Violations of the Right to Peaceful Assembly for Women and Girls in Russia from 2010 to 2020

Доклад на русском языке Женщины и свобода собраний в России. Типология нарушений и примеры с начала 2010 года по июнь 2020-го

We prepared this review in June as a response to a request from the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association: at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2020, he is preparing to present a report on how women exercise their rights. Our text consists of two parts: the first — answers to the questions of the special rapporteur, the second — a description of the problems and examples which illustrate them.

Part 1. Response to the questionnaire

What have the Governments in those countries you work in done to ensure that women and girls have equal opportunities to exercise their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (FoAA), both in law and in practice?

Russian legislation makes no difference between women and men on the issue of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. In this regard, general guarantees and restrictions are also applied to women. It is important to notice that over the last ten years in Russia there has been a tough situation with the freedom of peaceful assembly: mass detentions, criminal and administrative prosecution of the organizers and participants of the rallies. The procedure for actions approval with the authorities is unbalanced and unfavorable to the organizers, and the information on unauthorised actions is limited.

From 2013 to 2019 at least 17,079 participants were detained in 1,426 actions in the two largest cities of Russia — Moscow and St. Petersburg. Among people detained during the action on September, 9 2018 in St. Petersburg there were at least 157 women; on June, 12 2017 in St. Petersburg — at least 127; on July, 27 2019 in Moscow — at least 92.

Actions in defense of women’s rights, gender equality and women’s solidarity with victims of political persecution and terrorist attacks are also accompanied by detentions: since 2013 at least 105 people have been detained in 25 such actions in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

From 2015 to 2020 at least 8 criminal cases against women in Russia were opened after protest rallies.

At the same time, there are especially vulnerable groups of women who are faced with restrictions stipulated by Russian legislation: girls and LGBTQ representatives. The Law on Public Events prohibits people under 18 from organizing single-person pickets, people under 16 are not allowed any other forms of action as well. Since the end of 2018, it has been an offense to «involve» people under 18 in participation in actions not approved by the authorities. Since 2013, «propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among people under 18» is also an offense that, in practice, comes to a ban on holding LGBTQ campaigns.

Is there an enabling environment in your country or region for a diversity of women and girls to form and join associations and/or networks? How is an equal and safe space for women and girls to participate meaningfully being ensured? Are there social norms and discriminatory laws, policies and practices that deny or deter women and girls from the exercise of the right to freely associate — directly or indirectly — or laws which affect everyone but have different impacts on women and girls? Are there specific issues women and girls are denied to form associations on and why? Do these extend online and in digital spaces? Are there attacks and violence against women and girls who form or join associations and how do they manifest themselves?

The freedom of association in Russia has significantly deteriorated over the last 10 years. New laws restricting the activities of NGOs were announced. For example, a wide range of non-governmental organizations were declared «foreign agents» or «undesirable organizations». Various forms of participation in public associations, including religious ones, were criminalized within the anti-extremist and anti-terrorism legislation. For instance, the religious movement of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been recognized as extremist in Russia since 2017.

According to human rights organizations, in recent years at least 91 women have been subjected to politically motivated criminal prosecutions related to the restriction of freedom of association in Russia. A large number of such cases (77) are associated with the prosecution of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization declared as extremist in Russia. Five women have been prosecuted for allegedly participating in the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic political party recognized as terrorist in Russia. Three women have been prosecuted for participating in Scientology organizations. Two women became involved in the resonant case of allegedly participating in the extremist organization «New Greatness». Two more women were accused of participating in the activities of an organization recognized as «undesirable» in Russia — in both cases, they were related to the Open Russia organization. Another woman was prosecuted because of «malicious evasion of duties defined by the legislation of the Russian Federation on non-profit organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent». One more woman was prosecuted due to her participation in the liquidated political party «Volya».

In what ways are women and girls in your country or region able to mobilize and participate meaningfully in peaceful assemblies — offline and online? What are some of the drivers behind these mobilizations? Could you give examples of achievements, which resulted from such mobilization?

Women can both organize and participate in peaceful assemblies, as well as spread information about them. Yet the Russian authorities require all mass public events to be authorized in advance, excluding the possibility of a spontaneous protest. As a result, authorities consider many peaceful assemblies to be illegal, and their organizers and participants to be law offenders. Gender equality, feminism, criticism of patriarchal values, domestic violence, harassment, women’s rights, social rights and guarantees for mothers of three or more children, and women’s solidarity with victims of political repression and acts of terrorism, — all of these issues have been raised at rallies over the last ten years. Over the past ten years, most such rallies have resulted in mass arrests of demonstrators, which attests to the urgency of these issues.

Female participants of peaceful assemblies express their support for a wide range of issues, which accelerates public debate and, at times, leads to a tangible change.

For instance, grassroots non-governmental organizations «Mothers of Beslan» and «Voice of Beslan, ” which bring together parents of the victims of the Beslan school siege of 2004, have been operating in Russia since 2005. In April 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian Federation was responsible for violating the right to life of the hostages of the besieged school.

In the summer of 2018, after the «Mothers’ March» rally, two subjects of the criminal investigation into the «Novoe Velichie» (the New Greatness) group, Anna Pavlikova and Maria Dubovik were released and transferred to house arrest. The two women, along with the other eight accused, were charged with forming an extremist group even though, according to experts, materials of the investigation contained glaring discrepancies and contradictions, indicating a political motivation behind it. The trials of this case continue to this day.

Now and again, rallies in support of introducing domestic violence legislation are held in Russia. At present, a debate surrounding the domestic violence law is taking place. The bill has not been introduced yet, and opinions on its content are contradictory. The wide scope of the discussion on domestic violence is, nevertheless, due in no small measure to female activists.

What are some of the barriers and obstacles they face specifically — including violations? Are there specific issues women and girls are denied to mobilize or participate on and why? Are there discriminatory laws, policies and practices that deter them from the exercise of this right — or affect everyone but have specific impacts on women and girls and if so, how?

Exercising the right to peaceful assembly in Russia is complicated by numerous restrictions and problems for most citizens, including women. These problems may arise as early as at the stage of organizing an assembly. The authorities have the power to refuse the approval for an assembly under various pretexts while disseminating information about an unauthorized assembly leads to penalties and blockings of information platforms. Participants of mass events, as well as individual pickets, face attacks by violent opponents as well as police detentions. During apprehension and transportation of detainees to police departments, as well as in police departments themselves, disproportionate violence is inflicted upon them. Detained participants of peaceful assemblies face administrative and criminal prosecution. Other widespread forms of political pressure are summons for «interviews» to police departments, threats of expulsion from educational institutions, and having one’s custody of their child taken away.

During the apprehension, in police departments, and other law enforcement agencies, female participants of protests often encounter sexism, manifested in moralistic browbeatings by policemen as well as regarding women’s actions in a special way in criminal procedure.

Another form of infringement of the right to a peaceful assembly that women encounter in Russia is coercion into participation in pro-government events.

For more details on the aforementioned practices of freedom of peaceful assembly restrictions, see Part 2. Persecution of women for exercising freedom of assembly.

In your opinion, which measures and policies would have to be taken to remove existing obstacles and risks to women and girls’ enjoyment of these rights?

In our opinion, the following measures could rectify the state of affairs concerning freedom of peaceful assembly in Russia, for women and all other citizens to enjoy this freedom to a full extent:

  • decriminalization of peaceful protest;
  • decreasing penalties for participation in mass events (at present, fines and other penalties are significantly higher and stricter in this area compared to other areas of law);
  • abolition of the system of authorization that allows government officials to ban virtually any mass event;
  • reorientation of the police and government on the whole away from restricting the freedom of peaceful assembly and towards facilitating it;
  • education of police officers and other officials about gender equality and the importance of human rights and freedoms;
  • practical responsibility of government officials, city administrators, police officers, who take part in restricting the freedom of peaceful assembly

Some women and girls face particular obstacles to FoAA and are at even greater risk of violations of their rights, including violence and marginalization, due to intersecting forms of discrimination. Can you identify groups of women and girls in your country or region that are particularly at risk and require specific attention in the thematic report?

Above, we noted that underage females and LGBTQ women are particularly vulnerable to having their freedom of peaceful assembly rights violated. In addition, female members and staff of non-governmental organizations, including human rights and environmental organizations designated by Russia as undesirable or designated as acting as foreign agents, are under pressure from the authorities. Additionally, female journalists covering protest rallies also face restrictions. Religious and other minority women also ended up in an especially vulnerable situation due to the criminalization of many such communities in Russia.

What has been your and your organisation’s experience in supporting women and girls in exercising the rights to FoAA? b) What have been the biggest challenges in your work to help guarantee the enjoyment of women and girls rights to FoAA while ensuring gender equality and addressing the specific needs of diverse women and girls?

OVD-Info is guided by the principle of male and female equality and works hard to support all political persecution victims, including advocates of gender equality. Additionally, we provide legal support and promote awareness among female persecution victims, in particular, among those suffering from peaceful assembly and association rights violations.

  • For instance, we defend Anna Pavlikova and Mariya Dubovik, the defendants in the criminal case «New Greatness» (Novoe Velichie). In December 2017, they were charged with the creation of an extremist group. However, we and other human rights organizations believes that the New Greatness association was, essentially, set up by the Russian security services.
  • By June 10, 2020, we lodged 26 complaints with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of women detained, arrested, or fined in the aftermath of the protests in summer 2019 in Moscow.

Can you name measures and policies taken by a State or the UN that you think have been especially effective to ensure women and girls’ equal enjoyments to their rights to FoAA? Do you have any examples of good practices or strategies put forward by civil society to overcome the restrictions that women and girls face in exercising these rights?

The work on General Comment on article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, which the UN Human Rights Committee is conducting, is of great importance. We hope that this document will elaborate on the pressing issues of the practical implementation of freedom of assembly. Once adopted, the documents could be appealed to at both the national and international levels.

We would note as positive the following aspect of Russian civil society the public attention to the problems of violence against women detained during public events.

Part 2. Persecution of women for the exercise of freedom of assembly


Gender equality, feminism, criticism of patriarchal foundations, domestic violence, harassment, protection of women’s rights, social rights and guarantees for mothers of large families and women’s solidarity with victims of political persecution and terrorist acts all raised at rallies that have been held over the past ten years and were followed by detentions. These rallies and detentions attest to the particular urgency of those issues. At the same time, women also participate in rallies on broader topics other than gender.

In Russia, the practice of peaceful assembly suppression is standard: mass detentions, as well as criminal and administrative prosecutions of rally organizers and participants, are common. The rally approval procedure remains unbalanced and unfavorable to the organizers, and information about unapproved protest demonstrations is limited.

At the same time, there are some peculiarities in the female realization of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Russian.

For instance, women are much less likely than men to be detained at mass rallies. They are also less likely to be prosecuted after public events.

Likewise, Russian law contains several «exceptions» for women. A pregnant woman or a woman with children under the age of 14 cannot be subjected to an administrative punishment in the form of arrest. By the same token, women cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment if prosecuted according to criminal law, and women cannot be placed in strict and special regime penal colonies. Besides, women are not required to serve in the army, which means that they are free from the forced conscription threat.

Law enforcement agencies frequently exploit traditional gender roles when interacting with women. Sometimes this manifests in police officers patronizingly lecturing women on how that they are not to go to rallies. At other times this manifests in legal accusations from law enforcement agencies. In those accusations, they claim that a woman by coming to a protest compels male rally participants to defend her against the police and thus uphold their masculine honor. Hence, in those accusations, a woman becomes a deliberate instigator of violence against the police by merely coming to the rally.

On the other hand, in practice, there is no evidence that females are threatened with rape or parental rights terminations more or less frequently than males.

Coercion into pro-government rallies participation

There exist numerous records of authorities coercing people to participate in official and pro-government rallies by threatening them with university expulsion or firings. Students and state institutions employees, especially teachers who are mostly female, are at a higher risk of such threats.

  • «We were warned that November 4 would be a non-working day, but by 10 a.m., we should be in the city-center to take part in the rally. I had to appear on the square in front of the city hall and the mosque since our administration threatened that we would have problems if we didn’t show up. After a speech by the press minister Jambulat Umarov, we left the rally, » one of the republican agencies employees said about the 2016 festive rally in Chechnya.
  • In December 2017, it was reported that Saratov City Government was forcing school and kindergarten teachers to participate in a New Year’s procession of snowmen; furthermore, money for costumes had to be collected by teachers and parents. The city authorities denied these accusations, saying that participation in the event is voluntary.
  • In 2019 in Chechnya state-funded agencies employees were forced to participate in a festive rally once again. The mass media published a plan drafted by the republic’s government, which detailed citizen participation in the event. The plan indicated participants' numbers by ministries providing them. The plan assumed that the Ministry of Education and Science would provide a large number of participants (2,500 people from the Ministry of Education while the other six ministries were to provide 1,050 in total).
  • In September 2019, the human rights section of the student magazine DOXA reported that students were forced to participate in a Moscow Student Parade threatening that if they don’t show up, they will have problems at school.
  • In June 2020, Altai State University students reported that they were ordered to participate in a celebratory flashmob under the threat of dorm evictions.

The Russian law states that coercion into public event participation is punishable according to the Criminal Code, however, this legal article is almost never applied in practice (Article 149 of the Criminal Code prescribes imprisonment up to three years as a punishment).

Approval of public assemblies

In Russia, the procedure of approval of public assemblies by the authorities is biased and unfavorable to organizers, regardless of the organizers' genders. The following problems commonly encountered problems attest to this:

  1. Rigid deadlines for the approval and a prohibition of spontaneous assemblies, even if they consist of a small number of participants.
  2. Unchecked powers of authorities in practice lead to arbitrary denials of approval and inadequate offers of alternatives accommodations for assemblies.
  3. The courts follow formalized procedures and do not properly evaluate the proportionality and necessity of the permit denials.
  4. Lack of transparency: the authorities do not publish the statistics of their assessment results, making the approval procedure susceptible to power abuse.

These problems make it easy to use the approval procedure as a censorship tool for weeding out rallies unfavorable to the government. These rallies may include events dedicated to women’s rights as well as those organized by women.

  • Before the 2018 presidential elections, the Ufa authorities denied the approval of the Ksenia Sobchak’s election campaign tent’s location and offered to move it to a spot located some 15 km away from the initially proposed place. Authorities' answer stated this decision was prompted by concerns that «the public event would disturb citizens' recreation in that area».
  • In February 2020, the government of Saint Petersburg denied the approval for the International Women’s Day demonstration in the city center to be held on the 8th of March. The officials claimed that the event’s goals were vague and that there was no description of the sound equipment in the documents. Moreover, officials did not approve the picketing for women’s rights, in which 49 people were going to participate in the Vasileostrovets garden. They claimed that cleaning services were scheduled to clean this area at the time of the event.

State control over information circulation regarding assemblies

If the authorities find information about the public assemblies that have not received their approval on a webpage, they can block the whole website without a court decision. Posting this kind of information can lead to administrative liability for citizens, and, in case of duplicity, up to five years of confinement.

In May 2018, Maria Makovozova, a member of Alexey Navalny’s election campaign team in Krasnoyarsk, was held in detention for three days for posting a video about an upcoming protest rally.

In March 2018 in Ulan-Ude, Evgenia Baltatarova, editor-in-chief of an online magazine, was accused of organizing a public assembly without the authorities' approval. On March 29, the journalist was arrested and fined 30 thousand rubles (about $437 at the rate of June 10, 2020) for posting information about an upcoming demonstration rally against the mayor of Ulan Ude which was planned only for March 31. According to the investigation files, Baltarova spread the information about the demonstration and appeals to join it, thus openly organizing a public event.

Attacks on participants of public assemblies

Sometimes female participants of protest rallies get attacked. Often if police officers witness the attacks, they do not interfere to protect the victims.

  • In 2020 in Moscow, during the picketing dedicated to International Women’s Day, a group of people prevented activists of SocFemAlternative movement from giving out pamphlets. They also used pepper spray on one of the female picketers.
  • In June 2019, Anna Dvornichenko, an LGBTQ activist from Rostov-on-Don, was attacked by an unidentified man during picketing against violence towards LGBTQ people. The man approached the activist shouting «Away with Sodom and Gomorrah, » then used pepper spray on her face and wrested the picket sign from her hands.

Suppression of rallies and mass arrests

Suppression of peaceful assemblies, especially those without approval, and arrests of their participants are standard practice. Thousands of people have been arrested during peaceful protest rallies. According to OVD-Info, 17 079 participants of 1 426 assemblies from 2013 to 2019 in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the two largest cities in Russia.

According to the information provided by OVD-Info, there were at least 157 women arrested on September 9, 2018, in Saint Petersburg, at least 127 on June 12, 2017, in Saint Petersburg, and at least 92 on July 27, 2019, in Moscow.

Furthermore, police frequently arrest participants of assemblies dedicated to women’s rights, gender equality, and solidarity of women with the victims of political repressions and terrorist attacks. According to OVD-Info, at least 105 people were arrested during 25 such assemblies in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In other regions of Russia, arrests at those kinds of events are also common.

Table of detention at public events in Moscow and St.Petersburg

  • In August 2017, in Krasnodar Krai, nine women, who had planned to have a feminist summer camp on the seashore, were repeatedly arrested.

It is worth noticing, though, that during some of the protest events where mass arrests were taking place, women were arrested less than men.

  • «There were more women [at the protest — OVD-Info], but, for the most part, they tried to arrest men» — told a participant of protests against the building of an incineration plant in Moscow Oblast in May 2020.

According to the data on several rallies which took place in summer 2019 in Moscow (with the most significant number of people arrested since 2011), provided by OVD-Info, not more than 30 percent of women were among the arrested, but, most likely, they constituted even less than 10 percent. According to sociologists, around 40 percent of all the participants were women.

At the same time, the study conducted by an LGBTQ group «Coming Out» indicates a bigger proportion of women among participants of LGBTQ gatherings in St.Petersburg. «The percentage of women among the survey participants who took part in street protests in 2019 was higher than average for the sample (57%, 85 people)». The risks for transgender people are especially high: «their share among those who experienced violations is significantly higher than among all protest participants (23% vs 19%)».

A quote from a woman, who was among the arrested in August 2019 in Moscow:

  • «I came out of the café with a coffee and a roll and sat on a bench (by that time, the riot police column had already passed by). Several other people sat down on the same bench, almost at the same time as me (some of them also carrying drinks from the café). Almost immediately, a couple of riot police officers came up to us, and without introducing themselves or telling us why they are arresting us (the others and I had been sitting peacefully without shouting or chanting), took me and the others to a prison wagon.»
  • Another quote from a witness of the mass arrests in August 2019 in Moscow: «On Novinsky Boulevard people started running and scattering as the riot police came into view. I was just calmly walking straight ahead. A riot police officer approached me and said, «Also, arrest this young lady.»

Arrests for individual pickets

According to Russian law, individual pickets are the only form of a rally that does not require warning authorities in advance. However, since 2013, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, almost every third public event in which participants were detained was an individual picket. In this regard, it is not uncommon for police to arrest women while they are holding individual pickets.

  • On July 8, 2017, on a day of Christian’s holiday of Family and Faith, two women were arrested for participating in individual pickets in areas near churches in Ekaterinburg. Pickets centered around feminist issues.
  • On March 8, 2018, two female participants of individual pickets against violence against women in Moscow were arrested. Police told participants that they were arrested for smoking cigarettes in a public place while referencing a legal article on alcohol consumption. According to eyewitness accounts, the arrests actually happened after one of the protesters declined to give her passport in the hands of a police officer.

In some cases, the grounds for breaking up protests were the police’s suspicions that several individual pickets actually represent a single protest event.

  • In March 2018, during Vladimir Putin’s election campaign for the fourth term in the Presidential office, police officers threatened to detain an activist, who unfolded a poster of Vladimir Putin near Putin’s Moscow election headquarters, accusing the man of conducting an unsanctioned mass protest. The cited grounds were the presence of two more women, one with a folded poster and another with a poster in a plastic bag.
  • A police officer told Gayane Amrahova, who went to the Presidential Administration in Moscow in February 2018 with the banner «People with disabilities have no life in Russia, ” that she was not participating in an individual picket but rather in a mass rally event with other people near the entrance. «He started saying that I organized a mass protest out of the line, ” Amrakhova said. «However, the people in the line had nothing to do with me. He said that I came with that line, which was fenced with an iron fence. It could be clearly seen how they deliberately go through the door with their bags and documents.»

Occasionally, intervention by agents provocateurs can lead to arrests.

  • In Saint Petersburg, a participant in an individual picket against homophobia was detained after an agent provocateur stood next to her, formally turning the picket into a mass event. The provocateur himself was not detained.

Since 2016, the law requires a permit to conduct even an individual picket if a «prefabricated collapsible structure» will be used in it.

  • In April 2018, police decided that a deputy Leonid Slutsky’s cardboard figure with which human rights activist Alena Popova stood in front of State Duma in an individual picket against sexual harassment is such a structure.

In March-June 2020, authorities justified numerous individual picketers’ arrests with restrictive measures aimed at combating COVID-19 epidemics.

  • In Moscow, Anna Loiko was detained participating in an individual picket in support of a student arrested during finals. Five police officers arrested Loyko and jostled her into the police station. The woman’s personal belongings remained on the street. Police officers did not introduce themselves and named «individual pickets» as the reason for the arrest. She was later accused of violating the COVID-19 epidemics «self-isolation» order.
  • In May-June 2020, women participated in regularly held individual pickets near the Moscow Police Department in defense of the peaceful assembly rights and in support of previously arrested individual picketers. There were numerous arrests during those protests.

Use of force against detainees

Women participating in protests suffer from a use of force during the arrest, while transported to a police station and later in a police station itself. Complaints regarding the excessive use of force by the police are frequently left unanswered. Here are a couple of examples.

Use of force during arrests:

  • According to accounts of witnesses of Vera Shihova’s detention in front of a President’s Administration building in December 2013, «Police officers punched her in the chest and face and manhandled her into a car. As a result, Shihova, who had a neck hernia, had her legs paralyzed». A mother of a miner who received a work-place injury, Vera Shihova held single pickets regularly, fighting for social benefits for her son.
  • A woman detained in a community park in Ekaterinburg in 2019 where protests against a new church construction were taking place, accounted: «The police handling was terrible. I went to the park accidentally. […] The National Guard charged the crowd. And so they started charging, and for some reason, I didn’t start running away. So they grabbed me and started dragging me. I told them then: «Let my hand go. It hurts, ” and one of them answered me: «If you fucking move, we’ll break it.»
  • Daria Sosnovskaya, who has participated in a rally against a non-admission of opposition candidates from Moscow city elections on August 10, 2019, received a punch in the stomach and the head during her arrest. It was later confirmed that she sustained a concussion. An investigative committee redirected Sosnovskaya’s report to the National Guard, which had nothing to do with it. The Ministry of Internal Affairs explained the police officer’s actions by saying that Sosnovskaya was preventing him from picking his baton up from the ground.
  • In the course of a protest rally on July 27, 2019, riot police officers punched a Moscow municipal deputy, Alexandra Parushina, with a baton on the head. Blood started pouring out of her head, so she was hospitalized. An investigative committee did not start an investigation based on her report.

Use of force in the police van:

  • On 5 March 2012, 56-year-old Tatyana Kadiyeva was detained in Moscow and beaten first in the police van and later on the street outside the police station. According to Kadiyeva, inside the police van several police officers covered her with a jacket (blocking her vision) and then beat her. Coming out of the police van, she received a kick to the head. Kadiyeva spent a night in the police station. In the morning she was brought to court and on the way there the police forcefully hit her head on a police car. On March 7th, she was hospitalised with «a multiple nose fracture, bruises on her arms, head and elsewhere, and possible concussion».
  • The journalist Jenny Curpen tells her story about what happened in the police police van when she was detained on 6 May 2012 at the protests against the inauguration of Vladimir Putin for a third presidential term: «Two policemen were holding Nizovkina and Stetsura by the neck, wringing their hands back and not letting them move. <…> Before the police van began to move, the officers who were holding Stetsura hit her head against the railing. I started filming. The policewoman with the camera yelled that I had no right to film inside the police police van and demanded that I turn my camera off. I refused, saying that as a member of the press I have every right to record unlawful actions by the police and inform the public about them, and that in fact that is my professional responsibility. She then tried to get the camera out of my hands, but didn’t manage to do so. Then she simply broke the lens of my camera».
  • Report on the arrests on 8 March 2013: the police officers «pick out and manhandle people both outside and inside the territory of the coordinated protest «Feminism is Liberation» organized by feminists and the party Yabloko. The police van with 16 arrested people has just left from the square. People complain about injuries and ongoing beatings inside «.

Use of force at the police station:

  • In January 2013 Elena Kostyuchenko arrested at the rally against the bill banning «homosexuality propaganda» was «expelled from the police station without any protocol. At the same time her purse was torn. Prior to this, the activist was pushed down the stairs, tearing her jacket and bruising her cheekbone, and then locked up in a cell».
  • On 14 March 2020 Vera Olejnikova was detained in Moscow at the pickets against amendments to the Constitution and in support of political prisoners. At Kitai-Gorod police station the young woman received a head injury as the result of use of force. Olejnikova was released from the hospital, as she believes, on the instructions of the authorities».

Journalists covering actions are also being beaten.

  • In 2018 in Saint Petersburg Rosbalt, a media outlet, reported that its photojournalist Alexandra Polukeyeva was hit on the head by batons several times. In the emergency room she was diagnosed with moderate concussion».

Violation of the rights and pressure on detainees

Detainees at the rallies face violation of their rights and inhuman treatment. OVD-Info often receives information that mobile phones are being grabbed from detainees and they cannot ask for help and call lawyers. Arrestees are being photographed and fingerprinted often under threat. Pre-charge detention period often significantly exceeds the statutory period of three hours. In some cases detainees are not given food or water, are not allowed to go to the toilet and are not provided with food or medicine parcels. Lawyers are not allowed into the police station. Below we give some examples of how women become victims of such actions.

  • Detainees in Moscow on 18 March 2013 at a protest complain about it being cold in the police van: «According to Lavreshina, it is extremely cold in the vehicle because the police officers transport them with the door open on purpose».
  • Detainees in Moscow in summer 2019 complain about stuffiness in the van: «When they put me in the wagon, all my stuff was taken away. They didn’t tell us the location we would be transported to. There were a lot of people inside. It was stuffy and they didn’t give us water. We were not allowed to open windows. Some girl there became ill. We arrived at the police station at around 9 p.m.».
  • Detainees for an action with a banner and fires at the center of Moscow in 2013 report that at the police station they are not allowed to go to the toilet or drink water. Also the officers don’t allow others to supply water for them. Apart from this, Anna Frakhtman complains that her finger was injured and that they made her hit her head on a police van. An activist who doesn’t give her name complains that her leg was injured».
  • A message on the OVD-Info hotline about arrestees on 27 July 2019 in Moscow: «A daughter <…> is not allowed to pass medicines to her mother».
  • One of the arrested people in Moscow during the mass detentions at a rally on 3 August 2019 reports: «They delivered us to Bibirevo police station at 16:30, I left it at 00:05. I signed the charge protocol for the administrative law violation at some point after 21:30».
  • A 78-year-old woman detained in March 2020 in Saint Petersburg for a public action against amendments to the Constitution was held at the police station until midnight».

There is a number of recorded cases of forced psychiatric hospitalization of detainees. As a rule, it happens if an arrestee actively expresses dissatisfaction with the actions of the police, insists on observing their rights or refuses to give their name.

  • On 9 March 2013, the police officers threatened the detained Vera Lavreshina with being sent to a psychiatric hospital. She was taken to a psychiatric hospital in May. Vera Lavreshina reports to OVD-Info: «A mini-council took place in the hospital on the same day. Several doctors spoke to me and after that I was released. In other cases after a talk with psychiatrists I just stayed at the police station and then in most cases they let me go home, not knowing what to do with me». According to Lavreshina, over the period of 2 years the police sent her to the doctors eight times but she was taken to the mental hospital only twice».

Russian legislation on administrative offenses provides additional guarantees for pregnant women and women who have children under the age of 14 — they cannot be sentenced to an arrest. However, the law does not prohibit detaining them for up to 48 hours without a court order. In December 2015 the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation did not see any problem with this. In practice, prolonged detention applies to women participating in public events.

  • In August 2013, a mother of multiple children who participated in a protest outside the office of the United Russia party was left overnight at the police station in Moscow.
  • After mass detentions at a rally in support of independent deputies in Moscow on 27 July 2019, a woman was detained for two days with her four-year-old child at home. She was subsequently fined for participating in an unauthorised public event.

After the summer protests in 2019, proposals were made in the State Duma of the Russian Federation to remove the restriction on the arrest of women with young children. The reason was the situation around one of the leaders of the protest — Lyubov Sobol, who, as the mother of a young child, could not be arrested, but was fined a total of more than 1.5 million rubles (about $21.5 thousand at the rate on 10 June).

Administrative prosecution

Mass administrative prosecution of the participants of peaceful assemblies is a consequence of numerous detentions. The administrative code’s paragraph on violation of conduct at the public assembly is applied in most cases (20.2 CoAV), which results in courts imposing large penalties and prolonged detentions (up to 30 days), as well as mandatory labour.

  • In December 2016 the authorities of the city of Stavropol refused to agree to a rally for women’s rights appealing to the fact that the place of the rally would be used for the preparations for the New Year celebrations. Then the applicants decided to conduct a series of single-person pickets. This format does not require any coordination with the authorities. However when activists went out with their pickets to the Lenin square, they were detained by the Police in 10 minutes. They were let go after a 4-hour examination in the police office with no protocols filled out. Female activists wrote about their action on the internet, which attracted attention of the Center of Extremism Prevention. Its officers believed that «the actions of the applicants contained signs of violations of the administrative code, as their pickets were not coordinated with the local authorities». Picket participants were charged with a paragraph 20.2 CoAV violation, the court imposed fines from 10 to 20 thousands rubles (about $147-195 at the rate of June 10, 2020), and one of activists was assigned 30 hours of mandatory labour.

When the accused is charged with this paragraph in Russia, the average fine applied is more than 16 thousands rubles (about $233 at the rate of June 10, 2020), the total fines amount to 60 millions rubles (about $874 thousands at the rate of June 10, 2020) over the period of one year.

According to the information published on Russian courts’ websites in 2019 courts heard, approximately, no less than 685 charges with paragraph 20.2 CoAV in which the defendants were female and 3823 cases where the defendants were male. In 120 (17%) cases females were accused for organizing a public assembly and in 512 (75%) — for taking part in it. In addition 53 cases (8%) are cases of «repeat offenses» with the maximum fine (150-300 thousands rubles, about $2184 — 4368 at the rate of June 10, 2020) and detention (up to 30 days).

Penalty for «a repeat offense» as well as penalty in the form of detention for the organizers and the participants of public assemblies were enforced in the middle of 2014 and have been applied extensively since 2015.

  • Olga Terekhina who had taken part in the assembly in support of Nadezhda Savchenko on 11 May 2015 was arrested for 10 days for «a repeat offense». When the case was appealed, the decision remained the same.

Threats, expulsions and other means of non-juridical pressure

Detention and administrative prosecution are the mass and broadly widespread instruments of putting pressure on the participants of public assemblies. However female participants are threatened with other methods as well, some of which are applied to all political activists, such as an invitation for a talk to the police office, shadowing, pressure and threats.

  • In February 2019 Natalia Zakharova, the organizer of an all-Russian assembly «Mothers’ Anger Rally» in the city of Makhachkala was visited at her home by the police. As the result she didn’t conduct the rally and went to a single-person picket. She described the situation as follows: «Today morning the police officers came to my home while I was not there, only my small children were at home. The police terrified them, the kids were frightened. The police officers didn’t leave when they were told that the mom was not at home. Then some of the higher level police officers started calling me and telling me that the rally is illegal, as they were notified by the administration of the city of Makhachkala. I had to handle the matter with the children, calmed them down and therefore the assembly did not start on time».
  • A day before March 8, 2020 [International Women’s Day widely celebrated in Russia] police officers in the city of Blagoveshchensk pushed activists of ‘SocFem Alternative’ not to conduct an alternating single-person picket in support of women’s’ rights. As the girls reported, police officers had come to their homes, to the university and to the office, had threatened expulsion from the university and problems with employment. One of the activists was summoned to the police office to «give explanations regarding the materials of the police examination».
  • Police officers detained an eco-activist named Alfia and put pressure on her using threats in order to prevent her from taking part in ecological actions. According to her friend, «the girl was taken outside the city and threatened there with expulsion from the university, with „an arrest“ and even with rape. Alfia, being tough enough not to be threatened, replied: „I will continue doing what I am doing“. In the end she was brought back, not left in the fields».
  • In February 2018, an hour after the end of a non-coordinated rally «For the clean sky» in the city of Krasnoyarsk its organizer Tatiana Protsykova was summoned by a local police officer to give explanations and testimony. During the conversation at the police office Protsykova noticed that the policeman had a whole folder of screenshots of her posts on various social media.

Threat of depriving of parental rights is used as an additional coercive measure against the female participants of the protest rallies.

  • In 2011 Yevgenia Chirikova the eco-activist and the leader of the Khimki forest defence movement shared that her family became the subject of interest for guardianship authorities because of the neighbors' complaint regarding the child abuse. She also noted that another female activist received threats of parental rights deprivation.
  • In August of 2013 Irina Kalmykova who was arrested several times at the protest rallies before was threatened by the police officers with deprivation of parental rights.
  • In October of 2017 Polina Kostylyova the head of the Saint Petersburg office of the opposition politician Alexey Navalny was threatened with deprivation of parental rights. Polina was earlier detained for organizing the protest rally that wasn’t approved by the government authorities.

Such means of pressure are often being used against men, the families of activists, as well as the parents of minors who participated in protest rallies.

It is not so rare that female students who were collecting signatures in support of political prisoners or organizing protest rallies are expelled from college or put at risk of expulsion. Similarly there are cases when students were forced not to participate in protest rallies by threatening them with expulsion.

  • In 2019 in Bashkortostan students of some universities in Ufa were prohibited from participating in protests organized by the opposition politician Alexey Navalny. «Junior students were affected the most. For instance they were prohibited to wear the Navalny staff buttons, forced to tear the stickers with Navalny’s name off their phones, and warned in advance not to participate in the rallies in June. All of them are under the penalty of expulsion», — one of the students told.
  • During the summer 2019 mass protests in Moscow the rector of the RSHU Alexander Bezborodov stated that students can be expelled from school for «an administrative or indeed felony offence». «It is particularly important for us to alert the young people that unauthorized activities are unacceptable» — added Bezborodov. Alexey Lubkov the rector of MPSU referred to a non-existent university decree and stated that students' participation in protest rallies that were not approved by authorities might be «incompatible with further studies».

A number of methods are applicable to men only. For example, a call to the draft board and higher risks in case of expulsion from the university due to the threat of recruitment (In Russia military service is mandatory for men, the age of recruitment is between 18 and 27 years. Students enrolled in higher education are eligible for deferral of national service).

Criminal prosecution against the participants of the peaceful rallies.

In 2014 Russian Criminal Code was supplemented by the article that criminalizes participation in peaceful rallies that were not approved by the government authorities. Repeated violations during public events despite their peaceful nature might lead to a penalty of 5 years of imprisonment.

  • The criminal proceedings under article 212.1 of Criminal Code of Russian Federation against the activist Irina Kalmykova, who participated in unauthorized rallies several times, were initiated in June of 2015. The activist has left Russia.

In 2017 and 2020 the question was raised before the Constitutional Court of Russian Federation regarding the constitutionality of such strict liability for participation in peaceful rallies, but both times the article was not found to be inconsistent with the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

Moreover, during the past 10 years female rally participants in Russia were accused of participation in or organization of mass disorders, hooliganism, use of violence and insult against the law enforcement officials and authorities, of setting up an extremist organization, as well as of public appeals to undermine the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.

  • The most severe penalty over the past 5 years was a year and a half probation for Olga Gyammer, who participated in the protest rally in fall 2018 against the pension reform.
  • Furthermore, one of the female participants of the protest rallies in Ingushetia in 2018 is in custody since July 2019, Zarifa Sautiyeva is accused of participating and setting up an extremist association, organizing acts of violence against the law enforcement officials, endangering their health.
  • After the feminist protest entitled «Femenism is about liberation» in Moscow on March 8 of 2013 criminal proceedings were initiated against the detained participant Anastasiya Bryazgina. Later, Bryazgina left Russia and received political asylum in France.

One of the key political cases of the last decade is the so-called «Bolotnaya Square case» concerning the protests in the center of Moscow on May 6th of 2012 on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s’ inauguration for his third presidential term. Six women and thirty men were identified as the persons of interest in this case.

During 2015-2020 according to the OVD-Info information, at least 8 criminal proceedings were initiated against female participants of the protest rallies.

Table of criminal cases against women after public events in Russia since 2015

According to the «Database of political pressuring (politpressing)», where the information on politically motivated criminal cases is being collected, since 2015 credible human rights organizations recognized criminal prosecutions against three female participants of the protest rallies in Russia as politically motivated and 109 similar cases against the men.

In fact, as of May 1st 2020, a total of 511 030 people, of whom 41 376 are female, were detained in the institutions of penal correction in Russia. The studies show that, all other factors being equal, females have 1.5 times less chance to be sentenced to deprivation of liberty by the Courts in Russia, as well as 18% more chance to be acquitted.

Russian legislation contains a number of peculiarities in regards to criminal prosecution of accused females: women may not be sentenced to life imprisonment, and women may not be placed in strict or special regime colonies.

Exploiting gender roles

Protesters encounter sexism when arrested, while at police stations and when their actions get evaluated for criminal charges.

  • «A journalist detained during the mass arrests at a protest in Moscow on May 6, 2012, said: «Throughout the whole trip to a police station a policewoman with a camera verbally assaulted the detainees, provoking aggressive replies and actions, and then filming them. For example, she said to Arkady Babchenko, who was restrained: «you are a bum and a drunkard — you were kicked out from work for boozing, and so you got angry and went fucking around.» To another arrested man she said, «you can’t get laid that’s why you’re fucked up in the head.» To Stetsura and Nizovkina: «The girls were just desperate for some male attention so, they went out asking for trouble».
  • According to the prosecutor’s version of what happened in the case of Zarifa Sautieva, an attendee of a 2018 Ingushetia protest, several activists deliberately encouraged protesters to use violence against the representatives of power because of political enmity then «they manipulated ethnic traditions» and «provocatively called to masculine dignity and national unity, ” urging them to protect the elders and the woman (Sautieva) by any means.
  • The following is a description of a policeman’s interaction with a woman detained in Moscow during the mass arrests in the summer of 2019: «One of the law enforcement officers noticed a ring on Zinaida’s finger and started reprimanding her, supposedly saying that she is a married woman who is not to go to protests (!) and that her husband must beat her with a belt for that. Zina did not even know how to answer such an insulting comment».
  • Olga Moskvitina, detained at a public performance action «Monstration» in Makhachkala in 2019, recounted police officers threatening her because of her intersex. «At the station I was humiliated, threatened, verbally degraded in various ways, but not beaten. They threatened to spread reveal my status so that the locals would kill me, and theatened to murder me and blame it on the Wahhabists. They said they’d do that so that creatures like I would not exist. They forced me to undress; they examined me, and they conducted a lengthy interrogation regarding my genitals. It was extremely unpleasant».

Limitations on freedom of assembly and the underaged

Current Russian law on assembly does not impose limitations on the age of people participating in public events but it does limit the age of public event organizers. The legal age differs depending on the form of the event: a meeting organizer must be no less than 16 years old while a demonstration or picketing organizer must be no less than 18 years old.

Such regulations create an environment where it is unclear whether minors can hold single participant pickets: the law does not specify whether a single picketer should be counted as a participant or an organizer. However, a single person picket is the only form of a public event that does not require a permit from the executive authority to be acquired in advance. So, it is the only opportunity for a spontaneous event. Sometimes police interpret the law to imply that a single-person picket may be held only by persons who are 18 years of age or older.

  • An underage girl was detained in Moscow Arbat District in March 2019. She was holding a single person picket against the use of torture.

Underage girls experience additional pressure in connection to participating in protests.

  • A school girl who was arrested at a Saint Petersburg protest on June 12, 2017, according to her advocate at a meeting of the Commission for Juvenile Affairs, «was put under intense psychological pressure and threatened with a life in prison so that she gave a fitting testimony. As a result she admitted that she was taking part in a protest and heard the police calls for its suspension. In reality, Daria was at the Field of Mars for only 3 minutes, after which she was apprehended by the National Guard and placed in police custody for 8 hours in the 15th police station.» He said Daria was denied food and water at the police station and that the report was filed without her legal guardian’s presence.

School girls expressing support for the opposition frequently experience pressure.

  • A Saint Petersburg Commission for Juvenile Affairs ordered teachers to take care of a school girl by the means of «individual preventative work» after her detention at a protest against the Pension Reform. A social worker came to a class and reprimanded the 14-year old 8th grader in front of the whole class, and then made her copy lines from the Administrative Offences Code article about the «simultaneous mass presence.» The student was told during the preventive talk that she does not have a right to attend public events until she turns 18 years old.
  • In Kostroma, police officers came to the school, which one of the protesters against the Pension Reform attended. During a lesson the school girl was called to the principal’s office to meet them, where she was given the notice to appear at the police station.
  • At the beginning of the school year in Moscow following the summer of mass protests in 2019, a woman in police uniform visited a school during class, where she was introduced as an Inspector for Juvenile Affairs. She threatened the students with criminal liability for attending protests and inability to get admission to any higher education institution.
  • In May 2017, teachers were recommended to strengthen patriotic and anti-extremist propaganda targeting students and to lecture on how activities of Aleksei Navalny, an opposition politician, are harmful. As an 11th-grade student from one of the schools in Samara recalls, a teacher told her class that: «f students go to the June 12 protest and get detained, they might have problems with getting into college, and their parents might have problems at work. Especially if they held public sector jobs or owned a private business.»

Parents are made liable for their children’s participation in protest actions:

  • A woman from Sverdlovsk region was fined 10,000 rubles (about $145 at the rate of June 10, 2020) because of her daughter’s participation in an anti-corruption rally on March 26, 2017. The Juvenile Justice Commission decided that it is the mother who should pay the fine because the girl was a college student and did not have any independent income.

Parents have been threatened with termination of custody and even criminal prosecution for attending an unauthorized rally with their children:

  • On August 26, 2019, it became known that the Prosecutor’s Office had filed a legal request to deprive Petr and Elena Khomsky’s family of their custody. On August 3, Petr and Elena were on Pushkin Square in Moscow with their three daughters. A REN TV’s news broadcast featured them. This video has served as a ground for the lawsuit. The Prosecutor’s Office stated the Khomskys took their children with them to avoid an arrest and has demanded that two of their daughters — one three years old and the other three months old — be taken away from them. Petr Khomsky told «Novaya Gazeta» that they were walking with their children along the boulevards, playing on the children’s playgrounds, and at a certain point came out from the underpass near the Pushkin Square without seeing a large group of National Guard officers. According to Khomsky, they cannot have looked at all like protesters. They did not shout out slogans or carry posters. They kept away from the crowds. Moscow Children’s Ombudsman Evgeny Bunimovich noted that this situation looks like political blackmail.
  • On July 27, 2019, Olga and Dmitry Prokazov participated in public protests in Moscow with their little child. For some time, they let their relative, Sergey Fomin, look after the child. Sergey Fomin was later charged with participation in mass riots. According to the prosecution, this «put the boy’s life and health in danger, and inflicted physical and mental harm upon him.» The prosecution claimed that «therefore, the spouses by exploiting the child abused their custody to the detriment of the interests of their son». Thus, the couple became subjects to a criminal case for leaving a child in danger. In autumn, the case was dismissed.

In 2018, the punishment was introduced for «involving a minor» in participation in «unauthorized» protests: it is now punishable by a fine of 30,000 to 50,000 roubles (about $437-728 at the rate of June 10, 2020), community service of no more than 100 hours or an arrest for no more than 15 days. The administrative code does not explain what exactly «involving a minor» in public protests means.

The Russian law «protects» children in every way not only from presence at a protest rally but also from observing it from a distance.

As of May 2017, it was prohibited to hold public assemblies on the territory of or next to educational institutions in 64 regions, nearby playgrounds in 40 regions and near the“childcare facilities» in 33 regions. In several regions there is a prohibition of holding assemblies in areas or sometimes even in the vicinity of areas where activities «involving minors» are taking place or even only planned for the future.

The prohibition of «propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations» among minors, an invention of 2013, is frequently used to break up any assemblies centered around LGBTQ rights wherever they are held but especially if there are held nearby children’s libraries, schools and other childcare facilities. In 2014, the Constitutional court emphasized that the ban on «propaganda» should not be used to prevent public events. Nevertheless, in practice such rbans remain common.

  • In November 2019, Alan Eroh, an LGBTQ activist from Yaroslavl, was issued an administrative offense report for «promoting non-traditional sexual relations among minors» after a public protest against homophobia in families. As part of the rally, Alan Eroh and Paul Hopson came to Yaroslavl government’s offices with a self-made coffin adorned with homophobic inscriptions, such as «Mom, I’m gay. — I wish you were never born», «You are not my son anymore, ” «Don’t you dare tell your father.» Police officers confiscated the coffin and tried to get explanations for their actions.
  • In May 2019, female activists in Saint Petersburg were charged with a «propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations» after holding a public rally on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. The event was conducted in an area allocated explicitly for public assemblies.

See also

You can find additional information on the issues surrounding the freedom of assembly in Russia in these English-language reports by OVD-Info: