The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday ruled in favor of a Russian man who was detained during a political rally in Moscow in 2012 and who was later sentenced to two weeks in jail for jaywalking.
The ruling was a rebuff to the Russian practice of cracking down on political rallies with harsh fines and jail time. It undermined a central element of Moscow’s narrative of the clashes — that unruly protesters had set off the violence, thus justifying new laws cracking down on public assembly.
The police arrested about 400 people, including the plaintiff in the case, Yevgeniy Frumkin, after scuffles broke out at the rally on May 6, 2012, on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.
The demonstration followed a series of large, peaceful protests by people who opposed the March 2012 re-election of Vladimir Putin to a third term as Russia’s president, and who suspected fraud during voting.
The rally was permitted to take place. However, police officers herded tens of thousands of people from a large avenue into a tightly confined zone in a park, creating a bottleneck, and scuffles with the police ensued.
Political analysts said that the violence became politically advantageous for Putin, who defended the subsequent arrests and prosecutions of protesters on various charges. It also precipitated a series of laws that constricted the right to assemble, part of a general tightening of political screws in Russia since Putin’s return to the presidency.
Rights groups have called the measures a throwback to Soviet-era authoritarianism, and they say the police intentionally created the bottleneck in the parade route to cause a dangerous and unruly scene.
In contrast, the Russian government has pointed to the violent street protests in Ukraine in 2014, and to the toppling of the government there as well as continued civil strife as justification for having tight controls on public protests.
The European Court of Human Rights ordered the Russian government to pay Frumkin 25,000 euros (US$27,000) in damages and 7,000 euros in expenses.
Russia is a party to the treaty that established the court in the 1950s, and it has usually paid fines the court imposes.
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