28 May 2020
Lev Ponomarev, chair of the national non-profit organization For Human Rights, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
On 26 May on Petrovka Street in Moscow, thirty-eight officers detained the activist Victor Nemytov for his one-man picket in support of public administrator Aleksei Vorontsev, the “police ombudsman” currently being prosecuted by the authorities.
A little later in the same location they detained the journalist and city council member Ilya Azar, the blogger Maksim Kondratiev and the politician Tatiana Usmanova, also for one-person pickets.
On 27 May, the city councilwoman Yelena Filina was also detained in the same place. The same day, Ilya Azar and Viktor Nemytov were sentenced to 15 days in jail.
On 28 May, again in the same location, the journalists Sergei Smirnov, Tatiana Felgengauer, Aleksandr Plyushchev, Anastasia Lotareva, Viktoria Ivleva, the writer Alisa Ganieva and the journalists Mikhail Fishman and Ilya Vasiunin were all detained while picketing alone.
Without hesitation, law enforcement applied to them paragraph 2 of the Moscow mayor’s Decree “On the Introduction of Measures of Higher Preparedness”: “A ban on sports, entertainment, public and other mass gatherings up to and including 31 May 2020 within the territorial boundaries of the city of Moscow.”
It wouldn’t have hurt to give it a little thought.
According to Federal Law No. 54, picketing is not a mass event, as it is carried out by one person. And this brings no risk of violating social distancing nor lead to any harmful consequences.
Mayoral decrees may not contradict federal laws, they have the juridical weight not of laws but of subsidiary legislation. The mayor does not have the legal authority to limit or enlarge civil rights, which are guaranteed by the constitution and by federal law.
Public events in the shape of solitary picketing are the exercise of fundamental rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and are one of the most important mechanisms that allow democracy to function.
All obstacles to the exercise of this right should be removed, the mayor’s Decree should be revised, law enforcement bodies should receive clarifications.
As the last months have shown, citizens are prepared to accept many limitations they consider reasonable, but there is a line that must not be crossed. To sentence someone to 15 days in jail for a one-man picket is senseless insanity. And it is far from being the first such case, and will likely not be the last.
The more insanity, the worse for everyone. Problems pile up, people are angry and will not remain silent – they lack the patience. It is a dangerous illusion to think the powers-that-be can control it. Wouldn’t it be better to let people stand there quietly with their sign?
Translated by Alissa Valles