activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: russia

european court condemns russia’s practice of putting defendants in metal cages in court

Today a European court condemned Russia’s practice of putting defendants in metal cages in court as “degrading treatment” and “an affront to human dignity.” The court ordered Russia to pay damages to the two plaintiffs in the case. According to an Associated Press article,

The European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay 16,000 euros total to plaintiffs Alexander Svinarenko and Valentin Sladnyev. … The ruling could prompt others who have been held in Russian courtroom cages to file similar lawsuits. … Among other defendants who have been held in metal cages are Greenpeace activists, Bolshoi Ballet dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko and the members of punk group Pussy Riot.

After members of Pussy Riot were held in metal cages in court, two of them were transferred to penal colonies that did not differ significantly from the gulags of the Soviet Union. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova published an open letter describing how prisoners were routinely overworked and kept in inhumane conditions. Prison officials subsequently announced that they would increase prisoners’ wages and decrease working hours.

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bolotnaya square protester receives amnesty

For protesting against Putin two years ago, activist Polina Strongina was charged in May with participating in mass riots. Local authorities, however, recently gave her amnesty. According to a St. Petersburg Times article,

Strongina, who became the first St Petersburg activist accused in the politically motivated Bolotnaya case over the alleged mass riots at an anti-Putin protest on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on May 6, 2012, received an amnesty certificate on Saturday, June 28. … Apart from Strongina, two Moscow activists were charged in relation to the Bolotnaya case in Moscow in late May. One of them, Oleg Melnikov, was amnestied on June 25 but the other, Dmitry Ishevsky, who was charged both with participating in mass riots and using violence against the police, has been taken into custody.

Strongina did not provide investigators with the names of any organizers or people at the protest. She first became involved in activism in 2008, after her father’s arm was broken at a Dissenters’ March. The Dissenters’ March was a campaign of mass protests in large Russian cities.

criminal proceedings initiated against another bolotnaya square protester in russia

For protesting against Putin two years ago, activist Polina Strongina was charged yesterday with participating in mass riots. She faces three to eight years in prison. According to a St. Petersburg Times article,

The rally on Bolotnaya Square was held one day before the inauguration of Vladimir Putin for his third term as Russian President and ended with hundreds of anti-government protesters arrested. Criminal proceedings were subsequently initiated against 28 people, known as the “Bolotnaya prisoners.” On Feb. 24, the court sentenced seven Bolotnaya Case [defendants], who had spent a year and a half in custody by that time, to prison terms of between two and a half and four years.

After her partner’s apartment was searched, Strongina was interrogated over the course of several hours at the offices of the counter-extremism center, without her lawyer present. She was released on the conditions that she behave in an orderly manner and not leave St. Petersburg. Authorities forced her to sign a non-disclosure agreement, preventing her from discussing specifics regarding the search or interrogation.

year-end wrap-up: updates on 2012 posts

NDAA: On January 13, a group of journalists and activists sued President Obama regarding the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which Obama signed on December 31, 2011. Four months later, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest granted a preliminarily injunction barring enforcement of the NDAA section that allows indefinite detention of anyone who has “substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” Another four months passed before Judge Forrest granted a permanent injunction barring enforcement of that section; but the U.S. government appealed, and in October the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted the government’s motion for a stay of Forrest’s injunction pending a decision on the government’s appeal. Meanwhile, the NDAA of 2013 could further expand the government’s power to hold people in military detention indefinitely.

RNC: The 2012 Republican National Convention protests were surprisingly calm. According to an August 31 New York Times article, no one broke windows, no tear gas filled the air, and only two people were arrested:

The lack of disturbances stood in stark contrast to the last three Republican conventions, when street battles between the police and protesters resulted in numerous arrests and prompted a flurry of court fights about police actions.

The number of protesters at this year’s RNC was smaller than expected due in part to Hurricane Isaac, the storm that caused Republican officials to cancel most proceedings scheduled for the first day of the convention.

Domestic Workers Bill of Rights: California Governor Jerry Brown displayed a lack of empathy predictable only among politicians by vetoing a bill of rights for domestic workers on September 30. Michelle Chen, a contributing editor at In These Times, describes what exactly Brown axed:

The highly anticipated Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would have enacted major protections for tens of thousands of housekeepers, nannies and other caregivers and closed loopholes ignored by federal labor law. It would have extended California’s policies for overtime pay and workers’ compensation, and helped ease in-house workers’ arduous, sometimes-abusive work routines by providing for a set amount of sleep and the ability to cook one’s own food.

Tim DeChristopher: After serving 15 months in prison, Utah climate activist Tim DeChristopher was admitted to a halfway house in Salt Lake City at the end of October. The local First Unitarian Church offered him a job with its social justice ministry. Yet a Bureau of Prisons official said he couldn’t work at the church because the job involved social justice, which was related to DeChristopher’s crime; so he accepted a job at a bookstore instead.

Pussy Riot: Two of the three infamous members of the punk collective Pussy Riot are now serving the rest of their two-year sentences at some of the harshest women’s penal colonies in Russia. (An appeals court released the third woman on bail in October.) They were transported there around October 23. According to an October 29 New York Times post by Masha Gessen, discussing several recent incidents of political repression in Russia,

Anyone can be arrested for legal, peaceful protest — and any one of those arrested can be chosen, at random, to spend days, months or years in prison.

One month later, on November 29, a Moscow court ruled that videos of Pussy Riot performances fell under a law meant to control hate speech. The New York Times reported the following:

The court called for limiting public access to Web sites and blogs displaying the videos. But the ruling is unlikely to cut off access to them, since it applies only to servers in Russia. … Thursday’s ruling cited “psycho-linguistic research” proving that the videos “humiliate various social groups based on their religious beliefs” and contain “hidden calls to rebellion and nonsubmission to authority.”

Jeremy Hammond: After anarchist hacker Jeremy Hammond was put in solitary confinement for five days around the time Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska denied him bail. He has been incarcerated for more than nine months. A release from Anonymous subsequently reported that Judge Preska is married to a client of Stratfor, the very intelligence contractor whose servers Hammond allegedly gained access to, costing the company millions and focusing “worldwide attention on the murky world of private intelligence,” according to a November 2012 Rolling Stone article. Hammond’s attorneys are trying to get Preska removed as the judge in his case, because of her apparent bias.

three members of russian punk collective potentially face years in prison for anti-putin performance in a moscow cathedral

After five months of incarceration since their arrests in March, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot will learn their fate next week when Judge Marina Syrova issues her verdict on August 17. The women were charged with hooliganism, which is essentially defined as “disrespect for society,” for lip-syncing to an anti-Putin song in a church for 40 seconds. In addition to being blatant political repression, the charges highlight too-often unseen female defendants in criminal legal systems around the world:

Prison and police accountability activists have generally organized around and conceptualized men of color as the primary victims of state violence. Women prisoners and victims of police brutality have been made invisible by a focus on the war on our brothers and sons. It has failed to consider how women are affected as severely by state violence as men.

This passage is excerpted from a 2001 statement by Critical Resistance and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence on gender violence and the prison industrial complex.