In mid-July 2019, peaceful protests began in Moscow, triggered by the exclusion of independent candidates from the September 8 city legislature elections. Authorities responded with brute force, in many cases violently confronting the peaceful protesters. In July-October, 23 people were arrested on charges of “mass rioting” and/or assaulting police. The mass rioting charges are groundless: video footage of the events leading up to these arrests show police breaking up peaceful marches and assemblies.
Despite the fact that most of the police assault charges ranged from excessive to groundless, some of the accused have already been sentenced to several years of prison. Even in those cases where protesters may have committed an infraction, the sentences in these instances have been excessive.
Video footage reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows that many of the accused did not engage in any aggressive behavior. Some threw empty plastic bottles or attempted to stop police officers from beating peaceful protesters. One man pulled a police officer’s arm from a protester and another tried to touch an officer’s visor.
Two men’s behavior was more serious: in one case, a man threw a metal trash can at a police officer, and in another, a man sprayed a chemical substance in the direction of officers. But even in these cases, the evidence doesn’t support the charges and no officers were injured.
By October 31, of these 23,
Sustained, public campaigns contributed to the nearly unprecedented releases of Pavel Ustinov and Alexei Minyailo. Famous theater personalities, A-list pop-stars, and other prominent figures, including those who never showed anything but loyalty toward the Kremlin, spoke up in defense of Pavel Ustinov and called for his release. A group of Russian Orthodox priests were among the many people who campaigned on behalf of Minyailo. Following this, a court dropped the case against him and freed him. These developments inspired hope for the others jailed on politically motivated charges. However, in October law enforcement authorities arrested five more men as part of the Moscow case and charged them with police assault.
One activist, Konstantin Kotov, received a four-year prison sentence for “repeated” participation in unsanctioned public gatherings. Despite vigorous public campaigning on his behalf, he is still in jail pending appeal. Criminal prosecution for serial assembly violations was enabled by draconian legislation adopted in 2014.
Six of the unregistered candidates received repeated administrative charges and temporary arrest sentences for violating regulations on mass gatherings, leaving them at risk of criminal prosecution, similarly to Kotov.
Courts issued warnings to two couples who brought their children to the protests, after the prosecutor’s office sought to have them stripped of their parental rights. Also, one man received five years’ imprisonment for a provocative tweet suggesting that law enforcement officers’ children could become the target of reprisals.
Criminally prosecuting people merely for exercising the right to peaceful assembly, including “repeated” participation in or organization of public gatherings, violates Russia’s international human rights law obligations to guarantee the right to freedom of assembly.
Criminal charges for interfering with police arrests and assaulting police officers are not improper, but the circumstances of many of the cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch—limited or no contact with police, negligible harm, and in some instances accounts by police that are exaggerated or possibly untruthful—strongly suggest the purpose of these charges was to discourage the legitimate exercise of the right to peaceful protest.
When criminal charges are appropriate, the sanctions sought and imposed should be proportionate to the offense. All the sentences imposed in the cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch appear excessive.
Selected Case Summaries
The tables below provide detailed information on the status, charges, and any court rulings.
Persons Arrested on Charges of Mass-Rioting or Police Assault in Connection with the Moscow Protests
|Name||Current Status||Allegation details||Date of arrest|
|Evgeny Kovalenko (1971)||Sentenced to 3 years and five months in prison on Sept 4th||Convicted of police assault on allegations of pushing an officer and throwing a trash can at a police officer
(originally charged with participation in mass-rioting)
|Ivan Podkopaev (1993)||Pleaded guilty on Aug 26th, sentenced to 3 years in prison on Sept 3rd. Sentence reduced to 2 years on appeal on Oct 9th||Convicted of police assault over pepper spraying two police officers (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting)||Aug 2nd|
|Kirill Zhukov (1990)||Sentenced to 3 years in prison on Sept 4th. Sentence upheld on appeal on Oct 9th||Convicted of police assault over attempting to lift the visor of an officer’s helmet (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting)||Aug 2nd|
|Danil Beglets (1992)||Sentenced to 2 years in prison on Sept 3rd. Sentence upheld on appeal on Oct 7th||Convicted of police assault over grabbing an officer’s arm (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting)||Aug 9th|
|Eduard Malyshevsky||In pretrial detention||Charged with police assault over breaking a window while inside a police van and allegedly injuring a police officer standing on the outside of the van||Sept 2nd|
|Nikita Chirtsov||In pretrial detention after being deported to Russia from Belarus||Charged with police assault over pushing a police officer||Sept 2nd|
|Pavel Ustinov (1995)||Sentenced to 3.5 years in jail on Sept 16th. On Sept 19th, the prosecutor’s office petitioned the court for his release from jail on his own recognizance pending appeal hearing. On Sept 20th, Ustinov was released. On September 30, the appeals court upheld the guilty verdict but changed to sentence to a one year suspended sentence.||Convicted on charges of assaulting and inflicting medium damage to the health of a police officer (the officer claimed he dislocated his shoulder while detaining Ustinov)||Aug 3rd|
|Alexey Minyailo (1985)||Released, charges dropped on September 26||Charged with participation in mass riots||Aug 2nd|
|Vladislav Barabanov (1997)||Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd||Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting over “directing” protesters||Aug 3rd|
|Sergey Abanichev (1994)||Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd||Arrested on allegation on mass-rioting over throwing a single-serving soft drink can at a police officer||Aug 3rd|
|Daniil Konon (1997)||Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd||Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting||Aug 3rd|
|Sergey Fomin (1983)||Transferred to house arrest on Sept 3rd||Charged with mass-rioting over “directing” protesters||Aug 9th|
|Dmitry Vasiliev||Detained on Aug 9th, but hospitalized on Aug 10th because his health severely deteriorated in detention due to lack of access to insulin. On Aug 11th, the Basmanny District Court returned to the investigation their petition to place Vasiliev in pretrial custody, refusing to conduct a hearing in absentia. On Aug 12th, Vasiliev was released from hospital. So far, the authorities have not gone after him. It’s not clear whether charges against him have been dropped||Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting||Aug 9th|
|Valery Kostenok (1999)||Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd despite confessing||Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting over throwing two empty plastic bottles at officers||Aug 12th|
|Yegor Zhukov (1998)||Transferred to house arrest on Sept 3rd||Charged with extremist calls over criticizing the government in YouTube videos (originally accused of mass-rioting , changed on Sept 3rd)||Aug 2nd|
|Samariddin Radjabov (1998)||In pre-trial detention||Charged with an attempted assault of police over throwing a plastic bottle in the direction of an officer (originally accused of mass-rioting)||Aug 2nd|
|Aidar Gubaidulin (1993)||Held in pre-trial detention until Sept 18th;
on Sept 18th, released from jail under own recognizance pending trial. On Oct 17th, Gubaidulin posted on social media that he fled Russia for fear of imprisonment. On Oct 30th, Russian authorities ordered Gubaidulin’s arrest and put him on the international wanted list
|Charged with an attempted assault of police over throwing a plastic bottle at an officer (originally accused of mass-rioting, switched on Aug 31st)||Aug 9th|
Vladimir Yemelyanov, 27 y/o
|In pretrial detention||Charged with police assault over forcibly holding an officer down||Oct 14th|
|Andrey Barshay, 21 y/o||In pretrial detention||Charged with police assault over running up to an officer and pushing him from behind||Oct 14th|
|Yegor Lesnykh, 34 y/o||In pretrial detention||
Charged with police assault as part of an organized group over pushing an officer down together with Martintsov and Mylnikov as well as kicking another officer
|Maksim Martintsov, 27 y/o||In pretrial detention||
Charged with police assault as part of an organized group over pushing an officer down together with Lesnykh and Mylnikov
|Aleksandr Mylnikov, 32 y/o||Under house arrest since Oct 16th||
Charged with police assault as part of an organized group over pushing an officer down together with Lesnykh and Martintsov
|Pavel Novikov, 32 y/o||In pretrial detention||Charged with police assault over attacking an officer with a bottle||Oct 29th|
Activist Convicted on Charges of Repeated Violations of Regulations on Public Gatherings
|Name||Current Status||Allegation details||Date of arrest|
|Konstantin Kotov (1985)||Sentenced to 4 years on Sept 5th. Sentence upheld on appeal on Oct 14th||Convicted on charges of repeated violations of regulations on public gatherings||Aug 12th|
Person Convicted on Charges of Incitement of Hatred
|Name||Current Status||Allegation details||Date of arrest|
|Vladislav Sinitsa||Sentenced to 5 years in prison on Sept 3rd. Sentence upheld on appeal on Oct 4th||Convicted on charges of incitement to hatred over a tweet about possible online retaliation against children of police officers who worked during the protests on July 27th||Aug 4th|
Unregistered Candidates Who Served Consecutive and Arbitrary Administrative Arrest Sentences in Retaliation for Their Protest Activity
|Name||Allegation details||Date of arrest|
|Ilya Yashin Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 40||Tweeting about the Aug 3rd protest||Aug 28th|
|“Encouraging participation in unsanctioned protests”||Aug 18th|
|Organizing the July 14th protest||Aug 8th|
|Organizing the July 14th protest||July 30th|
|Tweeting about the July 27th protest||July 29th|
|Yulia Galyamina Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 35||Organizing an unsanctioned protest on Aug 3rd||Aug 21st|
|Participating in a protest on July 27th that affected street transportation||Aug 6th|
|Organizing an unsanctioned protest on July 27th||July 27th|
|Konstantin Yankauskas Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 26||Calling on people to participate in the Aug 3rd protest on Twitter||Aug 14th|
|Tweeting about the July 14th meeting of opposition supporters||Aug 5th|
|Organizing the unsanctioned July 27th protest||July 29th|
|Oleg Stepanov Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 23||Participating in a protest||Aug 1st|
|Writing a Facebook post about the July 27th protest||July 27th|
|Ivan Zhdanov Left the country right after his release from the first 15 days’ arrest without serving the second sentence||Organizing a protest without submitting a notice||Aug 11th|
|Participating in a protest on July 27th that affected street transportation||July 29th|
|Dmitry Gudkov Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrest: 36||Writing a Facebook post about the July 27th protest||Aug 23rd|
|Participating in the July 14th meeting of opposition supporters||July 30th|