Russian Court Sentences Opposition Figure to 2-Year Suspended Sentence

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Yuliya Galyamina holding placard “Down with the Tsar”, July 2020, Moscow 
© 2020 Private

A Moscow court sentenced Yuliya Galyamina, a member of Moscow’s municipal assembly, to a 2-year suspended sentence today for posting information on social media and taking part in a peaceful public assembly earlier this year.

Galyamina had posted about collecting signatures protesting the controversial results of the vote in favor of constitutional amendments in July this year. Galyamina was one of the leaders of the “No!” campaign against the amendments.

Galyamina was also accused of calling for and participating in election-related protests in the summer of 2019. Police opened six cases against her for the 2019 protests, for which she spent more than a month in detention and was fined.

Typically, violating public assembly rules is an administrative offence resulting in fines or detention not exceeding a month, not criminal prosecution. But a 2014 law allows someone found guilty of violating public assembly rules more than twice in 180 days, to be criminally prosecuted. Galymina’s offences were a year apart, however the charges for 2019 came into force early this year, so the charges for the July 2020 protests just fell within the 6-month range.

Russia’s Constitutional Court has twice ruled that people should not be criminally prosecuted unless they pose a real harm to other’s health or property, environment, public order or security. None of this applies to Galyamina’s case.

The prosecution alleges that harm was caused when, after the July signature-gathering event, a large group of protesters walked along the boulevards—which  Galyamina did not call for—disrupting pedestrians and traffic.  The prosecution also alleges protesters exposed themselves and others to the risk of Covid-19. However, the prosecution’s own witnesses testified that Galyamina caused no harm to people or property.

In her final statement at trial, Galyamina articulated her vision for Russia’s future, touching on many issues she wants addressed, from protection against digital surveillance to the crumbling healthcare and welfare systems. She tweeted that the prospect of prison did not frighten her but felt enormous support from so many people in Russia.

The suspended sentence that the court handed to Galyamina puts her in a vulnerable situation and may bar her from taking part in protest activity and require her to self-sensor. The suspended sentence comes with a 2-year probation period, during which if she is found guilty of any administrative offence, no matter how petty, her suspended sentence will be replaced with a prison time. Her sentence will also prevent her from running for office and likely to have other negative implications for her future.

It is a relief Galyamina will not serve prison time, but that does not make her prosecution any less a disgrace and violation of Russia’s international legal obligations. It is also yet another example of the price opposition politicians, critics and civic activists have to pay for peacefully expressing their views. People should not be penalized for peaceful protest.