If you go to the square, you must work and pay for this

21 April 2021

For the action on 23 January, a young man was punished with 45 hours of community service, and a pensioner received a fine of 5000 RUB.

The citizen of Yoshkar-Ola was found guilty of organizing a public event and holding a poster during it without giving notice about it to authorities, and a pensioner received a fine of 5000 RUB for just being on the square. This violates the constitutional right of citizens to freedom of assembly.


In this article, the lawyers of NGO “Man and Law” explain why the detentions and punishments that the court considered lawful are not such, and recall the history of infringement of the right to freedom of assembly in Mari El Republic in the last few years.


Detentions for the action on 23 January


A young man from Yoshkar-Ola came to a walk in support of Alexei Navalny, which was held on Lenin Square on 23 January. He did not deny it. The police detained him and drew up a protocol under part 2 of Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses — organizing a public event without submitting a notification in accordance with the established procedure. This article was imputed to him for the poster he held in his hands. The young man was found guilty and received 45 hours of community service.


The pensioner was on the square during the actions on 23 and 31 January. On 31 January, she was detained for being seen by video cameras at the action on 23 January. In addition to participating in the action, a protocol was drawn up for it under Part 1 of Article 19.3 of the Administrative Code — disobedience to the lawful order of a police officer. Under this article, the penalty is a fine of 500-1000 rubles, or administrative arrest for up to 15 days. Because of this sanction, the police left her in the department for 2 days. There, the woman felt unwell, and an ambulance was called. For disobeying the requirements of the police, she received a minimum fine of 500 rubles, and for participating in the action on 23 January — 5000 rubles under part 5 of Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code – violation of the established procedure for holding the event. This is below the lower limit (10000 rubles). The court found mitigating circumstances that she is a pensioner with a small income, a veteran of labor and a participant in military operations (the court was presented with the appropriate certificates).


The victim did not agree with both decisions and sent complaints, which will be considered on 17 and 18 March.


Legal support for a young man and an elderly woman is provided by the lawyer of NGO “Man and Law” Vladimir Protasov.


In addition to those with whom Protasov participated in the trials, more than 10 people called the office to get advice about the detentions on 23 and 31 January.


How the right to peaceful assembly was restricted in Mari El Republic


Co-chairman of NGO “Man and Law” Sergei Poduzov:


— The attention of law enforcement agencies has always been attracted by activists who decide to express their position with disagreement with the actions of regional or federal authorities. We should recall the civil activist Evgeny Pirogov, who decided to hold a single picket on 12 November 2012 on Lenin Avenue in Yoshkar-Ola near the government house with a poster: “During the reign of Markelov, the population of the republic has decreased by 70,000 people. WHERE ARE THEY?” People in police uniforms approached him and, without showing their documents, called the picket illegal and took away the poster. 


Pirogov appealed to the prosecutor’s office, which sided with the activist and recognized the actions of the police as illegal. Later, Evgeny collected compensation from the police for these actions — 5 000 rubles.


But this was when the regional authorities allowed events to be held near their administrative buildings. And the mass events themselves, such as rallies, were usually held by civil activists or citizens dissatisfied with the actions of the authorities on Nikonov Square.


Now the authorities use to restrict the freedom of assembly not only the opportunity to refuse to hold a rally, but also other measures to influence civil activists. A recent example is the situation with Navalny’s former chief of staff in Yoshkar-Ola. On 23 January police officers detained him while leaving the house. He wrote about this on his page on the social network: “… Something happened that I was already mentally prepared for, although this had not happened before: at 1:50 pm I left the entrance to walk to the square and declare my civil position peacefully and without weapons. A black Renault without identification signs drove up to me from behind, two men came out, offering to “drive” with them…By 6 pm, they no longer drove me along the roundabout roads of the republic, but they also did not let me go. And only when the human rights defenders began to search for me persistently in the Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the republic, I was taken home and released at 6:18, but they also took my poster…»


So 6 years ago it was possible to go out with a poster to the government house and collect compensation if you are prevented from doing so, but now you can be kidnapped at the entrance of your house for just intending to go somewhere with a poster.


 “Even people who are indifferent to politics are surprised to find themselves inside this policy: they were detained on Lenin Square just because they were on the main square of the city at 12 o’clock in the afternoon,” writes Kremnev in the next post. — What can we say about active people who are outraged by this fictitious ban on legal assembly. Once again – yes, it is uncoordinated, but legal: Federal law №54 makes an attempt to cut 31 articles of the Constitution, but the ECHR repeatedly confirms the illegality of this.”


More specifically, “over the 21 years of the ECHR’s work, 147 decisions were made against Russia on violations of the right to freedom of assembly,” OVD-Info estimated at the beginning of March this year.


The fact that civil activists in Mari El Republic who want to express their disagreement with the actions of the authorities in 2018 could not coordinate their activities is confirmed by the fact that officials of the Yoshkar-Ola city administration refused to allow activists of Navalny’s headquarters to hold an action at 24 locations.


— It is important for people to look at the dynamics of restrictions on freedoms, – says Sergei Poduzov. – Freedom is restricted immediately or gradually, when the majority of society does not show indignation. Let’s see what happened in Mari El Republic. There is a law “On the regulation of certain issues related to the holding of public events in the territory of the Republic of Mari El”. An interesting article is Article 5.1, which contains a list of places where it is prohibited to hold meetings, rallies, processions, demonstrations. Starting from 31 October 2014, this article was amended, which each time more and more restricted the freedom of assembly in the region. The changes that remove the restrictions were made only in December 2020. In 2014, it was possible to rally no closer than 100 meters from some objects. In 2016, the legislator said that 100 meters is not enough, let them move away by 200 meters. The list of “untouchable” objects included administrative buildings, sports facilities, educational and religious institutions, hospitals and pharmacies. It was very difficult to find a place for the rally.


In November 2019, the Constitutional Court of Russia considered the complaint of two applicants who pointed to an excessive requirement for public events in the Komi Republic. It was impossible to conduct them closer than 50 meters from the administrative buildings. Stephanovskaya Square, one of the most popular places for public events in Syktyvkar, has been banned.


The court found this restriction unconstitutional.  It is possible that it was after the adoption of this resolution that the regional parliaments, including those in Mari El Republic, excluded such restrictions from their laws. It is noteworthy that the State Assembly of Mari El Republic lifted restrictions that do not comply with the Constitution on 10 December 2020 — the International Day of Human Rights.


Why do people need freedom of assembly?


– Freedom of assembly is necessary so that people can express their opinion, their satisfaction or dissatisfaction here and right now, – Vadim Kremnev believes. — So the government can receive feedback without any elections, polls and other “long” tools. Especially, when Article 31 of the Constitution is almost the only thing that citizens have (or did they have?) in modern Russia. If there are no real elections, if there is no discussion of real issues and problems on the air of federal channels that work on our own money, but there is a constant replacement for lies and distortions, and if peaceful and unarmed access to the street is dispersed, then unrealized pressure will only increase. It is such actions that lead to uprisings and revolutions. And this is not what people need. All people. Especially, those people who are “not interested in politics”.


Freedom of assembly and COVID


The year 2020 was held under the motto of fighting the pandemic and caring for human life and health. The regional authorities in the Russian regions were given quite extensive powers to introduce a high-alert regime, which allowed them to restrict the rights and freedoms of citizens. The actions of the authorities and the legislation should be sensitive to the restrictions that were previously introduced. And if conditions change, then the actions of the authorities should change, and the legislation should be reviewed.

However, despite the fact that in January 2021, most of the restrictions related to COVID in Mari El Republic were already lifted, public events were still prohibited under this pretext, and these restrictions remain to this day.


It is impossible to restrict the constitutional rights of citizens under the guise of health care. With the easing of the high-alert regime, the state returned almost all services and entertainment to the residents of Mari El Republic, but retained restrictions on freedom of assembly. And it should be the opposite: first of all, we need to return the constitutional rights.


We have repeatedly said that, according to the Constitution, everyone has the right to hold a rally, march or picket. It is a natural human right to express one’s position through peaceful protest. Russia is a member of the Council of Europe, and a few days ago the Russian government confirmed publicly that the priorities of the state do not change and that Russia’s entry into the Council of Europe was an important step in the field of human rights. According to the human rights standard, holding a public event does not require permission from the authorities, and the restrictions that are imposed must be proportionate and proportionate in each specific case.


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