New Russian Regulations: No Right To Self-Defense If Police Are Beating You

Moscow riot police in action
Moscow riot police in action
Grigorii Tumanov

MOSCOW - The question of whether or not citizens in Russia have the right to defend themselves if they are being beaten by police was taken up by the Supreme Court in June.

The case came just after a large protest on May 6 that was marred by several police beatings. In regulations released soon after, the Court clarified that Russian citizens have the right to defend themselves if the police are using “indisputably illegal force.”

However, even that caveat seems to have disappeared from the final regulations that were released late last month. Indeed a closer look at those regulations make clear that Russian citizens do not have the right to react or defend themselves from police officers who are attacking them, including during street protests, even if they are in danger of bodily injury.

According to Pavel Chikov, head of the human rights organization Agora, the court’s regulations are an invitation for the police to be violent. “I personally only know of one case in modern history when police actions during a protest event were declared illegal," he said. "I think that after these new regulations the police will never be charged with doing something illegal.” The one instance Chikov said he knew of when a police officer’s conduct was judged illegal happened in 2010 in St. Petersburg, when a police officer hit a protester with a club, and was sentenced to three years in prison as a result.

Dimitri Denze, a lawyer for one of the protesters arrested during the protests last May, clarified that these Supreme Court regulations are non-binding, but that in all likelihood lower courts would follow the recommendations of the higher court.

He also said that the new regulations are almost certainly related to the cases that stemmed from the May protests. All of the accused are being tried under laws prohibiting attacks against a police officer. But the accused all maintain that the police were the first to use physical force against them, and the protesters had to defend themselves.

According to Mikhail Pashkin, head of the main police union in Moscow, the lack of clear criteria for what constitutes legal force by police officers creates a serious potential for abuse. “At what point can one defend oneself? The law already establishes that the police cannot beat someone on the head with a club, that is illegal, but there are already a slew of cases where Special Police Forces have broken that law,” he told Kommersant.

For example, on September 15, a Special Forces policeman hit a protester named Yekaterina Zaitseva on the head with a club. She suffered brain damage as a result. In the aftermath, top police officials announced that there would be no consequences for the policeman, since he was defending himself from a group of opposition protesters who had torn off his helmet, and Zaitseva was among the protesters.

Chikov said that it seems like the only time a person can defend themselves from the police is if they have Denis Evsukov in front of them, in the act of shooting people. Evsukov was a Moscow police officer who killed two people in a drunken shooting in a Moscow supermarket in 2009.

The official representatives of the Moscow police department were not available to comment.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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