The Testimonial Imperative

Alexei Kungurov. Photo courtesy of the New Chronicle of Current Events
Alexei Kungurov. Photo courtesy of the New Chronicle of Current Events

Amendment from “Yarovaya Package” Applied for First Time in Tyumen
FSB Asks Reporters to Help Prove Blogger Kungurov’s Guilt
Georgy Borodyansky
Novaya Gazeta
October 13, 2016

The FSB’s Tyumen Regional Office has asked a number of Urals region media to help it find evidence against blogger Alexei Kungurov, in particular, “to provide the investigation with articles of his that contain public insults to the authorities and other information worthy of the attention of law enforcement and regulatory authorities.”

The request could also be considered a demand. As Anton Yulayev, a reporter for Znak.com and one of the people who received the letter from the FSB, told Novaya Gazeta, the letter contains a reference to the legal norm obliging recipients to respond to it.

“Our lawyers are now trying to solve this dilemma: how to respond without harming Alexei, and in such a way that the FSB has no beef with us,” explained Yulayev.

The appeal made by the FSB’s Tyumen Region Office is a new legal norm [sic] introduced by the so-called Yarovaya package. Alexei Zyryanov, Kungurov’s attorney, explained the implications to Novaya Gazeta.

“Previously, you could ignore a letter like this, but now you can’t. Basically, the law has introduced criminal liability for the failure to inform,” said Zyryanov.

The liability is spelled out in Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 206.6, which entered into force on July 20, 2016. It says that “non-reporting of terrorist crimes” is punishable by a fine of 100,000 rubles or by up to one year in prison. If individuals know something about another individual who is planning to commit such a crime or has committed such a crime, but do not report their information to law enforcement agencies, they can be found guilty.

Blogger Alexei Kungurov has been held for five months in pre-trial detention facility on charges of “public justification of terrorism.” Investigators found evidence of such a crime in a post the blogger published on his LiveJournal page in October of last years. Entitled “Who Putin’s falcons are really bombing,” the post is still in the public domain.

On October 11, 2016, Tyumen’s Central District Court extended Kungurov’s arrest another two months, until December 15. Investigators motivated their request for the extension on the grounds that they had not managed “to carry all necessary [investigative] actions” over the previous four months. According to Zyryanov, they had not carried out any actions at all. They had been waiting the whole time for the outcome of the linguistic forensic investigation.

Why has the linguistic forensic investigation taken so long? Zyryanov surmises that the forensic experts were faced with a tough job: proving that Kungurov’s argument that Islamic State (an organization banned in Russia) “is hardly the most terrible and crazy [organization]” somehow justifies terrorism.

On October 13, the lead investigator informed the lawyer that the findings from the forensic examination had finally arrived.

“I haven’t examined them in detail yet,” said Zyryanov, “but the conclusion is predictable: there is evidence of a crime in Alexei’s article.”

It would have been difficult to hope for another outcome, because the forensic examination was performed by a bureau of the very same agency that has charged the blogger, the FSB’s Sverdlovsk Regional Office, rather than its Tyumen Regional Office.

The results of another forensic examination are still pending. It will determine the originality of Kungurov’s article that, allegedly, “justifies terrorism,” whether it was written wholly by Kungurov, or whether he borrowed it, wholly or partly, from someone else. Then the case will be sent to trial, apparently.

Why do the secret services need the media’s help? According to Zyryanov, investigators do not have conclusive proof of Kungurov’s guilt, and they are attempting the shore up their case. But it is also possible the FSB has decided to test the new law out on the journalistic community by forcing independent periodicals, which can be counted on one hand in the Urals (the others simply could not afford to publish Kungurov’s articles), into giving “testimony.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Alexander Verkhovsky for the heads-up

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