Zoya Svetova: Interview with Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission Members Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina Kosarevskaya

The Network Case: “He Was Tortured in the Woods for Six Hours to Force Him to Testify, and Then Some More So He Would Memorize the Right Wording”
Zoya Svetova
MBKh Media
April 20, 2018

Снимок-экрана-2018-04-20-в-11.19.46Viktor Filinkov. Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Mediazona

The Russian Federal Investigative Committee has refused to open a criminal case in connection with a complaint filed by Viktor Filinkov, one of the young antifascists accused in The Network case [aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case—TRR], who claims that Russian Federal Security Service officers tortured him. Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina (“Katya”) Kosarevyskaya, members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, were the first people Filinkov told he had been tortured. Now they are under police surveillance themselves.

The human rights activists talked to Zoya Svetova about why they decided to join the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, what goes on in Petersburg’s remand prisons and penal colonies, and how they have been harassed by reporters from Russian TV channel NTV.

____________________

Yana, Katya, and I talk in a cafe. They have come to Moscow for a day. They have many meetings scheduled, and the young women interrupt each while discussing what they have seen in remand prisons, but mostly they discuss the young men accused in The Network case, which has shaken them. It is not every day people tell you they have been brutally tortured and you see burns on their bodies left by tasers. As for me, this is my first meeting with these young and incredibly mature human rights defenders, who are only twenty-six years old.

Why did you decide to visit prisons and police precincts?

Yana: I wanted to join the Public Monitoring Commission (PMC) as soon was it was established, but you have to be at least twenty-five years old to join, so we didn’t end up on the previous commission. But we helped train other candidates and assisted them in their work. As soon as we turned twenty-five, we submitted our applications.

What do you do for a living?

Yana: I’m a mathematician.

Are you a schoolteacher?

No, I don’t teach. I do research.

Katya: I’m also a mathematician. I work at a school, but I also do research and teach math at a university, probability theory. We met before we studied at university, and then we went to university together. And we both decided to join the PMC.

How did you find out about the PMCs and public oversight?

Katya: I read Anna Karetnikova’s LiveJournal blog, I think. (Anna Karetnikova was a member of the Moscow PMC from 2009 to 2016 — ZS.)

Yana: When we got on the PMC, we already knew what it was, because we had been involved in shaping the PMC’s previous roster. We talked about the PMC to various people and organizations, and got them together.

Katya: And we worked with them when there were large-scale detentions at protest rallies. We found out who could visit detainees in police stations.

Who nominated you to the PMC?

Yana: We lucked out. We were nominated by Azaria, an organization of mothers against narcotics. Azaria is not on the list of “foreign agents” and looks completely innocent. In reality, it is a really cool organization. They are not afraid of anyone, and they really support and help us.

Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina Kosarevskaya outside Penal Colony No. 5

Until you found yourselves in the middle of the scandal surrounding The Network case defendants, was your work with the PMC completely routine?

Yana: We were not admitted to police stations seven times in a row, meaning that at some point the police just stopped letting us in to do inspections. The first time they didn’t let us in, they had detained young people coming home from a concert. Policemen stopped them and asked to see their papers. They refused to do that until the police had identified themselves by name and explained why they needed to see their papers. The policemen responded by pepper-spraying and detaining them. We were not let into the police precinct to see them. Subsequently, we were not let into police stations under different pretexts. Ultimately, we were able to overcome the problem. Fifteen Interior Ministry employees were brought to justice for not letting PMC members into police stations. We were not the only ones to file complaints. We posted our reports on the incidents, and our readers filed complains on the basis on this information.

Apparently, one of our readers on the social networks played a role. He filed complaints anywhere he could, and the authorities responded to his complaints, referring to him as “the PMC’s community volunteer.” The police officers who did the audit later told us that he had worn them down and asked us to tell him they would fix everything as long as he stopped complaining. Many other people helped out as well, including Human Rights Council member Andrei Babushkin. We also filed lots of detailed complaints ourselves. We managed to navigate around the problem, and this was a victory, of course, in whose wake our visits to police stations suddenly improved dramatically. The police were now afraid of us. Initially, we had good relations with the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN). The FSIN was inclined to cooperate, while the Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] was not. At our very first meeting with them, they told us we had to send notifications when we were planning to visit police stations only by fax, but we were not cool with that, of course. We ourselves had written the rules for how the PMC functioned. Our rules state that our rights as PMC members cannot be infringed. There is nothing in the rules about notifying a police station or remand prison by fax, as had been the case in the first two sittings of the PMC. Back then, only the PMC’s chair could notify penitentiary facilities about commission visits. He could do this only during business hours, because the fax was in his office.

How do you now notify the authorities you are coming to visit their facilities?

Yana: We give them five minutes’ warning. There is no need to notifiy the police ahead of time, whereas the FSIN does need to transfer staff to escort the PMC members around its prisons. We rarely need to catch the FSIN unawares with our visits, while the police often hide detainees from us, and try and take them out of precinct houses via emergency exits. Our latest conflict with them has to do with the fact that they must provide us with records of the people they detain and bring to their stations. They are convinced they do not need to show us these records.

How many people on the Petersburg PMC are on your side?

Katya: Four of the PMC’s twenty-five members.

Yana: It is not that they are all evil monsters. I think we have a fairly good working atmosphere in the commission. For example, there is one lovely lady. She doesn’t always feel well, but she goes out with us on inspections when she can.

When you met the young men accused in The Network case, was it the first time you had dealt with complaints of torture by people in police custody?

Katya: We had usually received really old reports about torture. We would go to a remand prison, where the inmates told us they had been tortured at a police station. There have been many such complaints, around twenty, concerning various police precincts.

What do you do with such reports?

Katya: If the individual is willing, which is not always the case, we publicize them. We try and describe the circumstances on our group page on Facebook, we write down the detainee’s full testimony in an official report, we file a criminal complaint, and send it off. But we don’t have the manpower to keep track of the complaint and file another complaint, about the lack of an official response, when the time comes. We usually try and find lawyers to take over the case, and we always find them.

Yana: So far, we have no criminal cases pending against police officers. On the contrary, the Interior Ministry’s Central District Petersburg office has filed suit against me. They were miffed when I published the story of a woman who claimed she was tortured at the 78th Police Precinct in Petersburg. The woman was pregnant, and police officers abused her. The lawsuit against me claims I published “information that undermines the reputation” or “discredits” the precinct. We published the women’s complaint on the social networks without revealing her last name. The news website Moi Rayon [My Neighborhood] reprinted it. The Interior Ministry mixed everything up, filing suit against me because they thought I’d written the article. In fact, we are involved in lots of lawsuits. We are usually the ones on the attack, and Team 29 helps us out with this.

You won the right to bring recording equipment into a penal colony in court, yes?

Katya: Yes. Recently, Petersburg City Court took the penal colony’s appeal of this ruling under consideration. We have not been let into the penal colony with recording equipment a single time even after the court’s decision came into force. The court ruled that the actions of a specific staff member of the penal colony who had not let us bring recording devices into the colony had been illegal, but this does not mean they have to let us and our equipment into the colony the next time round, although the FSIN’s public stance was originally that they would let us in if we informed them in advance that we planned to bring equipment. But then they changed their minds. We were not allowed to bring recording equipment into the remand prisons from the get-go.

Where are the young men accused in The Network case currently located?

KatyaSix of the accused in The Network case are in Penza, while the other three are in Petersburg and Leningrad Region. Two of them were originally jailed in Remand Prison No. 3 in Petersburg, a place we visit all the time. On March 15, Viktor Filinkov, who was the first person charged in the case to complain of torture, was transferred to a remand prison in Leningrad Region, which is considered a torture chamber. Immediately after he was detained, Filinkov himself was tortured in the wood for six hours, first to force him to testify, and then to make him memorize the right wording. Before his custody hearing, he was told that if he dared to recant his testimony, he would be sent to Remand Prison No. 6 in Gorelovo.

That is the torture chamber remand prison where he is currently in custody?

Yes, he was transferred after he was shown an “optimization” order, although there is room for fifty inmates in Remand Prison No. 3, and there are vacant spots in the cells. Gorelovo, on the other hand, is horribly overcrowded. The cells are meant for one hundred inmates, but there are one hundred and fifty inmates living in them. What kind of “optimization” are we talking about? Yuli Boyarshinov, the third Petersburg man charged in the case, is also being held in Gorelovo.

We cannot visit the remand prison in Gorelovo. The Leningrad Region PMC goes there. When we arrived in Remand Prison No. 3 on March 16, we were suddenly told Filinkov had been transferred to Remand Prison No. 6 in Gorelovo. We asked the Leningrad Region PMC to go out there. They made the trip and told us everything was okay, that Viktor was not being tortured. But they cannot visit him as often as we could.

Do you think he was transferred there so you would be unable to visit him?

That was not the only reason. First, Remand Prison No. 6 is the worst pretrial detention facility in Petersburg and Leningrad Region. Second, he refused to testfiy, so what use was he to the FSB? He had to be sent somewhere where we could not visit him.

Of the men charged in the case, which of them have been tortured, according to your evidence?

Viktor Filinkov and Igor Shishkin, whom we saw, were brutally tortured. Compared to the accounts from Penza, it would appear this was not the worst FSB operatives were capable of. According to testimony given to one of the defense attorneys, one of the accused men in Penza was tortured with electrical shocks for a month. In Penza, the FSB does not even bother to hide what they are doing. The FSB officers show up at the remand prison there, and take their man to another room, where they have a generator and electrical wires set up, and they torture the guy right in a cell in the remand prison. Defense attorney Olga Dinze said there was a secret prison in Moscow where inmates were constantly tortured with electrical shocks for a week. Why? Because they had to be forced to testify.

Have the accused in The Network case testified?

Katya: Yes. Viktor was tortured for six hours, but he agreed to confess after ten minutes. But then he was tortured simply so he would memorize his testimony. It was like animal training.

He told you this in the remand prison?

Yes, he told us, and then he provided a detailed written account of the first forty-eight hours after he was detained. He wrote us a letter and sent it to us by mail. When he was taken to the remand prison, the torture stopped. He had forty taser burns on his body, tiny spots on his thigh and around his groin. And on his chest. We didn’t see his groin area.

Traces of tasers burns on Ilya Kapustin’s body. Photo courtesy of his attorney and Mediazona

How did the staff at Remand Prison No. 3 react to the stories of torture?

Igor Shishkin had taser burns all over his back, buthe burns are listed as “bruises” in the prison’s medical journal.

One staff member forbade Igor from lifting his trousers and showing us the wounds he suffered when tortured. But we documented the injuries anyway. First, we examined Viktor’s taser burns, writing them down by hand, and then we drew pictures for each day, seeing as how the FSB investigators were in no hurry to show up. We documented all the injuries with the remand prison’s physician and warden present.

What was the reaction when you you went public with it?

Yana: Unfortunately, when Igor Shishkin was being tortured, there was not enough public pressure to stop the torture or get into the FSB building and see Igor. After we published our findings, we received support, and lots of it. (Igor Shiskin has not filed a complaint that he was tortured. He claims not to remember how he got the burn marks— ZS.)

How did the other members of the Petersburg PMC react?

The question was whether the PMC would interfere with our work or not. The commission members have not interfered in any way. A month after Shishkin and Filinkov were detained, the Petersburg human rights ombudsman and the chair of the Petersburg PMC visited them in the remand prison and wrote a very carefully worded report that did not gainsay our report. Of course, all traces of their injuries had vanished by that time.

What was the outcome of the Investigative Committee’s review of Filinkov’s torture complaint?

YanaOn Thursday, April 19, it transpired that the investigator refused to file criminal charges. His report says that not all the videos were preserved, the report by PMC members cannot be admitted into evidence, and Viktor was tasered, but only two times in order to prevent him from falling out of the vehicle and “escaping.”

Do you feel that you are being shadowed?

Yana: Yes, I have some notion the police have opened a dossier on us. We have the sense our telephones are tapped and we are being followed. There was a time when the surveillance was demonstrative. It was not a huge inconvenience.

On Friday, NTV will show a film about The Network case. Apparently, you are central characters in this film.

YanaAn NTV crew ambushed me on Sunday, and they ambushed Yekaterina on Saturday.

Katya, the NTV crew ambushed you during a scheduled visit to the Doctor Haass Prison Hospital. NTV asked two questions. Why do you defend terrorists? Why do you defend Ukrainians? Why do think that interested NTV?

Katya: The Ukrainian consul general in Petersburg visited Ukrainian prisoners with me and we wrote about it on Facebook. We visited an inmate in a penal colony who was convicted on drugs charges. He had not been receiving anti-retroviral therapy for a while.

They aren’t political prisoners?

No. Maybe they wanted to make a connection between The Network case and Ukraine? Or maybe they just took a gander at my Facebook page and read that I had spoken to the Ukrainian consul.

They started filming in Penza. There are many parents of the young men accused in the case there, and they have teamed up to defend their children.

An investigator with the Penza FSB summoned one of the mothers to his office and spent two and a half hours persuading her she would help her son out by going on camera and saying the right words, saying the young men were practicing to blow up the Lenin Mausoleum. When she left the FSB building, her husband was waiting for her, but she was put in a vehicle with the NTV crew, and the FSB officer got in with her. They took her to her house and taped the interview there. That was on April 11, I think, and I basically already guessed NTV had begun shooting a film, but I didn’t think I’d be in it.

Yana: They ambushed me at the exit of a house where I don’t spend much time, but where I’m officially registered as living. I had it a bit easier, because they taped Katya after a difficult visit to a hospital. She was tired, but I was rested. Besides, I was ready, because I knew about Katya’s so-called interview. So my time with them was much easier and shorter. The questions were literally the very same ones. There was no individual approach: they could not really tell me and Katya apart, nor could I tell them apart. I accused the young woman questioning me that yesterday she was Maria, and today she was Alexandra, because they looked a lot alike. She show me her ID, but she did not me show me her editorial assignment or tell me the name of the program. I heard the same thing Katya had heard: “You defend terrorists. Ukraine. Right Sector. You prey on the sorrow of parents.”

Yana runs off to catch a train to Petersburg, but Katya and I continue the conversation. I wanted to ask her about Petersburg’s prisons. There is much less known about them than about Moscow’s prisons.

How often do you visit remand prisons?

Katya: I sometimes don’t have the strength. On Saturday, I visited the Doctor Haass Prison Hospital, chatted with NTV, and went to Remand Prison No. 3. Previously, I had visited Remand Prison No. 5, but before that there had been a long break, because it didn’t work out. Sometimes it happens we don’t do any visits for several weeks, but then we do visits. For The Network case we were going to Remand Prison No. 3 on a daily basis. On average, we do around two visits a week.

Tell me about Petersburg’s remand prisons.

We have separate PMCs for Petersburg and Leningrad Region, although the FSIN has one office in charge of the city and the region. The very worst remand prison in Leningrad Region is in Gorelovo, but we are not allowed to visit it.

In Petersburg, there is the renowned remand prison The Crosses on the Arsenal Embankment. It is a historic landmark, and it has been closed. A work-release penal colony from the region was temporarily transferred there. There is talk the local FSIN office will move its headquarters there.

What about The New Crosses?

That remand prison was built to house 4,000 inmates, but something went wrong. Corruption charges have been filed, and so one of the two crosses (wings), designed to hold 2,000 inmates, is the subject of court battles, and it cannot be accessed. There are no inmates there. If it were opened, the inmates from Gorelovo would be transferred there.

The New Crosses remand prison

Are Petersburg’s remand prisons overcrowded?

The Old Crosses was overcrowded. Eight square meters per four inmates, which was two times less space than necessary, but there were always enough beds. There had bunk beds there.

Besides torture, what are the most egregious human rights violations in Petersburg’s remand prisons and penal colonies?

There is a penal colony in which a suspiciously high number of inmates die from cardiac arrest and a suspiciously high number of inmates are a brought injured to hospital and die from their injuries. There is a psychiatric ward in a remand prison that the PMC is not allowed to visit. Complaints about torture and abusive treatment came from the psychiatric ward of The Crosses.

Why are you not allowed into the remand prison’s psychiatric ward?

We are currently fighting a court battle over just this issue. The staff read the law on the provision of psychiatric care, which says individual members of public organizations can enter psychiatric wards only when accompanied by medical personnel. Then they incorrectly read the law on public oversight and decided PMC members are members of public organizations, so we also should be escorted by medical personnel. We get there and are told no medical staff are on duty. We have to wait a while, because they won’t let us in just like that. We are let in only during working hours and only in the company of a physician. We are allowed into the intensive care units only when the attending physician allows it. I appealed our not being admitted to the ward in court. A district court said it was fine we were not being allowed into the ward. Look at the Azaria website, said the judge: Yekaterina Kosarevskya is a member of a public organization. I’ve filed an appeal.

Have you dealt with the case of businessman Valery Pshenichny, who died in Remand Prison No. 4 in Petersburg? Have you heard about his death?

Yana and Roma, the chair of our PMC, went to the prison after the suicide. But they had no contact with the relatives, so it was impossible to do anything. The Investigative Committee had already confiscated the CCTV tapes, which was all the evidence there was, and the only hting Yana and Roma could do was talk with remand prison staff, and try and understand whether the story Pshenichny had committed suicide could be trusted. But they could not understand a thing.

But now, after the article in Novaya Gazeta, which claims that, according to the forensic examination, Pshenichny was murdered and raped, will you conduct a public investigation?

Probably. But it’s not very clear what we can do as PMC members. It is doubtful whether there is any evidence left in the remand prison.

Do you feel any danger due to the fact that you and Yana were the first people to to talk about Filinkov’s torture at the hands of the FSB?

At first, I probably felt danger, because I didn’t know how the FSB would react, and it didn’t know how to react. My nerves were on edge. But now? Everything is a source of danger, probably. NTV has shown its face.

Do you continue to keep track of Filinkov’s plight?

Yes. We continue to file various appeals. I write letters to Viktor, and we visit Igor Shishkin in Remand Prison No. 3.

What is Remand Prison No. 3 like? It probably resembles Lefortvo Remand Prison in Moscow.

It’s a tiny historical building. The warden once boasted of the various famous people who were jailed there. Various wings of the building are under repair all the time. The cells are eight measures square and have bunks for two people. The toilet is separated by a low wooden partition.

Who is jailed there?

There are people accused of treason. One just went to trial in Sevastopol. He lived in Crimea, where he had an interesting job. He was accused of spying for China against Russia, although the evidence in the case relates to 2013, when Crimea was part of Ukraine.

How do prisoners treat you? How do they react to the fact you are so young?

I listen to them carefully, and some PMC members get angry at me that I talk with the prisoners for so long. As for my youth, sometimes it can be an advantage, because certain inmates tell me a lot: a nice young lady has paid them a visit and they feel they can talk with me. So it is not as if these inmates are complaining, they are just having a chat with a nice young woman. When we are able to help them, they say the PMC is a good thing. When we are unable to help them, they complain they turned to us for help and we didn’t help them.

“No, we didn’t,” I say.

It is amazing that both you and Yana are mathematicians, and suddenly you’re inspecting prisons. Why such interest in human rights?

My parents, the books I read. Books about the Decembrists, the Harry Potter books. Grandfather consistently refused to join the Party. But I learned the KGB was a bad thing when I was nine years old, in 2000.

It is the first black hole that has sucked me in. I planned to join the PMC, because I had always been interested (the Peter and Paul Fortress was nearby), but it was one interest among others. I was interested in the rights of migrant workers, in books about social organization. I was certain that, at most, I would spend a third of my free time on the PMC, but then it dragged me in all on its own.

What dragged you in?

Prisons suck me in. It’s bad, of course. I was once driving from the Arsenal Embankment to the Sverdlovskaya Embankment, and I glanced at a building not far from the place where I grew up. I thought I should probably stop my involvement in this nonsense. I should earn money and buy a flat in that building, because it was a beautiful red-brick building, wonderfully designed, with a view of the Neva River. But then I realized that the building merele reminded me of The Crosses.

Thanks to Vladimir Akimenov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, the case of the mysterious death in custody of Petersburg businessman Valery Pshenichny, and related cases involving alleged frame-ups and torture by the Russian police and secret services, please have a look at some of the recent articles I have published on these subjects.

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