European Court questions Russia’s handling of Bolotnaya Square demonstration hearings

Published: 13 Jun 2016

On 13 June 2016, the European Court of Human Rights requested that the Russian Government submit its observations in a case concerning the arrest and trial of ten people attempting to attend the public hearing on the Bolotnaya Square demonstration in May 2012. Nine of the applicants were represented by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), based at Middlesex University, and Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow). Memorial HRC also represents the tenth applicant, Maksim Zamarayev, in a separate application before the European Court.

Police detain a protester outside the Zamoskvoretsky courthouse in Moscow on February 21, 2014. ©2014 Reuters
Police detain a protester outside the Zamoskvoretsky courthouse in Moscow on February 21, 2014. ©2014 Reuters

The Bolotnaya Square demonstration took place on 6 May 2012 in Moscow, against alleged abuses and falsifications during the November 2011 parliamentary and March 2012 presidential elections. A number of the protesters were arrested. On 21 February 2014, the ten applicants planned to attend a hearing in the criminal case concerning the Bolotnaya Square demonstration in Moscow, at which the judgment was due to be given. The court house was cordoned off by the police, and the applicants could not enter. No explanation was given. Along with other members of the public, the crowd started chanting “Freedom for the 6 May prisoners”, “Freedom for political prisoners” and “Russia without Putin”. All ten applicants were arrested at various times throughout the day, and convicted of administrative offences.

In their application to the European Court, the applicants claim that the measures taken against them were unlawful and disproportionate given that they were protesting peacefully, and that their apprehension at the protest was arbitrary, in violation of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association (Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights – ECHR). Five of the applicants complain that their detention following their arrest was arbitrary (under Article 5§1 ECHR). They argue several violations of their right to a fair trial:

  • all claim that they were not given a fair hearing, noting that there was no prosecuting authority, and that the prosecutorial role was played by the judge (Article 6§1 ECHR);
  • six of the applicants further submit that the domestic courts’ findings were based solely on the evidence of the police officers and failed to take into account their own evidence (Article 6§1 ECHR); and
  • nine applicants complain that the court did not call prosecution witnesses, notably the police officers who had arrested them (Article 6§2 ECHR).

The Russian Government must submit its observations by 6 October 2016.

This is not the first ECtHR case to arise from the 2012 events at Bolotnaya Square.  On 5 January 2016, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian authorities had failed in their obligations to protect freedom of assembly by not taking adequate measures to ensure that the Bolotnaya Square protest of 6 May 2012 was conducted peacefully. In its decision the Court stressed that the arrest, detention and conviction of Evgeny Frumkin (the applicant) had the effect of discouraging him and other demonstrators, and the general public at large, from participating in rallies or from engaging in political opposition activities.