Freedom of assembly in St. Petersburg is game of cat and mouse
12.07.2016As opposed to the previous two years, this year, the situation with freedom of assembly sharply deteriorated in St. Petersburg, Russia. Marsovo Pole, the “Hyde Park” of St. Petersburg, is supposed to be the place where public rallies can be organized. All one needs to do is notify the administration. But in reality, the administration is using all possible loopholes to violate activists rights to freedom of assembly in a game of "cat and mouse".
For the first time this year “Coming Out”’s notification to organize the rally on Marsovo Field was “denied”. Organizers were told that the time was taken up by a mass cultural event and invited to apply for the next day, presumably “free”. Activists applied immediately, and received the response that the space – oops - was again already taken, and the next day was suggested. This cycle repeated itself 11 times.
The court ruled that the administration’s reply was not a “ban”. Activists monitored the site every day a “mass cultural event” was supposed to take place there. This, or similar to this, is what activists saw:
Yesterday, activists notified the police of the court’s decision and their intent to exercise their right to assembly. The reply from the police was straightforward – “if you come out, you will be detained”. Today, two activists came out with a rainbow flag and posters “COMING OUT for Freedom of Assembly” and “11 Applications from LGBT Movement, 11 Excuses from the Administration. We Have the Right to Be Here.”
Activists were detained and charged with violating article 20.2 on organizing public rallies: “…participated in action without receiving approval, impeded carrying out of a sports event, and refused to comply with the police directive to stop the action.” The fines are up 30 000 rubles (425 EUR) each.
The next step is litigation to demonstrate unequivocally that under the current legislation and administrative practice, it is impossible to realize the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.
The action generated a lot of local media interest, attention from the St. Petersburg ombudsman for human rights, whose position is aligned with that of the activists.