By now people the world over have heard about Pussy Riot and the Greenpeace activists, who have made headlines because Russian authorities have jailed them on distorted and disproportionate charges. But few outside Russia have heard of the so-called Bolotnaya prisoners.
The Bolotnaya case is no less important, though. In fact, it may be Russia’s trial of the year.
On the eve of Putin’s May 2012 presidential inauguration, tens of thousands of demonstrators protested in central Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square. A small number clashed with police. I was there. The clashes were random and minor. But the authorities are prosecuting over 20 people on clearly disproportionate “mass riot” charges. Fourteen are in pre-trial custody, most for over a year. Twelve are on trial now.
When you think of Pussy Riot, Nadya Tolokonnikova, who was recently on a hunger strike, may come to mind. One of the Bolotnaya prisoners is also on a hunger-strike. His name is Sergei Krivov, and if you remember Krivov you aren’t likely to forget what “Bolotnaya” stands for.
Krivov is 52 and a father of two. He has a PhD in physics. When the clashes started on May 6, Krivov grabbed the arms of a police officer who was beating a protester with a truncheon. Then police beat Krivov and let him go. There is photo, video, and eyewitness testimony.
For months afterward, Krivov held numerous pickets to support “Bolotnaya” prisoners. Then Krivov himself was arrested in October 2012, on the dubious charges of participation in “mass riots” and attacking a policeman.
I was in the courtroom just over two months ago when Krivov announced he’d started a hunger strike, to protest the judge’s repeated rejection of his complaints, and to demand to be released under house arrest. He’s been on the hunger-strike ever since. What comes to mind is the case of Soviet dissenter, Anatoly Marchenko, and his 117-day hunger-strike in 1986 to “stop abuses and free all political prisoners in the USSR.” Marchenko died.
Krivov has lost approximately 20 kilos. When he fainted in the courtroom on November 18, the judge refused to allow doctors into the courtroom. She said Krivov was trying to draw attention to himself. When we saw Krivov in the courtroom yesterday, he looked weak and dazed.
“Bolotnaya” trial hearings are being held four days a week. The defendants leave the pre-trial prison between 6 and 7 a.m. and return close to midnight, spending hours in transit. With dozens of defense witnesses yet to be heard, this could go on for months.
The Russian authorities need to immediately grant bail to all the Bolotnaya prisoners. And the world needs to wake up to what is happening in the Bolotnaya case.