The “Moscow Case”: What You Need to Know


In mid-July 2019, peaceful protests began in Moscow, triggered by the exclusion of independent candidates from the September 8 city legislature elections. Authorities responded with brute force, in many cases violently confronting the peaceful protesters. Seventeen people were arrested on charges of “mass rioting” and/or assaulting police. The mass rioting charges are groundless: video footage of the events leading up to these arrests show police breaking up peaceful marches and assemblies.  

Despite the fact that most of the police assault charges ranged from excessive to groundless, some of the accused have already been sentenced to several years of prison. Even in those cases where protesters may have committed an infraction, the sentences in these instances have been excessive.

Jump to Selected Case SummariesJump to Full List

Video footage reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows that many of the accused did not engage in any aggressive behavior. Some threw empty plastic bottles or attempted to stop police officers from beating peaceful protesters. One man pulled a police officer’s arm from a protester and another tried to touch an officer’s visor.

Two men’s behavior was more serious: in one case, a man threw a metal trash can at a police officer, and in another, a man sprayed a chemical substance in the direction of officers. But even in these cases, the evidence doesn’t support the charges and no officers were injured.

By October, of these 17,

  • five were sentenced on assault charges to 2 to 3.5 years in prison.  One of them, Pavel Ustinov, was released from jail on his own recognizance on September 20, following on a vigorous public campaign in his support, and on appeal, on September  30 a court  upheld the guilty verdict but changed the sentence to a one-year suspended sentence;
  • seven were released and their cases closed.  One of these seven was freed following an emergency hospitalization, and another, Alexey Minyailo, was released after seven weeks in pretrial custody;
  • four remained in pre-trial detention or under house arrest. They include Yegor Zhukov, a university student whose charges were changed from mass rioting to “inciting extremism online”;
  •  one, released on his recognizance, is awaiting trial.  

Sustained, public campaigns contributed to the nearly unprecedented releases of Pavel Ustinov and Alexei Miyailo. Famous theater personalities, A-list pop-stars, and other prominent figures, including those who never showed anything but loyalty toward the Kremlin, spoke up in defense  of Pavel Ustinov and called for his release. A group of Russian Orthodox priests were among the many people who campaigned on behalf of Minyailo. Following this, a court dropped the case against him and freed him.

One activist, Konstantin Kotov, received a four-year prison sentence for “repeated” participation in unsanctioned public gatherings. Despite vigorous public campaigning on his behalf, he is still in jail pending appeal. Criminal prosecution for serial assembly violations was enabled by draconian legislation adopted in 2014.

Six of the unregistered candidates received repeated administrative charges and temporary arrest sentences for violating regulations on mass gatherings, leaving them at risk of criminal prosecution, similarly to Kotov.

Courts issued warnings to two couples who brought their children to the protests, after the prosecutor’s office sought to have them stripped of their parental rights.  Also, one man received five years’ imprisonment for a provocative tweet suggesting that law enforcement officers’ children could become the target of reprisals.

Criminally prosecuting people merely for exercising the right to peaceful assembly, including “repeated” participation in or organization of public gatherings, violates Russia’s international human rights law obligations to guarantee the right to freedom of assembly.

Criminal charges for interfering with police arrests and assaulting police officers are not improper, but the circumstances of many of the cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch—limited or no contact with police, negligible harm, and in some instances accounts by police that are exaggerated or possibly untruthful—strongly suggest the purpose of these charges was to discourage the legitimate exercise of the right to peaceful protest.

When criminal charges are appropriate, the sanctions sought and imposed should be proportionate to the offense. All the sentences imposed in the cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch appear excessive.

Selected Case Summaries

Danil Beglets

Convicted of police assault over grabbing an officer’s arm (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Danil Beglets

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Danil Beglets (born 1992) is an entrepreneur. He has a baby and a toddler, and lives in Mytishchi, a small town near Moscow, with his family. Between 6 and 6.30 p.m. on July 27, Beglets pulled a peaceful protester away from a police officer on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, grabbing the officer’s wrist as he did so. Beglets does not deny grabbing the officer’s wrist.  Video footage of the events on Bolshaya Dmitrovka show that the entire interaction lasted about two seconds. According to the prosecution, Beglets’s action “caused physical pain” to the officer. The officer did not sustain any injuries as a result. Beglets pleaded guilty to assaulting a law enforcement officer (article 318 part 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code: “use of violence against an official constituting no risk to either life or health”) and sought a suspended sentence.  On September 3, 2019, Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court sentenced him to two years in a medium-security corrections facility.

Видео задержанного сегодня по 212 гражданина Белец pic.twitter.com/EaGink4qqa

— Илиас Меркури (@imerkouri) 9 August 2019

Kirill Zhukov

Convicted of police assault over attempting to lift the visor of an officer’s helmet (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Kirill Zhukov

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Kirill Zhukov (born 1990) is a civic activist and former law enforcement officer from Moscow region. On September 4, Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court convicted him on charges of assaulting a police officer (Article 318 part 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code : “use of violence against an official constituting no risk to either life or health”)  and sentenced him to three years in a medium-security corrections facility. The charges stemmed from allegations that on July 27, at around 4:30 p.m., when police were detaining protesters on Tverskaya Street, Zhukov hit a National Guard officer on the visor of his helmet. The prosecution claimed that Zhukov attempted to deliver a blow to dislodge the helmet, causing the officer physical pain. Zhukov argued he waved his left hand in front of the officer’s visor. Available video footage shows Zhukov reaching out towards the lower part of the officer’s visor, and the officer jerking his head back in response. It is difficult to determine from the video whether Zhukov’s hand made fleeting contact with the visor, but he did not swing his arm at the officer or otherwise appear to attempt to “deliver a blow.” 

Полиция Москвы задержала ещё одного участника митинга 27 июля. 28-летнего Кирилла Жукова проверяют по статье 318 УК РФ. Сейчас он на допросе в СКР.

Его личность установили по этой видеозаписи, – Жуков попытался схватить одного из сотрудников ОМОНа за забрало шлема. pic.twitter.com/6aGDYi8lvX

— baza (@bazabazon) 31 July 2019

Pavel Ustinov

Convicted on charges of assaulting and inflicting medium damage to the health of a police officer (the officer claimed he dislocated his shoulder while detaining Ustinov) More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Pavel Ustinov

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Pavel Ustinov (born 1995) is a young actor who relocated to Moscow from Krasnoyarsk. On September 16 the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow found Ustonov guilty on charges of assaulting a police officer (Article 318 part 2 of Russia’s Criminal Code : “use of violence against an official constituting medium gravity damage to health”) and sentenced him to three and a half years in a medium-security corrections facility. The charges stemmed from allegations that on August 3, at around 3:30 p.m., Ustinov, supposedly an “active participant” in an unsanctioned protest, resisted arrest and dislocated the left shoulder of a Russian Guard officer. The alleged victim claimed that Ustinov “shouted slogans offensive to the authorities.” He also claimed that when Ustinov attempted to break free from being apprehended, he “felt that there is something wrong with [my] shoulder, that something clicked in my  shoulder.” In court, Ustinov testified that he did not take part in the protest but was standing on the sidewalk on Tverskaya Street, next to the entrance to the Tverksya and Pushkinskaya metro stations, waiting for a friend he was supposed to meet. Video footage from several different sources, including TV Rain, shows Ustinov standing silently, looking at his phone when a group of Russian Guard officers suddenly jumped him, tackled him to the ground, and beat him with batons. On September 19, after a wave of public outrage and interventions by actors, pop stars, academics, and a broad range of professional communities,  the prosecutor’s office requested Ustinov’s release from jail on his own recognizance pending his appeal hearing. On September 30, the Moscow City Court confirmed the guilty verdict against Ustinov but changed the original sentence to a one-year suspended sentence.

Evgeny Kovalenko

Convicted of police assault on allegations of pushing an officer and throwing a trash can at a police officer (originally charged with participation in mass-rioting) More »

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Photo © Anna Artemyeva / Novaya Gazeta

Evgeny Kovalenko

Sentenced for Allegedly Assaulting Police or Russian Guard (Rosgvardia) Officers

Evgeny Kovalenko (born 1971) is a railroad station security guard from Moscow region. On September 4, Moscow’s Meshchansky District Court found him guilty of assaulting a police officer (Article 318 part 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code : “use of violence against an official constituting no risk to either life or health”) and sentenced him to three years and five months in a medium-security corrections facility. The charges stemmed from allegations that on July 27, Kovalenko pushed a police officer and threw a metal trash bin at another. Both officers alleged that his actions caused them physical pain. In court, Kovalenko said that at around 6 p.m., on the corner of Rozhdestvenkaya Street and Theater Drive, he saw police officers using excessive force against peaceful protesters, including using batons to hit people already tackled to the ground. While not denying that he pushed one of the officers to prevent him from hitting a protester, Kovalenko did not admit to aiming at and hitting the other officer with the bin. Video footage available shows a man throwing a bin toward an officer. It also shows use of excessive force by police against protesters.

Ivan Podkopaev

Convicted of police assault over pepper spraying two police officers (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Ivan Podkopaev

Ivan Podkopaev (born 1993)  lives in Moscow and works in a library as a technician. On September 3 the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow found Podkopaev guilty of assaulting a police officer (Article 318 part 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code : “use of violence against an official constituting no risk to either life or health”) and sentenced him to three years in a medium-security corrections facility. The charges stemmed from allegations that on July 27 at around 2:30 p.m., Podkopaev sprayed pepper spray towards Russian Guard officers on Tversakaya Street. Podkopaev said he did this after he saw police allegedly using a metal police barricade to “squash people, including women and the elderly.” Video footage released to the media by Russian investigative authorities shows police and Russian Guard officers with metal police barricades advancing on the crowd and a man with his face covered up spraying a chemical substance. Podkopaev did not deny the allegations and expressed contrition.

Konstantin Kotov

Convicted on charges of repeated violations of regulations on public gatherings More »

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Photo © Vikotria Odissonova / Novaya Gazeta

Konstantin Kotov

Sentenced for Repeated Violations of Regulations on Public Gatherings

Of all the protest activists who were criminally charged in August, only 34-year-old Konstantin Kotov, a software engineer from Moscow, was accused not of specific actions at the protests but rather of “repeated violations of regulations on public gatherings” under Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code. The charges against Kotov stemmed from the fact that during a six-month period, he took part in three protests in support of political and rights issues, called in a Facebook post in July for people to join a protest against the exclusion of opposition candidates from the Moscow legislature elections, and took part in an election-related protest in August. The investigation into Kotov’s case was completed and the case was moved to trial in less than a week. Such swiftness is unprecedented compared to the regular timeframe of criminal investigations and trials in Russia. On September 5, the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow sentenced Kotov to four years in a medium-security corrections facility. Before Kotov’s sentencing, only one person in Russia had been convicted and served time serial involvement in unsanctioned protests. Prosecutions for such serial assembly violations was enabled by draconian legislation adopted in 2014.

Yegor Zhukov

Charged with extremist calls over criticizing the government in YouTube videos (originally accused of mass-rioting , changed on Sept 3rd) More »

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Photo © Vlad Dokshin / Novaya Gazeta

Yegor Zhukov

Under House Arrest Awaiting Trial on Charges of Making Extremist Calls Online

Yegor Zhukov, 21, studies political science at one of Russia’s leading universities, the Higher School of Economics. He is also a political vlogger, with more than 148,000 followers. Zhukov was arrested on August 2 on charges of mass rioting, which stemmed from allegations that during the July 27 unsanctioned protest he supposedly organized a large group of young people into ranks and led them to block police officers on the corner of Tverskaya Street and Kamergersky Lane. Moscow students organized a vigorous campaign for Zhukov’s release, which was also supported by some academics and high-profile journalists. When the authorities asked a court to put Zhukov in pre-trial custody, the investigation presented video footage from the site showing a young man whose face was not discernable organizing protesters. On August 30, Novaya Gazeta, a prominent Russian independent newspaper, published their video footage, in which the man’s face is clearly visible and bears no resemblance to Zhukov. On September 3, authorities dropped the mass-rioting charges against Zhukov, but charged him with making extremist calls online over several videos he recorded and published in his vlog in 2017. The investigation alleged that he “decided to engage an unlimited circle of people in his extremist activities, aimed at destabilizing the social-political situation in the Russian Federation.” Notably, the videos, which expressed Zhukov’s dissatisfaction with the current situation in Russia and its government, included no calls for violent actions. On the same day, a court released him from jail and transferred him to house arrest pending trial on the new charges. An active campaign in his support is ongoing.

Alexei Minyailo

Charged with participation in mass riots More »

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Photo © Vlad Dokshin / Novaya Gazeta

Alexei Minyailo

Charged with Mass Rioting

Alexey Minyailo (born 1985) is a developer of educational games for children in orphanages and a pro-democracy activist who volunteered at the headquarters of one of the unregistered candidates, Lyubov Sobol. Starting mid-July, Minyailo was involved in the election-related protest activity—both at street gatherings and on social media. On July 27, he spent the day at Khamovniki District Court in Moscow, where police had delivered Sobol in an apparent attempt to prevent her from taking part in the protest taking place that day. In the evening, Minyailo headed to Trubnaya Square, one of the venues for the unsanctioned protest, but detained him just as he was approaching the site. Minyailo spent two days in custody and was charged with participation in an unsanctioned gathering that interfered with traffic and the movement of pedestrians. On August 1, at around 4 a.m., law enforcement officers searched his house as part of an investigation into alleged mass rioting on July 27 and arrested him on charges of participation in mass rioting. On September 26, following a wave of public support—including support from 182 priests from the Russian Orthodox Church—a judge with the Basmanny District Court ordered his release because the evidence against him did not include any information about “organizing mass disorders accompanied by violence or destruction of property.”

Sergey Fomin

Charged with mass-rioting over “directing” protesters More »

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Photo © Vlad Dokshin / Novaya Gazeta

Sergey Fomin

Charged with Mass Rioting

Sergey Fomin (born 1983) was a volunteer at the headquarters of one of the unregistered candidates, Lyubov Sobol. He took part in several unsanctioned protest gatherings—including one held on July 27—after opposition candidates were excluded from the ballot for city legislature elections. On July 31 at 4 a.m., police in Moscow searched the apartment where he lives with his parents. They then took him to the Investigative Committee, Russia’s chief criminal investigative agency, to interrogate as a witness into alleged mass rioting on July 27. Fomin refused to answer the investigator’s questions and was released pending further investigative activities. He left Moscow for a week. According to Fomin, when he returned to the city on August 8, he found out that as of August 5 he was wanted on charges of participation in mass rioting and that governmental-controlled media was portraying him as an organizer of mass riots. He turned himself in at the Zamoskvorechye District Police Department in Moscow on the same day. The next day, a court ruled to transfer him to a pre-trial detention facility. On September 3, another court ruled to transfer Fomin’s to house arrest.

The tables below provide detailed information on the status, charges, and any court rulings.

Persons Arrested on Charges of Mass-Rioting or Police Assault in Connection with the Moscow Protests

Name Current Status Allegation details Date of arrest
Evgeny Kovalenko (1971) Sentenced to 3 years and five months in prison on Sept 4th Convicted of police assault on allegations of pushing an officer and throwing a trash can at a police officer
(originally charged with participation in mass-rioting)
July 29th
Ivan Podkopaev (1993) Pleaded guilty on Aug 26th, sentenced to 3 years in prison on Sept 3rd Convicted of police assault over pepper spraying two police officers (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) Aug 2nd
Kirill Zhukov (1990) Sentenced to 3 years in prison on Sept 4th Convicted of police assault over attempting to lift the visor of an officer’s helmet (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) Aug 2nd
Danil Beglets (1992) Sentenced to 2 years in prison on Sept 3rd Convicted of police assault over grabbing an officer’s arm  (originally also charged with participation in mass-rioting) Aug 9th
Eduard Malyshevsky In pretrial detention Charged with police assault over breaking a window while inside a police van and allegedly injuring a police officer standing on the outside of the van Sept 2nd
Nikita Chirtsov In pretrial detention after being deported to Russia from Belarus Charged with police assault over pushing a police officer Sept 2nd
Pavel Ustinov (1995) Sentenced to 3.5 years in jail on Sept 16th. On Sept 19th, the prosecutor’s office petitioned the court for his release from jail on his own recognizance pending appeal hearing. On Sept 20th, Ustinov was released. On September 30, the appeals court  upheld the guilty verdict but changed to sentence to a one year suspended sentence. Convicted on charges of assaulting and inflicting medium damage to the health of a police officer (the officer claimed he dislocated his shoulder while detaining Ustinov) Aug 3rd
Alexey Minyailo (1985) Released, charges dropped on September 26 Charged with participation in mass riots Aug 2nd
Vladislav Barabanov (1997) Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting over “directing” protesters Aug 3rd
Sergey Abanichev (1994) Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd Arrested on allegation on mass-rioting over throwing a single-serving soft drink can at a police officer Aug 3rd
Daniil Konon (1997) Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting Aug 3rd
Sergey Fomin (1983) Transferred to house arrest on Sept 3rd Charged with mass-rioting over “directing” protesters Aug 9th
Dmitry Vasiliev Detained on Aug 9th, but hospitalized on Aug 10th because his health severely deteriorated in detention due to lack of access to insulin. On Aug 11th, the Basmanny District Court returned to the investigation their petition to place Vasiliev in pretrial custody, refusing to conduct a hearing in absentia. On Aug 12th, Vasiliev was released from hospital. So far, the authorities have not gone after him.  It’s not clear whether charges against him have been dropped Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting Aug 9th
Valery Kostenok (1999) Released, charges dropped on Sept 3rd despite confessing Arrested on allegations of mass-rioting over throwing two empty plastic bottles at officers Aug 12th
Yegor Zhukov (1998) Transferred to house arrest on Sept 3rd Charged with extremist calls over criticizing the government in YouTube videos (originally accused of mass-rioting , changed on Sept 3rd) Aug 2nd
Samariddin Radjabov (1998) In pre-trial detention Charged with an attempted assault of police over throwing a plastic bottle in the direction of an officer (originally accused of mass-rioting) Aug 2nd
Aidar Gubaidulin (1993) Held in pre-trial detention until Sept 18th;
on Sept 18th, released from jail under own recognizance pending trial
Charged with an attempted assault of police over throwing a plastic bottle at an officer (originally accused of mass-rioting, switched on Aug 31st) Aug 9th

Activist Convicted on Charges of Repeated Violations of Regulations on Public Gatherings

Name Current Status Allegation details Date of arrest
Konstantin Kotov (1985) Sentenced to 4 years on Sept 5th Convicted on charges of repeated violations of regulations on public gatherings Aug 12th

Person Convicted on Charges of Incitement of Hatred

Name Current Status Allegation details Date of arrest
Vladislav Sinitsa Sentenced to 5 years in prison on Sept 3rd Convicted on charges of incitement to hatred over a tweet about possible online retaliation against children of police officers who worked during the protests on July 27th Aug 4th

Unregistered Candidates Who Served Consecutive and Arbitrary Administrative Arrest Sentences in Retaliation for Their Protest Activity

Name Allegation details Date of arrest
Ilya Yashin Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 40 Tweeting about the Aug 3rd protest Aug 28th
  “Encouraging participation in unsanctioned protests” Aug 18th
  Organizing the July 14th protest Aug 8th
  Organizing the July 14th protest July 30th
  Tweeting about the July 27th protest July 29th
Yulia Galyamina Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 35 Organizing an unsanctioned protest on Aug 3rd Aug 21st
  Participating in a protest on July 27th that affected street transportation Aug 6th
  Organizing an unsanctioned protest on July 27th July 27th
Konstantin Yankauskas Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 26 Calling on people to participate in the Aug 3rd protest on Twitter Aug 14th
  Tweeting about the July 14th meeting of opposition supporters Aug 5th
  Organizing the unsanctioned July 27th protest July 29th
Oleg Stepanov Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrests: 23 Participating in a protest Aug 1st
  Writing a Facebook post about the July 27th protest July 27th
Ivan Zhdanov Left the country right after his release from the first 15 days’ arrest without serving the second sentence   Organizing a protest without submitting a notice Aug 11th
  Participating in a protest on July 27th that affected street transportation July 29th
Dmitry Gudkov Total of days spent under consecutive administrative arrest: 36 Writing a Facebook post about the July 27th protest Aug 23rd
  Participating in the July 14th meeting of opposition supporters July 30th