As the Olympic torch travels through Russia, the international spotlight is shifting towards the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics. For human rights activists everywhere, this presents a much-needed opportunity to draw attention to the oppressive rule of Vladimir Putin.
On the eve of Vladimir Putin's presidential inauguration ceremony in May of last year, tens of thousands gathered in protest on Moscow's Bolotnaya's Square. Mikhail Kosenko joined his fellow Russians in what was a gathering sanctioned by the Russian Authorities.
This week a Moscow court sent Kosenko to forcible treatment in a psychiatric institution for participating in that protest. He was arrested a month after the march and charged with taking part in a riot and using violence against police officers. Although some protestors did use violence that day, Kosenko was not one of them.
Amnesty International attended his court hearings and we believe that the prosecution has failed to prove their case. Furthermore, video footage and the testimonies of eye witnesses overwhelmingly indicate that he is in fact innocent of the crimes he is accused of.
An injury sustained while he was serving in the Russian army caused Mikhail Kosenko to develop mental illness, but never in the past did he require forcible treatment, nor was he deemed to pose a danger to himself of the society. The prosecutors sought to exploit this circumstance to indicate that he is prone to violence and a danger to himself and society, and thus be sent to forcible psychiatric treatment. They based this claim on a medical opinion that they sought. The judge refused to allow an independent examination of his mental health as requested by Kosenko's defense.
Kosenko denies any involvement in violence or any other illegal actions in Bolotnaya Square. Available video and witness testimony support this claim and his medical records show no history of violence. For years, he had been receiving treatment without hospitalization and he has never been recognized as a danger to anyone. Not only is there no evidence of his involvement in the activities that he was accused of, there is overwhelming evidence that he was protesting peacefully.
Protest organizers had originally expected five thousand people to join the march on
Bolotnaya Square. Tens of thousands actually showed up. What started as a peaceful protest against the inauguration of Vladimir Putin led to localized violence and the dispersal of all the participants. Up to 650 individuals were detained right away. Along with Kosenko, two other defendants, Vladimir Akimenkov and Artiom Saviolov are also similarly charged and have been detained for over a year. Yet there is no evidence that they were involved in the violence. These three men are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully expressing their right to freedom of expression and assembly.
Russian authorities have arrested over 5,000 protestors since Vladimir Putin declared that he would seek an unprecedented third presidential term. Tens of thousands of Russians are demanding transparency, fairness and an unencumbered ability to peacefully petition their government. These demands are being met with an overall crackdown on the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly by the authorities. Forcibly incarcerating a man in a psychiatric unit just because he was peacefully protesting is a chilling reminder that the Russian authorities will go to any length to stifle dissent. Kosenko's conviction shows a blatant disregard for the rule of law. We ask that people everywhere contact the Russian prosecutor and demand his immediate and unconditional release. As concerned global citizens, we should support Russians who are courageously demanding reforms from their own government.