UPDATE: On February 10, 2017, Russia’s Constitutional Court ruled that article 212.1 of Russia’s Criminal Code should not be applied in cases where protesters did not constitute threat to society.

On February 22, Russia’s Supreme Court quashed Dadin’s criminal sentence, recognized his “right to rehabilitation,” and ordered his release.

On February 26, Ildar Dadin was finally released.

(Moscow) – A man imprisoned in Russia for a series of peaceful individual protests has alleged that he was beaten, humiliated, and threatened with abuse and death in custody, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should immediately release the prisoner, Ildar Dadin, and promptly and effectively investigate his allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

Dadin, 34, is the first person in Russia convicted for “repeated breaches of public assembly rules,” a draconian criminal law introduced in 2014.

“Russian authorities should immediately free Ildar Dadin,” said Yulia Gorbunova, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Dadin was convicted for nothing more than peacefully exercising his right to free expression, and that in turn has led to further serious physical abuse against him and even death threats.”

Ildar Dadin, a man imprisoned in Russia for his many peaceful protests. 

© 2015 Evgeniya Mikheeva

In December 2015, a court in Moscow sentenced Dadin to three years in prison for holding peaceful one-person protests, reduced on appeal to 2.5 years. In September 2016, Dadin was moved to Segezha penal colony in northern Russia to serve his sentence.

Dadin’s lawyer, Alexey Liptzer, told Human Rights Watch that when he met with his client on October 31, 2016, Dadin told him about severe beatings and death threats from prison guards, and made clear that he feared for his life. Liptzer said that Dadin refused to describe the specifics of his alleged ill-treatment because he feared being overheard by the guards or recorded on camera, but instead wrote details on a piece of paper. The lawyer copied the notes and shared the information with Dadin’s wife and several Russian and international media outlets.

Dadin told his lawyer he was placed in solitary confinement almost immediately upon his arrival at the penal colony, on September 10. Dadin considered his solitary confinement an arbitrary reprimand, and went on a hunger strike. He said in his notes that three guards and the head of the facility came to see him on September 11 and beat him. He said he was beaten four more times that day with 10 to 12 people at a time kicking him. After the third beating, his assailants put his head in the toilet.

On September 12, Dadin said, he was handcuffed behind his back and hung from the handcuffs. After half an hour, the prison staff removed Dadin’s underwear and threatened to order another prisoner to rape him unless he stopped the hunger strike. After that, the head of the colony on several occasions threatened that the beatings would become more severe or that he might be killed if he filed a complaint or didn’t follow instructions.

Dadin’s wife, Anastasia Zotova, told Human Rights Watch that she had written numerous letters to her husband but that the last communication she received from him was on September 1, nine days before he was transferred to the penal colony.

“Ensuring Dadin’s safety and investigating these horrendous torture allegations should be of immediate and paramount concern,” Gorbunova said.

On November 1, Russia’s Novaya Gazeta reported that the penal colony administration confirmed that the prison guards had to resort to “physical force” and “special methods” against Dadin after he allegedly refused to leave his cell and started “grabbing the colony staff by their clothes.”

Torture in custody is a regular occurrence in Russia, as documented by Public Verdict Foundation, the Committee Against Torture, and other independent groups that monitor misconduct and violations by law enforcement agencies and provide legal assistance to torture victims.

Since 2012, Russia’s parliament has adopted a slew of new laws severely restricting freedoms of expression, assembly, and association. Amendments adopted in 2014 made it a criminal offense to repeatedly violate public assembly regulations, punishable by up to five years in prison. Police arbitrary detained Dadin several times in 2015 for individual peaceful protests. His first violation was for protesting the conviction of peaceful activists for participating in the mass demonstration at Bolotnaya Square on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s presidential inauguration in May 2012. Dadin was detained four more times for similar “offenses,” which included a peaceful protest against Russia’s role in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The authorities have opened similar criminal proceedings against several other people who carried out one-person protests, including Vladimir Ionov, 76, an outspoken critic of Russia’s role in eastern Ukraine. Ionov fled Russia in August.

Russian authorities often arbitrarily refuse to give the required permission for public protests organized by government critics or the political opposition, and punish protesters participating in unsanctioned peaceful gatherings and single-person pickets.

The right to peaceful assembly is enshrined in the Russian Constitution, as well as in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), treaties to which Russia is a party. As the European Court of Human Rights has made clear, the freedom to take part in a peaceful assembly is of such importance that a person cannot be subject to a sanction – even a minor one – for participation in a demonstration that has not been prohibited, so long as this person does not commit an act of violence or similar crime. The court said that in instances in which demonstrators do not engage in acts of violence, it is important for the public authorities to show tolerance toward peaceful gatherings for freedom of assembly to have real meaning.

After his conviction in December, Amnesty International designated Dadin a prisoner of conscience.

“Dadin’s imprisonment symbolizes Russian authorities’ quickly diminishing tolerance for dissent,” Gorbunova said. “This relentless crushing of peaceful dissent and egregious abuses in detention need to stop.”