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Aidar Gubaidulin in court. August 21, 2019

This election protester might face years in prison for throwing a plastic water bottle toward police officers

Source: Meduza
Aidar Gubaidulin in court. August 21, 2019
Aidar Gubaidulin in court. August 21, 2019
Dmitry Serebryakov / AP / Scanpix / LETA
Update (September 18): Judge Olesya Mendeleyeva has returned Gubaidulin's case to investigators, after prosecutors suddenly made the request, saying that officials need to review the charges. Gubaidulin was freed in the courtroom and released on his own recognizance.

Moscow’s Meshchansky Court has begun hearing the case against 26-year-old computer programmer Aidar Gubaidulin. He stands accused of attempted violence against a police officer: During Moscow’s July 27 protest, the programmer threw a plastic water bottle in the direction of a group of officers and National Guard troops who were beating other demonstrators. The bottle missed the officers, but Gubaidullin is nonetheless being held in a pretrial detention center, and he may receive a lengthy prison sentence. Meduza spoke with Aidar Gubaidullin’s brother, Ildar, about the case.

Aidar and I went to school together. He was always interested in science, and he would win awards at science olympiads. After 11th grade [the final grade in Russia], he left [the city of Ufa] to study in Moscow at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. While he was still in school, he started working as a math tutor on the side, and then he got a job as a programmer for the international company NetCracker. Later on, he switched to a job at Sberbank Technologies.

Aidar always followed the political situation in [Russia], but he didn’t actively get involved, nothing like that. He went to the July 27 protest because he was angry that independent candidates hadn’t been allowed to register for the Moscow City Duma race. He decided that’s how he wanted to express his opinion on that issue.

During the protest, my brother witnessed a beating of peaceful civilians. They just started beating people who were on the streets with clubs. That made Aidar really angry.

That same day, Aidar had bought a plastic bottle of drinking water. He drank the water and put the bottle in his bag. Maybe when he witnessed [the police’s] violent actions, he decided to step in. Maybe he wanted to show that you can’t act that way and decided to throw that bottle [in the police officers’ direction]. He didn’t have any intention of causing anybody harm.

Aidar is being charged with attempted violence against a representative of the state. But the bottle, when my brother threw it, was already empty [and couldn’t have caused any harm]. The prosecution is trying to put forward this hypothesis that the bottle actually had water in it, but that’s just an assumption one of the witnesses made. But that’s not the main thing. The main thing is the victim’s testimony. He says he saw the bottle coming at him at the last minute and ducked out of the way. Supposedly, that caused him moral harm.

We ordered an independent probe into the videos [of the incident]. That probe found that the police officer couldn’t have seen the bottle. That means he couldn’t have experienced any moral injury either. Essentially, I think there was no criminal activity here. At most, it’s an administrative violation. Aidar should be freed. He’s already served a relatively long time in pretrial detention, and that’s a disproportionate punishment even if the victim experienced moral harm.

Right now, Aidar is in Pretrial Detention Center Number 3. He’s said things are mostly all right there, and the conditions are fine. But there’s loud music on 24/7, which is disruptive when he’s trying to read books or just go about his day. I’ve also heard from other people that conditions there aren’t very good — that the cells are dilapidated, and there are rats running around.

After the preliminary hearings, our mom was allowed to see Aidar. My brother said he was all right. He’s holding on psychologically. At the same time, things have been very hard for my mom. She suffers every minute of the day. This whole situation seems absurd to her.

We’ve been following other cases that are related to the protests. That includes yesterday’s trial for Pavel Ustinov, and my mom was very upset that an entirely innocent person was put in prison for 3.5 years.

There have been terrible sentences for other defendants in the Moscow case, too. Not a single one of them deserved those sentences. It’s obvious that these harsh sentences and the fact that the courts ignore the defense’s arguments are political decisions. I think it’s because the government was afraid leading up to the Moscow City Duma elections. The elections have already passed, but now, the government’s also afraid to retreat. That’s why we’re seeing these repressions.

Of course, we hope they’ll let Aidar go. But judging by what’s happened so far, he’ll get a harsh sentence, too. I don’t want to think about it.

I think the situation could still change. The fact that some of the defendants’ charges were dropped was a political decision. I don’t know what it was based on, but now, all we can do is hope for more of those political decisions and show public support so that public figures, cultural figures, scholars, and artists support Aidar and the other defendants. I think that could affect the case.

Transcription by Pavel Merzlikin

Translation by Hilah Kohen

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