Konstantin Kotov and his lawyer, Maria Eismont, wait for the verdict in his case at Moscow's Tverskoi district court, September 5, 2019.

© 2019 Tanya Lokshina/Human Rights Watch

An appeal court in Moscow has upheld a four-year prison sentence against Konstantin Kotov for repeated violations of Russia’s restrictive rules on public assemblies. Kotov is one of several people prosecuted for election-related protests in Moscow this summer. The ruling is an outrageous violation of the right to peaceful protest.

Kotov is also the first person to be convicted on this public assembly charge since Ildar Dadin’s case in 2014, and since a 2017 Constitutional Court ruling which clearly stated that people cannot be criminally prosecuted merely for repeatedly taking part in non-violent protests, if those were non-violent and did not pose threat to life or limb, property, environment or public order.  

Kotov’s conviction  in  September justifiably drew public attention and prompted fresh protests in Moscow calling for his release. But two other activists outside Moscow are being prosecuted for the same “crime” as Kotov, and their cases deserve attention too.   

They are activists Andrey Borovikov in Arkhangelsk, and Vyacheslav Yegorov in Kolomna. Both were charged with repeated violation of public assemblies after protesting, in their respective regions, against hazardous waste dumps that could be public health risks. Both had previously participated in other peaceful protests in their hometowns.

On September 27, 2019, Andrey Borovikov was sentenced to 400 hours of community service. Last week he lodged an appeal. Yegorov’s case is expected to move to trial, but with no clear timeline. Earlier this year, he spent six months under house arrest.

It is not even three years since the Constitutional Court ruling gave some grounds for hope that Russia might take a more reasonable and measured approach to peaceful public protests. But these three cases have crushed that tenuous hope. 

The attack on free speech and free expression in Russia isn’t new, of course, but every blow, every new case eats away at the tiny space left to express dissent.  In July, the European Parliament rightly expressed concern about Yegorov and Borovikov’s cases. But more sustained national and international attention and action on all three cases is desperately needed if Russia’s repression is to be reined in.