24 Ukrainian sailors released as part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine have collected money to assist Konstantin Kotov, a 34-year-old Russian citizen, and activist who helped the sailors during their 286-day imprisonment in Russia, according to a Facebook post by lawyer Nikolai Polozov.
“During the long months of the sailor’s imprisonment, Kotov help organize care packages for them, he came to their court hearings, he attended protests in support of the prisoners of war and Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar political prisoners,” Polozov wrote.
Oleg Sentsov, a film director from occupied Crimea who was also released after five years of imprisonment in that same exchange, has also come out in support of Kotov.
Kotov was detained in August 2019 while attending a protest calling for the addition of opposition and independent candidates to the ballot for municipal elections, under the authority of Article 212.1, a law passed in 2014 that critics have claimed criminalizes protests. In his Facebook post, Polozov wrote that the law is “a repressive article, invented by the Russian authorities for those that try to assert their constitutional right to peaceful assembly.”
Kotov was then convicted of “multiple violations of rules governing public events” on 5 September after only a week-long trial, a speed Polozov claims to be “the speed of Stalinist troika”, referring to the extrajudicial trials conducted by Soviet secret police. Kotov has been sentenced to 4 years imprisonment, while human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called Kotov a political prisoner.
Kotov himself pled not guilty, stating his belief that peaceful demonstrations are not a crime. According to zona.media, Kotov said that “I don’t consider myself to be on trial, but the right to free speech and free assembly. We have no independent parties, no free elections, and that leaves the only option - to go out onto the street and yell out our demands.”
According to Polozov, the sailors collected 12,400 hryvnia and 25,850 rubles, or about $900, and Polozov has promised that the money will be brought to Moscow to help the Russian activist.