The case in a process

The case of civil activist Pavel Tolmachev

2 April 2020

During the elections of the President of Russia Pavel Tolmachev has been active in civic activities and organized many public events in Mari El Republic. At one of the rallies, he sharply criticized the former head of Mari El Republic Leonid Markelov. A month after the rally, the activist was attacked by unknown people, taken for questioning to an investigator and a criminal case against him was opened on the same day.

Criminal activism

Pavel Tolmachev is a civil activist from Mari El Republic. From 2011 to 2013, he was actively engaged in public activities, criticized representatives of state authorities, and repeatedly organized public mass events. Pavel Tolmachev, a student of the Mari State University and a master of construction and installation works, was a participant in the Left Front movement, as well as an organizer of the Yoshkar-Ola rallies “For fair elections” in December 2011. As a result of his activism, he has come to the attention of law enforcement bodies: Ministry of Internal Affairs, Federal Security Service, Prosecutor's office, Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation.

On 8 September 2012, in the city of Yoshkar-Ola, Pavel Tolmachev participated in a rally dedicated to raising the level of the Cheboksary reservoir. At the rally, the activist publicly criticized the head of the Republic of Mari El Leonid Markelov, saying that he was associated with bandits and committed a number of crimes. On 2 October 2012, the police department No. 1 in Yoshkar-Ola opened a criminal case against Pavel Tolmachev for libel (article 128.1 of the Criminal code of the Russian Federation). After 8 days, the investigation of the case was taken up by the Investigative Committee for the Republic of Mari El.

+ one more criminal case

On 9 November 2012 at about 16.30, Pavel Tolmachev was attacked by unknown people in the district of Sombatkhei of Yoshkar-Ola. They used brute physical force to drag the young man into a Gazelle car. Already in the car, Pavel recognized one of the attackers – it was an employee of the Republican Center for countering extremism. Then Pavel was taken for questioning to the investigator, where the young man was told that his house would be searched. On the same day, in the evening, a new criminal case was opened against Pavel Tolmachev for public calls to mass riots via the social network Vkontakte (article 212 of the Criminal code of the Russian Federation). Although no mass riots have occurred in the Republic for many years.

At eight o'clock in the evening, the preliminary investigation authorities searched the young man's apartment for an hour. As a result, they seized a laptop for examination.

The illusiveness of law

As a preventive measure, Pavel Tolmachev had a subscription not to leave Yoshkar-Ola and an obligation to appear before the investigative authorities. For more than six months, Pavel Tolmachev was restricted in movement.

Pavel Tolmachev’s complaints about the illegality of the detention and search of his home were rejected by the Investigative Committee.

In the period 2012 – 2013, employees of the Republican Center for countering extremism listened to all of Pavel’s phone conversations, violating the secrecy of his personal life. Pavel knew about this fact only after he had got acquainted with the materials of the criminal case. Phone tapping was carried out as part of operational search activities when Tolmachev was not yet accused of anything.

On 28 February 2013, the young man was forcibly sent for psychiatric examination to the Republican psychiatric hospital in the village of Semenovka.

At about 6 o’clock in the morning the police came to village house where Pavel lived with his mother. According to the young man, he did not even have time to tie his shoelaces. First he was taken to the Kilemary police department and then to a psychiatric hospital.

Is there a crime?

On 17 April 2013, the Investigative Committee of Mari El stopped the criminal prosecution of Pavel Tolmachev under article 212 of the Criminal code of the Russian Federation for calling for mass riots due to the lack of evidence of a crime in his actions. The reason for the accusation was information that allegedly “from September to October 2012, public calls for mass riots were posted on the social network Vkontakte, addressed to an unlimited number of people in order to arouse their desire to commit actions accompanied by violence, pogroms, arson, destruction of property”.

On 24 July 2013, Tolmachev was found guilty under article 128.1 of the Criminal code for spreading defamatory information and was sentenced to 80 hours of mandatory labor. During the investigation, the young man told in his blog why he had spoken sharply and critically about the former head of the Republic.

According to Tolmachev, his speech at the rally was not intended to slander and cause personal hostility to Leonid Markelov. The civil activist wrote in his blog that this is “an appeal to the investigative authorities to start working and do their business, and not go to meetings of civil activists and street opposition.

Inability to stay

In 2014, the health of activist Pavel Tolmachev deteriorated. After serving his sentence, the young man could no longer continue his social activities. He had to leave Mari El Republic because of incoming threats and hints about a criminal case dismissed under article 212 of the Criminal code by law enforcement officers.

To uphold justice

In 2018, Pavel Tolmachev filed a lawsuit to the Office of the Federal Treasury for the Republic of Mari El for compensation for non-pecuniary damage in the amount of 2 billion rubles. The grounds for satisfaction of the claim were indisputable, since he had the right to rehabilitation: the criminal prosecution for calling for mass riots was terminated on rehabilitative grounds. On July 23, the Yoshkar-Ola city court partially satisfied the claim and awarded the activist compensation in the amount of 4 thousand rubles.

In response to the decision of the Yoshkar-Ola city court, Tolmachev filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Mari El. On 30 October 2018, the Supreme Court, having considered Tolmachev’s complaint, left the decision unchanged.

On 19 April 2019, Pavel Tolmachev filed a cassation appeal to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Mari El against the court decisions taken on 23 July and 30 October 2018.

International protection 

All this time, Pavel Tolmachev is assisted by the human rights organization “Man and Law”. Having not received proper protection of their rights under national legislation, the activist moved to action at the international level.

In 2017, the organization's lawyer Sergei Poduzov filed a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee, because the authorities illegally interfered with Pavel Tolmachev's private life and also illegally restricted his freedom of expression. The Supreme Court of Mari El allowed the Centre for countering extremism to listen to the phone conversations of an activist in the period from 2012 to 2013 and the Yoshkar-Ola world court illegally brought Pavel to criminal responsibility and passed a guilty verdict for criticizing the former head of Mari El Republic Leonid Markelov.

The UN Committee communicated the complaint to the government of the Russian Federation, and now we are waiting for a decision.