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Pandemic as a Reason to Deter Public

15.05.2023 @ 14:30 – 15:30 Europe/Helsinki Timezone
Pandemic as a Reason to Deter Public

About the Case: Dmitry Gruzdev was charged under Part 1 of Article 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offense of Russia against the Russian Federation Armed Forces. 

The case is being heard in the Dzerzhinsky District Court of Saint-Petersburg, with Judge Yana Andreevna Nikitina presiding.

On May 16th, a hearing took place regarding another case of discreditation against the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Our monitor shares insights into how pandemic-related restrictions become a real threat to judicial transparency:

Upon learning that I had come as a member of a public, bailiffs at the entrance to the court called Judge Nikitina’s chamber to coordinate my admission. Judge Nikitina orders that I should not be allowed to enter, without providing any reasons. I then inform the bailiffs that I want to go to the reception area to file a complaint against the judge’s actions. After this, I am allowed into the court building. After my belongings are checked, a court bailiff explains the path to the reception area and returns to the security post, ensuring that I am heading in the specified direction. After the bailiff returns to the post, I proceed to the staircase and go up to the courtroom.

The case is being heard in courtroom № 10, although the court’s website indicated courtroom № 17 on the poster. I learned about the actual hearing location from a dialogue with the bailiffs as I entered the building.

The session starts with a 30-minute delay due to a discrepancy with the schedule. At 11:35, the participants of the process, who were expecting the hearing to start at 11:00, address the secretary who has exited the courtroom, asking, “When will we start?” to which they receive the response, “When we finish.”

At 12:00, Gruzdev enters the courtroom as invited by the secretary, and I follow him, taking a seat on the bench for the public. A young man, likely an intern, is sitting on the bench, working with documents on the table in front of the bench. After the session begins and the judge becomes aware of my presence, she demands that I leave the courtroom due to the inability to maintain social distance between me and the intern. To comply with the sanitary and epidemiological requirements, I move to a chair situated at a greater distance, clearly exceeding the 1.5-meter distance from the bench for the public.

The judge asserts that I do not have the right to occupy the mentioned chair because it is “intended for civilians.” I object, stating that I am also a civilian. However, the judge leaves this unanswered and ceases attempts to justify her actions. She then calls a bailiff through the secretary to have me removed from the courtroom. After a brief period, a bailiff enters the courtroom, presenting a similar demand, which I comply with after a brief dialogue with him, despite the unsuccessful attempt to establish the legal grounds for my removal.

On my way downstairs, the bailiff begins to reproach me for entering the courtroom when I was registered in the reception area. I respond that I will go to the reception area now and that I am not obligated to restrict my movements in the court to the purpose recorded in the visitor log.

Afterward, I proceed to the court’s reception area with the intention of filing a complaint with the chairman regarding Judge Nikitina’s actions. However, in the corridor near the entrance to the reception area, the bailiff who had previously conducted my inspection and instructed me on how to reach the reception area approaches me closely. He adopts a threatening tone and demands that I leave the court building, citing only that I am “overstepping my bounds.” I ask him to specify the legal grounds and explain what I have violated, but he only repeats his demand in an increasingly aggressive tone.

From his movements, facial expressions, and change in tone, it becomes evident that he is losing control and is not only prepared to use physical force but also to initiate physical confrontation. To avoid risking my well-being and the potential fabrication of a case under Article 17.3 of the Code of Administrative Offense of Russia, I cease the dialogue, reluctantly comply with his unlawful demand, and leave the court building.

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