A diary of Russian political activist

Saturday 12 May 2007

Global Marijuana March in Moscow: the total madness of Moscow authorities

People can adapt to any conditions. A lot of things in Russian street activism that seem strange for foreigners are so usual for us that we just are oblivious to their absurdity. We are used to the fact that our Constitution has no real value, and that human rights mean nothing in our country. But the events which took place in Moscow on the 5th of May shocked even us.

We prepared Global Marijuana March for two months. We received millions of warnings from our authorities and The Federal service of drug control. Finally we asked Moscow council a permission to organize a demonstration on one of three routes that we suggested. Everything was done in the order described in the Federal law. When we received the answer and learned that the demonstration was prohibited, nobody was surprised. According to the laws and Russian Constitution nobody can prohibit demonstrations. The only thing that our authorities can do is to change the time and the location of a rally. As they did not leave us a right of choice we decided to participate in the march nevertheless.

We knew that taking part in the march could be dangerous, that is why we kept the place of our demonstration in secret. Only familiar activists and journalists were invited to participate in the march. At 12 noon we gathered at one of the stations of the Moscow metro and went to Arbat Street where we decided to begin the march. Arbat is one of the oldest streets in Moscow without any street traffic and traditionally it is a place where musicians, painters, hippies and punks gather to spend their free time or earn some money.

We noticed a great number of policemen at Arbat and wanted to change the route of our march but the policemen showed such a great interest in our people that we had no opportunity to discuss our further activities, and we had to begin the march immediately or be arrested before anything would be done.

So 4 of us unrolled a "Legalize Cannabis!" banner and the march began. Several activists carried flags of Cannabis Legalize League. These flags and the banner were the only means of visual agitation we had. Nevertheless it was enough for our police to decide that we were propagandizing narcotics. We hardly walked 100 metres when the policemen attacked us and began to beat us. My husband and I decided to leave Arbat, because we wanted to participate in the Cannabis Walk in the park at the All-Russia Exhibition Centre, the second part of GMM in Moscow. (The park is located at the VDNKH metro station on this Moscow metro map: http://www.wtr.ru/moscow/eng/metro/metro.html - Arbat Street is located between the Arbatskaya and Smolenskaya metro stations.) But first we went to the police department named "ARBAT" where our comrades would be delivered. So did two of our friends.

At the side street near the police department we met three or four policemen who wanted to look at our documents and arrest us. According to Russian laws policemen should first show their identification and explain the reason of arrest. As they didn't do it we asked them to explain to us their claims. Instead of answering our question the policemen attacked us, began to beat us and threatened us with weapons. My husband and I were carried by force to the police department and put in different wards. Our friends managed to run away. In several minutes 3 activists arrested at Arbat were also delivered to the police department and put in a ward with my husband.

Immediately we began to call to advocates, journalists and human rights activists. We asked any kind of legal and media help. Human rights activists promised us that an advocate would arrive as soon as possible. We were at the police department no more than half an hour when nine other activists were brought in. We could see all the violence which the policemen used to make them obey. These activists told us how they were arrested. They just came to the police department to give us water and food and stood near the building discussing their further activities. One of the policemen came near them and ordered them to go to the police department. After the activists asked the reason for this command they were severely beaten. Policemen banged young men by their faces about parked cars, placed them by their faces on the ground. Even the girls were beaten: policemen dragged them upon the ground and strangled them. The cruelty of this reprisal shocked even journalists. Here is a short video of the reprisal near the police department:

So during 30 minutes 13 activists were arrested in different places and in different conditions. But these circumstances didn't bother the policemen. They accused all of us under the same administrative infractions according to articles 19.3 (non-obedience to legal requirements of policemen), 6.13 (propaganda of narcotics) and 20.2 (participation in illegal meeting, demonstration or picket). How could people propagandize narcotics near the police department? Is a political demand a sort of propaganda? What were the legal requirements of policemen? All these questions stayed rhetorical. Instead of paper we asked for in order to write a claim, we met the most keen humiliations of human dignity we could ever imagine.

We were offended, blackmailed by planting drugs on us, and beaten for any attempt to remind policemen about our rights. Our friends bought us mineral water and carried it to the police department. The policemen didn't want to give us this water. They said to drink from the restroom! The restroom was so dirty that one could hardly enter it. Besides there was no light in the restroom. So we could satisfy our natural requirements only with an open door. We were searched without any witness. The policemen illegally took our mobile phones and cameras. We were forced to be photographed against our will. Our attempts to hide our faces led to violence and beatings. When our advocates arrived they were thrown out of the police department, so our right to legal assistance was blocked. Each one of us had to pass through several interrogations where not only policemen took part but also unknown non-uniformed people, and also representatives of The Federal service of drug control. The pressure on each activist during the interrogations was enormous. Some activists were even beaten. One of us had an insulin-dependent diabetes. He needed urgent medical help, but the policemen denied any assistance to him. We had to call for first aid and our comrade was hospitalized. In such conditions we spent about 5 hours, than we were delivered at The Presnentsky administrative district court.

We had to wait in a cramped car for about an hour. The girls were sitting at the knees of the young men, because there was not enough space in the car. We were not allowed to go out of the car or to enter the court. Nevertheless we managed to write motions about moving our case to another day because of a necessity to consult with defense counsel. These motions were given to the judge just after she started the hearing of the first case. The judge gave us an hour to find a defense counsel. In fact she defeated the motion, because it is impossible to find a defense counsel at the evening of a day-off (Saturday) without any documents (our passports were in the court) and without a right to leave the court. At that moment we began to prepare for the worst.

The hearing of the first case of Julia Bashinova began at about 8 P.M. and lasted for more than 3 hours. As a result - a fine of 4500 rubles (about $175). The next cases were very similar. The judge defeated all the motions. The witnesses for the prosecution gave false evidence and were several times caught in a lie. The proofs were falsified right in the court. We could not call anybody who was not in the building as a witness. We were treated worse than criminals.

The judge worked through the whole night without a rest. The last hearing finished at 9:30 A.M. Sunday May 6. All this time our friends were waiting for us behind the court, but the judge didn't allow them to enter the building and attend the hearings. We were judged in a closed regime as if our cases concerned a State secret. The whole night we had no opportunity to sleep nor to eat properly nor to rest. Extremely tired and exhausted we had to defend ourselves from the punitive machine of Russian justice. Finally all the girls were given a fine of 4500 rubles (about $175 - the maximum for these laws). The main organizer of the march Sergey Konstantinov was sentenced for 15 days in jail and immediately announced a hunger strike. All the other young men got 10 days in jail each.

Should I add that reviews of the sentences had no effect? In our country it is so usual! My husband with 6 other activists is now in a jail without right to see anybody except his defense counsel. The only thing I can do is forward him some food and spread the information about Moscow GMM on the Internet. Nothing that could be a bit more useful for him: in the conditions of the police State the only right that one has is to agree with the authorities or keep silence.