Ilya Shablinsky: Solitary picketing is one of the simplest and most innocuous rights, but even this is being destroyed
Ilya Shablinsky. Photo: Anna Artemyeva / Novaya Gazeta

8 October 2020

Ilya Shablinsky, doctor of law and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: ОВД-Инфо]

At the end of May 2020, Doctor of Law and expert member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Ilya Shablinsky, was detained during a solo picket near the building of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Moscow. The court fined him 15,000 roubles, finding him guilty of violating the rules for holding a protest (Article 20.2, Part 5, of the Administrative Code). After the sentence was upheld at appeal, Shablinsky decided to challenge the terms of the law on rallies which allowed those who hold solitary pickets to be fined, in the Constitutional Court. 

Solitary picketing is one of the simplest and most innocuous rights, but even this is being destroyed. I knew that a succession of solitary picketers are being arrested, and that this practice is illegal. I wanted to protest against it.

They detained me at Petrovka and put me on a bus – everything happened as it should, they took me to the police station. In the Tverskoi district court and Moscow City Court, the case went entirely unexamined; [the judges] listened to it and then gave their decisions as if they hadn’t heard it. I was fined, and now I have to wait for the [text of the] decision before I can file a complaint with the Constitutional Court.

I intend to challenge the seventh article of the law on rallies. It says that several [single] pickets can be held, but a certain distance must be observed: at least 50 metres between the participants. It follows from this rule that simultaneous picketing by several people is permissible, but from the same rule it follows that the courts can declare some rallies to be collective actions, and not single pickets.

The Supreme Court took this path, and judicial practice is developing in such a way that single pickets are becoming practically impossible: the picket in support of Vorontsov was held two days before mine. Nevertheless, the judge considered that [journalist Ilya] Azar and I (Azar picketed the building of the Moscow police department two days before Shablinsky – OVD-Info) were holding a collective picket. This is nonsense, this weakens the law at its very core.

One cannot count on changing this article: the Constitutional Court has already scrutinized it. I can only count on the court refusing to rule in the case, but a refusal in which the Constitutional Court will nevertheless express a definite position. That it is impossible to declare [the action] of one person a collective picket if there are no other picketers nearby. That one cannot regard as collective actions single pickets that took place one after another: in the course of two minutes, of an hour, and certainly not of a day.

Remember that human rights activists from the Memorial Human Rights Centre and the Moscow Helsinki Group appealed to the Ombudsmen for Human Rights in Moscow and St. Petersburg on 7 September with a request to raise the issue of lifting the ban on single pickets. Human rights activists have also prepared and submitted to the Ombudsmen proposals on revising the terms of the federal law on rallies. Aleksandr Shishlov, Human Rights Ombudsman in St. Petersburg, reacted to the appeal the very next day, 8 September. Shishlov said that he supports the lifting of the ban on single pickets and has already sent a proposal to the Governor of St. Petersburg on this matter. Later, the Human Rights Ombudsman in Moscow, Tatyana Potyaeva, told human rights activists that she had appealed to the city’s Interior Ministry department with a demand to take additional measures to ensure the legality of the arrest of participants in single pickets.

For more details on how difficulties with single pickets arise from imperfect laws, read the OVD-Info report. In the summer of 2020, huge numbers of single picketers were detained in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In these cities, bans on any public events introduced due to the coronavirus pandemic have been in force since March, including the current legislation on single pickets. According to OVD-Info, single pickets had been banned in 26 regions by the beginning of September.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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