December 9, 2011
On December 6, 2011, Filipp Kostenko, a social activist and an employee of the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center, was arrested during the ongoing mass protests in Saint Petersburg. Currently in custody in the pre-trial detention facility at Zakharievskaya, 6, Kostenko has gone on hunger strike to protest his sentence.
Earlier, on November 25, Kostenko was arrested during a one-person picket at the Consulate of the Republic of Belarus to demand the release of the Belarusian human rights activist Ales Belyatsky and other political prisoners in Belarus. Although he observed all the legal requirements for such a picket, he was then likewise charged with disobeying police. The case, however, never came to trial, because there was no evidence of any wrongdoing.
On December 7, Judge Kuznetsov of the 203rd Judicial Precinct gave Kostenko the maximum possible sentence – fifteen days of administrative arrest, which by law should be applied only in “exceptional cases.” As stated in the court’s decision, Kostenko was convicted of disobeying police, namely, for refusing “to obey an order to cease participating in a demonstration.” Sentencing Kostenko to the maximum term of the harshest possible punishment [in this case] is clearly disproportionate [to his alleged crime]. It is obviously a repressive measure aimed at preventing the activist and civil rights advocate from exercising his right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
It is unreasonable to detain people who peacefully protest violations during elections. The Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center deems it unacceptable and contrary to international norms to prosecute anyone exercising their right to peaceful assembly. The unhindered exercise of this right is particularly important in tandem with the right to free elections in a democratic society: it is a condition for guaranteeing free expression and an effective tool for protecting the right of citizens to free elections in the event of violations of this right. As Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg has noted in light of the current situation, “Freedom of assembly is extremely important, especially after an election, and this right is protected under the European Convention on Human Rights. Arresting people and sentencing them to prison only because they took part in demonstrations contravenes the European Convention. “
In its December 5 statement, Amnesty International likewise recognized all those people arrested and sentenced during the current peaceful protests as prisoners of conscience and demanded their immediate release. (“They are prisoners of conscience and they must be released immediately.”)
In addition to the unreasonable and disproportionate punishment for what was essentially a peaceful action, the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center also expresses grave concern about conditions in the detention facility at Zakharievskaya, 6. Earlier, in a case that the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center brought before the European Court of Human Rights, the conditions of detention at this facility were recognized by the court as inhumane and in violation of international norms.
Filipp Kostenko has gone on hunger strike to protest what he considers an unjust sentence and demand the release of all those arrested during the current peaceful demonstrations. One other detainee, Viktor Demyanenko, sentenced to ten days’ administrative arrest on a similar charge, has joined the hunger strike.
Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center demands that the authorities cease persecuting people for the peaceful exercise of their rights, respect international standards guaranteeing the right to freedom of assembly and fair elections, and free wrongfully detained and convicted persons, including social activist and civil rights advocate Filipp Kostenko.
Photo courtesy of Free Voina.