A Fiancée’s Diary: “The defense’s question is disallowed since it is irrelevant to the case”
August 30, 2013
I already find it trying either to write or read about the Bolotnaya Square case. The trial began in early June. The court hearings are held three times a week, Tuesday through Thursday, from eleven-thirty in the morning to six or seven in the evening, but each new hearing is a repeat of the previous ones, the same combination of utterances by the judge and state prosecutor, except in a different order. “The defense’s question is disallowed a) as stated; b) since it is irrelevant to the case; c) as repetitive.”
I would not be following these events so closely myself did they not concern me personally. But my fiancé, Alexei Gaskarov, is under investigation and in police custody, and I have no choice but to monitor the “Trial of the Twelve” carefully in order to gauge my chances of seeing Alexei freed as soon as possible.
All this time I have deliberately avoided going into the courtroom at the Moscow City Court where the Bolotnaya Square case is being heard, preferring to watch the live broadcast in the court hallway or observe the circus from the press balcony. If I had the chance not to go to the court hearings in Alexei’s case, I would skip those as well. It is one thing to talk with the emotional parents of the prisoners outside the courthouse and see photos of the defendants in the press, but quite another thing to see relatives and loved ones silently communicating through the glass of the “aquarium” in which the defendants are caged during the hearings, and realize they have had no other means of supporting each other for over a year now.
Yesterday, August 29, I went to the trial to keep Tanya Polikhovich company. It was the birthday of her husband, Alexei Polikhovich, one of the twelve defendants. Alexei’s dad, Alexei Polikhovich, Sr., happily greeted us in the hallway of the court.
“Alexei already celebrated his birthday with the guys in the cell as best he could. They drank soda pop from the pretrial detention facility store, and he blew out three lit matches. Why three? Because he has turned twenty-three!”
A bailiff opened the door and ushered relatives into the courtroom. Although Alexei Gaskarov is not among the first twelve defendants, Alexei Polikhovich, Sr., put his arm around my shoulders and led me to the seats near the dock. The guys in the dock pressed themselves against the glass and waved to their loved ones, smiling. Stepan Zimin was particularly glad to see his girlfriend Sasha. She had come to the trial for the first time: she was no longer considered an official witness in the case, something that had prevented her from attending the hearings. Sasha and Stepan made eye contact and kept their eyes on each other until the very end of the hearing, which would be disrupted by people in the gallery. (But more on that later.)
Yaroslav Belousov, Andrei Barabanov and Denis Lutskevich were seated in the dock closest to where I was sitting. Alexei Polikhovich sat in the farthest section of the dock. Tanya attracted his attention by waving to him. Then she unfolded a t-shirt with Dandy the Elephant emblazoned on it. Polikhovich gave a two thumbs-up sign: the t-shirt was a birthday present for him. Lutskevich kept his eyes glued on his lovely mother, Stella. Throughout the hearing they would surprise me with their amazing ability to hold a conversation merely by glancing at each other. Andrei Barabanov was looking at other people in the gallery, because his girlfriend, Katya, is unable to attend the hearings: she is an official witness in the case.
“I have a motion I haven’t been allowed to enter for two days running!”
“Shut up, Krivov,” the judge cut him off.
“No, listen, you have to hear my motion!”
“I am cautioning you for causing a disruption in the courtroom, Krivov!”
“And I’m cautioning you for not hearing my motion!”
Then the testimony of the sixth “victim” in the case, riot police officer Alexander Algunov, began: the case file contains a medical certificate stating that his right hand was injured during the alleged “riots” on May 6, 2012, in Moscow, during a sanctioned opposition march. I stopped listening to Algunov’s monotonous, muddled testimony and looked back to the dock, making eye contact with Lutskevich. Denis smiled broadly, and I wrote the phrase “Gaskarov says hi!” in big, block letters in my notebook. I tried to quietly raise my postcard so the guys would see it, but the bailiffs noticed it as well. “Well, now they’ll kick me out of the courtroom,” I thought, and a bailiff, dressed in black, moved towards me. I put the notebook away and got a warning. The bailiff took up a spot next to the glass cage, blocking my view of the guys, but they leaned forward and, peering from behind him, waved at me and smiled.
While this was going on, the state prosecutor was asking to hold a police lineup right in the courtroom, despite the fact it violated court rules.
“Do you see the person or persons who assaulted police officers among those present in the dock?”
The lawyers jumped up from their seats. Defense attorneys referred to the sections of the law under which the procedure could not be carried out in court. Chin propped on her hand and smiling, Judge Nikishina slowly said, “Algunov, answer the prosecutor’s question.”
Algunov “recognized,” as he put it, “the man in the t-shirt,” nodding towards Krivov, then he also pointed out the two female defendants, Alexandra Naumova (née Dukhanina) and Maria Baronova. After which he told the court how protesters had, allegedly, shouted “Let’s go to Red Square!” and “Let’s take the Kremlin!”
As always, Makarov, who is defending Krivov, was completely prepared to cross-examine the victim, but as the hearing entered its sixth hour, people in the court gallery interrupted his cross-examination. Two young women jumped up on their seats and began singing “Bella Ciao,” the Italian Anti-Fascist Resistance song. But they did not succeed in unfurling a small banner congratulating Alexei Polikhovich on his birthday: six men in plain clothes grabbed them and removed them from the courtroom, along with everyone else in the gallery, including the relatives. Artyom Naumov, husband of Alexandra Naumova, recognized two of the men as people who had carried out a search at Alexandra’s apartment.
Everyone was now standing in the hallway, and the parents were upset. It would have been better to stage the unsuccessful performance after the hearing was over. Alexandra Naumova left the courtroom, and the judge announced a recess until next Tuesday.
Before leaving, Judge Nikishina remarked, disgruntled, that come September, hearings should be held five days a week to get this over quickly.