New Tough Protest Law Claims First Victim

Oleg Shein. Source: ITAR-TASSIn the first case of an oppositionist being charged under a new, stricter law governing public demonstrations, a court in Astrakhan has convicted State Duma Deputy Oleg Shein of holding an unsanctioned march. Shein himself insists that he was just walking around with his friends, but the court ruled on the word of police officers who dispersed the group.

According to, the court ordered Shein, a member of the party A Just Russia, to pay a 20 thousand ruble fine (about 600 USD) for the supposed march along the Volga River in the southern city of Astrakhan on June 12 – a Russian holiday.

“I’m a pioneer,” the politician said ironically to the website, adding that he planned to appeal the sentence at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Still, Shein will have to pay the fine for now, since failing to do so could lead to criminal persecution under Russian law.

Shein had originally submitted a notice to local authorities about his plan for the march, but it was rejected without an alternative proposed location, which Russian law requires authorities to provide. Shein then issued calls online: “Don’t meet at 6:00 at the Volga embankment and don’t hold a march.” Several hundred people did show up, including Shein. The group was broken up by police, and Shein was briefly detained before being told to appear in court later to face charges.

During the trial, police witnesses claimed that they broke up the group because Shein was “shouting slogans” and walking along the river with the group. They did not specify what exactly the deputy was shouting, and witnesses differed on where exactly the people were located and at what time they were there.

According to the defense, there were many people out with their families along the river for the holiday just to walk around, and many approached Shein not as a march organizer, but simply because he is a famous local politician and was singing. “The group of acquaintances, including Shein, was walking around; people had a Russian flag and a flag of the Astrakhan District; people were singing songs. After some time, police officers approached Shein and asked him to stop ‘this,’ and when he asked what exactly, they responded: ‘you know.’ Personally, Shein did not scream any slogans and didn’t violate order; the police nevertheless forcefully brought him to the station,” one witness said.

Despite the contradictions between witness testimonies, the court convicted Shein of organizing a march and fined him 20 thousand rubles. The minimum fine under the new law that went into effect on June 12 – the same day of the march – is 10 thousand rubles; the maximum is 300 thousand rubles.

Shein’s lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, said that the odds were always stacked against the defense. “It’s a normal affair for a Russian court to convict someone of violating the regulations on holding rallies on the basis of a single police report. And, even when the defense presents a video that refutes it, the court doesn’t take it into consideration,” he said.

The difference now is that while such blind faith in police used to result in fines against activists of only a thousand rubles, now it will be at least ten times that amount. “The government is trying in this way to break up protests from the inside. They’re blocking the last opportunity that people have to express their opinions on what’s happening in the country, so protests are becoming radicalized, and, possibly, will go underground,” said the lawyer.