Exactly one year and two months ago, I had a knock on the door around this time of day. The people knocking identified themselves as election campaigners, but then a huge crowd of people with a video camera turned on burst in as soon as I opened the door. Because of one sentence on the social network Facebook, the FSB had come in connection with the criminal investigation opened against me.
It was my first search and a lesson for the rest of my life. You should never be afraid of anything, and must know and defend your rights.
Let us start with the fact that I was shown the search warrant in passing, as well as IDs. Apparently that is why I still do not know the first names or surnames of the men who came to search my place. Next, I was denied a telephone call and not allowed to ask neighbors to act as official witnesses during the search. (The official witnesses were soldiers brought by the FSB themselves.)
Naturally, pressure was put on me during the search. But it lasted only until they had checked everything and realized that what they had come for was not in my house (nor could it have been there). There was no money from foreign sponsors, no extremist literature, nothing.
The only thing that gladdened my visitors was the business card of Elizabeth Macdonald, a US consul in Vladivostok, although I do not understand why it is forbidden to communicate with foreigners. In a daze, I signed the search record (which was also a mistake), and they left. They departed, leaving me with a summons to an interrogation.
May it please the court to know that from the outset I considered this criminal case political, and I still do. The charges were filed only to silence me and force me not to voice my personal opinion about the current political situation in the country and the world.
May it please the court to learn that when they were conducting their investigation before criminal charges were filed, the investigators from the FSB Khabarovsk regional office during their so-called private chat with me were intensely and primarily interested in my role in organizing a flash mob in Khabarovsk six years in a row to protest the homophobic policies of the Russian leadership. They asked about my friends from the Khabarovsk LGBT community (both generally and about specific people). They asked about my meetings with a representative of the US Consulate in Vladivostok during her visit to Khabarovsk. I stress it was this aspect of my life that primarily concerned the investigators.
The investigators were also interested in my political views and my personal opinion about the anti-terrorist operation in the east of Ukraine.
I venture to guess that the FSB was investigating me as a “gay foreign agent.”
But after searching my home and questioning witnesses, the investigators at the FSB’s Khabarovsk regional office decided, nevertheless, to charge me with extremism under Article 280, Part 1 [of the Russian Federal Criminal Code].
May it please the court to hear that the forensic examinations made it clear I am not a terrorist and extremist but a simple Russian citizen who takes to heart all the news happening both to Russian citizens and other peoples.
Your honor, when rendering the verdict, I ask you to take into account the propagandistic hysteria that the Russian state media fanned during the summer of 2014.
It was in May and June 2014 that round-the-clock hysteria about “Ukrofascists,” “Banderites,” “crucified boys,” and so on wafted from every TV set. Russians were really being zombified. But I had and have the opportunity to get accurate information from different sources, including Ukrainian, European and American news and analysis channels, and programs on the independent Russian TV station Rain and the radio stations Echo of Moscow and Radio Svoboda.
It was then that my freedom-loving mind (my whole life has been a struggle for justice, for compliance with human rights and freedoms) revolted against all this, and I decided I could freely express my value judgment among like-minded people and friends on the American social network Facebook, which is not subject to Russian laws.
But it turned out (this is in the case file) that my behavior and statements had been monitored for a long while. Although, as a popular blogger, I had heard about total surveillance, it was a shock to me when I learned I was on the list of those being monitored.
Your honor, when I posted the statement for which I have been charged, I was not inciting anyone to carry out acts of violence. It was my impulsive and, perhaps, overly emotional response to the rubbish broadcast that night (Far Eastern Time) by Russian state television.
And, as follows from the results of the forensic examination (volume 2, pages 9–15), the post was my way of expressing my negative attitude towards a specific group of people in Russia who are supporters of fascism and terrorism, and who forcibly seized the territory of another country, Ukraine. I think that, just like me, every honest Russian citizen has a negative attitude towards this group of so-called volunteers. I should emphasize that, according to legal experts at the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, the current prosecution under Article 280 is unlawful. “Citizens of Russia [who are] supporters of fascism and terrorism and forcibly seized Ukrainian territory” are not a group protected by anti-extremist legislation and, therefore, the use of violence against this group cannot constitute foul play as stipulated by Article 280.
Your honor, I would also like to emphasize that publication of the post mentioned in the charges was nothing more than an expression of my personal point of view. I just wanted to draw attention to the news, to the lies of the propagandists on state television (using their own way of putting things), and to my [Facebook] page.
Your honor, as I have said, this case is purely political and was initiated not because of extremism, but because I, being openly gay and a media figure, have been very civically active and express my opinion, which differs from the general ideological line in Putin-era Russia.
Translated by the Russian Reader
Editor’s Note. According to Grani.Ru, Judge Galina Nikolayeva adjourned the trial until ten o’clock tomorrow morning, Thursday, October 1. It is expected she will announce a verdict in the trial then.
Update. According to an article on the news website Vostok-Media, on October 1, 2015, the Industrial District Court in Khabarovsk found Andrei Marchenko guilty as charged and sentenced him to a fine of 100,000 rubles, but immediately amnestied him as part of a general amnesty celebrating the seventieth anniversary of victory in the Second World War.