Practical advice for participants of protest actions in Russia
|Anarchist Black Cross|
|What you may do|
|Organisations and groups|
This is second of two texts produced by Network Against G8 (SPB8) legal group for people interested of participating to protest actions in Russia. First article, "legal advice for people coming to G8 protest actions in Russia" is available in SPB8 website, http://spb8.hardcore.lt.
This text was originally written for participators of protest actions from Russia, but it can help foreigners to understand situation and methods of organization of protests and communication with law-enforcement agencies, that are practiced in Russia.
Activists in Russia organize two different kinds of protest actions - legal and illegal. This text consider consequences you may face participating to either kind of action - we do not go into detail to tactical considerations on making a choice between them.
According to administrative codex, an action should be legal if it is announced 3-15 days in prior to local police department. In practice this is not a case, and authorities demand a permission, when police arrives they will demand a paper from local police department which proves that they have approved action. If police department refuses to grant such a document with some makeup reason (“nuisance to traffic”, “nuisance to Pepsi promotion action nearby” etc.) , you may sue them and even win the case, but after months of wearing legal procedures your victory will hardly be worth of it.
If authorities do not like your ideas, it will not be much of a problem to find some formal reason to ban your action. During such massive events such as G8 summit, it may not be expected that informal grassroots groups with radical politics (or private citizens suspected of connections to such groups) will be given permissions to demonstrate. What comes to “law-abiding opposition” such as Social Forums, it remains to be seen. But if you want to be in the streets in the first place, you should be prepared to situation when your action is getting banned. Some anarchists found appealing permissions objectionable in principle – and no doubt it is humiliating and definitely not worth of effort if you know you will be banned anyway, since it gives initiative to authorities.
Arrests are seldom made in legal actions – exceptions are when participators engage in “libeling president”, burn torches or flags, engage in a fight with cops and so on. But in any bigger legal action there will be masses of police, and at least in Moscow they are almost always surrounded by riot fences and metal detectors, and action becomes a sorry zoo of political animals for passers by to gawk. Thus there is less and less meaningful ways to protest legally.
A mere participation to an illegal action is a misdemeanor, and police has a right to arrest and fine you. Usually police is just picking up few persons for the record, such as those holding banners or engaging in an argument with them, and tries to disperse the rest. Thus, if you step back when police starts to grab people, it is unlikely that you get arrested. However it is better not to run, since this would attract police attention.
Advantage of an illegal action in comparison with a legal one, is that before police shows up, you may establish a creative space without any limitations – you may burn some symbols or scan any slogans, this during 15 minutes until arrival of the police. For a success of an illegal action, it is crucial that you have a plan which is at least to some extent known to all participators. Sometimes actions in Russia continue only 10 minutes, if goal is to avoid any arrests. Another alternative is to have a moving demonstration, as it is much difficult to stop a moving demonstration – this demands at least a few dozen polices or OMON (riot police) to form a cordon.
Going to the action you should keep in mind that policemen and special services use phone tapping, read e-mails and can wait for you on the spot of action. That's why think over and discuss the plan of action beforehand, if it's possible, outdoors and take accumulators out from mobile phones. Distribute roles; think over several scenarios, send a man to the spot of action an hour before the start, in order to describe to others the situation (if there is a bus with riot police waiting for you, if additional guards are there and so on). If action is big, don't gather in big crowds before action, but also don't lose sight of your friends.
Act according to the plan immediately after coming to the spot of action, don't wait, you have not so much time. If the spot of action wasn't discovered, you have a minimum of 15 minutes until police comes, called by somebody call. Bear in mind that it's much more difficult to arrest moving demonstration than a group of people standing on one place.
If you see somebody getting arrested, pass the information on as quickly as possible. From documents take only passport to the action. In case you are working or studying in Russia, don't tell police your place of working or studying and don't take with you any documents, with which help it can be defined. Police or representatives of special services can send a report there and officers can deduct a fine from your grant or salary.
In case you have a pre-paid mobile phone, make sure you have money in account because any of you can get to police station, at unlikely worst case for several days. If you have been arrested, find a moment when policemen don't pay attention to you and hide your self-phone to boot or to sock, having turned off ringing tones beforehand. After taking you to police station policemen will ask to take everything out of your pockets and can take away your mobile phone, then you have no opportunity to be in touch with your friends. When you are about to be put to a cell, politely ask to go to the toilet. Calmly take out mobile phone in toilet and call someone, who is responsible for it, or send sms. Inform him in what police station you are, how many of you are there and, if it possible, names and surnames. Ask to keep in touch by sms. Supporting arrested
Before action choose a person, who will be responsible for the help of arrested people. This person shouldn't take active part in action and not to be arrested. Two responsible people can be chosen, since risk of both getting arrested is even less. Every participant of the action should have phone number of these people. In case of arrest, responsible person should organize moral pressure to the duty in police station (to call and ask what happens with arrested), if it's necessary to provide arrested with the help of lawyer and with food (because he can be kept at police station for a night till trial), and also connecting with relatives on the demand of arrested.
If action is big, you may try to dearrest arrested friends. If you see, that one of your friends is about to get arrested, try to liberate him with other participants of the action. It's necessary to surround the police car immediately and to block its movement untill the arrested is released. If your friend just was stopped or is being carried away by police, you can grab him back. As many as possible should take part in dearrest. Nevertheless if you missed it and your friend was taken to the police station, fastly organize a solidarity picket and wait near the entrance of the police station until he is released . But if you managed to agitate to go to police station only a few dozen people, it does not make sense to go there. Such a small amount of people will not be able to influence on the police, but their faces will be fixed in police's video, because cameras are almost near all police stations.
Leaving an action
Even after legal actions, police may try to snatch some participants for “educational reasons” or for interrogations. Thus leave the spot of action only with a crowd of other participants. It's better to get on to public transport or to go far away from the place of action by the metro with a big group of people. Be convinced that nobody follows you, and only then disperse. If somebody follows you, try to drop him from your heels or go to sit to any crowded cafe or any other place and call friends for help. Sometimes even insignificant resistance, explicit refusal to voluntarily follow plain clothes police can lead them to leave you alone, as they do not want to attract attention. They don't have any legal reasons to arrest you half an hour later the end of action. In any case don't meet to evaluate success of the action close to spot of the action.
Facing misdemeanor charges
Usually, the people who are arrested during actions are accused of "violation of the legal process of holding an action" (that is, if action was not legal) or "disobedience to the policemen's legal requirements". These are the articles of the administrative codex, according to which you can be fined for the sum from 500 to 2000 rubles, and for "disobedience" you can get up to 15 days of prison, but imprisonment for taking part in actions is given very rare.
"Organizers" may face slightly more severe sanctions. One of your tasks is to prove in court that you was not "an organizer" without naming any of them. You may tell that nobody called you to go to the action, that you knew about it from leaflet or Internet. If cops told that you weren't alone, answer that you met friends only on the action and came up to greet them, and you didn't know that the action was not legalized. Perhaps you was given a banner, but you do not know the guy who gave it. If you are charged with the blockade of road or building, you may tell something like "everybody started to run somewhere, so did I", or "everybody started to go, and so did I". If cops do not have direct proof of your active participation in the action, you can tell, that you just walking nearby, stopped to look and was arrested.
Have in mind, that official report is usually written by the cop, who arrested you, and as the second witness is taken the first one who was at hand. During the judge's interrogation of cops, ask them the questions like "Where exactly I was arrested?", "What was I doing that moment?". Cops will contradict each other. Try to invite witnesses, who can prove, that you was arrested by another policeman. Become acquainted with the official report before the trial (you have this right!). Cops often get confused and contradict each other; it can be used for refutation of witnesses.
If you are accused of "disobedience to the policemen's legal requirements", keep in mind, that cops rarely do everything legally. For example, if the policeman didn't introduce himself, didn't announce to people that the action was not legalized unsanctioned, or didn't demanded them to disperse, his demand to follow him to the police car is illegal. Moreover, the arrest, threats, beating, etc of a person in a legalized actions are illegal. You can say that you defended yourself from the blows, that could seriously damage your health, bring some witnesses, who describe mockeries at you. If the plain clothes officers arrested you without producing their official documents, you can't be convicted. Don't use bad language or call cops the words that can be defined as insulting. Nevertheless, if you were sentenced to fine, don't hurry to pay it. Judicial officer recovers fines according to the judge's decision. With help of a lawyer or human rights activists, you may made an appeal against fine.
Facing felony charges
If you are facing a felony charge (which usually only happens if there is some political pressure against you), you have to find a lawyer and to make noise about it. Ask human rights' activists and deputies to write letters to the law-enforcement agencies. Send statement to any accessible Mass-Media, organize the signing of it by some respected persons and great number of common people. Study carefully article of the criminal codex (УК) according
to which you are accused. Find similar article in codex of administrative infringements of the law (КоАП) and try to understand what is the difference between them (big damage, intention, etc.). During interrogations and trial present your activities in such way that only the administrative code can be applied to your case. If you have no opportunity to engage a lawyer, apply for a piece of advice to the lawyers of human rights' organizations. Until you didn't decide what to tell, didn't find a lawyer and so on, refuse of giving any testimonies. You have a right to do it during the inquiry and trial according to the article 51 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. Keep in mind, that burning, tearing, trampling down or another outrage" at Russian flag is a criminal article and it's punished with two years of probation.
Some additional pieces of advice for foreigners
To increase chances of a successful crossing the Russian boarder during holding of summit, try to wear clothes, which are common in your country. Even in ordinary time cops and frontier guards stop and in addition check documents of foreigners, who look alternatively. Before the travel find at Internet some information about any cultural event in Russia, that isn't connected with politics. Thus you will be able to ground frontier guards the aim of your coming. If you have no friends, who have already done visa to Russia and can give you a piece of advice, apply for invitation to tourist agency at the link http://travelmart.ru/english.html. An invitation for a month costs 25 euro and it is sent directly to Russian embassy in your country. We have no contact with this organization, but we can say, that the experience of dealing with it was successful.
If you speak Russian badly, during communication with the police pretend that you don't speak it at all. Very often it stumps policemen and they prefer to leave you as fast as it possible, especially if you are a citizen of a "prestigious European country". Words passport" and "visa" sounds in Russian almost the same as in English, it's better to produce cops passport, tickets, to point at visa, to express indignation and demand (in any language) immediately invite a representative of embassy (ask "zvanite v pasolstva"). Unlike cops, a lot of young people in big cities speak English. If you can't find something, come to any young person and ask if he speaks English. In five minutes you'll exactly find such one. If the person speaks languages, he for sure would try to help you.
In case you get arrested, call to telephone: (outdated numbers removed)