The United States is deeply concerned over the sentences handed down to four more Russian protesters who participated in the Bolotnaya Square demonstrations in Moscow in May 2012.
During those demonstrations, thousands of Russians took to the streets protesting disputed election results and Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency of Russia. According to Amnesty International, the demonstrations were mostly peaceful, but were violently dispersed by the police, who arrested hundreds of protestors. Since then, more than a dozen Bolotnaya demonstrators have been tried and given prison sentences. In its most recent human rights report on Russia, the U.S. State Department notes that human rights groups believe that “the arrest, detention and punishment of such a diverse group of individuals were meant to deter the population from engaging in public protests.”
In addition, after the Bolotnaya protests, the Russian government began a crackdown on dissent which includes, the State Department said, “selectively employing a law on ‘foreign agents,’ the law against extremism, and other means to harass, pressure, discredit and/ or prosecute individuals and entities that voiced criticism of the government, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), independent media outlets, and the political opposition.”
At a press briefing on August 18, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf expressed deep concern over the latest sentences of Bolotnaya protesters. Alexander Margolin and Alexei Gaskarov were sentenced to three and a half years in prison; Illya Gushchin to two and a half years, and Elena Kokhtareva received a suspended sentence – all on charges of taking part in mass protests and rioting. Ms. Harf noted that the verdicts follow those of two other individuals last month who were accused of organizing the protests.
“These politically minded trials have been marked by a lack of due process, and arrests of other participants continue more than two years after the demonstration,” said Spokesperson Harf. “The Russian people deserve a government that values the contributions of all its citizens, that cultivates an open market place of ideas, and that respects universal rights and fundamental freedoms.”