28 January 2021
Svobodnaya Pressa (‘Free Press’) asked retired federal judge and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Sergei Pashin, to comment on the federal trial against Navalny.
The Moscow Regional Court ruled that Aleksei Navalny must remain in Matrosskaya Tishina until 15 February, after having considered an appeal against the oppositionist’s pre-trial custody. ‘It was all clear to me even before the court hearing,’ Navalny himself commented on the decision. The politician’s defence counsel pointed out the procedural violations committed during the Khimki court hearing – of the principle of separation of powers, openness and secrecy in the jury room. Let us not forget that the trial took place right in one of the the city of Khimki’s police stations.
Svobodnaya Pressa (‘Free Press’) asked retired federal judge and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Sergei Pashin, to comment on the federal trial against Navalny. Pashin observed that the defence’s arguments were fair.
‘I consider the defence’s arguments with regard to the principle of openness to be reasonable. The fact that not all journalists were admitted into the trial is considered a significant violation by the plenum of the Supreme Court. Now why did the Moscow Regional Court make such a decision? There were probably some reasons. It seems to me that the main problem was openness,’ noted the former judge.
In another case, the head of Navalny’s network of regional headquarters, Leonid Volkov, was accused of getting minors to take part in illegal protests. According to a press release from the Anti-Corruption Foundation, Volkov encouraged minors to participate in protest actions through a video on YouTube, where he called on citizens to go to the rally on 23 January. In the video, Volkov did not exactly specify that he was appealing to minors. As Sergei Pashin explained, that doesn’t matter.
‘We operate according to the free evaluation of evidence principle; hence, the evidence can be whatever the court will believe,’ explains Pashin. ‘It can be testimony, information from electronic media – the results of a search can include the seizure of flash drives, hard drives – it can be written testimony or expert opinions. In addition to the video, it could be some other actions. We do not know what the basis of the evidence is. This may be testimony, for example, of some parent who claims that this person reached out to their child with a proposal to commit illegal actions. Or there is evidence of a proposal to one teenager in order to get classmates involved. It can be anything.’
A day earlier, the closest associates of the politician and other sympathizers were searched in connection with the so-called ‘sanitary case’: Oleg Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, Maria Alekhina and Anastasia Vasilyeva were detained for 48 hours. They are accused under the article on violation of sanitary-epidemiological regulations (Article 136 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). This is probably with regard to the part of the law that entered into force during the coronavirus pandemic. It refers to the violation of sanitary regulations, which led to the development of a threat of and epidemic.
Usually, the authorities threaten anyone who calls for participation in rallies under 20.2 of the Administrative Code (Violation of the established procedure for organizing or holding a rally). Retired federal judge Sergei Pashin believes that the investigation used the law’s new statutory provision to cover all its bases.
‘It may be easier to prove a violation of sanitary-epidemiological regulations,’ Sergei Pashin suspects. ‘There is a belief that you always need to have some backup plan. If it is not possible to prove mass riots, then involvement in extremist activities or participation in a rally is used. If this cannot be proved, then there is at least a violation of the sanitary-epidemiological regulations. The investigation insures itself and issues charges for less serious counts. This is generally-speaking – I am not claiming that the investigation is following this logic now. However, such a practice does exist.’
Furthermore, there were many jokes on social media networks that, as part of the ‘sanitary’ case, searches were carried out and electronic media were seized. They say investigators believe that the coronavirus is transmitted via a telephone or computers.
‘They could have looked for information about someone coming to the demonstration who was sick – a Covid-19 carrier,’ the former judge explains. ‘Or encouraged someone else to come realizing that they themselves were sick. For example, they asked someone to accompany them.’
Translated by Tyler Langendorfer