“Goszakaz”: Crimean Tatar Activists Sentenced to Monstrous Prison Terms by Russian Occupation Regime


Reading of the sentence on 16.09.2020. The men are each wearing one letter each of the word ГОСЗАКАЗ (“commissioned by the state”). Photo by Crimean Solidarity. Courtesy of khpg.org

Acquittal and monstrous sentences in Russia’s offensive against Crimean Tatar civic journalists & activists
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Halya Coynash
September 17, 2020

In the last decades of the Soviet regime, dissidents received 7-10-year sentences for so-called ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’. Modern Russia, persecuting Ukrainian citizens on illegally occupied territory for their religious beliefs and political views, is doubling such sentences. Seven Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists have received sentences of up to 19 years, without any crime. Justice had not been expected from a Russian court, however absurd the charges and flawed the ‘trial’, so the only – wonderful – surprise was the acquittal of Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and photographer Ernes Ametov. If Russia was hoping, in this way, to prove that these are real ‘trials’ before independent courts, there is no chance. All eight men have long been recognized as political prisoners, and all should have been acquitted.

The sentences passed on 16 September by judges Rizvan Zubairov (presiding); Roman Saprunov; and Maxim Nikitin from the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia) were all lower than those demanded by the prosecutor Yevgeny Kolpikov, but still shocking.

Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Marlen (Suleyman) Asanov: 19 years

Crimean Solidarity activist Memet Belyalov: 18 years and 18 months restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Timur Ibragimov: 17 years and 18 months restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity Coordinator and journalist Server Mustafayev: 14 years and 1 year restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Seiran Saliyev: 16 years and 1 year restriction of liberty

Edem Smailov (the leader of a religious community): 13 years and 1 year restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity volunteer Server Zekiryaev: 13 years

In Soviet times, dissidents received a term of imprisonment, then one of exile. Now they add ‘restriction of liberty’ (ban on going outside Crimea and attending events, as well as having to register with the police). In all of the above cases, the sentences are for maximum security prison colonies, although not one of the men was even accused of an actual crime. They are also sentences that Russia, as occupying state, is prohibited by international law from imposing.

The armed searches and arrests of the men in October 2017 and May 2018 were the first major offensive against Crimean Solidarity. This important civic organization arose in April 2016 in response to the mounting persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians in occupied Crimea. The initiative not only helped political prisoners and their families, but also ensured that information was streamed onto the Internet and in other ways circulated about armed searches, arrests, disappearances and other forms of repression. Given Russia’s crushing of independent media in occupied Crimea, the work that Crimean Solidarity activists and journalists do is absolutely invaluable. It has, however, subjected them to constant harassment, including administrative prosecutions, and, when that has not stopped them, to trumped-up criminal charges.

The charges
The men were essentially accused only of ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine. In declaring all Ukrainian Muslims arrested on such charges to be political prisoners, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has repeatedly pointed out that Russia is in breach of international law by applying its own legislation on occupied territory. It has, however, also noted that Russia is the only country in the world to have called Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’ and the Russian Supreme Court did so in 2003 at a hearing which was deliberately kept secret until it was too late to lodge an appeal.

In occupied Crimea, the Russian FSB are increasingly using such prosecutions as a weapon against civic activists and journalists, particularly from Crimean Solidarity.

Initially, the FSB designated only Asanov as ‘organizer of a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’ under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code. The other men were all charged with ‘involvement in such an alleged ‘group’ (Article 205.5 § 2). Then suddenly in February 2019 it was announced that Belyalov and Ibragimov were now also facing the ‘organizer’ charge.  The essentially meaningless distinction is reflected in the sentences passed on 16 September, with the difference in sentence between Timur Ibragimov as supposed ‘organizer’ only one year longer than that passed on fellow civic journalist, Seiran Saliyev (accused of being a member of the so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir cell).

All eight men were also charged (under Article 278) with ‘planning to violently seize power’. This new charge also appeared only in February 2019, with no attempt ever made to explain how the men were planning such a ‘violent seizure’. The charge only highlights the shocking cynicism of any such ‘terrorism’ charges when the only things ‘found’ when armed searches were carried out of the men’s homes were books (not even Hizb ut-Tahrir books), no weapons, no evidence of plans to commit violence. Russian prosecutors simply claim that this follows from Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology. Memorial HRC notes that the extra charge is often laid where political prisoners refuse to ‘cooperate with the investigators’. Since all the Crimean Muslims prosecuted in these cases have stated that they are political prisoners and have refused to ‘cooperate’, the extra charge is becoming standard.

‘Evidence’
The prosecution’s case was based on the testimony of Nikolai Artykbayev, a Ukrainian turncoat, now working for the Russian FSB; two secret witnesses whose identity and motives for testifying are known, and the ‘expert assessments’ of three people with no expert knowledge of the subject.

Russia is now using so-called ‘secret witnesses’ in all politically-motivated trials of Crimeans and other Ukrainians. No good reason is ever provided for concealing the alleged witnesses’ identity, and the bad reason can easily be seen in this case where their identity was understood.  Konstantin Tumarevich (who used the pseudonym ‘Remzi Ismailov’) is a Latvian citizen and fugitive from justice who could not risk being sent back to Latvia after his passport expired. It is likely that the FSB realized this back in May 2016 and have used his vulnerable position as blackmail, getting him to testify both in the earlier trial of four Crimean Tatars from Bakhchysarai, and now in this case.

There is a similar situation with Narzulayev Salakhutdin (whose testimony was under the name ‘Ivan Bekirov’).  He is from Uzbekistan and does not have legal documents.

These men gave testimony that in many places was demonstrably false, yet ‘Judge’ Zubairov constantly blocked attempts by the defendants and their lawyers to ask questions demonstrating that the men were telling lies.

As mentioned, the main ‘material evidence’ was in the form of three illicitly taped conversations in a Crimean mosque. These were supposedly understood to be ‘incriminating’ by Artykbayev, although the latter does not know Crimean Tatar (or Arabic) [or] who transcribed them. That transcript, of highly questionable accuracy, was then sent to three supposed ‘experts’: Yulia Fomina and Yelena Khazimulina, and Timur Zakhirovich Urazumetov. Without any professional competence to back their assessments, all of the three ‘found’ what the FSB was looking for.

While the judges also lack such professional competence, they did hear the testimony of Dr Yelena Novozhilova, an independent and experienced forensic linguist, who gave an absolutely damning assessment of the linguistic analysis produced by Fomina and Khazimulina.

This was only one of the many pieces of testimony that the court ignored. Zubairov actually refused to allow a number of defence witnesses to appear and used punitive measures against the defendants and their lawyers.

All such infringements of the men’s rights will be raised at appeal level, although this will also be before a Russian court, with the charges of justice being minimal.

PLEASE WRITE TO THE MEN!
They are likely to be imprisoned at the addresses below until the appeal hearing and letters tell them they are not forgotten, and show Moscow that the ‘trial’ now underway is being followed.

Letters need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects. If that is a problem, use the sample letter below (copying it by hand), perhaps adding a picture or photo. Do add a return address so that the men can answer.

Sample letter

Привет,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.

[Hi.  I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten.]

Addresses

Marlen  Asanov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Асанову, Марлену Рифатовичу, 1977 г. р

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Asanov, Marlen Rifatovich, b. 1977]

Memet Belyalov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Белялову, Мемету Решатовичу, 1989 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Belyalov, Memet Reshatovich, b. 1989]

Timur Ibragimov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Ибрагимову, Тимуру Изетовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Ibragimov, Timur Izetovich, b. 1985]

Server Mustafayev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Мустафаеву,  Серверу Рустемовичу, 1986 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Mustafayev, Server Rustemovich,  b. 1986]

Seiran Saliyev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Салиеву,  Сейрану Алимовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Saliyev, Seiran Alimovich, b. 1985]

Edem Smailov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Смаилову,  Эдему Назимовичу, 1968 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Smailov, Edem Nazimovich, b. 1968]

Server Zekiryaev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Зекирьяеву, Серверу Зекиевичу, 1973 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Zekiryaev, Server Zekievich, b. 1973]

Thanks to Comrades SP and RA for the heads-up. The text has been very lightly edited for readability. || TRR

The Russian National Guard Has Canceled Your Yulia Tsvetkova Solidarity Film Screening

Flacon Design Factory in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Popcornnews.ru

Russian National Guardsmen Disrupt Screening of Film in Support of Yulia Tsvetkova at Flacon Design Factory in Moscow
MBKh Media
September 15, 2020

Russian National Guardsmen have come to the Flacon Design Factory in Moscow and stopped a screening of the [2014 documentary] film Vulva 3.0, an event planned in support of the activist Yulia Tsvetkova. The screening’s curator, Andrei Parshikov, reported the incident to MBKh Media.

According to Parshikov, Petrovka 38 [Moscow police headquarters] had received an anonymous call that so-called propaganda of homosexualism [sic] would take place during the event.

“First, Petrovka 38 got an anonymous call, and then the local police precinct was informed about the call. The precinct commander came to Flacon and said that things looked bad. We told him about the movie. He said that while he understood everything, he couldn’t help us because since Petrovka 38 had received the call, a detachment would be dispatched in any case and they would shut down the screening. The only solution, he said, was to give the local police a screening copy of the film so they could that could look at it and make sure it checked out, but he still could not promise anything. We said, Okay, we’ll give you a screening copy, and we’ll postpone the screening,” Parshikov said.

Subsequently, around twenty Russian National Guardsmen arrived at Flacon. They are patrolling the premises and making it impossible to screen the film.

UPDATE (8:24 p.m.)

The screening of the film has been canceled for today, curator Andrey Parshikov has informed MBKh Media. According to him, the Russian National Guardsmen are still at Flacon. Parshikov added that the film would be sent for a forensic examination tomorrow.

Yulia Tsvetkova is an activist from Komsomolsk-on-Amur. In November 2019, she was charged with “distributing pornography”(under Article 242.3.b of the Russian Criminal Code) over body-positive drawings she published on Vagina Monologues, a social media group page that she moderated. Due to pressure and harassment, she had to close the Merak Children’s Theater [which she ran with her mother].

Law enforcement authorities began their criminal inquiry into Tsvetkova after two criminal complaints were filed against her by Timur Bulatov, who runs the homophobic social media group page Moral Jihad, which mostly publishes threats, insults, and Bulatov’s own derogatory monologues about gays.  [Bulatov] informed the police that Tsvetkova was distributing pornography.

Tsvetkova was subsequently also charged with several administrative offenses for “promoting non-traditional sexual relations” on her personal page on VK and the group pages Komsomolka: Intersectional Feminism and The Last Supper: LGBTQIAPP+on-Amur | 18+.  Tsvetkova was convicted on these charges and fined.

Thanks to Maria Mila for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

Viktor Yerofeyev: There Is No One in Russia to Support Belarus

Minsk, September 6, 2020

There Is No One in Russia to Support Belarus
Viktor Yerofeyev
Deutsche Welle
September 11, 2020

“Why don’t you speak when you can see this proud little nation is being crushed?”

Svetlana Alexievich, a world-renowned humanist writer of Belarus, is surprised that the Russian intelligentsia is silent about Lukashenko’s state terrorism. Who else, if not with a writer, can we talk about the metamorphoses of spiritual values occurring both to the east and the west of the Belarusian borders?

Svetlana, the Russian intelligentsia is silent because it no longer exists. It was not destroyed by either tsarism or the Soviet government, although the latter tried especially brutally to eradicate it, but it rotted on the stalk when political freedoms came to post-Soviet perestroika Russia. Although these freedoms were scanty, they were simply unprecedented for Russia.

The Russian intelligentsia was a remarkable, myth-making caste that fought for freedom, justice, and grassroots happiness. At the end of the twentieth century, it transpired that everyone had their own idea of happiness, justice, and even the grassroots. Russian society is currently in a state of diffusion. It is divided to such an extent that it is nervously, mercilessly at odds with itself, floundering in internal contradictions. Some people will not shake the hands of certain other people, while a second group of people suspect a third group of making deals with the regime. Meanwhile, a fourth group really has sold out to the authorities, and a fifth group has simply left the game. There was no such confusion in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union, where there were the so-called Sixtiers, the Village Prose movement, and the Soviet dissident movement—that is, different forms of joint opposition to the authorities.

Several conscientious middle-aged writers and courageous groups of committed opposition activists who write letters of protest on various occasions will respond to Alexievich’s letter, or have already responded from Russia, and that will be it. Russian TV viewers do not read these letters. Protests against the beating of Belarusian civilians will be drowned in the wild fabrications of Kremlin propaganda, which, like Zmei Gorynych, the dragon in Russian folktales, has several heads and confuses ordinary people with its “versions” of events.

This applies not only to Belarus. Before our eyes, monstrous things have happened to Alexei Navalny. We also haven’t see much support for Alexei from Russia’s cultural and academic figures, Svetlana.

If there is no intelligentsia in Russia, then “the people” [narod] that the intelligentsia invented, a grassroots crushed by the authorities but dreaming of liberation, also does not exist. We have a populace. They may be outraged, as has happened in Khabarovsk, but these are emotions, not political maturity.

Even words of support for Belarus offered by independent Russian figures show that the events in Belarus have taken them by surprise, that they did not expect such a turn of events, and that Belarus and Europe are incompatible things for many Russians. Meanwhile, in the wake of the events in Belarus, we (the Russian post-intelligentsia) are now turning from an older brother, cultured and wise, into a younger one, who has not wised up yet. So let’s set aside our hopes for the best until later.

Meanwhile, around us, above us, and sometimes even inside us, a regime that identifies itself with Russia has firmly ensconced itself, and instead of Louis XIV, who said that he was the state [“L’etat c’est moi”], Russia has a president about whom the head of the Duma has said that he is Russia, and Russia is him. Putin’s cause is alive and well. His system has been maturing and running for twenty years, and its direct impact on Belarus could be militarized, devouring, and fatal.

This system has issued a challenge not only to its rebellious neighbors, but also to the entire west. This system is pushy, quick on its feet, and confident that it speaks for the truth, which has an exceptional spiritual basis (Russia Orthodoxy) and the finest moral and material capacities in the world (which Russian TV trumpets rudely and sweetly).

Oddly enough, the west shies away, as if frightened, from the “flying troika” of the Putin regime. The west manifests outrage, it threatens sanctions and imposes them, and then it splits into groups based on national, economic, anti-American and other interests. Western democracy, which has deep philosophical roots and defeated communism, clearly does not know what to do with Russia, and is outplayed by it when it comes to agility and reckless decision-making. And it is also too painful for the west to part with large-scale joint economic projects.

Russia’s future remains a mystery. A new generation will grow up, and it may follow the Belarusian and European path. Or perhaps the strong-arm techniques, bribery, corruption, and ideological emptiness inherited from the Russian intelligentsia will suggest to Russia a different career: the career of western civilization’s perennial antagonist.

But in any case, dear Svetlana, the peaceful uprising in Belarus is a great historical event, and I bow down to the heroines and heroes of your rebellion.

Viktor Yerofeyev is a writer, literary critic, TV presenter, author of the books Russian Beauty, The Good Stalin, The Akimuds, The Pink Mouse, and many others, and a Chevalier of the French Legion Of Honor.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Belarus’s increasingly isolated president, Alexander Lukashenko, flew to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin. After attempting to rig elections in August, Mr Lukashenko has faced over a month of protests, responding with violence. Russia has backed him throughout. At the meeting, Mr Putin offered Belarus a $1.5bn loan. While they met, joint Belarusian-Russian military exercises began in western Belarus.”
—The Economist Espresso, 15 September 2020

A Statement from Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel Laureate and Chair of Belarusian PEN
Belarusian PEN Centre
September 9, 2020

There is no one left of my friends and associates in the opposition’s Coordination Council. They are all in prison, or they have been thrown out of the country. The last, Maksim Znak, was taken today.

First they seized our country, and now they are seizing the best of us. But hundreds of others will come and fill the places of those who have been taken from our ranks. It is the whole country which has risen up, not just the Coordination Council. I want to say again what I have always said: that we were not attempting to start a coup. We did not want to split the country. We wanted to start a dialogue in society. Lukashenko has said he won’t speak ‘with the street’ – but the streets are filled with hundreds of thousands of people who come out to protest every Sunday, and every day. It isn’t the street, it is the nation.

People are coming out to protest with their small children because they believe they will win.

I also want to address the Russian intelligentsia, to call it by its old name. Why have you remained silent? We hear very few voices supporting us. Why don’t you speak when you can see this proud little nation is being crushed? We are still your brothers.

To my own people, I want to say this: I love you and I am proud of you.

And now there is another unknown person ringing at my door.

The Alexander Merkulov Test

“I am/we are Alexander Merkulov”

Alexei Sergeyev
Facebook
September 8, 2020

The Alexander Merkukov Test

An abyss of silence. You shout at the top of your lungs, but there’s no response, only silence. It’s like in a dream when you need to shout, but you have no voice at all. It’s gone. In a dream, however, you can wake up, while in this case…

On the placard, I had tied a bell to a symbolic spool of the white thread that was used to sew the shaky case against Alexander shut. It trembles in the wind, and passersby hear its “ding-ding.” For whom does the bell toll? Don’t walk on by, don’t look away…

Why did I get involved in the case of Alexander Merkulov (aka Aleksandr Peĵiĉ)? We weren’t friends, just acquaintances. Why, even though I hate court hearings, did I attend three court hearings last week?

The bell has a tongue. Many people in prison don’t have a tongue. The Russian Themis does not hear them. Not only has she blindfolded her eyes, but she has also put earplugs in her ears and plugged them tight. Whether you yell or not, you will be sentenced The judicial ear is sensitive only to the sovereign’s oprichniks. Gulag-minded, the courts presume that you are guilty, nor are their verdicts subject to review or appeal.

So it turns out that the only voice prisoners have is their circle of support on the outside. These groups are different for everyone. The famous blogger has hundreds of thousands of subscribers. The arrested journalist enjoys the corporate solidarity of the media: the major newspapers publish editorials about him, while his colleagues devote columns and radio and TV broadcasts to him.

A prominent public figure is supported by ordinary Russians, his fellow activists, and human rights defenders. And doctors, actors, truckers, feminists, LGBT activists, etc., have the support of their own communities. But Merkulov’s case has nothing to do with LGBT issues, so LGBT organizations can’t give it the proper attention and resources.

Sometimes, it is possible to raise a regional case to a national and even international level of publicity, as many people have managed to do in the case of Yulia Tsvetkova by pooling their efforts. While it is no guarantee of victory, it increases the chances.

But most cases in Russian courts are heard in complete silence. People are sentenced, transported to prison, and serve their sentences or die trying, and yet nobody says a word. Of the five cases that were heard in Petersburg City Court on Wednesday morning in the same courtroom as Alexander’s case, only his hearing featured a few members of the public in the gallery. The other defendants faced indifferent silence before hearing the judge say, “The appeal is denied, the defendant will remain in custody.”

Recently, the Perm human rights activist Igor Averkiev wrote an excellent post entitled “The Personal Usefulness of Crowds.” It’s not about people, it’s about animals—about the chances a hypothetical “introverted reindeer named Sergei,” a “social reindeer named Kostya,” or a “young musk ox named Proshka” would have against a pack of predators, a pack of “Lake Taimyr wolves.” I will quote a couple of passages from it.

“I’m a reindeer named Sergei. But I’m a very introverted, nearly autistic reindeer, and I only really feel good when I’m alone. And so, being the only other reindeer for many miles around, I come across a pack of hungry wolves. My chances are almost zero: I run faster, but they are more resilient. Moreover, when I’m alone, it’s easier for the wolves to work together smoothly as a group. Basically, I’m no longer here… Natural selection is why we don’t see ‘nearly autistic introverts’ among reindeer.”

“Any danger forces people (and not only people) to band together in a group, in a crowd. This happens instinctively. The import of this instinct is obvious: it depersonalizes the threat. When I am in a crowd, the danger is not focused on me personally, but rather is distributed over a large number of people, which increases my own chances of survival. But you can not only hide in a crowd, the crowd can also protect you. When it comes to self-defense, the size of the crowd matters.”

Any metaphor has its limits, of course. So, returning to Alexander, I want to talk about more than just him. We know that he is one of Averkiev’s “autistic introverts.” Not only does he lack media fame, but he also lacks a large number of what are called “stable social connections.”

(The topic of how the system cracks down on people with psychiatric or mental peculiarities deserves a separate post).

And this was where I said to myself: Stop, Alexei. There is no retreating. If it weren’t for you and the few colleagues who have got involved in this ‘hopeless case,’ and for Alexander’s mother, Alexander would be a goner.

I think this was what Olga Masina, who is seriously ill and undergoing medical treatment, and yet still works, said to herself. She stubbornly spends the few free hours and energy she has covering Alexander’s case. And then, like ripples on water, other people plug into the campaign. Svetlana Prokopyeva, who was convicted of the same “crime,” wrote an article about Alexander between her trial and her appeal. And Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko has got involved, too.

This story is not so much about Alexander, it’s about all of us. This is a test of our personal commitment, of our capacity for overcoming ourselves and our circumstances. Do we do something, however small, or do we just turn away and make excuses?

Of course, even a serious public response does not guarantee a 100% positive outcome. But the lack of support almost guarantees a negative outcome. And, at least, our involvement is felt by Alexander, and it is important for him, he writes about it in his letters.

I will end this post with two actual quotations.

“We’re not going to Merkulov’s court hearings. He’s not as cute as Yegor Zhukov,” writes a gay man.

No comment.

“I’m not ready to picket yet. The case itself is quite murky.”

Of course, I respect the right to choose.

But let me remind you that Alexander, a pacifist and anti-fascist, is accused of “condoning terrorism” on the internet for three reposts and a four-word post about 17-year-old [Mikhail] Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up in the FSB building in Arkhangelsk.

Does this warrant up to 7 years in prison? Do we need to keep Alexander in jail for three months running as if he were a particularly dangerous criminal? For me, the answer is obvious, and the point is clear in this sense: there were no calls for violence in Alexander posted. On the contrary, when reposting, he wrote that he did not approve of violence.

There is no counting the streets in our country that still bear the names of terrorists, but our valiant security forces could not care less. We LGBT activists send notarized bundles of the threats we receive to the police, but they don’t open criminal investigations because, they say, “the threats are not real.” Assaults, domestic violence, and poisoning are “not grounds for criminal prosecution.”

But Alexander’s actions are a “threat to national security”? The criminal case against him is a joke. The article in the criminal code under which he has been charged [Article 205.2] a mockery of the law. In my opinion, if it is left on the law books, then at most it should be an administrative offense.

Read the Wikipedia article about the bombing in Arkhangelsk: more and more people have been getting prison sentences for its “long echo.”

We’re talking about people’s lives here. We’re talking about Alexander’s life. Will his fate be decided in silence, or will we pass this test of caring? We don’t have horns and hooves like musk oxen and deer, the only things we have are our voices and our conscience.

At 12:30 p.m. on September 10, the appeals hearing on Alexander’s remand in police custody will take place at Petersburg City Court.

Follow Alexander’s case on Telegram: https://t.me/save_merkulov

#FreeMerkulov

Save Alexander Merkulov (Peĵiĉ)
Telegram
September 10, 2020

The Petersburg City Court upheld the original decision to remand Alexander Merkulov in custody. In the photo, you see the face of this “justice”: Judge Tatyana Matveyeva Tatyana , hiding behind the monitor.

Prosecutor Minina didn’t even stay for the announcement of the court’s decision. Apparently, she already knew it in advance.

Alexander was present via video link and was very happy to see us in the camera🙂

Alexander Merkulov is among a long list of Russians who have been prosecuted for or charged with “exonerating” or “condoning” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. The others are Alexei Shibanov, Svetlana Prokopyeva, Nadezhda BelovaLyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Problem with Adjectives

Guzel Leman

Petersburg Activist Becomes Victim of Online Hate over “Russian” Cinema
Activatica
September 13, 2020

Petersburg activist Guzel Leman has been harassed and sent threatening messages on social networks because she suggested that the Russian film website Kinopoisk rename its russkoe [“ethnic Russian”] cinema section rossiiskoye [pertaining to Russia as a multi-ethnic country], reports Fontanka.ru.

The young woman started corresponding with the website’s admin, and on September 10 received a response that her request had been sent to the relevant specialists. Two days later, however, she began receiving threatening messages on a personal account.

According to Leman, in literally just a few hours on the morning of September 12, while she still “did not understand what was happening,” she received more than 400 angry messages on social networks, in which unknown people threatened her, called her names, and “told [her] where and how to go there.”

The activist wrote about her correspondence with Kinopoisk and the idea of renaming the website’s “Russian” cinema section on a separate Telegram channel, where she published screenshots. According to Leman, her subscribers discovered that her correspondence with Kinopoisk had been leaked to nationalist community pages.

“Guzel Leman. ‘So, yeah: I’ve been ratted out on a chat for racists. They attacked me by writing nasty things in the comments.'”

Leman was accused of racism on one of these pages.

“The racist and Russophobe Guzel Leman, who calls for stopping calling Russian [rossiiskie] films russkie [‘ethnic Russian”] complains in her chat about being bullied by ‘racists.’ In unison, the chat’s multi-ethnic participants brand the victims Russian fascists. What a lark,” someone wrote on the Telegram channel Russkoe budushchee [“The ethnic Russian future”].

The channel published several indecent posts about Leman.

“The Ethnic Russian Future. Reposted from Fantastic Plastic Machine. Here some little lady demands that ‘Kinopoisk’ no longer call ethnic Russian films ethnic Russian. Because that would be discrimination. Moreover, half of her channel is devoted to his, and she also calls on her subscribers to turn up the heat on ‘Kinopoisk’ and force them to rename the relevant section. I don’t even want to mention that the girl is named Guzel. It goes without saying that she’s not named Katya or Masha.”

Leman explained her idea about renaming the section on the Kinopoisk website.

“A few weeks ago I got sick and started looking for something to watch. I hadn’t paid attention to it before, but then I saw that there is a section of movies listed as ‘[Ethnic] Russian’ and ‘Soviet.’ There is no ‘Russian’ [rossiiskii] section. I contacted Kinopoisk, and we started discussing it. I explained that there are notions of belonging to a country and belonging to an ethnic group, and that such things should be kept separate. We talked about paronyms, and what the criterion russkii [“ethnic Russian”] is, and I consulted with linguists,” Guzel told Fontanka.ru.

She added that, as an example, she had cited a film, listed on Kinopoisk, that had been shot in Yakutia at Sakhafilm Studio.

“Everyone in the film crew were from different ethnic groups. It can’t be an ‘[ethnic] Russian’ film,” she said.

Now Leman has closed the messages and her pages on social networks, and yet insults have still managed to pop up in the comments on her Instagram blog. Posts about her have been published on the Telegram channel Karaulny [“Watchman”], which has over 100,000 subscribers, as well as on community pages and in hat rooms that call themselves nationalist and generate content for tens of thousands of followers.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. For contrasting views of the present-day geopolitical implications of the adjectives russkii and rossiiskii, read these recent essays on the subject by Pål Kolstø and Marlene Laruelle.

Yulia Tsvetkova: “Cuando empezamos a tocar temas relacionados con el feminismo o LGBT inició un tsunami de odio y amenazas”

 

La activista feminista rusa Yulia Tsvetkova. Foto: Cedida por Yulia Tsvetkova.

Yulia Tsvetkova: “Cuando empezamos a tocar temas relacionados con el feminismo o LGBT inició un tsunami de odio y amenazas”
Jose Ángel Sánchez Rocamora y Alona Malakhaeva
El Salto
11 septembre 2020

Yulia Tsvetkova, profesora de arte, feminista y defensora del colectivo LGBTI de una ciudad pequeña de Rusia ha sido acusada de delitos penales al publicar dibujos reivindicativos calificados de “pornografía y propaganda de relaciones sexuales no tradicionales entre menores”. Su caso es un ejemplo mas de la represión y los constantes montajes jurídicos del gobierno ruso contra las activistas. Actualmente se encuentra a la espera de distintos juicios por los que la acusación pública le pide más de siete años de prisión.

Mientras la entrevistamos nos cuenta que le han obligado ha firmar una clausura de no divulgación de información sobre el desarrollo de la investigación judicial por lo que no hemos podido hacerle más preguntas al respecto.

Te han abierto diligencias penales por “distribución de material pornográfico” sobre tu grupo de la red social VK “Los monólogos de la vagina”, pero realmente, ¿qué contenido tenía el grupo?

Toda la historia alrededor de este grupo está llena de mitos. En el grupo publicaba imágenes artísticas con alusiones a órganos femeninos, además no son mis dibujos: son obras de diferentes artistas, en su mayoría mujeres, a veces muy famosas, de todo el mundo. El grupo existió durante un año y medio y tenía 100 suscriptoras, lo había creado después de leer la obra de teatro, me sentí muy identificada porque también he sido víctima de violencia sexual. Así que decidí sacarlo a nivel informativo para compartir con los demás.

Ahora tus dibujos del proyecto “La mujer no es una muñeca” se han vuelto famosos, incluso fuera del país, ¿pensabas que iban a provocar tanta reacción en Rusia?

Sinceramente era un proyecto muy pasajero, ni siquiera lo consideraba como tal. Son una serie de bocetos rápidos sobre el tema body positive, movimiento para la aceptación del cuerpo, que publiqué en mi perfil de VK. ¿Por qué provocaron tanta reacción en Rusia? No lo sé. Los han enviado dos veces al peritaje para confirmar que contenían elementos pornográficos.

El peritaje oficial es un proceso muy complejo, burocráticamente complicado y costoso. El dinero para realizar este peritaje proviene del presupuesto estatal, de nuestros impuestos. Y todo por seis dibujos tan simples. Tengo otros proyectos artísticos mucho más importantes. Así que tanta atención hacia estos dibujos significa que es un tema muy sensible ahora en Rusia. Yo lo relaciono con la educación cultural y social en Rusia. Si una persona conoce por lo menos algo de historia de arte, ha visto algunos cuadros, ha visitado museos, es difícil que le indigne que el cuerpo humano esté desnudo o no, porque el arte se basa en él, aparte de otras cosas. Pero si uno vive en Komsomolsk del Amur, donde sólo tenemos un museo dedicado a los exploradores y colonos de la taiga, ¿de dónde va a sacar esta visión de la belleza y normalización del cuerpo?

Los investigadores, los policías, los jueces, los administradores en su mayoría son hombres que están acostumbrados a la percepción sexualizada del cuerpo femenino. Vas por la calle y ves un montón de publicidad con mujeres semidesnudas, con eslóganes sexistas, una publicidad que están prohibiendo ya en muchos países, pero en Rusia no. Para ellos es algo “normal” ya que están acostumbrados a ver el cuerpo de esta manera. Luego ven mis dibujos y ven un cuerpo que no está para su consumo entonces lo entienden como un desafío contra su normalidad, por eso lo ven como pornografía. Otro objetivo podría consistir en incriminarme un delito vergonzoso para darme una mala imagen a pesar de que saben perfectamente que mis dibujos no contienen pornografía.

Actualmente, ¿qué investigaciones hay en contra tuyo y qué delitos supondrían?

Una investigación penal sobre “pornografía” y varias investigaciones administrativas por propaganda de valores no tradicionales entre menores de edad. Algunos de los dibujos son de apoyo a familias diversas, incluso varios de estos no son míos, es por publicarlos en mi perfil de VK. Ya he pagado dos multas de 100.000 rublos en total, aproximadamente 1.200 euros. Aunque creo que las administrativas sirven más para alimentar la acusación penal porque cuentan como agravante para el juez, o sea para atestiguar que soy reincidente múltiple. En realidad, debería de haber más investigaciones contra mí, porque hubo más denuncias, tres o cuatro sobre extremismo, propaganda y pornografía, pero menos mal no han prosperado.

“Las mujeres no son muñecas”, dibujos de Yulia denunciados por contener pornografía.

Komsomolsk del Amur es una ciudad pequeña de 270.000 habitantes donde promover iniciativas sociales es muy distinto en comparación con Moscú o San Petersburgo, a parte del activismo en redes sociales ¿realizabas otro tipo de actividades sociales donde también hubo represión?

Sí, principalmente en el arte comunitario y mi objetivo siempre fue hacer algo al respecto en mi ciudad. Es verdad que hay mucha diferencia entre Moscú y Komsomolsk del Amur: ésta es una cuidad lejana, aislada, rodeada de taiga donde sólo hay una carretera que acaba en Komsomolsk y tardas seis horas para llegar hasta el aeropuerto mas cercano. Aquí no hay ninguna organización social ni activismo de ningún tipo. El principal problema es la fuga de la juventud, es decir, los que pueden irse, se van, la juventud, la gente que tiene un pensamiento más crítico o que tiene ideas más allá de lo tradicional. La mayoría vive pensando que en Komsomolsk no se puede hacer nada. Es el pensamiento que yo quise cambiar, así es como surgieron talleres feministas, el teatro activista “Merak” y el centro social comunitario. Es decir todo lo que hicimos tenia implícito el mensaje de “¿por qué no?”. ¿Quién dijo que por ser una ciudad pequeña no se necesita un espacio comunitario? Al revés, es muy necesario.

Estos proyectos sociales los montaba yo sola o con la ayuda de mi madre y con un colectivo de niñas, niños y adolescentes de unos 12-17 años. Eran actividades teatrales, de ecología o de urbanismo social, por ejemplo, hicimos unas esculturas que llamaban la atención al problema de la contaminación en la ciudad, casi todo era educativo, era el único espacio social que había. También teníamos programas dirigidos a la orientación laboral. Dedicábamos mucho tiempo al arte, exposiciones, ferias, expresión artística, todo por supuesto desde una lógica asamblearia y autogestionada, el centro funcionó durante casi dos años incluso un par de meses después de la apertura de las investigaciones penales contra mí.

¿Cómo fue recibida la iniciativa de crear el centro social?

La primera reacción fue muy positiva porque tenía el apoyo de mi madre que llevaba más de 20 años trabajando en un centro educativo. Es decir, tenía personas que me apoyaban y que tenían una visión más abierta. El teatro, por ejemplo, arrancó muy rápido, enseguida hicimos espectáculos en el teatro municipal, el mayor escenario de la ciudad. Los medios de comunicación hablaban muy bien de nosotras, como la ciudad es muy pequeña, cualquier actividad distinta llama mucho la atención, así que en un par de meses empezó a seguirnos mucha gente.

Más tarde empezamos a tocar temas relacionados con el feminismo o LGBTI, esto provocó un tsunami de odio y amenazas tanto en redes sociales como en persona, un ejemplo fue cuando intentamos hacer la primera cafeta feminista no mixta, sobre todo por el anuncio que ponía que la entrada era únicamente para mujeres, que es lógico en este tipo de eventos.

Las principales dificultades comenzaron con el festival de teatro “Flor de Azafrán” que organizaste, en concreto por uno de los espectáculos llamado “Rosas y Azules”. ¿Qué es lo que sucedió?

Es cierto que los problemas empezaron por el festival, a pesar de que no sabemos exactamente qué sirvió de detonador para todo el escándalo, ya que teníamos varios espectáculos que tocaban temas sociales como la obra sobre los estereotipos de género que por casualidad se llamaba “Rosas y Azules” (en ruso estos colores aparte de ser colores esteriotípicos de los dos géneros son eufemismos para las palabras “lesbiana” y “gay”), o el que tenía un mensaje antimilitarista donde se dejaba claro que el eslogan oficial “¡Podemos repetir!” del día de la Victoria en la segunda guerra mundial (una de las fiestas principales en Rusia) es totalmente nefasto ya que representa la guerra como algo deseable.

El antimilitarismo siempre era y sigue siendo uno de los temas principales del centro social comunitario.

Komsomolsk fue la capital del Gulag en el Lejano Oriente. Es la mayor parte de la historia de toda la ciudad, pero respecto a esto hay un problema con la memoria histórica, todos fingen que aquí no ha pasado nada. Entonces me sigo preguntando ¿cuál es la obra que les pareció más peligrosa? ¿Una conversación sobre el autoconocimiento o una reflexión sobre la paz y la no violencia? A lo mejor las dos cosas juntas. Puede ser que les haya asustado el hecho de que hubiéramos tenido esta iniciativa, incluso en la administración cuando me reprendieron sobre lo ocurrido, me preguntaron justo eso, ¿para qué había que organizar nada? Pero sí, puedo afirmar que este ha sido el punto de no retorno, a partir de aquel momento me llaman para que acuda a la comisaría cada dos por tres aunque lo que más me ha indignado fue cuando los policías empezaron a hacer preguntas a las y los niños del teatro.

Después de todo lo ocurrido aún hay personas que todavía me siguen apoyando mucho pero también hay otras que repiten la opinión de la mayoría y si la sociedad nos juzga por lo que hacemos ellas también estarán en contra. Por otro lado la censura es muy fuerte y la opinión pública se somete mucho a la opinión del gobierno.

Un día entraron al instituto, sacaron a una niña de su clase y la interrogaron entre cinco personas durante tres horas, amenazando con qué no iba a acabar la secundaria, le preguntaron sobre LGBT y feminismo, a los demás niños les pasó lo mismo.

¿Cómo interrogaron a menores de edad?

Sin ninguna denuncia, sin orden judicial, fue completamente ilegal, ni siquiera tenían el consentimiento de los padres. Un día entraron al instituto, sacaron a una niña de su clase y la interrogaron entre cinco personas durante tres horas, la tenían sin comida, sin poder llamar a sus padres, amenazando con qué no iba a acabar la secundaria, le preguntaron sobre LGBT y feminismo, a los demás niños les pasó lo mismo, la mitad de ellos escucharon por primera vez esta abreviatura. Al final hicimos el festival cerrado para los padres donde grabamos un vídeo y luego lo mostrábamos en otros festivales o centros sociales de Rusia. A pesar de que lo hicimos así, la policía apareció en las presentaciones por las denuncias de los homófobos, para buscar a menores de edad, a pesar de que los eventos eran para mayores de 18 años.

¿Quienes te han amenazado?

Muchas veces Timur Bulatov (uno de los mayores activistas homofóbos de Rusia que trabaja en la creación de denuncias falsas y montajes judiciales, autoproclamado “yihadista moral” y creador de la página “LGBT CRIMINAL” donde publica datos personales de activistas), SERB (colectivo de ideología nazi ruso-ucraniano), PILA, (organización de “cazadores” LGBT, presuntos asesinos de la activista Yelena Grigórieva) y el Estado Masculino (organización nacionalista y misógina).

¿Has tenido apoyos en Rusia?

Sí, he tenido muchos, sobre todo del Centro Social LGBT de Moscú, la Red LGBT Rusa, la organización social Costillas de Eva y la de memoria histórica, “Memorial”, me ha reconocido como presa política. También Amnistía Internacional me ha dado mucho apoyo mediático y me han concedido el premio Freedom of Expression de Index on Censorship, cuando estaba bajo arresto domiciliario, esto tuvo mucho significado porque la otra vez que lo dieron en Rusia fue a la periodista asesinada Anna Politkóvskaya. Aunque para mí el más importante ha sido el de activistas independientes, ya que en Rusia manifestarte sola es muy peligroso a pesar de que es legal, de hecho, la única forma legal de manifestarse es individualmente.

Otra de las formas de solidaridad han sido las campañas mediáticas en redes sociales, algo totalmente nuevo para Rusia, en donde he podido ver no sólo como me apoyaban, sino como repetían mis ideas sobre body positive, feminismo o LGTB. Hace dos años no me habría podido imaginar que se hablara a nivel nacional tanto sobre esos temas y que no fuera para juzgarlo o condenarlo. Hay que tener mucho coraje para organizarlo porque pronunciarse a favor es muy peligroso, durante la manifestaciones en contra de mi proceso judicial aparecieron miembros del grupo homófobo ultraortodoxo “Sórok sorokov” y atacaron e insultaron a las feministas, la policía en vez de detenerlos o impedir la violencia detuvo a todas las mujeres que se estaban manifestando. La violencia policial aquel día sorprendió hasta a las activistas más experimentadas.

¿Cuáles son tus expectativas de cara al futuro?

Todos esperan algo de mí, pero yo ya no espero nada. En este sentido me siento muy pragmática ahora, estoy preparando mi defensa en el juicio, intentando mantener las emociones al margen. Sé que es importante seguir hablando de mi situación para demostrar cuánto falta hacer todavía respecto a la aceptación del cuerpo femenino y a la libertad de sexualidad de las mujeres. Es importante que se sepa que un país que se supone que es democrático, está dispuesto a encarcelar a una mujer por aceptar su cuerpo. Ésta ya es una pequeña pero gran victoria, sobre todo que la gente entienda que no son temas vergonzosos y sucios, que el cuerpo de una no es pornografía.

Gracias a Maria Mila por publicar este artículo en Facebook. // TRR

How the Quakers Tried to Save Russia

The horrific famine of 1921 confronted the Soviet government with an inevitable decision: to recognize the disaster and accept foreign aid. Within a short time, more than twenty agreements were signed with international organizations that had expressed a desire to help Soviet Russia. Third on the list was an agreement between the People’s Commissariat and the Quakers. The Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, is a Protestant Christian church whose history of interactions with Russia dates the seventeenth century. From 1916 to 1931, the Quakers were able to cooperate quite peacefully and fruitfully with all the authorities: with officials of Tsarist Russia, with the Czechoslovak Legionnaires, and with the Bolsheviks. This cooperation helped save hundreds of thousands of people, people who survived thanks to Quaker rations, doctors, tractors, and horses. In Russia, almost nothing is known about this assistance: the names of the saviors have been forgotten, and their good deeds have been consigned to oblivion. Sergei Nikitin, a long-time representative of Amnesty International in Russia and a researcher of Quaker history, is committed to restoring historical justice with his book. The book features an introduction by Vladislav Aksyonov, a senior researcher at the Institute of Russian History (RAS) and a member of the Free Historical Society, which situates the Quakers’ efforts in the socio-political context of the era.

Sergei Nikitin has written an amazing documentary book. We are taught that we are surrounded by enemies, but this book is about how this isn’t the case at all. We are taught people do everything only for their benefit, but it turns out that there are people who live quite differently. Books like this change the world.

Boris Grebenshchikov, musician

This book by Sergei Nikitin, a long-time representative of Amnesty International in Russia, is dedicated to one of the most important values of human civilization—love for one’s neighbors, no matter how close they really are geographically, ethnically, or politically. Religious feeling and compassion lead thae book’s characters, British and American Quakers, to distant Russia to help the starving and dying. The author opens this page of Russian history for the first time, carefully and thoroughly extracting hitherto unknown facts. This is not just a chronicle of humanitarian aid, but a history of humanity.

Mikhail Fedotov, lawyer and civil rights defender

No matter how you look at the story told by Sergei Nikitin, it contradicts commonly held notions in modern Russia: the English and Americans help refugees and starving people in Bolshevik Russia; Quakers cooperate with the Soviet government to combat hunger and establish health care; a religious society serves as a channel of communication between a diplomatically isolated country and the outside world. The book also discusses the commonalities between the Communist utopia and Quaker ideals, and whether it is possible to emerge victorious based on your own idea of what should be done, despite the framework in which you are placed by politicians at home, the host government, and even those you help. These are deeply personal stories, intertwined with the history of our country—a history that we need to know.

Ivan Kurilla, historian

Sergei Nikitin talks about his book How the Quakers Tried to Save Russia

Source: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Mark Teeter for the heads-up.

One Easy Way Merkel Could Punish Putin for Poisoning Navalny

The Dialogue of Civilizations (DOC) Research Institute, a front used by the Putin regime to co-opt the oddly named international community’s brahmins and bigwigs, is a twenty-minute walk from the Bundestag, and it is surrounded by German ministry buildings. What better way for the German government to express its distress with the Russian government’s poisoning of Alexei Navalny than by shutting the DOC down?

If Angela Merkel actually wants to get tough on Putinist Russia, I can tell her how and where to start: by closing down the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, an extraordinarily well-organized, aggressive “soft power” front for co-opting international opinion leaders, decision makers, policy wonks, public intellectuals, and academics, run by high-level Putin crony Vladimir Yakunin, and located at Französische Str. 23 in the heart of the German capital, a mere twenty-minute walk from the German parliament, the Bundestag.

But of course that will never happen because Merkel is not going to do anything of the sort. Shame on her. \\ TRR

18 Years in Prison for “Et Cetera” (Penza Network Case Appeals Hearing)

18 Years in Prison for “Et Cetera”
Why the FSB cannot manage any case without resorting to torture: on the appeals hearing in the Penza Network case
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
September 3, 2020

Everything about the Network Case is seemingly clear. All of the defendants have been found guilty and sentenced to six to eighteen years in prison. Public support has subsided due to a fake news hit job against the defendants. The matter is closed, and you can switch with a clear conscience to other news items: Belarus, Khabarovsk, Navalny, and so on.

But why is it, then, that every time I come to Penza, inconspicuous-looking tough guys follow me around town? Why do the court bailiffs try their darnedest to close the formally open court hearings in the case to the public? Why, finally, was testimony given under torture removed from the case file? Are the authorities afraid?

Yes, they are afraid. Six months have passed, but the case is still a bugbear for the FSB.

Photo courtesy of Sota.Vision and Novaya Gazeta

There are five pairs of handcuffs on the railing that separates us from the prisoners. They look like broken Olympic rings. They are for defendants Pchelintsev, Shakursky, Chernov, Kulkov, and Ivankin. The two other defendants, Kuksov and Sagynbayev, are sitting separately: they have tuberculosis.

The appeals hearing begins on a terribly dark note: the guys are told about the death of the Alexei “Socrates” Sutuga. Kuksov says, “That is beyond awful.” In the three years since they’ve been in police custody, a lot has happened, including the New Greatness case, the Ivan Golunov case, the Moscow case, the presidential “reset,” and, finally, the coronavirus. The context has changed completely. There is a photo in the case file of the defendants wearing black masks. It looks really scary. It would suffice to show it to laypeople for them to conclude the defendants were terrorists, of course. The court also thought so.

But now half the country goes around in masks, and it frightens no one.

In the 1930s, there were associations of former political prisoners in the USSR. Amid the turbulent events at the turn of the century, the old-style political prisoners appeared anachronistic. One war, two revolutions, another war, and rivers of blood had flowed since they had served time under the tsars for impertinence to their superiors, involvement in student political groups, and other nonsense. That government, just like this one, did not like students and those who were impertinent to their superiors. They put them in jail and beat them at demos. We remember how that whole story ended.

Pchelintsev says it outright: “We have been sacrificed.” Yes, they are classic victims of history.

Dmitry Pchelintsev. Photo by Alexei Obukhov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

The first few hours of the hearing are spent on technical issues that, however, are not so technical. The numerous complaints filed by the defense lawyers boil down to the fact that the convicts were not given a good look at the case files and other documents from their trial nor allowed to voice their complaints. The court turns down all the defense’s motions and requests.

It’s as if court is saying, You don’t need to need what you’re in prison for. If you’re in prison it means that is how it has to be.

The defense’s complaints against the verdict can be divided into three parts.

1. The Witnesses

At the trial, the prosecution’s witnesses (!) did not confirm the veracity of their pretrial testimony. Some of the witnesses even disavowed it. Some admitted they had been pressured during the investigation. Some, it transpired, testified to what other people had told them. But the court was not in the least troubled by this fact: for some reason nothing bothers it at all.

That leaves the secret witnesses: there are six of them in the case. One of them, identified as “Kabanov,” is an experienced provocateur (Novaya Gazeta has written about him): this is not his first job for the security services. Another of them could not really explain what he had witnessed. Three of the witnesses claimed that the defendants had told them about their criminal plans after they had been arrested and remanded in custody, that is, in the remand prison in Penza.

Could this have happened? It’s unlikely, but let’s assume it is true. And yet these same “witnesses” could not even correctly describe the defendants’ physical appearance and the setting in which the conversation allegedly took place. Not to mention the fact that prisoners are always dependent. It is an easy matter for the authorities to put pressure on them, to frighten them, to force them to give the “right” testimony in court in exchange for better conditions.

Investigators put testimony obtained from the defendants under torture in the mouths of these witnesses. You get the feeling that they carried the transcripts of the interrogations around them and read them aloud to the first people they met.

Finally, there is the small matter that the transcripts of the interrogations do not match the videos of the interrogations. A person would literally say one thing in the transcript and another thing in the video recordings. The court looked at the videos, compared them with the transcripts, nodded, and everything was left as it was. There is no mention of these discrepancies in the verdict.

2. The Forensic Examinations

Almost all the investigation’s forensic examinations have been refuted by independent experts and specialists. Among the reasons cited by them are incompetence, bias, non-compliance with established standards, and even falsification. It is for falsifications in the Network Case that the Military Investigative Committee is now reviewing FSB Investigator Valery Tokarev. It is so obvious that even their own people don’t believe it.

Although the court claims that defense’s forensic examinations do not contradict the FSB’s forensic examinations, they actually do. None of the FSB’s forensic examinations passed the test, neither the computer examination, the linguistic examination nor the psychological examination.

We must give the court its due: it more often than not did enter findings and testimony that were unpleasant to the prosecution into evidence. But it did not evaluate them in any way and did not take them into account when rendering its verdict. There they are. Sure, qualified specialists have proven that the FSB’s forensic examinations are bullshit, and they can say so if they like. But this has no bearing whatsoever on the verdict.

3. Bias and Presumption of Guilt

Each letter of the verdict indicates that the court was biased in favor of the prosecution. The trial need not have taken place. The investigative case file and the court’s published findings are nearly identical. In fact, it was the FSB who tried the Network defendants, not the court. The court only signed off on their pre-ordained verdict.

As many people have heard, Russia has an independent judiciary.

And here is the icing on the cake, the culmination of this theater of the absurd: the Volga District Military Court that handed down the guilty verdict in the Network Case did not officially exist when the verdict was rendered. So, it is not clear exactly who tried the case.

The Penza Network Case defendants during the trial. Photo by Alexei Obukhov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Let’s leave aside for a moment the FSB’s use of torture, the injustice of the case, and the court’s bias. Even if everything had been objective and impartial, from a legal point of view this is not a verdict, but the delirium of a madman. What does a sentence like the following tell us?

“The participants took clandestine security measures, as evidenced by the presence of aliases, communication on the internet using secure protocols, trips to other cities in passing vehicles, et cetera.”

A huge number of questions immediately come to mind.

Half of the people on the internet uses aliases (aka usernames). Are all of them involved in “clandestine security measures”?

Secure protocols are a feature, for example, of Telegram, which is used by half of the country, including government agencies. So, does this mean we should only use insecure protocols? Then the authorities should put an end to it, they should criminalize secure protocols and warn us not to use them.

No one has ever accused hitchhikers of using “clandestine security measures.” This is a game changer for criminology.

Finally, the “et cetera.” This was written by adults. How could “et cetera” be grounds for sentencing someone to eighteen years in prison?  How could anyone write such nonsense in a verdict at all?

The defendants communicate with their relatives. Photo by Alexei Obukhov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Konstantin Kartashov, Maxim Ivankin’s lawyer: “I cannot call this document a verdict.”

Oxana Markeyeva, Dmitry Pchelintsev’s lawyer: “The verdict does not meet the procedural requirements.”

Translated into plain language, this means the judges did a poor job, a shabby job. If they had been building a house instead of writing a verdict, the house would have collapsed.

The reason for all these inconsistencies is simple: the guilt of the defendants was proved not in the course of the investigation, but in the course of torturing them. The FSB, however, were afraid to use this testimony, obtained under duress, although they would not admit to torturing the defendants. But without it, nothing sticks. Without it, the verdict is just a random pile of dubious evidence vouched for by the authority of Russian state security. The main thing you need to know about the case is that seven young men were sentenced to terms in prison from six to eighteen years, and their guilt was not proven in court. And this unproven guilt is a threat to all of us—not just to opposition activists, but to anyone walking down the street who catches the eye of FSB field agents.

There are so many problems with the verdict that it is impossible even to state all of them in one or two appeals hearings. There is little hope that the court will heed the arguments of the defense. There is an aura of hopelessness about the case. But it has to be brought to a close because a lot of things hang in its balance. After all, the verdict is based mainly on suspicion—on the fact that, hypothetically, the defendants could have “organized a terrorist community.” In theory, any of us could organize one. We are all under suspicion.

The lawyers in this case are not only defending Pchelintsev, Shakursky, Chernov, Kulkov, Ivankin, Kuksov, and Sagynbayev. They are also defending society, the right of each of us to be protected from the FSB. When they lose their appeal, they will keep going—to the European Court of Human Rights, to the Court of Cassation, to the Russian Supreme Court. Everyone involved in engineering this verdict should realize that they will inevitably have to account for their actions, and at the highest level. I don’t know about criminal responsibility, but universal disgrace is inevitable. They must answer for what they have done, and sooner or later they will answer for it.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the Network Case (see the list, below), and go to Rupression.com to find out how you can show your solidarity with the other defendants in the case.

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