During the last year and a half, Konstantin Kotov, a 34 year old programmer from Moscow, took part in peaceful protests in support of the director Oleg Sentsov, the Crimean Tatars, defendants in the case of the “Novoye Velichiye” (New Greatness), Moscow State University (MSU) PhD student Azat Miftakhov, the accused in the case of the “Set’” (Net), who were brutally tortured, and in support of all political prisoners.
Kostya did this not from idleness (prior to his arrest, he had graduated Russian Technology University (MiREA) with distinction, and held a prestigious job in a firm specialized in video surveillance development) but out of empathy and a heightened sense of justice. Kostya was incapable of simply walking past another’s misfortune. Even today, as he sits in the detention centre «Matrosskaya Tishina», he is looking out for those with whom he shares a cell.
Kotov is the first person accused under Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation to whom a preventive measure in the form of detention was applied. Around 50 people vouched for Kostya, including writers Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Viktor Shenderovich, Igor Irtenyev, politician Grigory Yavlinsky, and 7 municipal deputies, including the heads of two of Moscow’s municipal districts. Thirty witnesses filed written statements with the Investigative Committee testifying to Konstantine’s innocence. All of this did not prevent the programmer from being imprisoned.
So what is Kostya Kotov being accused of?
The criminal case is based on administrative charged against Kostya under Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation. It consists of five episodes.
A meeting in defence of Azat Miftakhov on March 2, 2019.
Kotov and several dozen people (between 30 to 50) gathered in a park by the Lomonosov monument nearby the main building of the MSU to take a group photo in support of the arrested PhD student Azat Miftakhov and discuss the details of his criminal prosecution. As a result of the meeting, three people, including Kotov, were detained and spent the next fifty hours in the MSU police station. Subsequently, the courts found all three guilty of administrative offences.
In the indictment, this episode is described as follows: “In order to realize his illegal intentions, he, Kotov K.A., who had been repeatedly brought to administrative responsibility under Art. 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Russian Federation, on the 03/02/2019, at no later than 16 hours 15 minutes, while located in Moscow, Leninskiye Gory, 1, building 3, knowing with certainty that he is a participant of a public event in the form of a mass meeting of citizens in a specific place with the aim of publicly expressing an opinion regarding current issues of a predominantly socio-political nature (hereinafter referred to throughout the text as “rally” — ed.), which was not agreed to in the established order by the executive authorities of the city Moscow, in violation of Clauses 1 and 2 of Part 3 of Article 6 of the Federal Law “On meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets”, intentionally, together with other persons, in the amount of at least fifty people, neglecting the provisions of Part 1 of Article 27* of the Constitution which stipulates the right of others to free movement, and contrary to Part 3 of Article 17 of the Constitution, together with other unidentified persons violated public order, chanting various slogans of with the aim of continuing to participate in an uncoordinated rally, ignoring the repeated legitimate demands of law enforcement officials to stop these unlawful actions, thereby preventing the free movement of people. ”
This episode was recorded by a number of different people. The videos clearly show that the square by the Lomonosov monument is uninhabited and located far from any transport routes. Kostya is giving an interview and not chanting any slogans. There is no one next to him and a lot of free space around. The videos show that Kostya is approached from behind by policemen, who, without identifying themselves or giving any reason, escort him to a police van.
— Video from the channel Rupor Moskvy( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIRKmGIE0Ik ).
Arrest on 2:31.
— Video from the channel Sotavision ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljwR6a-ZKK4 ).
Arrest on 57:00.
(This video, just like all the others, was not accepted by the court as evidence)
The prosecution called on two dozen police officers as witnesses. On the basis of their testimony, Judge Minin refused to call on most of the defence witnesses, stipulating that the details of the case have already been established with the help of the prosecution witnesses.
When the defence lawyer asks who exactly was hindered by Kostya’s presence on the empty square, 10 Chinese people immediately appear in the case. However, it turns out that the police do not have a single written statement from them, and there is no way to establish their whereabouts. The defence asks what language did the Chinese complain in, which Judge Minin dismisses as being irrelevant to the case.
Gathering near the FSB building on Lubyanka and the procession “In defence of the new generation: no to torture and repression”; May 13, 2019.
This gathering was organised by the group “Against Torture and Discrimination”, led by Lev Ponomarev, in support of the tortured defendants in the “Set’” case. The human rights activist filed two requests to hold the march with the Moscow city authorities. In both cases the requests were refused in violation of the law, without the city proposing an alternative site.
Around seven in the evening, several dozen people, including Kotov, gathered near the FSB building on Lubyanka.
Videos from the day clearly show that both prior to
and during the moment of arrest Kotov stood on the sidewalk and simply filming
the police arrest others around him.
— Video from the channel Другое мнение ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htLGrzBtdTQ ).
Arrest on 2:03:00.
— Video from the channel ТВ ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QGFq2Q9Bqw ).
Arrest on 2.17.
Procession on the Day of Russia in support of journalist Golunov, 12 June 2019.
Around two and a half thousand people attended the peaceful procession, despite the Moscow authorities refusing to grant permission for it.
According to OVD-info (independent human rights media project on political persecution in Russia), no less than 530 people were detained on that day, including journalists and passer-by. Kotov and others were accused of participating in an unlawful rally, which hindered the movement of pedestrians and transport (Part 6.1 of Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). Kotov was charged and fined twenty thousand roubles.
A video recorded several minutes prior to his detention shows Kotov standing on the pavement next to the monument to Vysotsky on Strastnoy boulevard. He is not doing anything illegal:
4. Repost about gathering on Trubnaya square, July 2019.
Kotov was detained next to his house in Novokosino (East Moscow) at 10am on the 25th of July.
The report of the detaining officer stipulates that Kostya was detained while the officer was on patrol. This is despite the officer being stationed in the Tverskaya precinct (Central Moscow), where Kostya was then brought for processing under Part 2 of Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (Organization or holding of a public event without prior notice of the holding of the public event in the prescribed manner). The basis for processing was Kostya’s Facebook repost of the announcement of the daily meetings “For the right to choose”, held daily between the 15th to the 19th of July.
On the Facebook page specified in the indictment (Kotov’s ownership of the page wasn’t even established), the message consisted of a quote from Part 1 of Article 3 of the Constitution: “The bearer of sovereignty and the only source of power in the Russian Federation is its multinational people” and two phrases: “Yesterday we came out in support of this principle. We will come out today: 19 hours, Trubnaya Square”
The message was a repost from the event “For the
right to choose”, organised by Navalny’s Team in Moscow, and not by Kotov.
Despite this, and the fact that Kostya has not even been on Trubnaya Square on
the day, the Tverskoy Court of Moscow found Kotov guilty of organising and
holding the event on the 19th of July, and sentenced him to 10 days
Episode five, the finale.
Memorial to the heroes of Plevna, August 10th 2019.
After an approved rally on Sakharov Avenue, Kotov, carrying a small rucksack with a folded up banner, travelled to Kitay Girod metro station, came out of the station and, after walking several metre, was rudely stopped by police officers and escorted to a van for his subsequent detention.
From the indictment: “Then Kotov K.A, having previously committed more than two times administrative offenses in a hundred and eighty day period as per Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation, and being subjected to administrative punishment for each of the above offenses, the purpose of which, among other things, is to prevent the committing of a new offense, realizing that he is participating in an illegally organized and conducted public event in the form of a rally, which had not been agreed to in the appropriate manner by the executive authorities of the city of Moscow, on the 10.08.2019 at approximately 17.55 hours, being in the vicinity of the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation at a public event that had not been approved in the appropriate manner, as part of a group of over 1500 people, who realized that in their direct vicinity are a significant number of people who are not taking part in aforementioned rally, but are instead spending their leisure time and observing the cultural attractions of the city of Moscow, intentionally, in violation of Points 1 and 2 of Part 3 Article 6 of the Federal Law «On meetings, rallies, demonstrations, processions and picketing», ignoring the demands of the police officers to stop committing illegal acts, shouted slogans such as: “Let them be elected”, “Putin is a thief!”, “We are the power here!”, “Out with Putin”, “One for all, and all for one”, “Russia will be free”, drawing the attention of surrounding citizens called on them to participate in illegal actions impacting the health of citizens and the property of individuals and legal entities, ignoring the legitimate demands of law enforcement officials who were preventing the illegal holding of a mass event, thus posing a real threat to the health of citizens, the property of individuals and legal entities, public order, public safety and, in violation of Part 1 of Article 27 of the Constitution together with other unidentified persons, contrary to Part 3 of Article 17 of the Constitution, according to which the exercise of human and civil rights and freedoms should not violate the rights and freedoms of others, interfered with the movement of pedestrians and vehicles, including public transport, special and emergency services, limiting the free access of citizens to public institutions and infrastructure, as well as private homes, violating the rights of citizens not participating in this illegal public event”
Kotov’s lawyer Maria Eismont made an official request for the provision of the recordings from the city’s surveillance cameras. The recordings were provided by the Moscow City Department of Information Technology, however the court refused not only to admit them as evidence, but even to watch them. One would assume this is because they confirms the reality – Kostya was just walking.
There is also material evidence in the case. These are the posters, each of which was linguistically reviewed by a specialist — candidate of philological sciences Irina Levontina, a leading researcher in the Theoretical Semantics Sector of the VV Vinogradov Institute of Russian Language of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Here are Levontina’s conclusions in full. Judge Minin refused to admit these conclusions as evidence. He also refused to listen to the specialist, despite her being present in court.
“Most of the materials are related to the exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine in the format of «all for all». The exchange is seen as a humanitarian action. The request for the exchange is motivated here by mercy. Similar motivation is seen in the posters dedicated to Oleg Sentsov, who not only is a prisoner himself, but also held a hunger strike for the freedom of other prisoners, and Aleksandr Kolchenko. The presented material also contains posters of an anti-war nature. There is a group of posters against repression and torture. One of the posters, as we can see, contains a negative assessment of Putin’s rule. One poster is related to the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and reminds of the need to complete the investigation.
In the presented interviews Kotov K.A speaks of the forms of protest against repression, torture, illegal detention, that he considers acceptable for himself – they are all peaceful, and he emphasizes his intention to act within the framework of the law. At the same time, he welcomes the legal actions of the police, and only condemns violations on its part.
material also includes several statements containing pleas. Primarily, these
are demands addressed to the Russian and Ukranian
authorities for the
exchange of prisoners in the format of all to all, as well
as an appeal to Russian citizens to support such an exchange. Thus, in the
presented material there is nothing justifying violent or destructive acts, nor
any acts capable of harming the health of citizens, property of citizens and
organizations, the environment or public order.»
On September 5, 2019, Judge Stanislav Minin of the Tverskoy District Court sentenced Konstantin Kotov to four years in prison.
On October 14, 2019, Judge Nina Sharapova of the Moscow City Court on appeal upheld this decision.
* Part 1, Article 27 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which, from the point of view of the investigation, Kotov violated when he went to the Lomonosov monument in the square of Moscow State University is as follows: “Everyone lawfully present in the territory Russian Federation has the right to freedom of movement and settlement.”