«Forbidden territory»: the description of the project, the methodology and the restrictions

About the project

«Forbidden territory» is a map of places where it is prohibited to have public meetings and demonstrations.

Since 2012 the laws concerning public demonstrations have been actively changing in Russia. On the federal as well as regional level. Each constituency has a list of «protected places», where it is forbidden for a political meeting to take place. This year there has been a new discussion about the necessity of a legal change due to a mass of government prohibitions in hundreds of Russian cities, thousands of detainees and the criminal charges that followed (for a political meeting to take place its organizers have to notify the authorities a few days in advance; and under certain conditions the authorities could in principle restrict or prohibit a demonstration). Having analyzed the federal and the regional law and having turned the existing prohibitions into a map, by example of 16 major cities we are showing here how the people’s right to «gather peacefully and without arms», guaranteed by the paragraph 31 of Russian Constitution, is being upheld in reality.

The project is being lead by the team OVD-info and NextGIS, with the support from OCCRP.

The historical perspective

In 2012 the State Duma has complicated the order of organization for political meetings: there appeared some new strict requirements on the organizers and the participants of public demonstrations; meanwhile the fines for breaking the law at a political meeting have been increased significantly. Besides these regulations the new law had several paragraphs, unnoticed by the public, which laid the foundation for regulating and restricting public demonstrations on the regional level. The document included an instruction for the regional legislative powers to institute «additional» lists of places, where it was to be prohibited to gather publicly. In addition, the local governments were supposed to choose the spaces for the new «Hyde-parks».

«Hyde-park» is a place where citizens can organize a public demonstration without notifying the authorities in advance. According to the law «On the demonstrations, political meetings, piquets and marches» passed in 2012 each region of the country has to have «Hyde-parks». It is the responsibility of local governments to institute them.

It is usually in the «Hyde-parks» that the local authorities advise to organize public demonstrations. There have been cases when the city authorities made the organizers to move the demonstration to places far from the city center or production zones — after too much activities from the demonstrators.

Some regions started working on the new regulations already in 2012. This work was going on for several years, and by the beginning of 2017 the new regulations were present in every region’s local laws. Usually, the documents were supplied by a list of places (such as «government buildings» or «educational institutions», «railway stations» or «public transportation stations»), provided with the minimal distance from them at which a public meeting was allowed to take place.

Why is this a problem?

While those regulations are not applied in real life, it is hard to evaluate their real consequences. The scale of the new restrictions is completely unclear: is it just about some specific spaces, where a public demonstration could not take place; or does it lead to the whole city being unaccessible for a political meeting (and especially its central area, which is the most important spot for public demonstrations' organizers)? It is almost impossible to follow the new laws: the organizers and the participants could at every moment and very easily un-willfully break those laws. To make the problem clear, we transformed the new regulations into a map.

Why should it concern me personally?

It is very simple: if you decide to organize a political meeting, a demonstration or a march, you will not be allowed to do so on the red colored territory. Elsewhere they might or might not allow you to gather publicly, but in this case the law and the Constitution are definitely on your side. Furthermore, if you (even accidentally) become a participant of a demonstration on the red colored territory, it provides legal reason for you to be arrested and detained as a participant of an «un-conformed» public gathering.

The legend for the map

The territories where it is now forbidden to organize a demonstration are red colored. The new «Hyde-parks», which have been being created since 2012, are marked by green. If you want information about the specific site, which lead to making a certain area restricted, click on the colored region. The extracts from the legal documents which provided the information for the map are given on the right. To go to another city’s map choose the menu on the left-hand side.

The cities on the map

All of the Russian cities with the population above million will be included in the map, except Voronezh (see below). This is Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Samara, Rostov-Na-Donu, Ufa, Krasnoyarsk, Perm, Volgograd. Apart from the cities with more than million people some cities with the law freedom of assembly index, designed by OVD-info in cooperation with the newspaper «Kommersant» (which are Nalchik and Izhevsk).

Voronezh did not make it to the map, because it is really unclear what are the spaces there where it is now forbidden to organize a public demonstration:

«In order to protect the rights and freedoms of men and citizens, to uphold the law and to guarantee public security this clause determines the spaces, where organization of a public demonstration is prohibited, in addition to places listed in the Federal law. Those are the places, where a public demonstration can intervene with the functioning of life-support institutions, public transportation and social infrastructure, connections, or disturb the pedestrian circulation and traffic or prevent citizens from getting to their resident houses or to public transportation or to social infrastructure».

The source of the data

By creating the map we used two groups of data:

  1. Legislative information: the regional laws, regulating public demonstrations, as well as the clauses with the lists of «Hyde-parks».
  2. Geographical data: the physical location of the mentioned sites on the map.

On the details of the two groups of data see below.

Legislative information

The lists of «protected places», where it is prohibited to organize a public demonstration, are given in the Federal law about political meetings (page 8), as well as the regional laws (with the exception of Moscow, where there are no directly prohibited «protected places»). The lists of «Hyde-parks» — places where the order of organization of a demonstration is simplified — are found in the local government executive orders and in the executive orders of the local government of certain human settlements.

Legislative and executive powers in the regions constantly change those documents. In particular, while we were working on the project, the amount of «Hyde-parks» in St. Petersburg and Ufa fell from 5 to 4, and in Omsk from 14(!) to 5. The data on the map is as of November 1, 2017.

In regional laws there is no consistency in terminology. Moreover, certain terms are not defined (in the best case scenario the reader would be foggily referred back to some federal law), and the reader cannot always be sure on how to interpret the text. Unclear formulations, which create a lot of problems for organizers of public demonstrations, their participants and the local governments and the police, and which, by themselves, are effectively a restriction, obviously decrease the quality of the map. Working on the map, we grouped similar objects based on our common sense. For instance, «social services», «social services organizations», «social infrastructure», «social organizations» and «organizations for social protection» are grouped into one category.

One example of a fuzzy formulation is the use of the terms like «(immediately) adjacent territory» instead of the exact minimal distance. For simplicity and unity, in these cases we chose the overall longest minimal distance prescribed for this kind of object throughout all the Russian regions. If no region has a specific minimal distance for this kind of object, we defaulted it to 150 meters.

The same problem arises with the square of the «Hyde-parks». In the documents there are no precise borders of the «special areas for public demonstrations», instead they are given in an inconsistent and unclear way: for instance, by the addresses of nearby buildings, organizations or not given at all. In the majority of cases it is impossible to determine the exact borders of a «special area». Those areas are marked with as much precision, as possible.

In certain regions the regulations depend on the format of a public demonstration. For instance, some regulations only apply to meetings.

In accordance with the Federal Law, a meeting is «a mass gathering of citizens in a certain place in order to express an opinion about some current problem, predominantly of a political or a social character».

The map only has those territories, where it is forbidden to organize any public demonstration. Meanwhile, there are many territories, not marked on the map, where the organization of a public demonstration is legally complicated: for example, an additional notification and confirmation from FSO or FSB is needed, or some other city-level departments or committees. Those regulations do not legally prohibit a public demonstration, but in reality very often lead to their prohibition. This applies especially to Moscow, where there are no direct prohibitions, but it is relatively easy for the authorities to justify a restriction on a public demonstration or even a prosecution of its participants and organizers for breaking certain laws.

Geographical data

The geographical data were collected from the open source database OpenStreetMap (henceforth OSM). OSM is an open source (licensed by ODbL) map of the world. Those data, created by volunteers, helped our project, but also put some additional restrictions on it, described below.

From this OSM database we collected all the objects (places) included in the laws and pick for each of them the legally prescribed buffer zone (the minimal radius, within which it is forbidden to organize a public demonstration).

NB: The classification in the database and the classification in the legal documents do not always match, especially considering the fuzziness of the legal documents.

NB: The quality of the map crucially depends on the quality of the geographical data about particular cities. The sites mentioned in the laws might be absent, incorrectly marked or be in the wrong place. The project did not fix the data from the database. We hope that the quality of the data will grow steadily and those problems will slowly go away. Since not all the sites are present on the map (for instance, in Nalchik all the children playgrounds are absent), the «forbidden territory» on the map can be considered to be smaller than in reality.

For now the resident houses are not taken into account, although they are sometimes mentioned in the legal acts (e.g. in Bashkortostan). The main reason is the lack of distinction between the resident houses and other buildings in the source of the geographical data.

Temporary restrictions which could not be marked on OSM are also not taken into account, such as construction and repair sites, old outdated houses (Nizhny Novgorod), places of public events or markets (Volgograd, Nalchik).

Source data (in Russian)

  1. Legislative data
  2. Geographical data

Data processing

Before working on the data, we created a summary table for all types of objects (sites), where each object (site) is assigned one of the following values:

  1. Value 0: if it is a polygonal object, it is taken as a whole (e.g. the railway station plus the square in front of it), if it is a line-like or a dot-like object, it is taken with a buffer zone with 10 meter radius around it (e.g. in the case of railroads).
  2. Value N: if the object is taken with the buffer zone of the radius N
  3. Value iat (from «immediately adjacent territory»): if the object is taken with the overall maximal buffer zone
  4. Value iatN: if the object is taken with the maximal buffer zone of the radius NB
  5. If there is no value, this type of objects (sites) is not mentioned by the legal documents.

The buffer zones were prescribed following the above logic. The resulting zones are integrated into the general «prohibited territories».

Calculations

Apart from the visualization, map contains statistical summary. For this within the borders of a city the following numbers are calculated:

  1. The area where public demonstrations are forbidden devised by the whole area of the city.
  2. The are where public demonstrations are allowed devised by the whole area of the city.

For now the areas where public demonstrations could not physically be organized (e.g. water objects, buildings themselves) were not subtracted from «the whole area of the city».

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