(Moscow) – The Russian authorities should grant bail to all detained defendants on trial for a 2012 mass protest, and investigate allegations of abuse and denial of medical treatment.
The individuals were among tens of thousands of demonstrators who protested in central Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, the day before President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration. There were scattered, random clashes between a small number of protesters and police.
Of the twelve defendants now on trial, nearly all have been charged with participation in “mass riots,” a charge which Russia’s human rights ombudsman has criticized as disproportionate. Most are also charged with attacking police. Three are under house arrest or have been released on bail, leaving nine still in pretrial detention.
“Nine protesters have needlessly lost a year of their lives behind bars,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “To make matters worse, it looks like some of them are being abused or not getting the treatment they need.”
One of the defendants is losing his eyesight in pretrial custody and was struck by guards outside the courtroom, his lawyer says. Another has endured an eye trauma and alleges he was denied adequate treatment for almost a week. A third alleges that prison guards struck him and subjected him to a humiliating search. All three have been in pretrial custody for more than a year, together with six more of their codefendants.
The trial, in Moscow’s Nikulinsky District Court, was in recess since October 4 andis scheduled to resume on October 22. Thirteen more people await trial on similar charges, four of whom are in pretrial custody.
Vladimir Akimenkov, one of the defendants, has alleged that on October 1, a prison escort struck him on the back of his head, using his hand, while accompanying him through the courthouse corridor. Akimenkov’s lawyer did not know what prompted the blow. Akimenkov’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch that when the hearing began, Akimenkov told the judge the guard struck him, but she interrupted him, refused to consider his allegation, and threatened to expel him from the hearings if he continued.
Akimenkov, 26, has since birth suffered from a damaged optic nerve. When prison doctors examined him in October 2012, three months after his arrest, they found his eyesight had deteriorated significantly since his last eye exam, carried out in 2004, and that he had only 10 percent vision in his left eye and 20 percent in his right eye. Judges have routinely rejected requests to release Akimenkov on bail so that he could seek treatment.
In May 2013, the Moscow City Court agreed to Akimenkov’s petition for release if the trial started later than June 10, but since the trial started on June 6 he remained imprisoned. Amnesty International has declared Akimenkov a prisoner of conscience.
“Akimenkov’s eyesight is failing while he’s in custody,” Denber said. “He should be granted bail urgently so he can get the care he needs.”
Authorities have charged Akimenkov with “participation in mass riots” during the May 6 rally, alleging that he threw a plastic flag pole at policemen. The policeman identified as the victim has given contrary testimony to the investigation, first saying Akimenkov threw an unknown object, then saying it was a plastic flag pole, and then saying he was struck by the flagpole. The police officer has not yet testified in court.
A second defendant, Sergey Krivov, wrote to his lawyer that on October 2, he was subjected to a humiliating body search in the courthouse hallway. The letter, which was posted on the Internet, said that prison guards forced him to remove all of his clothing, including his underwear, and squat in front of them. After three squats, Krivov refused to continue. One of the prison guards began shouting at him and then hit him, the letter said. For several minutes, Krivov was forced to stand completely naked in front of eight prison guards, one of whom was a woman. The guards did not explain the reason for the body search.
When the court hearings began, Krivov, who has been the most vocal among the defendants, complained to the judge about the ill-treatment. The judge interrupted him and ultimately expelled Krivov from the hearings when he refused to stop speaking about the alleged incident.
Krivov, 52, is a father of two and holds a PhD in mathematical physics. Before his arrest in October 2012, he attended public rallies and engaged in single-man pickets in support of those charged in relation to the May 6 protest.
Krivov has been charged with participating in “mass riots” and a separate offence of attacking a policeman during the May 6 rally. The investigation alleges that he struck an officer’s arm, grabbed his baton, and passed it on to another protester. The only two witnesses against him are police officers who, during the investigation, could not identify Krivov as the assailant. During the trial, one of the police officers changed his testimony and identified Krivov.
A third defendant, Andrey Barabanov, suffered a serious eye injury on September 27, when he accidently hit his eye on the on the wall of his cell. His lawyer told Human Rights Watch Barabanov experienced severe headaches and had difficulty seeing afterwards. However, his client could not get adequate treatment because the pretrial facility did not have an ophthalmologist on staff, the lawyer said. During the October 1 hearing, Barabanov’s lawyer petitioned the trial judge to send an eye specialist to the prison, but because the judge said petitions had to be sent officially to the court office, a doctor could not examine Barabanov before hearings the following day.
Barabanov sat through the October 2 hearing covering his face with his arms to decrease the pain in his injured eye, a trial monitor told Human Rights Watch. During the hearing Barabanov’s lawyers called an ambulance twice, but both times guards forbade the medics from having access to Barabanov. Finally, an ambulance sent by the prison came to the court house, but without an eye specialist.
Barabanov’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch that when he was finally transferred to a clinic on October 4, an eye specialist decided he needed treatment and bed rest. To comply with the doctor’s recommendations, court hearings were postponed till October 15.
Barabanov, 23, has spent more than fifteen months in pretrial detention. Like Akimenkov and Krivov, he is charged with participation in “mass riots” and a separate offense of attacking a policeman during the Bolotnaya rally. He is accused of breaking through a police line and kicking and hitting policemen.
Judges have regularly denied bail requests by Akimenkov, Krivov, Barabanov, and six of the other defendants, claiming variously that they present a danger to the public, are flight risks, or would hinder the investigation, despite the absence of compelling evidence to justify such conclusions.
For example, when denying bail to Barabanov, the judge cited the prosecutor’s argument that he has “ties among anarchists and football fans” who could help him flee. When denying bail to Akimenkov, the judge commented that he was an active participant in political rallies, where he “recorded on video police actions and refused to cooperate with police.”
The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported in October 2012 that the judge who sent Krivov to pretrial custody found in favor of the prosecutor’s claim that Krivov could hinder the investigation, without citing any evidence. The prosecutor argued that Krivov was unreliable and also that, were he to remain at liberty, Krivov could “continue his criminal actions,” such as staging one-person pickets. Single-man protests are not a crime in Russia.
The failure to take basic steps to establish whether continued detention is reasonable is a violation of the standards required by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Russia is a party, Human Rights Watch said.
The convention requires courts to give sufficient and concrete reasons for ordering pretrial detention. In Kalashnikov v Russia, the European Court of Human Rights underscored that national courts have a duty to establish convincing reasons for ordering detention and the authorities must show “special diligence” when a person is deprived of their liberty.