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The Path to Freedom - Alexei Gaskarov's Statement

By Alexei Gaskarov, 14 August 2014
Image: Alexei Gaskarov - 'is there a right to protest in Russia?'
'If the path to freedom lies through prison, then we are ready to take it.' Here is the closing statement of Alexei Gaskarov, who is facing four years in prison for political protest in Russia. The sentence will be announced on Monday, 18 August 2014. Some background on the Bolotnaya case below. Translation by

I will be talking about circumstances which are possibly not directly connected to the object of investigation, but which, I reckon, are absolutely necessary to take into account when making a concrete decision about it. It seems to me that our individual particularities and motives as such aren’t as important because anyone who was on the Bolotnaya Square on the 6th of May [2012] could be here on the same grounds. And our case got public attention not because anyone is interested in who dragged the policeman’s leg or body armour, in what way or under which circumstances. The so-called “Bolotnaya case” has become emblematic in the sense that, through this case, the public can grasp how power deals with opposition – with those whose view is different from the general line.

The first thing I would like to talk about is a theme that has not been covered in our trial, but is important: why did so many people, against all odds, decide to take part in some events, and not just queue for 2-3 hours and then go home; and also, in the end, not allowing themselves to be once again beaten with impunity. Here I would like to say the following: the demonstration on the 6th of May was the seventh mass event organised by the opposition. If before 2011 the protest rallies were [only] attended by a couple of thousand people, after you-know-who[1] said that the idea of interchangeability of power wasn’t best for Russia, this movement expanded significantly. And these people did not go rioting, they became observers at elections so as to understand and record how the legitimacy of the political processes was generated in our country.

On the 4th of December[2], everything fell into place. Even though the institution of elections in Russia had possibly been destroyed much earlier, the mass of people that participated in the elections as observers saw how the legitimacy of the current power was formed. I was an observer myself at those elections and what we saw was quite clear-cut. Indeed, it is a weird situation when you are trying and cannot even find a single person in your circle who would say ‘I voted for “United Russia”, and that’s why this party is doing so well’. Actually there were no such people, there was no mass support for those in power. Even later, when ‘Bolotnaya’ was contrasted with ‘Poklonnaya’[3], the broadcasting was meant to show “here is an event against the authorities, here is an event in support of the authorities”, but there was nothing to show for the latter. They couldn’t get even a thousand people who would voluntarily come out to support the current power.

So, I reckon, this trend in itself was extremely important, but, unfortunately, was not fully grasped by the authorities. Because fair elections are the only legal vehicle to change the political system. And by changing this system, it would then be possible to solve both social and economic problems. However, despite a vast number of people going out on the streets – which had not been the case before – there was no reaction from the authorities. The protest was peaceful and large. It was obvious that the demands put forward were real and the problems raised did take place. But instead people saw only the authorities’ reluctance to engage in a dialogue, and at some point even barefaced derision.

Now many people don’t like how some doltish characters in Ukraine call people from the south-east. But we had the same here. People who came to the Bolotnaya Square were called “bandar-logs” by the president of the country; he also used many other misplaced comparisons. It was said: it’s only 1% of you, only 100 000 people coming to the Bolotnaya Square, out of 10 million populating the city, this doesn’t mean anything at all. Subsequently, when they actually allowed fair elections, which was the case with the mayor elections in Moscow [September 2013], it turned out this was not 1%, but 40% – this is a substantial fraction of the population.

I think that, on the whole, we should be happy that the events on the Bolotnaya Square happened exactly this way because in all developed democratic countries protests, the possibility to show a view different from that held by the power, shape political competition, which allows a country to find an optimal way of development. And if one looks into it, some problems in our economy have started since the third quarter of 2012; for it’s impossible to build a stable economic and social system when such a significant part of society is completely demotivated and excluded. The fact that this part of society is significant was obvious. The first signal that we have witnessed and that follows from our own case: is there a right to protest in Russia, which all developed countries have? At present, as we can see, Russia is deprived of this right.

The second signal that is impossible to ignore: is there still the rule of law in Russia? An individual needs to be protected from the actions of the state not only through the separation of powers, the system of сhecks and balances, but also through the possibility of direct appeal to law using the form in which it is formulated. I think this is pronounced in our case: there are the 212th statute[4] and the 8th statute[5] of the Criminal Code. Maybe it is not formulated in the best way, but it is formulated in the way it is. And it is not right to discuss these obvious questions at the trial because the law itself is formulated unambiguously. We have also read official commentaries to the Criminal Code and have not found anywhere that the “content” of the crime “riots” can be alternatively qualified on the basis of some [but not all – GI’s note] characteristics specified there. Nevertheless this is consistently ignored. Even in those sentences that have been attached to the materials of this case[6] this theme is overlooked.

As I’ve been saying, the rule of law is in itself among the most important institutions that help to protect an individual’s rights in a democratic state. And of course we can’t help paying attention to a certain selectivity regarding how the law is used. I understand we do not have a precedent law, but it is hard not to notice that if you are, for example, a nationalist, blocking roads, setting shops on fire, but not saying anything against the actions of authorities, then you are a hooligan. Whereas, if you happened to be at a rally where “Putin is a thief” is shouted, then you’re put under harsh criminal liability.

The final issue to which I would also like to pay attention, which comes out of our case – it seems to me the following signal is being sent: if you’re loyal to authorities, then you are graced with maximal favour; if you’re not loyal, then you will be in prison. As for the evaluation of the actions of the demonstration and the actions of the police, it is all too obvious that not all policemen acted in a way they should have acted. I understand that this precise theme might have not been the object of our trial, but no criminal cases have been filed against the policemen. In fact, our case has been an attempt to make the police into some untouchable caste. Throughout the public discussion of the Bolotnaya case, the same phrase was voiced time and again: “One must not beat the police”. But even in our example, out of 30 people who were called to account for the Bolotnaya case, in reality only three of them hit the police. However, the full complexity of the situation has been vulgarised into this one phrase: “One must not beat the police”. It seems to me such positioning completely destroys any critique of power. We cannot forget that a lot of dreadful things happened in our country – for example, during the time of the Great Purge[7] – all these crimes were committed by people in uniform, and everything they were doing was, in fact, legal. And now we are told there should not be any critical reflection on the current situation, and that we should just blindly obey the thesis that has been repeated many times during our case.

The main thing I would like to say: I hope, Your Honour, that after our trial invoking law as an expression of the principle of justice does not turn into an instance of bad form. I would like the enforcement of law, with a view to this case here, not to follow any political aims that have been imposed – and all this is in the materials of the case – but to judge us for what we have really done. However, in this country, if the path to freedom lies through prison, then we are ready to take it. That’s all.


[1] This is a reference to Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he would run for presidency in 2012 elections, which was made during the ‘United Russia’ party congress (24th September 2011).

[2] the date of 2011 parliamentary elections in Russia

[3] the place where the demonstration in support of the current power took place

[4] “Riots”

[5] “Grounds for criminal liability”, according to which a ground for criminal liability is an accomplishment of an act which has all characteristics of the “content” of a certain crime, as specified in the Criminal Code.

[6] The “Bolotnaya case” consists of a series of cases, so the sentences from some of those cases have been added to the materials of the case in question.

[7] The Great Purge was a campaign of political repression in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin in 1937-1938. 

About The Bolotnaya case

On 6 May 2012, the day before Vladimir Putin’s inauguration, a protest took place in Moscow (which was allowed by Moscow’s authorities). It was the 7th large protest organised by the opposition since the rise in protest activity of 2011/2012. It started as a march and was supposed to be followed by a rally on the Bolotnaya square. However, the access to the square was blocked by the police, which resulted in people being jammed and provoking a clash between the protesters and the police. Later, when it was announced that the rally was cancelled, the police started randomly arresting people using truncheons and special equipment. More than 600 people were arrested that day. A lot of people, including Alexei (, were severely beaten (e.g. see one video showing arrests and beatings:

The clash that took place has been classified as a ‘riot’ (even though no riots took place), with cases filed against people who took part in the protest (a mix of random people and activists). Arrests (with prison detention for most defendants during investigation and trial) took place in May-July 2012, and then again in winter-spring 2013. Alexei was the 27th person arrested. They have been accused in taking part in/organising riots and violence against the police. Notably, no cases have been filed against the police (even though Alexei, for example, reported that he was beaten to the authorities, but the investigation of his claim was rejected). 13 people have already been found guilty by the court. Most lately (24 July) Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev were sentenced to 4.5 year imprisonment each as ‘organisers’ of riots ( Sergei has been on hunger strike since 25 July in protest of the politically charged decision.

The verdicts to the second wave of the Bolotnaya case (i.e. to 4 people including Alexei Gaskarov) will be announced in Zamoskvoretsky Court in Moscow on 18 August. The prosecution has asked for 4-year imprisonments for Alexei Gaskarov and Alexander Margolin, 3 years 3 months in prison for Ilya Gushchin, and 3 years 3 months suspended sentence for Elena Kokhtareva. All four defendants are accused of taking part in riots and using non-threatening violence against the police. However, it is a very far-fetched understanding of violence that is used. In case of Alexei Gaskarov, his act of dragging the policeman by the leg (to protect a protester lying on the ground from being beaten by the police) is being interpreted as violence. [This episode can be seen on the same video where Alexei is beaten, towards the end]. In fact, most of the defendants of both the first wave and the second wave of the Bolotnaya case did not hit the policemen.

The start of the Bolotnaya case, together with the law restricting the right to protest that was passed in 2012, have significantly undermined the protest activity in Russia.

More information about the Bolotnaya case in English can be found here: 
More information about Alexei Gaskarov can be found here: