By Viachaslau “Slava” Bortnik, Chair of Eurasia Coordination Group at Amnesty International USA.
The World Ice Hockey Championship is taking place in Russia from May 6-22. It is ironic that the championship started on the day of the fourth anniversary of the Bolotnaya Square events.
On May 6, 2012, tens of thousands of people marched through the center of Moscow and sought to gather in Bolotnaya Square in protest of the disputed results of the election in which Vladimir Putin had been re-elected Russia’s President. Most never got that far.
Ignoring arrangements agreed upon with the protest organizers, the police sealed off two of the three entrances to the square and narrowed the remaining one. The pressure on the police cordon inevitably grew. When it was eventually breached, with isolated acts of violence, the police proceeded to violently disperse the protest. Over the course of the next few hours, police used excessive and often arbitrary force to restrain and detain protesters, most of them peaceful. Some isolated but serious acts of violence were committed by a small number of protesters, resulting in a number of police officers sustaining injuries. Hundreds were arrested at the scene of the protest, the majority of whom were released without charge.
So far, 11 individuals have served and completed prison sentences and six people are still in prison. Many of these were peaceful participants in the Bolotnaya protest and should have never stood trial in the first place. Two of the current “Bolotnaya prisoners,” political activists Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhaev, did not even attend the protest on May 6, 2012 but have been convicted of organising violent protest. A further two men are currently in pre-trial detention. One of them is Maksim Panfilov. The other, Dmitry Buchenkov, accused of participation in the Bolotnaya violence was arrested in Moscow on December 3, 2015, but denies that he had even attended the protest. Several other individuals charged with Bolotnaya-related events spent months in detention or under house arrest in 2012-2013 before being granted amnesty pre-conviction. On December 22, 2015, 25 year old Ivan Nepomnyashchikh was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment for “participation in a mass riot.” He was accused of having hit a policeman with an umbrella, although video evidence presented in court showed him without an umbrella fending off blows from a police truncheon.
Amnesty International is using the World Ice Hockey Championship to campaign on the cases of five prisoners of conscience: Sergei Krivov, Ildar Dadin, Natalia Sharina, Daria Poliudova and Rafis Kashapov – demanding their release. This symbolic number is a reference to the number of ice hockey players in the rink (apart from the goalkeeper), and a cultural reference to a popular Russian song where they are called “the glorious five.” Using the examples of these people, we also reiterate our demand to repeal repressive legislation introduced in Russia in recent years to restrict the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, to bring Russian laws in line with international human rights standards and to end persecution of all those who peacefully exercise these rights.
To coincide with the Ice Hockey World Championship, Amnesty International launched a social media campaign with an interactive web portal. Please consider supporting a prisoner of conscience (POC) and make our voice stronger! Go to the virtual ice hockey stadium, find a free seat and book a ticket. Share this link with your friends and colleagues encouraging them to support our POCs too.
In attached photos: Activists protesting at the Russian Ambassador’s Residence in Washington, D.C. on May 6, 2016.