At the request of Moscow prosecutors, Russia’s state-run Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case to deprive a couple of their parental rights for allegedly taking their year-old son with them to an unauthorized July 27 rally for the registration of opposition and independent candidates in upcoming city council elections.
Investigators have questioned the couple, Dmitry and Olga Prokazov, and searched their Moscow residence, but the current status of the case is unclear. The Prokazovs face charges of leaving a child in danger (Article 125 under Russia’s criminal code) and not fulfilling their parental responsibilities in raising a child (Article 156).
Citing unnamed witnesses, city prosecutors claimed on August 6 that the Prokazovs “gave their own infant child to a third party” during the protests. The city posited that, in doing so, the couple endangered the boy’s health and life “and also caused him physical and moral harm.” (As Meduza.io noted, the latter phrase has since been removed.)
The “third party” has been identified as Sergei Fomin, whom Russian media report volunteers in the campaign office of unregistered city council candidate Lyubov Sobol. Fomin is currently wanted by police looking into what the government terms “mass disturbances” -- unsanctioned rallies held in downtown Moscow since July 14 over officials' refusal to register more than two dozen candidates for September’s city council election.
Police detained nearly 1,400 people during the July 27 rally and often brutally beat back suspected demonstrators with batons.
Citing unspecified “open sources,” the Investigative Committee alleges that Fomin, upon leaving the July 27 demonstration, took the child “to get through a [police] cordon without hindrance.” Pro-government national TV channels have run video footage that shows Dmitry Prokazov handing over his son to Fomin.
The Moscow prosecutor’s office has announced that it is now “conducting checks” on all parents who took their infant or adolescent children with them to any of these unsanctioned rallies.
Rights activists and would-be city council candidates have charged that the government is resorting to various scare tactics in an attempt to stop the unsanctioned rallies. Hundreds of individuals have been detained or arrested in connection with the demonstrations.
The Prokazovs describe prosecutors’ actions as “barbarity” and categorically reject the accusations against them. They say were simply strolling with their son, Artyom, along Moscow's Old Arbat pedestrian street on July 27 and then headed home with Fomin, a cousin of Olga Prokazova. No police cordon was present, they maintain.
“[I]t’s very cruel because the prosecutor had the possibility to get in touch with us, to clarify the real situation. They don’t do this. They simply went to court” on the basis of an edited video clip of unclear origins, Prokazova told reporters during an impromptu press briefing on August 6.
“This kind of thing happens in our country?” she asked. “Are there other such precedents?”
A search team visited the Prokazovs late in the evening of August 5, Prokazova said, and demanded birth certificates for Artyom and his 7-year-old brother as well as access to the couple’s mobile phones and phone photos. The Investigative Committee later questioned both spouses.
The couple’s lawyer, Maksim Pashkov, subsequently stated that the Committee has no claims toward the Prokazovs. Fomin’s familial relationship with the Prokazovs has been “established,” and an investigation into the facts of the case is underway, he told the state-run TASS news agency late on August 6.
Neither the Investigative Committee nor the Moscow prosecutor’s office appear to have publicly confirmed that statement, however.
One attorney specializing in family law disputed that any grounds exist for the charges against the couple at all.
“It goes without saying, this is all made up, invented, and doesn’t have any legal basis,” lawyer Anton Zharov commented to Current Time on August 6.
Article 125 of Russia’s criminal code applies only to instances where there is a clear and present danger to a child, such as parents failing to call a doctor in a medical emergency or leaving a child “alone for the night on a beach,” he elaborated.
A parent giving a child to a relative to carry home does not provide grounds for the state to take custody of a juvenile, Zharov said.
But Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Anna Kuznetsova believes the prosecutors have a case.
“Unsanctioned protests are dangerous: If the organizers neglect children, then whom are they capable of defending?” she asked in a press release cited by the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
In an interview with Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy, however, the city ombudsman for children’s rights, Yevgeny Bunimovich, did not mince his words: Prosecutors' claims, he said, are “excessive.”
-With additional reporting by Kommersant, Novaya Gazeta, RFE/RL, RIA-Novosti, and TASS