Open Letter on flagrant violations of the law and the Russian Constitution in response to peaceful protests

3 February 2021

Pictured: Zoya Svetova, journalist, human rights activist, winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Эхо Москвы]

Open letter

To the Minister of Internal Affairs of Russia Vladimir Aleksandrovich Kolokoltsev

Minister of Justice of Russia Konstantin Anatolyevich Chuichenko

Commissioner for Human Rights Tatiana Nikolaevna Moskalkova

Vladimir Aleksandrovich!

Konstantin Anatolyevich!

Tatyana Nikolaevna!

We, the citizens of Russia ask, even demand, that you pay attention to the flagrant violation of the law and of the Russian Constitution which has become evident in recent weeks.

As you certainly know, in Moscow and other cities of Russia on 23 January, 31 January and 2 February 2021, citizens held peaceful mass protests. Police officers, riot police and the National Guard detained thousands of people, considering these actions unauthorised and in violation of Russian law.

Arrests were carried out as harshly and brutally as possible; law enforcement officers often arbitrarily detained people, some of whom were not involved in the protests, turning out to be ordinary passers-by. The detainees were taken to the police stations, where the law and the Russian Constitution are comprehensively violated. Lawyers and human rights activists were not allowed to see the detainees on the grounds that the police station was closed in connection with ‘Plan Fortress’.

According to departmental instructions, ‘Plan Fortress’ is to be invoked at a police station when it specifically is threatened with an explosion or terrorist attack.

According to Article 48 article of the Constitution of Russia, every detainee has the right to the help of a lawyer (defender) from the moment of arrest. According to the Law on Police, a police officer is obliged to explain to detainees the respective rights and obligations of a citizen, including the right to legal assistance. Here there is a massive violation of the Constitution of Russia, the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Federation and the Law on the Police.

According to Russian law, a lawyer is a special person and has the right to enter a police station in the same way as police officers, investigators and operatives. We know that in particular police stations during the ‘Plan Fortress’, officers of the Investigative Committee and the FSB conducted interrogations of detained citizens without lawyers. According to the law, this is unacceptable; lawyers must be with their clients. Their entering the police station does not in any way threaten police officers. Lawyers cannot constitute a bomb threat. ‘Fortress’ is undoubtedly an emergency measure, but for several years now this measure has been used to prevent legal defenders from accessing those detained at protests.

Detainees find themselves without protection; there are reports of cases when their fingerprints have been taken, in violation of the law as this is not mandatory. There are also reports of the phones of detainees being taken away; they are not allowed to call their family, although this is a gross violation of the law. A detainee has the right to make one call to their family. This applies even to a person detained regarding a criminal offence, and here we are talking about administrative detainees.

The non-admission of lawyers and members of the Public Monitoring Commission to police stations takes us back to the totalitarian Soviet past, when lawyers were not allowed to see detainees or arrested persons.

We recall that Russia has long since abandoned such procedures, in words and in legal documents.

Also, in recent weeks, cases have been recorded when lawyers were not allowed to attend searches that law enforcement officers carried out in the homes of citizens.

We ask you to immediately deal with these despicable practices.

Otherwise, it turns out that the chiefs of the capital’s police have in fact abolished the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation, the Constitution and the Law on Police.

And you, ministers of the Russian government, Vladimir Aleksandrovich and Konstantin Anatolyevich, and you, Tatyana Nikolaevna, Human Rights Ombudsman, were not aware of these unprecedented events.

For a full list of signatories, including Zoya Svetova, journalist, member of the Public Monitoring Commission of the city of Moscow 2008-2016, see here

Translated by Anna Bowles

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