North Ossetia: Going out for a festive event, ending up at a rally
Evelina Murtazina traveled to St. Petersburg for a couple of days to meet her daughter’s boyfriend. The young couple had been dating for 1 year, but the mother had never met Irina’s chosen one. Evelina and Irina are natives of Mozdok.
On 12 June, they arranged to meet and go out for a walk together – mother, daughter and the daughter’s cavalier: to have some ice cream and enjoy the embankment views. The young man was late, so the women decided to go to the Marsovo Polye (the Field of Mars). “We heard that an anti-corruption rally was to be organized on Russia Day. We perceived it just as Russia Day. We support people who are against corruption in general. But, we didn’t know who organized the rally. I heard about someone called Navolny, but I had no idea who he was.”
The women followed the crowd. “Many of them were holding Russian flags and rubber ducks, with a festive spirit all round. It was a new experience for us, since we don’t have such things in the Caucasus,” said the mother.
Suddenly, buses with policemen drove up and the crowd rushed away screaming. Then the chaos started. They stood there, mesmerized by what was happening, while policemen in helmets cracked down on the crowd. “One of them grabbed my daughter, pushed her into the ring and hit her with a baton. She burst into tears. I dashed after her. So we found ourselves encircled by the policemen.”
Irina and Evelina were encircled for about half an hour.
As they were escorted to a bus, they tried to find out on what grounds they were detained. But nobody seemed to take notice of them. On their way, someone slipped Evelina a piece of paper with guidelines on how to behave during detention. Evelina realized that those people had prepared for such developments in advance.
There were only two chairs in the hall at the police department where they were taken to. “Twenty-two people sat on those chairs, in turns, for 8 hours. We weren’t provided with either water or food, though, under the legislation, we should have been offered food three hours after detention, at least it was written so in the instruction. Those who had money could get a cup of tea from the vending machine, but my daughter and I were short of money,” recalls Evelina.
Irina’s boyfriend came to the department soon afterwards, and that’s were Evelina met him at last. “He was bringing parcels to us and was really concerned. Thank god he did not get into trouble along with us. He is a student, so it would have been dangerous for him.”
“Although no charges had been brought against us, we were already treated as criminals. We were placed in an awful cell: the plank beds weren’t washed from excrement and there was a stench of the homeless there. I thought that they would identify us, check our biography, understand that we’d been detained by mistake, and would let us go. But we were charged with resisting police and involvement in an unsanctioned rally. When we were put into the cell, I realized that we were victims of lawlessness, that we were powerless, we were just like bugs that could easily be squashed.”
The next day, Irina was sentenced to 8 days in pre-trial detention and was imposed a RUB 10,000 fine. “I waved the right to counsel, because I was going to petition a judge to let me stay with my daughter. At the trial, I honestly said that I expected the state’s protection, rather than humiliation. I said that I hadn’t shouted the slogans that were attributed to me, and that I ended up at the rally by chance. Also, that I didn’t know Navolny – yes, that’s exactly how I called him. I said that I’d heard about people protesting against corruption, and that I myself also opposed it. I told the court about my son, a soldier, who had long been awaiting promotion, but one day was told that some other person had bought his position! And that’s exactly the corruption that each and every citizen should oppose.”
Judge Scherbakob ordered a 2-day custody for Eveline. Given how long she’d been detained, she could have been released the same day. But Evelina called for the judge’s mercy: “My daughter is there, we are from the Caucasus, we can’t do that. I can’t leave my daughter alone, not knowing how she is, how she is treated. I said, I’d though it over. He was the only person in the entire system who acted humanely, who showed an understanding for our situation. I’m extremely grateful to that judge… .”
The mother joined her daughter in the bus that took them to the pre-trial detention facility. According to Evelina, unlike the police department, there were proper sanitary conditions there. “There were new prison wards, new mats and pillows (‘we unpacked them ourselves’), we were provided three meals a day (Borsch (sour soup), Rassolnik (pickle soup), second course), outdoor exercises once a day, and also, we were allowed to make a 15-minute phone call daily.”
Evelina and her daughter were released on 20 June. The journalists, as well as Volodya, who was bringing them parcels with food and books all that time, met them outside the detention facility. Evelina is going to challenge the court ruling, since she doesn’t consider herself guilty. “I was told that the sentence could affect our life. The airport staff would see that we were convicted. And also, it could affect my son’s career development. We are going to meet with a lawyer and decide what to do next.”
According to Igor An, a lawyer, the Murtazin’s participation in an unsanctioned rally wasn’t confirmed. There isn’t a single shred of reliable evidence testifying to the fact that Evelina and her daughter, Irina, were shouting out slogans, as well as the fact that they were less than 10 meters away from the rally participants.