When INGO “Committee Against Torture” learnt that there would be a Procession For Fair Elections in Nizhny Novgorod, it decided to send independent observers there in order to document possible violations of civil rights during the action.
The Nizhny Novgorod opposition scheduled the procession for March 10, 15:00, the protestants were to walk from Oktyabr Cinema to Minin and Pozharsky Square. Although the action had not been authorized by the city administration, there were around two hundred people near the cinema at the appointed time.
Before the procession started, a policeman addressed the participants saying the following: “under federal law no.54 this action is unauthorized and unlawful. Any form of participation in it will be suppressed in accordance with current legislation” (exact quote taken from the video available on Komsomolskaya Pravda web-site).
Once the procession started moving, its vanguard was blocked just several meters away from the starting point and surrounded by the Special Purpose Battalion and Special Police Task Force. It should be noted that four buses had been parked near the Folk Crafts shop beforehand and officers of the above agencies had been waiting for their turn in nearby courtyards. Apparently, it was the primary intention of the Interior Directorate of Nizhny Novgorod region to ruthlessly suppress the rally.
When part of the protesters was isolated, the special operation entered into a new stage – procession participants were plucked from the entrapment one by one and dragged to the buses. Meanwhile, it was incomprehensible by which criteria law enforcers picked persons to be detained, as everyone acted the same way, and if the police regarded something as an offense, it was committed by all procession participants. Nizhny Novgorod law enforcers later announced 85 detentions.
In general, detentions were rather rough. Oleg Silvestrov sustained a concussion and chest contusion. An ambulance took him to hospital from police station no.5 in Nizhegorodsky district and he was immediately hospitalized. It is not clear why the police could not prepare administrative detention records on the spot. All participants had passports on them, almost everyone was from Nizhny Novgorod. Why was it necessary to drag people into the bus, making them wipe the wet pavement with their clothes, and take them to police departments?
Nevertheless, the procession did not stop. Those participants who were not detained reached Minin and Pozharsky Square. Thus, despite claims that the action was unauthorized, it was not suppressed. Therefore, the detentions were not aimed at suppressing an offense, were they? In the square the police surrounded the remaining protestants and allowed them to have their rally, although there were several detentions more.
Basing on the results of the monitoring and hot on the trail, INGO “Committee Against Torture” finds it necessary to report massive violations of Russian law by law enforcers committed in respect of Russian citizens who gathered for an unauthorized action on March 10.
Detainees were taken to police stations 5 and 7 of the Nizhegorodsky and Sovietsky districts. The police prepared reports about violation of articles 20.2 (violation of the established order of organizing or conducting a procession) and 19.3 (failure to obey lawful orders of the police) of the Russian Administrative Offense Code in respect of the detainees. The records were prepared beyond the time period allocated for that by the Administrative Offense Code (three hours from the moment of detention). As a result, people actually started leaving the police stations at 10-11 p.m. on March 10, 2012. Thus, the detention period was more than 3 hours longer than provided for by law. Many records were prepared with violations: they were dated 5-7 p.m., but de facto the detainee was released much later. Some detainees noted that the police had failed to cite their rights to them. It was rather difficult for detainees’ representatives to get access to their clients.
Not fewer that 10 people were subject to administrative arrest under p.2 of Article 27.5 of the Russian Administrative Offense Code. The detention was motivated by the fact that those persons were to face the court. The Committee Against Torture finds deprivation of liberty on such grounds unlawful. Administrative arrest as a coercive measure to ensure judicial proceedings under an administrative case cannot be used, but for the purposes set forth in clause “c”, p.1 of Article 5 of the ECHR, stipulating that detention is lawful when it serves the purpose of bringing a person before the competent legal authority of reasonable suspicion of having committed and offence or when it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent his committing an offence or fleeing after having done so. The majority of detainees permanently reside in Nizhny Novgorod, they have families there and are not going to skip hearings under an administrative offense case. Many of them have been already brought to administrative responsibility for similar acts and have always voluntarily shown up in courts. Thus, there are no grounds to believe that this time they are going to flee from justice. Hence, their arrest was not justified by the need to bring them in front of a court. Such conclusions have many times been made by the Russian Constitutional and Supreme Courts.
As a result, the detainees had to take turns to sleep on hard benches of cells for administrative detainees which are not designed for long-term detention.
In order to check the detention conditions of these persons, members of the Public Monitoring Commission for Nizhny Novgorod region (PMC) Zhukova and Kalyapin tried to access police departments no. 5 and 7 with a prior notice, as required by law. Police Department heads refused to let PMC members in referring to direct superior orders, thus committing an administrative offense under Article 19.32 of the Russian Administrative Code.
In must also be noted that prosecutor’s office representatives present in the police departments refrained from any prosecutorial response, although they were directly addressed by PMC members and received a crime report in oral form.
At 8 a.m. on March 11, 2012 the detainees were taken to Judges of the Peace sitting in Rozhdestvenskaya Street in Nizhny Novgorod. The buses stopped, engines were turned off, but the detainees were kept inside, not allowed to go to the toilette and were convoyed to hearings one by one. At that time the temperature in Nizhny Novgorod was around 9˚C. We believe that such actions of the police constitute violation of Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and namely, ill-treatment. Now (1 p.m. of March 11) the detainees are still kept in buses.
Therefore, we refrain from assessing the legality of unauthorized rally participants’ actions, but we would like to underline that the Nizhny Novgorod police have once again demonstrated that they are only capable of using the language of violence, and law is an optional category for them. While the previous rally of March 5 went smooth, the events of March 10 have clearly demonstrated that the Nizhny Novgorod police can have quite opposite reactions to similar public actions. We would like to reiterate as well that law should be respected both before and after elections, irrespective of “superior orders”.
On March 11 INGO “Committee Against Torture” sent the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Prosecutor a letter demanding prosecutorial response, i.e. asking the prosecutor to check and give legal assessment to the actions of the police in the context of the March 10 public action in Nizhny Novgorod.