Free Sergei Nikiforov!
November 6, 2015
On November 5, 2015, a public event in support of a political prisoner was held in Blagoveshchensk, administrative center of the Amur Region. It took place a week after Russia commemorated the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression, a week after Amur Regional Governor Alexander Kozlov had told the region’s residents, “Today’s date reminds us of the innocent victims of injustice, false accusations, and ideological wars. Our duty is to preserve the memory of the victims of insane political terror so that such things never happen again.”
No, today’s subject is not a rally in memory of the martyred victims of political repression in the Gulag during the distant 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
It is more trivial and terrible. Evenki leader Sergei Nikiforov has been thrown in prison after leading a protest movement of his tiny people in the Selemdzhinsk District. As village head, he had been organizing resistance to the expansion of gold mining companies attempting to take over tribal reindeer pastures and hunting grounds.
Earlier, attempts by district and regional officials to close the village’s Evenki ethnic kindergarten were thwarted. Of course, without the unanimous support of his fellow villagers, Sergei Nikiforov could not have done this. But officials understood they would be unable to quietly seize Evenki lands, a real Klondike for miners, while the Evenki had such a “chief.”
Blagoveshchensk City Court sentenced Nikiforov, the father of five adopted children, to five years in a maximum security prison and a fine of 16 million rubles [approx. 232,000 euros] for bribery and embezzlement. The fellow villagers who were present in the courtroom have reached their own conclusions about the court’s bias. The court disregarded all the particulars that pointed to the defendant’s innocence, for example, the fact that at the time the bribe was made in Blagoveshchensk, Nikiforov was in Ekimchan, administrative center of the Selemdzhinsk District, hundreds of kilometers away, and the fact that the only witness was unable to identify Nikiforov in court and testified she did not know the man. Nor was the bribegiver arraigned. According to the Evenki, the trial was clearly a frame-up.
Nikiforov was convicted in Blagoveshchensk in late October of this year. On October 3, all the residents of his native village of Ivanovskoye who were not out on the hunt attended a protest rally in defense of Sergei Nikiforov.
You cannot fool the people. If the village head had really been stealing money from the already meager village budget, who would have come out to support him?! You cannot hoodwink villagers, as people who have lived there would know.
After the protest, the regional authorities kept a low profile. Nowhere in the media did anyone comment on the trial of the disgraced village head. A small group of Evenki woman managed to travel to the regional center, overcoming hundreds of kilometers of bumpy roads on an UAZ off-road vehicle.
The Amur branch of the Yabl0ko Party gave due notice of plans for a protest rally on Lenin Square. Officials made a fuss. None of them wanted to see Evenki waving placards under the windows of the regional government house. I was contacted and asked to move the protest behind a department store, “out of sight of the authorities.” Clearly, it would have been pointless to protest behind a department store. So we were forced to to alter the format of the protest, but not the purpose and place.
We held a series of solo pickets in downtown Blagoveshchensk. People stood alone at a distance of a several dozen meters from each other on both sides on Lenin Street in the vicinity of the eponymous square. Just opposite the windows of the regional government house, legislative assembly, and the public reception office of the Russian President stood women (wives and daughters of hunters and reindeer herders) holding placards with the slogans “The Evenki need S.S. Nikiforov,” “Free Sergei Nikiforov,” “Sergei Savelyevich, we are with you!” “We ask the Russian federal authorities to pay attention to the criminal case of S.S. Nikiforov,” “We want a fair trial!!!” “No to kangaroo courts!” “The rule of law, not a tribunal!” and “Put an end to political reprisals.” They hoped to attract the attention of authorities to the injustice perpetuated in the Amur Region.
The reaction of officials was unexpected. No, neither the governor nor lawmakers came out to meet with their constituents. Nor did the chair of the regional court or the prosecutor show up. No, it was much more tedious. Frightened by the female protesters, the officials summoned several pieces of maintenance equipment from the City and Trade Services Center Municipal Enterprise (MP “GSTK”). A tractor drove on the sidewalk back and forth exactly where the protesters were standing. At times we imagined that the driver (a young chap with a brazen face) was defiantly trying to run over the small, fragile women, who would barely dodge out of his way. The oldest protester later said that she had physically sensed the tractor was about to run her over. It was noticeable that the moron behind the wheel was clearly getting some kind of sadistic thrill from his attacks on the defenseless women. Despite the fact the tractor was driving on the sidewalk, no special warning signs had been set up to this effect.
As soon as the picket ended, and the protesters left the square, the special maintenance equipment hastily turned around and drove away. By the way, the policemen on the square were quite polite. They were not at all keen to detain us “protestants,” apparently supporting us in their hearts.
Of course, it is too early to say that a protest rally was held and Nikiforov will be released tomorrow. Of course, that will not happen. We need to do much more. Maybe the next item on the agenda is a trip by Evenki to the capital and pickets on Red Square? In any case, people are becoming citizens and learning to assert their rights in practice. That is worth a lot!
N.B. I wish to inform Valentina Kalita, mayor of Blagoveshchensk, and MP “GSTK” head Igor Banin, United Russian party members and partners of ex-mayor Alexander Migulya, now under investigation, that actions aimed at disrupting a public event (to which every citizen of Russia has a constitutional right!) are covered by Article 149 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“Obstruction of assemblies, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets or involvement in them”).
Finally, Igor Banin, the driver of the tractor, who spread dust and rubbish over the square today, deserves a bonus. The lad tried really hard to carry out your orders (which had nothing to do with the cleaning the sidewalk, as you know).
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AD for the heads-up