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Russia: Authorities Must Release Protesters Attacked by Police, Convicted of ‘Public Disorder’
In response to the recent convictions of protesters who marched to support free and fair elections in Moscow, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The Russian government is destroying lives and tarnishing reputations by jailing people who exercise their right to public assembly,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Freedom House’s Europe and Eurasia programs. “The 14 recent sentences meted out by Moscow courts show that the Russian government is scaring the population into submission by flipping the script: instead of holding the police accountable for the excessive use of force, ordinary people are receiving significant custodial sentences for ‘attacking’ the police, when, in fact, they were protecting themselves from extraordinary police violence. These sentences—which are completely disproportionate to the crime according to international agreements that Russia has willingly signed—are proof that the Russian government is deploying a full arsenal of repressive tools to prevent legitimate civic engagement, under the excuse of preserving public order. We call on the Russian authorities to abandon their campaign of fear and release the individuals in custody.”
As of December 9, 2019, 14 participants in the summer demonstrations in Moscow have been convicted of “public disorderly conduct,” a charge often invoked to prosecute protesters, and which carries penalties ranging from fines and probation to multiyear prison sentences. In the recent Moscow protest case, known as #Case212, legal action was initiated after thousands of people took to the streets on July 27 to peacefully protest the removal of independent candidates from the ballot in the local elections. The police responded by forcefully detaining a number of protesters, who were then charged with public disorderly conduct. The cases have made their way through the courts, with a number of sentences issued on December 6 and 9 respectively; these ranged from fines to prison sentences of up to five years. Many of those who received the harshest sentences had been defending themselves or their fellow protesters from disproportionate use of force by the police and the National Guard.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.