A Moscow court has sentenced seven defendants in the Bolotnaya Case to jail terms of between two and a half to four years. On Friday 21 February, the defendants were found guilty, but sentencing was delayed until Monday 24 February. Critics say the court delayed sentencing until after the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in Sochi, yesterday.
In total eight people stood trial in the Bolotnaya Case, which relates to an anti-Putin rally on Moscow's Bolotnaya square on 6 May 2012. The rally ended in clashes between demonstrators and police the day before Vladimir Putin’s inauguration to a third term as president. The rally was attended by tens of thousands of people, protesting the alleged fraudulent election of Putin as president in December 2011. During the clashes over 400 people were detained by police.
Protests outside the courthouse
On Friday 21 February, hundreds gathered before the courthouse to support the defendants, shouting “Freedom”, “Freedom”. Police guarding the courthouse detained two-hundred of them. On Monday 24 February protesters returned. Again police arrested two hundred, among them where opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikove.
The mother of one of the defendants, Stella Anton, was one of the protesters outside the courthouse. She said she was worried that, in light of the recent protests in Kyiv, the Kremlin would want to send a tough message that violence against police would not be tolerated. "It seems to me that because of the events in Ukraine, we cannot expect anything good" she said.
Reactions to the trial
Critics say that the trial is part of a crackdown on political opponents of the Putin regime. Ilya Yashin, protest leader with the Solidarity Movement, said at the start of the trial in June 2013: "The case is fabricated from beginning to end […] we are witnessing a campaign of political repression not seen since Soviet times." Another Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, agreed, "Unfortunately, I think they'll get real jail sentences […] this trial is absolutely political, the judge is carrying out the Kremlin's instructions." President Putin, though, claims not to use courts as political tools.
Outside Russia, the trial has been labeled political as well. John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director, called the verdict a “hideous injustice”. He said: “What happened on Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012 was not the quelling of a riot, but the crushing of a protest. The Bolotnaya trial has not exposed orchestrated violence, but rather a criminal justice system that is entirely malleable to the dictates of its political masters”. The U.S. State Department also called the conviction "politically motivated" and raised concerns about the rule of law in Russia.
Putin’s Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said the convicted Bolotnaya-protesters are entitled to ask Putin to be pardoned. Of the 29 people linked to the Bolotnaya Case, 11 have already been pardoned and two have been sentenced to prison terms, another was sentenced to mandatory psychological treatment.
Source: Amnesty International, Radio Free Europe/Radio liberty, Reuters, The Guardian, The Moscow Times, The voice of Russia.
Author: Koen Migchelbrink