“The People’s Crime”: Drug Convictions Are Filling Russia’s Prisons with Nonviolent Offenders

lebedev-dimaDima has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for a minor drugs offense. Photo by Mikhail Lebedev

Mikhail Lebedev
Facebook
February 19, 2020

THIS IS IMPORTANT! LEGAL HELP NEEDED!

It is no secret that I am now shooting a project dealing with the so-called people’s article [Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code, which makes it a felony to possess over seven grams of a controlled substance; see the articles, below—TRR]. Among other things, I have been photographing people who were convicted under this article and interviewing them. Four months ago, I went to Novgorod to shoot Dima, who was on his own recognizance as his trial was underway. [Last] Friday, Dima, who is twenty-two, was sentenced to eleven years in a maximum-security prison.

Dima was not a dealer. He used synthetic drugs and, as often happens, he used them in the company of others. A couple of times he also used his Hydra account to buy stashes of drugs for friends and sent them photos of the stashes. At some point, the “friends” were detained, the photos Dima sent were found on their telephones, and Dima became a “drug dealer.” At most, he should have been charged with aiding and abetting, but the court refused to change the charges.

This is not a matter of right or wrong, but of whether the punishment fits the crime. Dima is guilty of using drugs and “helping” friends in such an irresponsible manner. Nowadays, however, the emergence of the Darknet and Hydra make it akin to a computer game: you can buy anything with a couple of clicks. I remember what my friends and I were like at the age of twenty-two: any of us could have been sent down like Dima. We lucked out, however, and he did not. Eleven years in prison! People get less time for rape and murder, not to mention assault and battery, domestic violence, and robbery.

We walked around Novgorod for five hours, conversing the entire time. Dima already had a different life: he had stopped using, improved his relationship with his girlfriend, and worked as a loader when possible. (Although Dima is a talented programmer, no one will hire you above the table if you are under investigation.) When he gets out of prison, society will punish him again. Among the people I have met, no one convicted under Article 228 who has served time or been put on probation can get a decent job above the table because corporate security services reject such applicants.

If any of my friends on Facebook know good lawyers in this area or foundations that help people convicted under Article 228 or have practical advice, be sure to write me and I will pass on these contacts to Dima’s girlfriend. His family is now preparing an appeal, and they need support and legal assistance.

message from xtc dealerPetersburg and other Russian cities are now chockablock with stencils and placards advertising illegal drugs like this one, which I photographed in March 2018.

The Stash and Its Master: Why Russians Are Becoming Drugs Couriers
Nataliya Zotova
BBC Russian Service
June 10, 2019

With the spread of the internet and smartphones in Russia, a whole new profession for young people has emerged—stashers (zakladchiki) aka stashmen (kladmeny), people who deliver drugs ordered on the internet to buyers. Although it is a fairly easy way for young people to make money, they could face up to twenty years in prison if they are caught.

Young people employed in the business told the BBC why they went into it, what the job involved, and whether they were afraid of getting caught.

[…]

Twenty-year-old Daniil Zhilenkov did his mandatory military service in the Russian National Guard, and when he was demobbed, he wanted to sign up again as a professional soldier. But he changed his mind when he found out that novice guardsmen made only 16,000 rubles [approx. $250] a month. He then left his hometown of Mariinsk, in Kemerovo Region, to live with his girlfriend, a university student in Krasnoyarsk. Kseniya could not contribute to their joint budget because she had to finish her studies.

Daniil found employment at the train depot (he had graduated from the railway college before going to the army), but he left the job after a month, again due to the low salary. He tried working part-time at a car wash.

“The salary was 27,000 rubles [approx. $420] a month. Our rent was 15,000, and then there were the groceries. We didn’t have enough money to cover everything,” he said.

Kseniya recalled that she bought only the cheapest products at the time.

One day, Daniil and a friend were walking down the street and saw an ad on a wall: a store was hiring couriers. Daniil found out what the store sold when came home and googled the name.

“He took the job without my knowledge. When he started going out in the evenings, I realized something was wrong. We sat down and talked. We had a huge row over it,” Kseniya recounted, explaining that she was afraid for her boyfriend.

Daniil was not afraid, however.

“I didn’t think about how to do things more safely. I couldn’t imagine the police were interested in us. It was quite the opposite, as it turned out: it is only people like us who are arrested,” he said.

Daniil and Kseniya agreed that he would not do the work for long, only until he found a better job.

“He said, ‘I’ll save up and leave,'” she recalled.

So four months passed, but one night Daniil was detained on the street by the police. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for distributing drugs.

He spoke to me on a pay phone from the penal colony in Irkutsk: he had served around two years of his seven-year sentence. Daniil wondered how old I was. I told him I was twenty-age. Daniil would be the same age when he was released.

[…]

Translated by the Russian Reader

fullsizeoutput_1ba8“Stashers wanted.” Petrograd Side, Petersburg, March 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

A Change in Russia’s Draconian Drug Laws Could Be on the Horizon
The fiasco surrounding the case of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov is bringing the country’s controversial Article 228 into the spotlight.
Pjotr Sauer
Moscow Times
June 14, 2019

Living in a country where so-called gay propaganda is banned, Denis, 19, was happy to finally meet someone he felt a connection with on the dating app Tinder.

A few weeks after they had started chatting, the guy on the other side of the screen invited him over and asked him to bring “some weed” to relax them during their first encounter. But when Denis arrived at the address his date had given him, he was met by two policeman who began to search him.

“It turned out to be a set up, and the guy I was talking to on Tinder was a cop,” Denis told The Moscow Times.

The police presented him with a choice — pay a bribe or face being charged under the notorious Article 228 for drug-related crimes.

“They told me they would charge me with possession of 7 grams of marijuana and open a criminal case against me, even though I had much less on me. It would have been the end of my university career and possibly my future,” he said.

Possession of up to 6 grams of the drug is an administrative offense, while anything over that is a criminal offense. Denis paid the 70,000 ruble ($1,088) bribe.

Russia has the highest number of people per capita imprisoned for drug crimes in Europe. Most of them were convicted under Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code — nicknamed “narodnaya statya” or “the people’s article” because of the large number of people imprisoned under it. In 2018 alone, around 100,000 people were jailed under the article, and a quarter of all prisoners are in jail on drug-related charges.

According to Maksim Malishev coordinator of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation NGO that aims to change Russia’s drug laws, Denis’s story is far from unique.

“We constantly hear of police either planting drugs on innocent people or increasing the amount of drugs they caught someone with in order to prosecute the person under criminal law,” he said.

Human rights lawyer Arseniy Levinson said that police and other officials fabricate cases for several reasons, including having to reach certain quotas and collecting bribes.

Last week, Russian investigative reporter Ivan Golunov was arrested and charged with drug trafficking under Article 228. The anti-corruption journalist’s detention led to a national outcry among his Russian peers and human rights activists, who said drugs found by police in his backpack and apartment were planted. On Monday, Russia’s Interior Ministry ruled to drop the charges against Golunov, admitting that there was no evidence the drugs belonged to him.

“Not everyone is as famous as Ivan Golunov, and most cases go unnoticed as they aren’t political. We have thousands and thousands of people rotting away in jail because of false charges,” said Vyacheslav Matushin, a colleague of Malishev at the Andrey Rylkov Foundation.

The Golunov case has ignited public debate about Article 228 and how it is being implemented.

“We are feeling the post-Golunov effect, and this could be a turning point in how Russians look at Article 228,” said Ella Paneyakh, a sociologist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.

The problem with current drug legislation is how the system is set up, said Mikhail Golichenko, a human rights lawyer specializing in drug and HIV cases.

He pointed to official state figures showing that over 80 percent of all people charged under Article 228 are convicted for the possession of drugs without the intention of selling them.

“In those cases, police have almost full oversight over the evidence that is presented to the courts and the judges need little else to make their decision.”

Golunov’s high profile case, however, might have triggered a response from the authorities. On Tuesday, the independent television station Dozhd reported that a proposal to cut sentences for drug possession unrelated to attempted sales might be passed by Russia’s State Duma before the end of the spring session.

The first hearing could be on June 20.

“I know they have been working for a while now on softening the legislation, maybe now they think they will have the support of the public to push it through,” Malishev said, adding that “it is only a tiny step in the right direction.”

Several high profile officials have also voiced their support for reform. Alexei Kudrin, the head of the Audit Chamber and a long-standing advisor of Russian President Vladimir Putin said while he “welcomed” the release of Golunov, “many others are still in jail” and called for a reform of Article 228.

Lawyers and human rights activists The Moscow Times spoke to, however, remain skeptical that new legislation will bring genuine change.

“The government might soften the laws a bit, but unless there is a fundamental shift in the way police deal with suspects, this will keep on happening,” Levinson said.

It’s also unclear if drug reform has popular support

Sociological polls indicate little public support for any kind of drug decriminalization in Russia. Levada, the country’s sole independent pollster, in 2014 showed that only 14 percent of the population would like to see soft drugs legalized.

VTsIOM, the state polling agency, showed similar numbers in 2018. But attitudes toward punishment for drug-related offenses were much more lenient among under 24s.

“There is a definite generational shift in attitudes towards drug use, young people are seeing the absurdity of the current legislation and how it is being implemented,” said Malishev, adding that his organization received a “large amount of interest and calls” following Golunov’s arrest.

Other initiatives have also sprung up to bring attention to the issues surrounding current drug legislation, including a range of t-shirts with the slogan “228” from Moscow-based fashion brand Kultrab.

“They have been a massive success, we completely sold out and had to order a new batch, people have been proud to wear them on the streets and are posting about them on social media, so the stigma seems to be going away,” said Kultrab’s founder Yegor Yeremeev.

“We have the momentum with us, suddenly everyone is talking about 228. People have realized that they too could be Golunov,” he added.

This sentiment was echoed by the editors of Russia’s three most influential newspapers — Vedomosti, Kommersant and RBC — who on Monday made history by printing identical front pages with the headline “I/We are Ivan Golunov” in support of the journalist.

RBC’s editor-in-chief, Igor Trosnikov, told The Moscow Times that Golunov being charged under Article 228 played a big role in the decision.

For Denis, change can’t come soon enough, as he said he and his friends often feel “hunted by police” in Moscow under the current laws.

“This has to end, I am sick of being scared.”

Yevgenia Litvinova: Stop the Crackdown in Crimea!

litvinova placard“Stalinist prison sentences. Crimean Tatars: 7, 8, 12, 12, 18, 19 years. Network Case: 6, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 18 years. Coming soon to a location near you!” Photo by Yevgenia Litvinova

Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
February 18, 2020

#StopCrackdownInCrimea #FreeCrimeanTatars

Strategy 18

Today I will go to Nevsky Prospect and do a solo picket as part of Strategy 18’s indefinite protest campaign in support of the Crimean Tatars.

My placard addresses the huge sentences handed out to people convicted of far-fetched “crimes.”

My family went through all of this once upon a time. My grandfather was arrested in 1934 and shot in 1937, while my grandmother was imprisoned for nearly 20 years in the Gulag. It is a good thing there is a moratorium on the death penalty, and the arrests have not yet become widespread. But otherwise, the same thing is happening.

In November 2019, the following Crimean Tatars—ordinary people, ordinary believers—were sentenced to monstrous terms of imprisonment:

  • Arsen Dzhepparov, 7 years in prison
  • Refat Alimov, 8 years in prison
  • Vadim Siruk, 8 years in prison
  • Emir-Usein Kuku, 12 years in prison
  • Enver Bekirov, 18 years in prison
  • Muslim Aliyev, 19 years in prison

In February 2020, the defendants in the Network Case—ordinary young men, anarchists—were sentenced to the following monstrous terms of imprisonment:

  • Arman Sagynbayev, 6 years in prison
  • Vasily Kuksov, 9 years in prison
  • Mikhail Kulkov, 10 years in prison
  • Maxim Ivankin, 13 years in prison
  • Andrei Chernov, 14 years in prison
  • Ilya Shakursky, 16 years in prison
  • Dmitry Pchelintsev, 18 years in prison

I will remind you of the famous quote: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.” And so on.

What is happening now with the Crimean Tatars—86 of them have been arrested for being from the “wrong” ethnicity and having the “wrong” faith—tomorrow could happen to anyone.

What is happening now with the lads from the Network Case—they were convicted based on testimony obtained under torture—tomorrow could happen to anyone.

Let’s show solidarity with those who have been marked out as sacrificial victims today.

Let’s try and pull these people out of the dragon’s mouth.

When we are together, we have a chance.

Today’s Strategy 18 protest in support of the Crimean Tatars will take place on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya at 7 p.m.

Join us!

Translated by the Russian Reader

Trump’s Christmas Gift to Putin: The Case of Nikita Semyonov and Georgy Chernyshov

20191230143413-img-3898Georgy Chernyshov. Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Bumaga

Kira Dolinina
Facebook
February 12, 2020

After the verdicts in the Network Case, I would imagine I don’t have to explain anything about our justice system and how it is consuming our children. So I  simply ask you to recall that we have been raising money to pay the lawyers defending 23-year-old Nikita Semyonov, who has been framed on “terrorism” charges. Thanks to you, we raised the first installment, 200,000 rubles. Thank you very much!

But the case is still ongoing. The investigators are investigating, Nikita is in remand prison, and only the lawyers can stand up for him. Prison officials wouldn’t give him a pen for several weeks so that he could write a complaint. I won’t even mention their failure to document his injuries from the beating investigators gave him.

Let’s not surrender this boy to them, okay?

Here is the number of the Sberbank account for paying Nikita Semyonov’s lawyers: 5336 6902 4491 0313.

The money is really needed. Please re-post this message.

 

“The Nikita Semyonov Case: The FSB Pins Failed Terrorist Attack on Orphan.” ROMB, February 6, 2020

Before the new year, Putin thanked Trump for helping prevent a terrorist attack, and the FSB demonstratively arrested two young men in Petersburg, Nikita Semyonov and [Georgy] Chernyshov. They said on TV that the young men were going to blow up Kazan Cathedral and the shopping center near Moscow Railway Station, although the only evidence in the case is a photo of the cathedral, download from the internet, and memes that the young men exchanged in a chat room.

Semyonov talked to his lawyer on January 25. On January 30, the investigator made both of his lawyers sign an agreement not to disclose evidence in the preliminary investigation, so they are unable to comment on the specifics of the case.

Suspects in Terrorist Attack Case Deny Wrongdoing
Marina Tsareva
Kommersant
February 4, 2020

Saint Petersburg City Court has left Georgy Chernyshov in police custody. He and Nikita Semyonov were detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) before the New Year’s holidays for, allegely, planning terrorist attacks. The men allegedly planned to set  off explosions in Kazan Cathedral and the Galereya Shopping Center. Both suspects have denied any wrongdoing, although the FSB reported they had confessed to the crimes after they where detained. Semyonov’s lawyers claim their defendant never made any such confession, although he was interrogated three times without defense counsel present and was subjected to coercion by FSB officers.

Nikita Semyonov, 22, and Georgy Chernyshov, 23, were detained on December 27 of last year at around nine in the evening on Gagarin Prospect. After the Kremlin’s press service reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin had thanked US President Donald Trump for information about the planned attack, as communicated via the special services, the FSB’s public relations center issued a press release about the arrests of two persons who had been planning to commit terrorist attacks in crowded places in Petersburg during the New Year’s holidays.

The same day, media outlets, citing sources in the FSB, reported that a criminal case involving violations of Russian Federal Criminal Code Articles 30 and 205 had been opened, although the first article was not mentioned during the subsequent remand hearing, held three days after the arrests. Investigators alleged that both suspects had communicated with adherents of the banned terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) via messenger services.

Chernyshov and Semyonov allegedly informed an IS member about their plan to engage in terrorist activities and recorded a video showing them swearing allegiance to the group. After that, according to investigators, the men began selecting places to carry out terrorist attacks, settling on two sites in downtown Petersburg, the Galereya Shopping Center and Kazan Cathedral. They allegedly photographed both buildings, sending the images to IS.

According to the Petersburg judicial press service, Chernyshov has denied any wrongdoing. Earlier, Leonid Krikun and Andrei Fedorkov, Semyonov’s attorneys, told Kommersant that their client had denied involvement in the terrorist organization’s activities and told them he had never been interested in the ideas of Islam in any way, nor did he speak Arabic. (The conversation took place on January; on January 30, the investigator made both lawyers sign an agreement not to disclose evidence in the preliminary investigation, so they are currently unable to comment on the specifics of the case.) According to them, Semyonov had not confessed either to involvement with IS or planning to commit terrorist attacks. On the contrary, on December 30, the FSB reported that both suspects had confessed, and the agency had “seized [physical] evidence confirming they were planning terrorist attacks.”

The lawyers told Kommersant that Semyonov was interrogated three times without a lawyer present, including at night, and the FSB “pressured”* him during the interrogations.

A video released by the FSB on December 30 focused on the knives and ammunition found in Semyonov’s apartment. His lawyers noted that the ammunition was for a hunting rifle that had been legally owned by his father, who died in 2017. Neither the knives nor the ammunition were ultimately confiscated by the FSB.

 

Vyacheslav Falkov, Chernyshov’s attorney, reported that he had also been forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement and thus would no longer be able to comment on the case.

*Meaning that the FSB tortured Semyonov. Thanks to Kira Dolinina for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Network Case in Context

Scenes from the reading of the verdict in the Network trial in Penza on February 10, 2020. Filmed by Vlad Dokshin, edited by Alexander Lavrenov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
February 10, 2020

Today’s verdict in Penza was terribly inhumane, exorbitantly vicious, and so on, of course. The Putin regime handed out humongous sentences to members of the anti-authoritarian scene, punishing them for exercising their right to be themselves. Anarchists and non-official antifascists were severely and cruelly punished by the dictatorial regime—acting through the FSB and a kangaroo court—for their DIY activities, for making connections outside the official, formalized world, for dissenting, for rejecting all hierarchies. These political prisoners have been sent to the camps for many years, and it will take an enormous effort to keep them alive, if they are sent to the north, to keep them healthy and sane, and to get them released early. I wish them and their relatives and friends all the strength in the world.

Unfortunately, many people have reacted to the verdict in the Network Case as if it were utterly unprecedented, as if the bloodbath in Chechnya, and the torture and savage sentences meted out to defendants in other “terrorist” cases had never happened. It as if, even recently, their own government had not committed numerous crimes against the people of Ukraine and Syria, against prisoners in camps and other “others,” against National Bolshevik party activists and a range of other movements, against young radicals and people who professed the “wrong” religion, and on and on and on.  People, including political activists, have been surprised by the torture of the defendants, the rigged trial, and the harsh sentences in Penza, as if they lived in a happy, prosperous society, not a totally toxic, brazen empire whose security forces are the heirs of a centuries-long tradition of butchery and fanatical cruelty.

You are not supposed to say out loud what I am about to write, but if the young men had attacked government offices, there would probably have been no national and international solidarity campaign on behalf of these political prisoners. Or they would simply have been tortured to death or subjected to extrajudicial executions. If the Networkers had gone to jail for direct actions, a good number of Russian “anarchists” and “antifascists” would have disowned them, stigmatized them, urged others not to help them, and denounced them to western socialists. This was what really happened to the Underground Anarchists a hundred years ago: they were condemned by their “allies,” who wanted to go legal and curried favor with the Red despots.  The same thing has happened in our time: there were anarchists who hated on the young Belarusians sentenced to seven years in prison for setting fire to the KGB office in Bobruisk, the political refugees in the Khimki Forest case, the persecuted activists of the Popular Self-Defense, and Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Or, for example, some of the people in the ABTO (Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization) case, who were sent down for many years for arson attacks: they were tortured and accused of “terrorism,” and we had to work hard to scrape away the mud tossed at them by the state and “progressive” society. Oddly enough, the attitude of “thinking people” to “incorrect” political prisoners is matched by the Russian government’s refusal to exonerate Fanny Kaplan or the revolutionaries who blew up the Bolshevik Party city committee office on Leontievsky Lane in Moscow on September 25, 1919. (After the bloodshed in Moscow in 1993, however, Yeltsin made the populist move of exonerating the people involved in the Kronstadt Rebellion.)

One of the places we should look for the roots of the savage trial of the Penza prisoners is the disgusting newspeak that people in the RF have been taught—”the president’s orders have not been implemented,” “the government has sent a signal,” “the annexation of Crimea,” “the conflict in Donbass,” “the clash in the Kerch Strait,” “s/he claims s/he was tortured,” “s/he claims the evidence was planted,” “the terrorists of the People’s Will,” “Chechen terrorists,” “the Russophobe Stomakhin,” “the neo-Nazi Astashin,” “the guerrilla band in the Maritime Territory,” “the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk,” and so on.

Various people, including people from the anarchist scene, have written that the Network Case has shattered them and the people they know. If this is so, it is even worse than the outrageous criminal case itself. Yes, I am a living person, too, and yes, I find it very hard myself. But we cannot let the circumstances bend and break us: this is exactly what they want. This is especially the case if you are a consistent foe of systematic oppression, if you are an anarchist. Really, people, what would you do if the regime launched a truly massive crackdown on dissenters of the kind we have seen in the past, from tsarist Russia to Erdogan’s Turkey, from America at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the Iran of the ayatollahs? However, a massive crackdown would entail having a mass liberation movement, something that does not exist in today’s Russia. By the way, it would appear that our half-strangled semi-free media have been doing an excellent job of spreading fear among the atomized masses by regaling them with stories of the state’s repressive policies, of its crimes and nefarious undertakings, instead of using the news to instill people with righteous anger.

We can assume that the brutal verdict in the Network Case and other instances of rough justice on the part of the state will have direct consequences for the Kremlin both at home and abroad. Generally speaking, evil is not eternal. Over time, people will be able to overcome their disunity, believe in themselves, and finally destroy the thousand-year-old kingdom of oppression. “The jailed will sprout up as bayonets.”

politzeki1“Russia’s political prisoners: the jailed will sprout up as bayonets.” A banner hung over Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg by the Pyotr Alexeyev Resistance Movement (DSPA) in August 2012. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

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Elena Zaharova
Facebook
February 10, 2020

I don’t understand.

You can throw a brick at me, you can ban me, you can do what you like, but I don’t get you. Why this sudden mass fainting spell? When the authorities started abducting, murdering, and imprisoning the Crimean Tatars in 2014, you didn’t notice. Okay, you couldn’t care less about Crimea and Ukraine. The authorities have long been imprisoning members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazan and Bashkortostan, but there’s the rub—we defend Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Hizbites. And the authorities have been sentencing the Crimean Tatars and the Hizbites to ten years, twenty years, twenty-two years in prison. But you haven’t heard about that. And suddenly today you say, “Oh the horror!!! It’s fascism!!!”

It’s the same with the Constitution. The authorities long ago trampled it into the dust, killing it off with Federal Law No. 54 [on “authorization” for  demonstrations and public rallies] and giving us the heave-ho. No one noticed. For the last couple of weeks, however, everyone has been calling on people to defend the Constitution—that is, to defend what it is written in a booklet that everyone was too lazy to read before.

Need I mention the wars no one has noticed yet?

Only don’t remind me about the dozens of people who have been picketing outside the presidential administration building in Moscow for two years running. I have nothing but praise for them, but they are the exception.

Vladimir Akimenkov was one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case and currently raises money for Russian political prisoners and their families. Elena Zaharova is an anti-war and civil rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Eduard Nizamov Gets 23 Years Hard Time for Thought Crimes

nizamovEduard Nizamov. Photo courtesy of Idel.Realii (RFE/RL)

Court Sentences Kazan Resident Eduard Nizamov to 23 Years in Maximum Security for Managing Hizb ut-Tahrir
Regina Gimalova
Idel.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
February 10, 2020

Today, February 10, the Central Military District court in Yekaterinburg announced its verdict in the trial of Kazan resident Eduard Nizamov, accused of managing the Russian wing of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Nizamov was sentenced to 23 years in a maximum-security penal colony.

The Kazan resident was charged with financing terrorism (punishable under Article 205.1.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), organizing terrorist activity (Article 205.5.1), and attempting to seize power illegally (Article 278.30.1). Nizamov pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. He and his defense attorney, Rifat Yakhin, consider the case a frame-up.

During the trial, the defense revealed the real identity of a secret witness who testified to investigators. The defense argued that their testimony was used to implicate Nizamov.

“This witness, whose identity was hidden under a man’s name, allegedly donated money to finance Hizb ut-Tahrir’s activities. In fact, the witness is a woman whose child goes to the same school and studies in the same class as my client’s child,” Yakhin said.

“The financing of terrorism” in question was the payment of 200,000 rubles to Nizamov. According to Yakhin, the woman acting as a hidden witness gave his client this amount because Nizamov was building her a house. He argues that the authorities “got to” the woman, whose husband was then serving time for involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir. Investigators were unable to find this amount of money in Nizamov’s possession during the investigation.

The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Nizamov to 25 years in a penal colony and fine him 200,0000 rubles, to be paid to the state treasury. The defense asked the court to acquit Nizamov. The court sided with the prosecution, finding Nizamov guilty on all three counts and sentencing him to 23 years in a maximum-security penal colony and ordering him to pay the 200,000 rubles.

Nizamov was detained on October 10, 2018, at his home in Kazan. He was suspected of running the Russian wing of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir organization. In September of last year, the final version of the charges against Nizamov were made public. In addition to managing the organization, he was charged with financing terrorism and planning the violent seizure of power.

Two other residents of Kazan, Ildar Akhmetzyanov and Rais Gimadeyev, were also detained on the same day as Nizamov. They were identified by authorities as “leaders” of the banned organization in Tatarstan.

All of them have pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. The maximum punishment for the crimes they are alleged to have committed is life in prison.

After his arrest, Nizamov complained that officers at the remand prison had tortured him. He also said that his cellmates had been provoking him. According to our source, Nizamov was moved to another cell after his story went public.

In 2005, Nizamov was convicted of involvement in an extremist organization, as punishable under Article 282.2.2 of the Criminal Code, and sentenced to two years’ probation.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was designated a “terrorist organization” in Russia in 2003. According to human rights activists, the decision was groundless, since there was no evidence that members of the movement had ever planned or carried out terrorist attacks. The Memorial Human Rights Center has placed Nizamov on its list of Russian political prisoners.

Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

People and Nature

283128_106538682780432_4198293_n

I can recommend no blog more highly than People and Nature. Whether you’re interested in climate change and the environment, energy, Russia, Syria, Ukraine, the UK, labor and social movements, international solidarity campaigns or history, Gabriel Levy has written so many incise, supremely well-grounded articles and interventions on these subjects since 2011 that it would take a month of Sundays to take all of them in. But since you’ll undoubtedly learn more about our world by reading People and Nature than by subjecting yourself to the endless eardrum buzz of media and social media, this is exactly what you should do.

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I hope, dear readers, you get time for reflection, rejuvenation and relaxation in the midwinter holidays. If you find yourself reaching for your phone for something to read – then, rather than winding yourself up with news of Boris Johnson’s vileness, go a level more thoughtful: look at those People & Nature articles you missed out on first time round. Here is some stuff that has stood the test of time. Thanks for your interest, and see you all (virtually or really) in the 2020s.

Image courtesy of People and Nature

86 Years in Prison for 7 Defendants in Network Case

Defendants in Network Case Receive Up to 18 Years in Prison
Bumaga
February 10, 2020

The Volga District Military Court, [sitting in Penza], has [convicted and] sentenced seven defendants in the Network Case.

Dmitry Pchelintsev was sentenced to 18 years in a maximum-security penal colony. Ilya Shakursky was sentenced to 16 years in a penal colony and fined 50,000 rubles. Investigators claimed they were organizers of a “terrorist community.” Both men alleged that FSB officers had electrocuted them in order to obtain confessions.

Maxim Ivankin was given 13 years in a maximum-security penal colony, while Andrei Chernov was sentenced to 14 years, and Mikhail Kulkov, to 10 years. They were found guilty of involvement in a “terrorist community” and attempting to sell drugs.

Vasily Kuksov was sentenced to 9 years in a penal colony. He was accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” and illegal possession of a weapon. Another defendant, Arman Sagynbayev, received 6 years in prison.

The verdict handed down by the court in Penza suggests that the acquittal of the Petersburg defendants in the case is less likely, Viktor Cherkasov, the lawyer for Viktor Filinkov, a defendant in the Network Case, told Bumaga.

“It sends a message,” said Cherkasov. “It is difficult to hope [for a positive outcome], but we are still determined to protect Filinkov’s interests.”

Cherkasov said that he planned in court to point to the faked evidence in the case. He also that he would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if Filinkov were found guilty. The next hearing in the Network Case in Petersburg should take place between February 25 and February 28.

[In October 2017 and January 2018], antifascists and anarchists were detained in Penza and Petersburg. They were accused of organizing a “terrorist community,” allegedly called “the Network.” Its alleged purpose was to “sway the popular masses for further destabilization of the political situation” in Russia.

The defendants in the case said investigators had tortured them as a way of forcing them to confess and weapons had been planted on their persons and property to further implicate them. [Some of] the arrested men had played airsoft together: this, investigators, said was proof they were planning terrorist attacks.

Investigators claim that the Petersburg defendants in the case, Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinkov, acted as the group’s sapper and signalman, respectively. Their trial is scheduled to resume in late February.

Translated by the Russian Reader

This verdict doesn’t leave me at a loss for words. I’m just convinced there is no point in using them when everyone who could listen has made a point of tuning out people like me. If someone invited me to appear on their aptly named alternative radio program or their globe-spanning Qatar-based international TV network (as nearly happened in the past), I could talk for hours about the Network Case. But that’s not going to happen. Although if I were a betting man, I would wager that our tiresome planet’s obnoxious pillars of liberal truth—the New York Times, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and Al Jazeera, among others—will suddenly weigh in on the case after blithely ignoring it for two years, as will many if not all of the crypto-Putinist “Russia watchers” in our midst, eerily silent until now. Barring a sudden revolution, don’t imagine this is the last such case in Russia, a country that has worried so many people around the world for the last several years that they’re determined not to know anything particular about it except “Putin” and “troll factories.” And don’t imagine that a show trial just as juicy and unjust won’t be coming to a theater near you. Please don’t reprint, repost or otherwise reference this article without prefacing it with my remarks. I’d like to preempt “spontaneous” shows of “solidarity” by people who couldn’t be bothered to do anything when it would have made a difference. Despite the well-known saying, it IS a popularity contest, and seven innocent young men in Penza have lost it. [TRR]