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Opposition campaign manager Leonid Volkov has been jailed a second time for a single livestream. Is that even legal? (Spoiler: nope.)

Source: Meduza
Artyom Geodakyan / TASS / Vida Press

Early in the morning on June 10, Leonid Volkov, a former campaign manager for Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny, was set to leave the detention facility where he had spent the previous 20 days. Volkov was convicted of “action or inaction by an organizer of a public event leading others to cause harm to the health of an individual or to property” under Article 20.2 of Russia’s Codex of Administrative Violations. The charge was based on his public support for a protest against Russia’s pension reforms in September of 2018. In May, a court ruled that Volkov had “inspired” people to join an unsanctioned protest in Moscow that september by livestreaming a video from outside Russia on the day of the event. Immediately after Volkov was released, he was arrested again and sentenced to 15 more days in jail under a different section of Article 20.2 on the premise that the same video had inspired protesters in St. Petersburg. We explain why that move contradicts both Russian procedural norms and the country’s Constitution.

What Volkov was jailed for the first time

“On September 09, 2018, in the period between 07:00 and 18:00, L.M. Volkov, as the host of the video series “Russia Against Pension Theft,” went live on air on the video hosting website YouTube […] and publicly addressed possible participants of a public event, urging them and agitating them to take part in an unsanctioned public event in the form of a protest titled the “Day of Protest Against an Increase in the Retirement Age,” which took place on Septemer 09, 2018, beginning at 14:00 at the following address: Moscow, Pushkin Square.”

— From the Moscow City Court decision sentencing Volkov to 20 days of detention

What Volkov is being jailed for now

“On September 09, 2018, in a public video on the video hosting website YouTube, L.M. Volkov […] broadcast a video live on air on the “Navalny LIVE” channel within the series titled “Russia Against Pension Theft” between 07:00 and 18:00 Moscow Time and repeatedly [called on viewers to join the protest in St. Petersburg].”

— From a new protocol charging Volkov with administrative violations under a different section of Article 20.2

Why that’s illegal

The Constitution of the Russian Federation states that nobody can be punished twice for the same crime. That same legal norm also appears in Russia’s Codex of Administrative Violations: “Nobody may be held accountable in administrative law twice for a single administrative violation.”

“The logic behind the protocol rests on the premise that these were two different protests. This is shaky logic because there was only one event: a nationwide protest against the pension reforms. However, there is an argument to be had in that regard. There is no argument to be had, however, about the fact that I only held one livestream. I am being tried for that same livestream, for the very same set of phrases,” Volkov said in Moscow’s Tverskoy Court on June 10.

In analogous situations in which an individual was also punished twice under different sections of the Codex of Administrative Violations, Russia’s Supreme Court and its Constitutional Court have both taken the defendant’s side. In 2017, the Supreme Court forbade courts from punishing individuals both for taking part in an unsanctioned protest and for disobedience toward police officers during that protest. In 2019, the Constitutional Court called on legislators to change the Codex such that independent contractors could not be punished for failing to provide information about their employees once as an insurer and once again as an executive officer.

Mikhail Zelensky, Denis Dmitriev

Translation by Hilah Kohen