Russia's 'riot' convictions bring about more protests, arrests


OMON (riot police) officers detain a protester outside a court in Moscow on February 21, 2014. Protesters gathered outside the trial of eight people found guilty of rioting during the Bolotnaya Square demonstrations in 2012.



A who’s who of the Russian protest movement gathered outside a Moscow courtroom on Friday as a judge found eight of their fellow activists guilty of rioting when Russian President Vladimir Putin came into office two years ago.

In what seems to be the circle of life these days in Russia, police quickly moved to detain another 200 from the about 1,000 demonstrators as they shouted slogans in the street.

Two members of the punk rock group Pussy Riot — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina — were there, as was popular opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Those convicted — Sergei Krivov, Alexandra Naumova, Andrei Barabanov, Alexander Polikhovich, Artyom Savyolov, Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich and Artyom Belousov — face between five and six years in jail, according to local media.

They may learn their fates on Monday. Critics say the courts are trying to delay a ruling until after the Sochi Winter Olympics and international media isn’t watching.

The Bolotnaya Square protests erupted after Putin won his third. The opposition called the general elections unfair. That eight of the protesters would face jail time for those demonstrations invited even more condemnation.

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Amnesty International calls it “a hideous injustice” and “a politically motivated show trial.” The rights group said Bolotnaya Square marches were peaceful.

“What happened on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, was not the quelling of a riot, but the crushing of a protest,” said John Dalhuisen, AI’s Europe and Central Asia Program Director.

“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.”

Amnesty said police used excessive force against those arrested, and even detained some who were “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Contrary to the official line, there was not a mass riot. There was violence, but most of it was at the hands of the police. To this day, however, not a single police officer has been brought to justice for these abuses,” Dalhuisen said.

Those detained on Friday face fines of about $800 for participating in unauthorized gatherings, Amnesty International said.

According to activists on the ground, Putin is using the Bolotnaya case as a warning shot to those who might attempt to emulate what’s happening in Kyiv, Ukraine.

The eight on trial are what’s left from an original group of 27, although some were released last year, Ria Novosti reported.

“Any one of us could be on trial right now, it is terrible,” a woman who said she was at Bolotnaya told Agence France-Presse.

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