The Bolotnaya case: Prisoners of justice
This series of portraits is dedicated to the political prisoners of the Bolotnaya Square case – people who gave up their freedom for the right to speak their minds. Portraiture will never be able to prove a person’s innocence. However, I believe that some portraits can evidence the innate freedom, dignity and strength of the subject, as well as reflecting the hope for change in their eyes. Dark and cold in tone, this series falls somewhere between documentary and painting, echoing the classical portraits of the Decembrists.
On May 6, 2012, the day before Vladimir Putin was inaugurated for his third presidential term, tens of thousands of Muscovites and people from all around Russia participated in the “March of Millions” on the Bolotnaya Square, a sanctioned protest against the perceived rigging of parliamentary and presidential elections and corruption.
According to numerous witnesses and independent observers, the police themselves provoked the clashes with protestors. They dispersed protesters with force, beating people with rubber batons and arresting hundreds of peaceful protesters. On May 7, the Russian Investigative Committee brought forward the Bolotnaya case with charges of an alleged mass riot and violence against the police.
A total of 33 people, six of them women, have been charged so far. Despite the fact that the prosecution lacks any adequate evidence, 18 of the Bolotnaya case defendants have been found guilty. 15 of them have been handed sentences of two and a half to four and a half years in prison. One was sentenced to psychiatric treatment. Two others received a suspended three-year-and-three-month sentence. Some of the defendants have received amnesty, having spent up to 18 months behind bars. At least 11 Bolotnaya rally participants fled Russia in the wake of the arrests of the other protesters. One Bolotnaya case defendant committed suicide in a Dutch detention center after his asylum request was rejected.
This case has become notorious due to the numerous violations of Russian laws and the rights of the prosecuted individuals. Many human rights organizations and international bodies, including the European Parliament, called this case a politically-motivated show trial. Some of the defendants have been recognized as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.
The Bolotnaya case is still open. Four years later, the investigation and the arrests continue.