13 March 2021
by Boris Vishnevsky, deputy of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize
On 20 January, before the massive protests in St. Petersburg, the police, including local precinct officers, came to the homes of Yabloko members Vladimir Molodozhenya, Vadim Vaganov, Yury Bagrov and Sergei Troshin, of municipal deputy and Yabloko member Maksim Khalimovsky, political activist Dmitry Nikolaev, Mediazona journalist David Frenkel and Apologia of Protest lawyer Varvara Mikhailova. The police read off ‘warnings about the inadmissibility of violating Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation’ (violation of the procedures for holding public events) and demanded that they sign off on, or video tape, the proceedings.
The police did not give any explanation as to why they came. Just as they did not explain what legal norm justified their appearance. The most that they communicated was that the information came “from the government’.
It is worth noting that neither Molodozhenya, nor Vaganov, nor Nikolaev, nor Bagrov, nor Khalimovsky have ever received any administrative punishment for violating the procedures for participating in public events. Though even if they did, the fact that someone has been held accountable for an offence under administrative law is by no means a valid basis for visiting citizens with completely documents that have nothing to do with any legal proceedings, and making a by no means legal request that they familiarize themselves with something and sign a document.
I wrote to the chief police officer [head of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs] for the city and region, Lieutenant General Roman Plugin, and asked him to explain what in fact was the basis for these ‘visits’.
I noted that, in my opinion, these visits were not conducted on the basis of the individuals being citizens with reputations as habitual violators of the law (they are not), but were related to their political and public activities as well as their political views. And that, in my opinion, diverting police forces, especially the local precinct officers, to carry out actions not stipulated by law, only complicates the work of Plugin’s subordinates, and is not conducive to the fight against crime and the protection of citizens’ rights. It is a senseless and unjustified waste of official time.
Instead of Plugin answering me, it was Colonel Dmitry Veselov, the deputy chief of the police for the preservation of public order.
And he said that the basis for ‘visiting’ these citizens and others is that they are on ‘lists of persons who belong to some form of protest organization whose activities can be conducive to the violation of public order’ that are sent out by the Centre for Combating Extremism (Centre E) to the district police offices [offices of the Ministry of Internal Affairs].
And ‘as part of our efforts to study these lists in order to possibly make the operating conditions for preparing unauthorized public events more difficult’, they organized ‘preventive measures that would keep these individuals from participating in unlawful actions’.
In my opinion, there is direct evidence that the police are conducting political investigations in connection with citizens who have not violated the law and have not been charged with andy offence.
First of all. How does one define ‘protest organization’, which is not even mentioned in any legislation? And what organizations does Centre E classify as such?
Is the Yabloko party considered to be this type of organization – with the assumption the police can visit the homes of its members as a ‘preventive measure’? With what sort of ‘protest organization’ can the journalist Frenkel ‘designate himself’ a member? And the lawyer Mikhailova?
By the way, in his reply, Colonel Veselov even refers to the basis for the “visits” as ‘precinct police officers conducting “preventive rounds”’. As they say, give me a break.
Why, in fact, should one carry out ‘preventative’ measures against those who did not break the law?
Second. Where are the legal grounds for compiling any “lists of persons who consider themselves members of protest organisations”? And how, by the way, does Centre “E” determine that these persons “consider” themselves members of such organisations? Were they asked, and did they confirm the categorisation? Are there any statements by these individuals that they joined these organizations?
Third. How can people against whom no charges have been brought or investigations opened be included in these lists? How on earth can the police have the right to warn them against “illegal activities”?
I posed all these questions to the director of Centre “E,” I sent them in an official letter on notepaper headed with my official status as a legislative deputy. I am eagerly awaiting his reply.
In my opinion, we are facing a situation where the police draw up lists of politically unreliable citizens.
The only complaint against these individuals is their political activities and political opinions.
But the police assert the right to track them down, to “prevent” them from doing wrong and to issue them with “warnings” that are not specified by law.
The police are transforming themselves from a law-enforcement body into the equivalent of a secret police force.
This isn’t the first time we have seen such a thing happen. In 2017, in St Petersburg, after a protest demonstration on the Field of Mars, the police also visited the homes of protestors. But then they went for “preventative” purposes to the homes of those who had been detained and fined, or who had been placed under administrative arrest. Now they are going after people who have not committed any crimes or been handed any punishment…
However, it’s worth recalling a notable event of almost eleven years ago, when a district precinct officer went to the home of a well-known lawyer – Olga Pokrovskaya, who is now a member of the City Electoral Commission representing the Yabloko party – and told her that her name was registered on some kind of list. He refused to say what kind of list it was, and who had put Pokrovskaya on it, or why…
In reply to her appeal to the then head of the police department of St Petersburg and Leningrad Region, Pokrovskaya received a mystifying reply: Yes, she was registered as “a member of an informal youth associations of an extremist nature,” and she was so registered “in accordance with information received from the Centre for Combating Extremism of the Central Internal Affairs Directorate of St Petersburg and Leningrad Region.”
Pokrovskaya went to court, demanding that her “registration” be declared illegal. She argued that she was not and never had been a member of any formal or informal youth association (she already had two young grandchildren), let alone an extremist one.
A list compiled by Centre “E” was presented to the court hearing, which identified 128 people “inclined to extremist activities, members of informal youth associations and movements.” Pokrovskaya was included in this list as “identifying herself with the Yabloko group” (!).
Olga Pokrovskaya won her case. The judge completely annihilated the arguments of the police. In particular, the judge sarcastically pointed out that the documents presented “did not specify which Yabloko grouping was being referred to” and that no evidence of the legality of this “registration” had been presented to the court.
So, there is already a judicial precedent for recognising such actions as illegal.
And it is possible that those who are now included on the “lists of the unreliable” will also go to court to defend their right not to be named in such lists.