Prosecutor Seeks Fines as Trial of 12 Concludes
The trial was described as ‘perhaps Russia’s first purely political trial’ by defendant Andrei Pesotsky’s lawyer Olga Tseitlina.
Published: November 28, 2012 (Issue # 1737)
The controversial Trial of 12, which started with 12 activists accused of organizing and conducting “extremist” activities of the banned National Bolshevik Party (NBP) in April, came to an end Tuesday with only seven defendants left. Judge Sergei Yakovlev declared a break until Dec. 21, when the verdict will be announced.
On Friday, Prosecutor Nadezhda Filimonova unexpectedly asked the court to sentence the remaining defendants to large fines rather than prison terms. The Russian Criminal Code stipulates up to three years for the crime with which they were charged.
Filimonova called for fines of 250,000 rubles ($8,080) for Andrei Dmitriyev, Andrei Pesotsky and Alexei Marochkin, charged as “organizers,” and of 180,000 rubles ($5,810) for Roman Khrenov, Ravil Bashirov, Andrei Milyuk and Alexander Yashin as “participants.”
The defense called for the defendants, who all pleaded not guilty, to be acquitted on the grounds that no real evidence that the NBP existed after it had been banned as “extremist” by the Moscow City Court in August 2007 had been presented by the prosecution.
However, Filimonova said in her two-hour speech Friday that their guilt had been proven by the testimonies of Center E counter-extremism operatives, as well as by secret police agents who infiltrated the group, the activists’ detentions at protests and by video surveillance.
The evidence cited by the prosecutor included items such as a “book with a portrait of [Eduard] Limonov on its back cover” and a “button with a number 31.”
Limonov was a co-founder of the NBP in 1993 and the founder of The Other Russia in July 2010, while the number “31” stands for Strategy 31 — the ongoing nonpartisan campaign in defense of Article 31 of the Constitution that guarantees the right of assembly.
The prosecutor dismissed testimonies of defense witnesses — who included author Zakhar Prilepin and Limonov himself, Legislative Assembly deputies Maxim Reznik and Vyacheslav Notyag and the actual organizers of Strategy 31 rallies Andrei Pivovarov and Tamara Vedernikova — as “insubstantial.”
“It’s extremely strange to hear the state prosecutor’s allegations that our ‘crime’ was aimed at undermining the constitutional order,” said Dmitriyev, The Other Russia’s local leader and one of the key defendants.
“On the contrary, the key event that we are accused of is Strategy 31, which is aimed at defending the Constitution of the Russian Federation, in particular Article 31. How can peaceful, nonviolent actions in support of the main law undermine it?”
Responding to the prosecutor’s speech, Pesotsky’s lawyer Olga Tseitlina described the trial as “perhaps Russia’s first purely political trial.”
“The trial […] is a demonstration that any of us whose beliefs and words are seen by the authorities as oppositional activities could become the subject of criminal prosecution and criminal punishment,” she said during the concluding arguments Friday.
“It’s not only the fate of my client and the other defendants that depends on your decision, but the implementation of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in this country,” she said, addressing the judge.
“In the event of a guilty verdict, there will be a legal precedent, the use of which could have far-reaching consequences. A repressive mechanism will be established by which anybody can be accused of extremism. For this, it’s enough to install surveillance equipment in any room, in any apartment or any kitchen where people who disagree with the powers that be gather, discuss topical issues and politics and criticize the authorities.”
Dmitriyev, whose phrase at a secretly taped meeting that “one should not rally in cattle-pens, but not to be afraid to go against the OMON police’s truncheons and fight with the police, otherwise nothing will change in this country” was interpreted by the prosecution as “extremist,” drew attention to the official phraseology of Russian politicians.
President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that the “protesters should have their livers smeared on the asphalt for injuring an OMON policeman,” while pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) State Duma deputy Sergei Abeltsev said that protesters “should have mad dogs set on them.”
“I suggest that the respected state prosecutor should examine the statements of these politicians for extremism and calls to violence and take action,” Dmitriyev said.
Speaking to The St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday, Dmitriyev said the prosecution had asked for fines rather than prison terms due to the obvious innocence of the defendants.
“I think that throughout the trial, which lasted for six months and during which this case was examined in quite a detailed way, both the prosecutor and the judge started to feel somewhat uncomfortable, because they have to support the prosecution and come up with a guilty verdict, but because they are reasonable people, they could not help seeing that the evidence was worthless,” he said.
“Now, at the end of the trial, it’s finally become clear who we are, what organization we represent, what ideology we profess and why we are not the banned NBP, which is what we are accused of.”
Dmitriyev said he did not expect to be acquitted, because acquittals are a “miracle” in Russia, constituting less than one percent of all cases, while the prosecutor dropping charges is something that never happens.
He said that imposing huge fines on opposition activists is the authorities’ new tactic. “It looks more humane than putting a man in prison, on one hand, but on the other it’s no good, because none of us have such sums,” Dmitriyev said.