On December 10, 2011 there were public rallies in many Russian cities. People went to the streets to protest against State Duma election results. Among other cities, protests took place in Nizhny Novgorod, Yoshkar Ola, Orenburg and Ufa where the Committee Against Torture has its branches.
Despite cold weather, from 500 to 2000 people gathered to express their civic position in each of the above mentioned cities. The protesters demanded to render election results unlawful: falsification of election records, repeated voting of the same people at different voting stations, etc.
The ICAT staff was monitoring compliance with federal regulations and international law at the sites of public actions and filming everything by means of video cameras in order to be able to confirm the disproportionate nature of violence, in case law enforcers resorted to it. At the same time, they were ready to receive phone calls and personal applications from all rally participants requiring legal assistance. The Committee Against Torture staff was acting in the framework of the Integrated Headquarters created in Russia for the purpose of providing legal aid to citizens participating in protests.
During the rallies there were speeches made by participants; organizers were distributing white ribbons and flowers symbolizing the peaceful nature of the actions and leaflets with recommendations on how to behave at the moment of detention. Those rallies were not associated with a specific party or political organization.
The Nizhny Novgorod rally was not authorized initially. It is worth noting that the refusal to approve the rally had been issued out of time (one day from the moment of application submission) and therefore, violated the Russian Constitution and federal law on rallies. Later the approval was granted, but just an hour before the scheduled rally beginning time.
Upon the whole, actions in all the cities were peaceful and there were no incidents. Only in Orenburg the police expressed its discontent with one of ICAT employees because of video recording. When the rally was over, the police tried to detain the organizers, but the crowd chanting “no arbitrary treatment” made law enforcers retreat.
We should say that, in general, the policemen present at the rallies did not try to suppress them. Even more so, they ensured order and safety of rally participants (as required under international law). We may conclude that the authorities did perform their obligations under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. There were no calls to the ICAT hot-line either.
According to ICAT specialists, on December 10, 2011 the state finally took its citizens’ rights and human rights seriously. However, we must note, it has happened only at the moment when the situation in the state was about to become explosive because of growing public discontent originating from irresponsible and unlawful actions of state authorities. Numerous protests and any violence used to suppress them could lead to massive riots. With respect to this fact, the Committee Against Torture hopes that the state will further observe international norms and regulations, refrain from making people exercising their right to peaceful assemblies ignore legal procedures, as well as from taking steps destabilizing the situation in the country.