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On 25 November, a court in Cherkessk, the capital of Russian republic of Karachay–Cherkessia, acquitted five people accused of staging an illegal protest.
Aslan Pseunov, Zurab Pseunov, Zuleta Pseunova, Amerbi Khashpakov, and Marina Fizikova posed for a photo on the square in front of the Government House of Karachay–Cherkessia with posters reading ‘I/We are Martin Kochesoko’ on 16 June.
Pseunova told OC Media that the photo was taken to post on Instagram to support arrested Circassian activist Martin Kochesoko.
The five were arrested the following day and charged with ‘participating in an unauthorised protest that interferes with the functioning of infrastructure facilities’.
Actions in support of Kochesoko took place on 16 June in several cities in Russia.
Kochesoko, the chair of Circassian public organisation Khabze, was detained on 7 June in the Lesken District of south-east Kabardino–Balkaria. On 13 June the Ministry of the Interior of Kabardino–Balkaria announced that he had pleaded guilty to the acquisition and possession of drugs.
At an appeal hearing on 24 June, Kochesoko said he pleaded guilty under pressure from law enforcement agencies.
[Read more of Kochesoko’s arrest on OC Media: Circassian activist Martin Kochesoko arrested in Kabardino-Balkaria]
On 23 August, the Supreme Court of Kabardino–Balkaria released Kochesoko, who had been under house arrest since 1 July, on bail.
According to Pseunova, on 17 June, all the participants of the photoshoot were brought to the Centre for Combating Extremism in Karachay–Cherkessia.
‘Police officers from the Centre, explaining to us the lack of official subpoenas, reported that by law they have the right to detain any Russian citizen for 48 hours without giving reasons or bringing charges’, Pseunova said.
‘The Centre employees behaved ethically, and we did not resist’, she added.
According to Aslan Pseunov, while they were held in the Centre, all participants of the photoshoot were asked to write explanatory notes about the purpose for which they gathered at the Government House on 16 June.
‘We wrote that we really did not plan to hold a rally, and that we came to take pictures and then post this photo on social networks’, Pseunov told OC Media.
He said that on 17 June, an administrative case was opened against them; the court hearing was to be held on the same day.
‘It turned out that, when filing the administrative violation, police officers made a mistake and we were released and told that they would call for the trial another day’, Zuleta Pseunova said.
‘Only one lawyer helped us’
According to Pseunova, all the participants of the photoshoot decided to seek legal representation, but no lawyers agreed to take the case on, saying that it was ‘obvious’ they would lose. She said that according to lawyers, in the best-case scenario, they would all have to pay a heavy fine.
‘Only one lawyer helped us’, Pseunova said. ‘She calmed us down and said that in such a simple case, we could represent ourselves, and she agreed to be our consultant’.
On 25 November, the case was brought to court, where, according to Pseunov, their charges were read and were then dismissed.
‘Having taken into account that the venue of the protest was the uninhabited square in front of the Government House, where vehicles are prohibited, and the time was 8:00 on Sunday morning, the court acquitted us for the lack of corpus delicti [evidence of a crime having been committed]’, Aslan Pseunov said.
According to him, both during and before the trial, representatives of law enforcement agencies and lawyers did not exert any pressure on them and behaved politely.