Доклад на русском языке: Пресечение протестов 21 апреля: С фокусом на нарушения в Санкт-Петербурге
On the evening of April 21, protest actions in support of Alexei Navalny were held throughout Russia. Demanding medical assistance, the politician went on a hunger strike in the colony on March 31; on April 16, the Moscow prosecutor’s office filed the suit at the court demanding that the Anti-Corruption Foundation and Navalny’s headquarters be recognized as extremist organizations. On April 18, Navalny’s team announced rallies demanding to allow doctors to see the opposition leader, whose health situation, according to doctors, was becoming critical.
The authorities responded to the protests with preventive pressure and mass detentions. As of April 29, OVD-Info is aware of almost two thousand people detained on April 21 in connection with protest actions in 97 localities. These are the largest detentions since the January protests. Most of the detentions were reported in St. Petersburg — at least 839 people were detained there, and the police behaved extremely aggressively.
This review describes cases of pressure and persecution in connection with the April 21 rally in St. Petersburg and key violations during detentions and legal procedures in police stations. In the annex to the review, we publish a list of known key violations by police stations (there is a high probability that they’re even more numerous). Since the detainees in St. Petersburg were transported en masse from one police station to another on April 21, the errors in the police station numbers might be present, although unlikely.
State authorities massively resorted to threats and other means to prevent the dissemination of information about the actions.
Official statements stressed the illegality and danger of the protest.
Threats were also addressed to users who registered on the Navalny team website as potential action participants.
Cases of pressure on students were reported, including in St. Petersburg universities:
On the eve and in the morning before the action, numerous visits of representatives of law enforcement agencies, preventive detentions, and trials were reported throughout the country. St. Petersburg channels reported police visits to well-known local activists and journalists; the police also searched St. Petersburg’s Navalny headquarters. «These actions by police officers are carried out within the framework of the current legislation and are aimed at preventing offenses» — responded the regional Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the request of the editorial office Znak.com about police visiting detainees of winter protests, made during April 19-20, with demands to sign warning notes.
Law enforcement agencies often used the participation of people in the winter protests as reasons for their detention: thus, Open Russia’s coordinator in St. Petersburg, Sergei Kuzin, was detained and later arrested in connection with the January 31 rally in support of Navalny; another resident was detained in connection with the rally of January 23 and brought for questioning with connection to the case of road closures on that day (Article 267 of the Criminal Code). In addition to detentions, police also carried out visits and searches among activists, partly in connection to the same prior events. The same took place on the day of the rally.
On the afternoon of April 21, shortly before the start of the rally, journalists reported that the approaches to the Palace Square, where the gathering was announced, were blocked by temporary fences and sanitation vehicles.
From 19:03, that is, from the beginning of the rally, the metro stations «Admiralteiskaya» and «Nevsky Prospekt» in the city center were closed for exit. The movement of trolleybuses on Nevsky Prospekt and the tram on Sadovaya Street was suspended.
At 20:40 «ZakS.ru» reported that exits to Nevsky Prospekt were blocked by riot police officers equipped with shields and by municipal vehicles, the passage was blocked for cars from Gostiny Dvor along Sadovaya Street; according to Mediazona, municipal equipment also blocked the exit from Bolshaya Morskaya Street to the Nevsky Prospekt. The online magazine «Sobaka.ru» signaled the closure of Vladimirsky Prospekt, the blocking of a section of the Nevsky Prospekt from Palace Square to Vosstaniya Square: «Public transport and residents of St. Petersburg in private cars got into a traffic jam — they only let a resuscitation car through, heading to the Mariinsky Hospital, » the publication reported. To the question from «Sobaka.ru»'s correspondent on how long the Nevsky Prospekt is closed, police officers responded: «It will be opened after we calm down all those who are raging»
By 21:30, the exit from «Admiralteyskaya» and «Nevsky Prospekt " was reopened, but three other stations — «Gostiny Dvor, » «Mayakovskaya, » and «Ploshchad Vosstaniya» — were closed for entry and exit, trains passed them without stopping.
Road traffic in the city center was restored at around 10:30 PM.
According to the report of the Commissioner for Human Rights in St. Petersburg, Alexander Shishlov, on April 21, 2021, during the public event, «no provocations from the participants were recorded.»
The report also notes that many participants of the rally used personal protective equipment, walked on sidewalks, while «some law enforcement officials, on the contrary, often moved across the lawns.» Not all law enforcement officers were wearing individual badges, which makes it impossible to identify them to investigate violations. Despite the peaceful character of the public event, «numerous unjustifiably harsh detentions using batons and stun guns» were recorded. Both participants of the public event and random passers-by were detained.
«People were dragged out of front doors and doorways. Passers-by were stopped. For instance, a person passing on a scooter next to a bus for detainees transporting was asked to stop and fold the scooter. After he did this, he was escorted to a bus», the report of the Commissioner in St. Petersburg says.
In addition, the media recorded cases of cordons in St. Petersburg, also they were reported to OVD-Info by the detainees themselves.
According to OVD-Info, at least 839 people were detained in St. Petersburg during the rally.
The detentions were characterized by unjustified and excessive violence by law enforcement officers against peaceful protesters. The police used special equipment such as batons and stun guns.
Detainees and witnesses of the detentions reported to OVD-Info about the use of stun guns on at least 14 people. Cases of the use of stun guns were recorded on videos published by the media.
Participants of the rally were beaten on the head and stomach, hit on the asphalt; one of the detainees in St. Petersburg got his finger broken. Detainees and witnesses of the detentions also reported other consequences of the use of force: chest contusion, head and face contusion, stun gun burns, bruises and abrasions. For some detained people an ambulance had to be called.
«The actions of some police officers who used force and special means during the detention of non-resisting participants of an unauthorized but peaceful rally, according to the representatives of the Commissioner, can be regarded as abuse of official authority, » the report of the Commissioner for Human Rights in St. Petersburg, Alexander Shishlov, says.
In response to the request of the «Podyom» media outlet about the use of stun guns, the press service of the regional Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs replied on April 26 that there were no complaints about the actions of the police. Similarly, the St. Petersburg police refused to admit the use of force in detentions during the winter protests: on April 28, news agency «Znak.com» reported that in response to a request about the beating and detention of an «Ekho Moskvy» journalist during a rally on January 23, the regional department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that the police officers acted strictly following the law and did not allow abuse of official authority.
Law enforcement officers in St. Petersburg used large passenger buses, placing 40-60 detainees at once in them, and took people to different police stations, breaking them into groups both in police vans and in police stations, before drawing up a protocol. The detainees were being transported even at night time.
In some police vans, people were driven around the city for two to four hours or were not taken to police stations for a long time.
This is contrary to the law’s requirement that the delivery must be «made as soon as possible.» In fact, this practice allowed the police to increase the period of detention, which is counted from the moment of delivery and registration at the police station. Moreover, it made it harder to search for specific detainees. This, in its turn, prevented the meeting with the defenders and the transfer of necessary things into the police stations.
Poor conditions compounded the lengthy transportation: some buses had more people than seats, and the detainees had to stand for long periods of time; they complained about the lack of food, water, and the ability to go to the toilet. Some detainees in the police vans became sick, cases of calling ambulances were recorded.
But even after being taken to the police stations, the detainees were not always immediately registered in the register (this was reported by the detainees from at least seven police stations), which further delayed the period of detention.
Despite the mass nature of the detentions on April 21 and the obvious public significance of these events, official information about the number of detainees was not announced either on the day of the action or during the week after it. At the same time, on the evening of April 21, the St. Petersburg police found it possible to estimate the number of participants in the action and announced that 4.5 thousand people participated in the event.
At the same time, the relatives of the detainees and their lawyers on April 21 suffered from a lack of information about the detainees and their locations. It was reported to OVD-Info that the phone of the prosecutor on duty and the helpline of the Ministry of Internal Affairs didn’t answer.
There have also been reported cases of blatant misinformation from the authorities' side.
Often, when people were detained, in police vans or police stations, their phones were taken away or forbidden to use (including under the threat of being taken away). We were informed about this from 16 police stations, but detainees from other police stations often just stopped contacting us. OVD-Info received mass requests from relatives and friends of detainees who lost contact with them during the delivery to the police station.
Sometimes the detainees were even forbidden to communicate with each other.
The police prevented the access of defenders and lawyers to the detainees. The non-admission of lawyers is recorded in at least 20 police stations.
Information was received from five police stations about implementing the «Fortress» plan — a special regime to protect police stations from raids, which restricts access inside and which the police actively use to prevent lawyers from visiting detained participants of rallies.
Problems with detention conditions were reported from 16 stations: lack of food, water, normal places to sleep, non-admission of parcels.
In six stations, detainees complained that the police refused to call an ambulance for the injured or let doctors in.
In police stations Nos. 14 and 15, the necessary medicines were not handed over to the detainees.
There were also certain problems related to the rights of children and parents.
OVD-Info was informed that at 28 police stations of St. Petersburg, people were forced to give fingerprints, and at 23 police stations — to be photographed. In at least 11 police stations, police officers collected additional personal information.
According to the law, the police have the right to manage registration, photographing, audio, film, and video recording, fingerprinting of the detainees of administrative offenses, only if it is otherwise impossible to establish their identity.
From 6 police stations, information was received that police officers demanded the detainees to show the IMEI (unique codes) of the phones.
People who defended their rights and refused illegal procedures and demands of the police faced pressure: police officers threatened to use force, send them to jail, or, most often, keep them at the police station for up to 48 hours. Reports of threats and pressure were received by OVD—info from the detainees of April 21 from 22 police stations of St. Petersburg.
There were recorded cases of the police forcing the detainees to refuse legal protection.
In some cases, the threats were fulfilled, and those who refused to be fingerprinted, photographed, or give away their phones, were separated from the rest of the detainees, kept at the station for hours, or left overnight, or the force was used against them.
For a long time, the detainees were not told whether the protocols would be drawn up and under what article. The maximum duration of detention also depends on the same article: if the violation does not provide for administrative arrest, the detention should not exceed three hours, otherwise 48 hours. Against the background of uncertainty, the police have additional means for pressure.
The police made additional efforts to force the detainees to return to the police station to draw up protocols. The detainees were often forced to sign «an undertaking to appear» for a protocol drawing up, which in fact has no legal force.
Detainees from 13 police stations reported that their passports were taken from them. In some cases, the police did not return passports to detainees released on an undertaking to appear. In police station No. 28, police officers tore up the passport of one of the detainees.
Some discriminatory practices were applied to those who did not have a residence permit in St. Petersburg (or did not have it on hand). In particular, they were kept overnight while other detainees were released.
Detainees from at least 13 police stations reported that they did not receive copies of their protocols. Detainees reported at least one case of being brought to court at night.
The presented stories clearly demonstrate the extensive powers of law enforcers, the lack of transparency and predictability of law enforcement, as well as the manipulative possibility of discriminatory use of legal measures against people detained at rallies. At the same time, the Russian legal system contains practically no effective means of appealing against such abuses. For example, a collective administrative claim against rights violations of the detainees at the protest rally on 23 January 2021 in Voronezh during mass detentions and in police stations was not admitted by the court for consideration on formal grounds.
In St. Petersburg, protocols of people detained on April 21 were mostly drawn up for «simultaneous mass gathering,» which resulted in disturbance of public order and breach of health and safety regulations (as per article 20.2.2, Code of Administrative Offences). It was also reported that some protocols were drawn up for violation of restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the most common «rally» article on violation of the established procedure for arranging or conducting a meeting (20.2, Code of Administrative Offences) was imputed much less frequently.
By April 30, information on 43 cases under Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offences and 370 cases under Article 20.2.2 of the Code of Administrative Offences, which have been submitted to the courts since April 21, was published on the websites of the courts of St. Petersburg. The results of the proceedings were published for 230 of these cases: one case was dismissed, the materials of another 52 were returned to the police for corrections, and in all other cases, a penalty was imposed. The courts considered 197 cases on the day of receipt, only 22 were considered on the next day, and one was considered three days later. According to the Joint press Service of the courts of St. Petersburg, on April 23, at least 56 people were arrested for 3 to 15 days, 81 people were fined up to 15 thousand rubles, and one person received a sentence of 70 hours of community service.
Two main waves of litigation follow mass detentions: during the first 48 hours, the trials of those who spent a night in the police station are held. They are charged with an article of the Administrative Code, providing for arrest as a punishment. Further, within a year (this is the statute of limitations for bringing to administrative liability for most of the articles of the Administrative Code imputed to detainees at actions), trials of all other detainees follow. Both of these waves of litigations have their own special patterns of violations.
During «arrest» trials, in the first 48 hours after mass detentions, the practical possibility of organizing an effective defense is most limited: the detainees have little or no time to find a defense lawyer, the communication with the outside world is limited, fatigue and stress after a night or two in the police station have a huge impact. The courts, as a rule, are forced to consider a large number of similar and hastily filed by the police cases in the first 48 hours. As a result, the procedure suffers greatly, and the procedural guarantees provided by law are not always respected. For example, detainees are given little time (about 10-15 minutes) to review the case materials (usually about 40-50 pages), often are refused to call defense and prosecution witnesses (police officers who report the illegality of the detainees ' actions), video and photo evidence is not always investigated, etc.
The risks for detainees are the highest in such processes since there is a real danger of getting administrative arrest as a punishment. The participation of a lawyer in such circumstances is most important, but lawyers often face various obstacles by assisting detainees.
A separate problem is the difficulties in filing appeals by those convicted of serving their arrests: it is difficult to contact a lawyer from a special detention center, and it is almost impossible to control the sending of a complaint. The legislation provides for urgent consideration of appeals filed by arrested persons — within a day. This deadline is not always observed by the courts in practice.
The courts' problems following the first 48 hours of mass detentions are partly similar to those described above: it is not always possible for the defense to present evidence, call and interrogate witnesses, etc. An additional problem may be that people may be notified about upcoming court sessions on the eve of the trial, significantly limiting the possibilities in preparing for the trial. Sometimes people are not notified at all, and the trials are held without the participation of the detainees, and therefore without presenting the defense arguments.
Although on April 21, the detentions of protesters in St. Petersburg were the largest compared to other cities and were characterized by unjustified brutality. These violations are not something new but rather reveal long-standing structural problems in the field of freedom of assembly and the functioning of law enforcement institutions. Such problems are:
The solution to these problems requires serious reforms. At the same time, professional communities, particularly those of lawyers and journalists, State institutions for monitoring and protecting human rights, and civil society institutions can already take some steps to improve the situation. Concerning the cases of restriction of the rights of detainees on April 21 in St. Petersburg, it is necessary to: