28 May 2020
Leonid Nikitinsky is a columnist at Novaya gazeta, a member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, and a laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group’s Award for human rights
The President should veto the deployment of ‘bacteriological weaponry’ against the constitutional rights of citizens.
Ilya Azar has already stated in his ‘manifesto’ why his arrest, as well as his 15-day jailing by Moscow’s Tver district court, is illegal: a single picketer outside the building of the Main Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on Petrovka street did not require permission. But ‘repeated violation’ of lockdown rules took place, according to the logic of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the court (Article 20.2, Part 8, of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation, which provides for a maximum sentence of 15 days for such an offence).
But lockdown restrictions are declared by the mayor of Moscow, while the constitutional rights of citizens, including freedom to picket peacefully (Article 31 of the Constitution) and freedom of movement (Article 27 of the Constitution), in the logic of the hierarchy of legal norms, can be limited only by constitutional law or by introducing a state of emergency, which, as we know, has not been declared.
Yes, we voluntarily accepted the restrictions imposed at the Moscow regional level, understanding their logic in the fight against the epidemic and temporarily putting aside questions of legality, and this was even put forward as the general position of Novaya gazeta.
But at the same time, one must also understand how this conscious self-restraint on the part of society is being used, including by the police and the judiciary.
Those tasked with detaining Azar knew very well who he was. The police and the courts know everything, including about the journalists who are now being detained for similar pickets – the chief editor of Media Zone, Sergei Smirnov, as well as Tatyana Felgenhauer and Aleksandr Plyushchev from Ekho Moskvy. According to the latest information, there are already dozens of journalists in all. This is similar to a declaration of war, in which security officials and Moscow judges are using ‘biological weapons’ in the form of lockdown measures that are, in actual fact, unconstitutional.
Until now it has been OK, but now it is an abuse of power. Before the lockdown, this method of selective-punitive enforcement was the most powerful tool the security forces had at their disposal, but it’s also Russia’s Achilles’ heel as a Rechtsstaat.
Now courts and law enforcement agencies are beginning to selectively apply lockdown by-laws, which are not intended for lockdown at all.
This is straight-up arbitrary rule. There is no protection from it, there is nothing to even appeal to in the actual legal sense.
It seems it is time for the President, who is the only one in the country who can control the law enforcement and security agencies, to finally come out of the shadows. We, as a society, agreed to endure lockdown measures in terms of reasonable self-restraint, but our patience will not continue forever.
Translated by Alice Lee