershin and grabbed him from behind by the torso. As he ran, Pershin allegedly struck the officer twice in the chest with his elbow and also injured his knee. According to the investigators, as a result the officer fell down and Pershin managed to escape.

On 6 September 2021 the Oktyabrsky district court in St. Petersburg found Ilya Pershin guilty and sentenced him to serve three years in a low security penal colony.

Pershin maintains his innocence of the charges.

Why we consider Ilya Pershin a political prisoner

As the only evidence against Ilya Pershin, the court accepted the video recording which, according to the investigators, shows the incident. 

There is indeed a moment on the video presented by the investigators that shows a riot police officer falling down. Judging by another video, he was indeed injured and was leaving the scene, limping badly. 

However, the recording shows the incident at a distance, on the edge of the frame and it lasts for no more than one or two seconds. The video does not show the person who is allegedly being detained by the officer at that moment. Nor does it show any blows being struck. 

Neither the officer’s colleagues, who testified in court, nor the officer himself, saw that it was Pershin who struck his knee. Moreover, the video suggests the officer himself fell down, slipping and hitting his knee on the ice as he fell. This is also confirmed by the only witness for the defence, an acquaintance of Pershin who was nearby.

The injured policeman claims he was hit on the knee from behind, while Pershin, at the moment of the attempted arrest, was in front of the officer, running away. 

The investigators claim that an experiment conducted during the investigation proved that the victim could have been struck behind the knee from that position. However, the video of the experiment shows precisely the opposite: the actor playing the role of Pershin, after several attempts, failed to strike the police officer, who grabbed him from behind, behind the knee. This means that the official report of the experiment was falsified. 

The victim himself, testifying in court, could not clearly explain the basis for his assertion that it was Pershin who struck him. In the upshot, the officer asked that he be released from further participation in the trial proceedings and stated that he did not want Pershin to be given a serious punishment: “I consider the man has already served long enough in custody. The milder the sentence the better. I would end it all in a peaceful manner.” 

The conclusion of the forensic medical examination, accepted by the court as evidence, does not consider in detail the causes of the injury. However, the court ignored another assessment given by a specialist from the same institution who admitted that the injury could have been caused by a fall, or aggravated by a fall.

On these grounds, we believe there is no evidence in the prosecution of Ilya Pershin that it was his blow that injured the riot police officer: the officer could have received his injury in a fall, or someone else could have struck him from behind.

More information about the case of Ilya Pershin and our opinion about the case is available on the website of the Memorial Human Rights Centre.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.

How you can help

You can support all political prisoners by donating to the Fund to Support Political Prisoners of the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners via PayPal, using the e-wallet at [email protected]

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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