How the Investigative Committee Interrogated Me in the Buchenkov Case (Bolotnaya Square Case)
April 27, 2016
Yesterday, I went to the Investigative Committee for questioning in the Dmitry Buchenkov case (part of the Bolotnaya Square case).
Dmitry Buchenkov is one of the recent defendants in the case. He was arrested on December 2, 2016. The investigation has been plagued by gross violations from the get-go. Buchenkov’s attorney, Svetlana Sidorkina, was not allowed to see the accused. She was thus unable to defend him not only at his pre-trial custody hearing but was also unable to establish his whereabouts for several days. During this time, investigators were subjecting him to psychological pressure. Dmitry has been accused of involvement in rioting (Criminal Code Article 212.2), the rioting that, allegedly, took place on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on May 6, 2012, and of using non-life-threatening violence against officials. Dmitry and his loved ones have claimed he was not at Bolotnaya Square that day. He was visiting relatives in Nizhny Novgorod, and so could not have committed the crimes of which he has been accused. I am a witness in the case, because I have known Buchenkov for many years and was at Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012.
On December 11, 2015, a photograph of a “man in black,” whom investigators believe to be Dmitry Buchenkov, according to activists, appeared on the Internet.
I do not know the man in the black hoodie in this photograph or whether he inflicted a great deal harm on the policeman in body armor and helmet, but it is obvious to me he is not Dmitry Buchenkov.
When I saw the photograph and realized the man was not Dmitry, I contacted Svetlana Sidorkina and told her I could act as a witness in Dmitry’s case.
Later, I learned that the same man in black has been accused of upending port-a-potties on Bolotnaya Square on May 6. I can also testify that during this incident I was in the vicinity of the port-a-potties from the very beginning and nearby until the police finally dispersed everyone. Dmitry Buchenkov was not there.
The general sequence of events was as follows. I arrived at the Oktyabrskaya subway station, where the march started, approximately at the beginning of the event (i.e., 3 p.m.). I marched with the bloc of Pussy Riot supporters, and I was wearing a pink balaclava (which is dangling from my chest later in the photographs). On Malyi Kammenyi Bridge, our group and the LGBT bloc were attacked by provocateurs, who tried to snatch a flag. Then there was a sit-down strike near the Udarnik movie theater. I thought about sitting for a while too, but I didn’t like it very much. I could not get through to Bolotnaya Square, although I wanted to make it to the rally, because, it seemed, they were not allowing anyone to enter. Subsequently, closing the entrance to the square has been regarded as one of the numerous police provocations at the rally. Then someone seemingly decided to try and break through the police cordon. I am not sure whether I saw it myself or read it about later on the Internet, but the idea seemed pretty silly to me then and still seems that way now, because there were really a lot of police, and the people who broke through the first cordon probably went straight to the paddy wagons. At some point, stones started flying at the police. What I remember most of all was how the police split the crowd outside the Udarnik theater into several sections, and a huge column of cops ran through the empty space wielding batons and indiscriminately hitting the people standing along the sides.
Gradually, I moved closer to Bolotnaya Square. There, I stood for a while in a human chain with people who thought it might be an effective self-defense. But it wasn’t. Policemen armed with batons constantly attacked these people, hitting them and dragging individuals out of the crowd to arrest them. Then I remember that someone who looked a bit wild-eyed suggested we overturn the toilets, as if it were really important and could protect us from the mobs of police. Then everything [the contents of the port-a-potties? — TRR] spread out over the pavement, and even more police came running from the direction of Bolotnaya Square to disperse the group of people there as well. (This was between the public garden in Bolotnaya Square and the embankment.) I went back over Malyi Kammenyi Bridge around 8 p.m.
The man in the photos bears no resemblance to the real Dmitry Buchenkov.
Read Dmitry Borko’s analysis for a detailed comparision of photographs of Buchenkov and the man in black. A criminal expert, cited by Borko, is certain that Buchenkov and the man in black are different people. Borko also lists psychological and political inconsistencies. Indeed, why did it take the police three and a half years to find an activist whose identity had long been know to them if photos and videos of him at Bolotnaya Square were, allegedly, plastered all over the Internet? I would remind you that Maxim Luzynanin, who was wearing a mask the whole time on May 6 and was virtually unknown within the protest movement, was located by police in May 2012.
The man in black felt quite at ease on Bolotnaya Square. He hit policemen, threw them on the pavement, tossed glass bottles at them, sprayed them with pepper spray, and overturned toilets. He clearly sensed his own impunity.
As someone who has long been involved in protests and grassroots movements, I can say such behavior is virtually impossible for a very experienced activist. Anarchists and anti-fascists quite often cover their faces even at authorized rallies where nothing illegal is happening. Approximately half of civil society’s work involves defending unjustly accused comrades and political prisoners. Every longstanding activist (such as Buchenkov) is well aware that if activists with no ties to the authorities give them the slightest excuse, they will be jailed instantly, while even if they give them no excuse, the authorities will fabricate a case against them. It is obvious to me that no opposition activist could have behaved with such flagrant impunity. That means he could have been someone linked to the authorities, whose safety had been ensured in advance and who was handsomely remunerated. I do not believe he was a random person, because he was clearly well trained to do what he did. He avoided arrest and was armed with a pepper spray can. (For some reason, however, he did not wear a mask.) Civic activists clearly have nowhere to go where they could do such training. I think the man could only have been a specially trained intelligence officer, and this explains why he could not be found (probably because no one looked for him). It is another question why Buchenkov had to take the man in black’s place. It is quite possible the authorities want to put pressure on protest movement activists in the run-up to September’s parliamentary elections. (They are ready to jail anarchists and anti-fascists any time.) Besides, it is quite possible the security agencies do not always coordinate their actions, and arresting another man was a clear miscalculation on their part.
Compared to other protest rallies, there were a great number of provocations at Bolotnaya Square. Moreover, the authorities initially knew about them but did nothing to prevent them. In all likelihood, they took advantage (and set up many of them themselves).
The fact that the man in the photographs is not Dmitry Buchenkov is obvious to me and other people who know Dmitry personally.
Moreover, I did not see Dmitry Buchenkov on Bolotnaya Square at any point on May 6, 2012.
I was right next to the man in black during the incidents of which he has been accused (as listed above). Of course, my memory of the man has now faded. But if an acquaintance of mine had been next to me and the police had tried to beat him, and he had done the things the man in black did, I could not have failed to remember it.
It is impossible not to recognize an acquaintance who is at arm’s length from you. Besides, during the incident with the toilets there were many fewer people there; the crowd was considerably thinner. So not seeing and not recognizing an acquaintance of mine there (especially one who stuck out so much in terms of clothing and behavior, and was demonstratively at the very center of events) would also have been impossible.
Would the above-mentioned facts be meaningful in an objective investigation? In my opinion, they would be of primary importance. But my testimony proved fairly uninteresting to the actual investigation. On January 11, I wrote a letter to the Investigative Committee. I explained I was personally acquainted with Buchenkov, had been at Bolotnaya Square, and could act as a witness in the case. I received a formal reply from Major General R.R. Gabdulin of the major cases division.
“The information related in the letter will be taken into account during the investigation of the criminal case in question,” he wrote.
The investigators have probably already found policemen who probably had never seen Dmitry Buchenkov in their lives but have already testified they saw him, just as their higher-ups wanted them to do. Why would they need more witnesses? I believe this shows clear bias on the part of the investigation and an unwillingness to establish the truth. Policemen committed many crimes on Bolotnaya Square, but none of them has been punished. Where there is obvious bias there can be no justice.
Suddenly, last Monday, April 24 (i.e., three months after I wrote my letter and four months after Buchenkov’s arrest), Investigator Uranov telephoned me and asked me to come to the Investigative Committee for questioning. Buchenkov’s attorney, Svetlana Sidorkina, had no longer been counting on my being summoned to the Investigative Committee as a witness and had put me on the list of defense witnesses. In this case, an investigator was obliged to question me.
Yesterday [Tuesday, April 26], my attorney and I arrived at the Investigative Committee at 12:30 p.m. (The investigator had initially scheduled us for 1 p.m., but an hour and a half before our meeting, he called and said the building’s security checkpoint closed at 1 p.m. and we had to be there earlier.)
There was a huge Saint George’s Ribbon (two hands’ long) hanging from Investigator Uranov’s desk lamp, and a picture of people convicted in the Bolotnaya Square Case, published on the website of the May 6 Committee, hung above his desk.
When we finished, the investigator made me sign an agreement not to disclose information from the preliminary investigation. He explained I could talk about what had happened on Bolotnaya, but I could not talk about what I had been asked during questioning and what testimony I had given. He also warned me I would be held criminally liable if case information were disclosed.
So I have not written here about what happened during the interrogation yesterday, and everything I have written in this post is either publicly available on the Internet or is my own personal knowledge and opinions and has nothing to do with the investigation’s classified information.
Just in case, I asked another lawyer friend whether I could write this.
“You know what the times are like now yourself. If they want to get you, they will find a crime to charge you with, so it’s better not to write,” he replied.
However, according to Article 161.2 of the Criminal Procedural Code, “The investigator or interrogating officers warns those involved in criminal proceedings of the inadmissibility of disclosing information from the preliminary investigation without proper authorization.”
So I decided to act in keeping with what the investigator himself had said, and another lawyer confirmed I could write about it. I think it is very important to testify publicly about what I saw at Bolotnaya Square and why Buchenkov had nothing to do with it, especially because I don’t know whether I will be able to do it in the future.
When I wrote that I had been summoned to the Investigative Committee in the Bolotnaya Square Case, very many friends of mine were worried. Many of them wrote that one could go from being a witness to a suspect almost in an instant. Many wrote that I had better not go. Everyone advised me to be careful. I can vouch for myself that I did nothing illegal on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, but it is clear they can easily fabricate a case and find a whole platoon of “witnesses,” as they have done many times before. I would only note that in a country that has the rule of law and where law enforcement agencies work to administer justice and protect the rights of citizens, this attitude on society’s part to the status of witnesses in criminal cases would be impossible.
And today, investigators began putting real pressure on me. The day after my questioning, the investigator suddenly telephoned and asked me to report to him tonight. Unfortunately, my attorney could not come with me tonight, so I offered to come with him tomorrow. Uranov (the man who, after Dmitry’s arrest, searched his parents’ flat in Nizhny Novgorod and did not inform his lawyer of his whereabouts) replied that this did not bother him very much.
“You can come with another lawyer or without a lawyer,” he said, adding, “You are a witness, after all.”
During his next call, Uranov informed me that my lawyer could not come at the time tomorrow I had just scheduled with him, because another investigator in the same case had summoned him. But then my lawyer told me he was not going on another case and was willing to go with me to questioning even at ten in the morning.
This entire conversation was conducted with me acting as the intermediary for some reason, and the investigator said several times I could find another lawyer. Uranov also insisted I not write about this on Facebook, but that I look for another lawyer and come to see him today: it was extremely urgent. Obviously, this way of doing things was illegal, because the impossibility of having a lawyer present during question is a legitimate excuse for failing to appear for questioning. Fortunately, realizing he would not be able to persuade me, the investigator agreed to reschedule the questioning to tomorrow, but he reminded me about administrative responsibility [for failing to respond to a summons — TRR] and repeated several times I could be forcibly brought in for questioning. In any case, I would have filed a written statement that I would not take part in the investigation without a lawyer and would remain silent. But I would like to note that when investigators behave this way with witnesses, they are signaling to the public that witnesses in political cases will have problems.
My lawyer and I had met before in another case, and he had been at his best then. He is now also involved in the Bolotnaya Square case, and so it was quite important to me that he come with me. However, when I called him to say the investigator could question us tomorrow at ten in the morning, it transpired that all his papers had just been stolen and he would not be able to come tomorrow. I hope it has nothing to do with this case.
Many people have been quite demoralized by the Bolotnaya Square case, but I am not pessimistic. I have also found it painful over the last few years to see this injustice and hear that my acquaintances have been convicted or have been forced to leave the country. Society, however, is a complex system, and the political situation changes rapidly. Many of the prisoners of May 6 were convicted despite massive protests against the case. But that is no reason to give up. People who do not give up always have a chance of winning, and this is especially true in politics. I can see that the case against Dmitry Buchenkov has obviously been grossly fabricated. It is a complete failure on the part of the Bolotnaya Square case investigators, and whether or not you support Dmitry’s political views, you must talk about the case as much as possible.
We must fight back against the obviously unfair and unjust charges against Dmitry Buchenkov.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AK for the heads-up