Bolotnaya Cases Herald Wide Russian Crackdown
Freedom House strongly condemns a Russian court’s sentencing of seven political prisoners February 24 to prison terms of two-and-a-half to four years each in the Bolotnaya Square case, as well as the detention of more than 800 peaceful demonstrators gathered in their support over the last week outside the courthouse and the Kremlin.
“This was a modern-day show trial,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “The addition of mass arrests almost immediately after the Olympic Games in Sochi is a serious challenge to Russian civil society. These sentences and convictions should immediately be reversed and all Bolotnaya prisoners completely rehabilitated.”
The court’s sentencing followed the conviction last week of eight defendants on spurious charges of using force against a government representative and participating in mass riots. Seven of the defendants were sentenced to prison; the eighth received three years’ probation. They were found guilty despite the lack of evidence a mass riot occurred, and of the defendants attacking any officials.
As the sentences were being read, authorities arrested more than 230 people demonstrating outside in support of the Bolotnaya prisoners outside the courthouse. More than 420 others were detained at a related demonstration near the Kremlin. Police took another 200 supporters into custody last week.
The Bolotnaya case is only the most visible of a series of government actions in recent days. Yevgeny Vitishko, whose three-year prison term for spray painting a fence made headlines in early February, has disappeared, while two fellow activists were arrested February 23. On February 22, President Vladimir Putin signed into law a measure expanding the grounds for surprise inspections of Russia’s NGOs.
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