The Case of Boris Romanov

Jenya Kulakova’s photo of the care package that she and Boris Romanov’s mother Margarita delivered to the political prisoner at Pretrial Detention Center No. 6 in Gorelovo, a distant suburb of Petersburg.

Today, Boris Romanov’s mother Margarita and I went to Pretrial Detention Center No. 6 to deliver a care package to him. Borya will finally get delicious food and basic necessities. (It is very difficult to get into the prison with care packages because of the always crowded electronic queue.)

Lawyer Luiza Magomedova is also waiting for a meeting with Borya in the pretrial detention center today. The pre-registration for lawyers [to see clients] is all booked up for the next two weeks, so in the morning she queues without any guarantee that she will get in to see him.

Gorelovo is far away, and all the way there I listened to Boris’s mother’s stories about him. How he was twice elected chairman of his housing co-op, and had tried to whip the building into shape, how he had issued paperwork to the janitor and knew all the neighbors. What an impossibly principled, thrifty and honest man he was, intolerant towards even the hint of corruption in its smallest everyday manifestations. How he would not compromise and take good-paying jobs if they were pro-government. What an attentive son and caring father he was. What an educated man he was — a good simultaneous translator from German, a graduate of the European University’s history program. (Besides electronic devices, Boris’s German-language books were seized by police during the search of his mother’s flat.) How, after studying for one and a half years in Germany, he had come back home “to build a new Russia.”

But now Russia is whipping Borya into shape instead. This Russia does not need smart, honest, principled people.

Yesterday, I received my first letter from Borya, and it contained two requests to help his cellmates. When I told this to his mother, she laughed, saying that it was just like her son: he had already found a way to be helpful to someone in prison.

Source: Jenya Kulakova, Facebook, 18 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Boris Romanov with his lawyer, Luiza Magamedova. Photo: Konstantin Lenkov for Zaks.ru

Activist Boris Romanov has been remanded in custody on charges of spreading “fake news” about the Russian army (punishable under Article 207.3 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). He is the fifth person in Petersburg remanded in custody for the duration of the investigation on these charges. Romanov is accused of making harsh statements about the “special operation” during a meeting of the Svetlanovskoye municipal district council. He faces up to ten years of imprisonment. Zaks.ru has examined this new case of “fake news” about the Armed Forces.

This time round, Petersburg oppositionist Boris Romanov, who has long been known among the city’s activists, is suspected of disseminating false information. In September 2021, as part of the Yabloko party regional group, he was nominated to run for the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly’s fifth district. In the municipal elections of 2019, he tried to run for a seat on the Svetlanovskoye municipal district council, but was refused registration. But the lack of a deputy’s mandate did not prevent him from regularly attending the council’s meetings and broadcasting them on a VKontakte community page.

There are now over 1,800 subscribers to this page. Romanov did not have good relations with the local deputies. For example, he alleged that the wife of one of them sprayed pepper spray in his face. In addition to problems in the Svetlanovskoye neighborhood, Romanov paid great attention to issues of urban development and historical preservation. In particular, he often participated in the grassroots gatherings at the Pulp and Paper Industry Research Institute building [threatened with demolition] in the city’s Vyborg district. Since the beginning of the “special military operation,” he sometimes devoted his speeches to the events in Ukraine, taking a pacifist stance. In mid-March, Romanov was detained at a protest rally near Gostiny Dvor. He was present there as a member of the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council’s monitoring group.

The Ukrainian question at a district council meeting

On May 5, the FSB’s Petersburg regional office launched a criminal investigation into dissemination of deliberately false information about deployment of the Russian Armed Forces (per Article 207.3 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). According to the security forces, a man (his name is not mentioned in the Investigative Committee’s press release) posted a video on the internet containing knowingly false information about the Armed Forces. As Zaks.ru has learned, Romanov’s alleged “criminal activity” was detected in a video recording of a Svetlanovskoye municipal district council meeting. The case file mentions eyewitness testimony. According to Luiza Magomedova, an attorney with the civil rights project Apologia of Protest, the eyewitness in question was Romanov’s neighbor and district chair Yanina Yevstafieva. In conversation with Zaks.ru, Yevstafyeva said that the security forces were interested in the council’s March 29 meeting. The council chair stated that on that day, activist Romanov came to the district offices and allegedly made what she regarded as “anti-Russian” statements.

Yevstafieva alleges that Romanov indulged in rude expressions directed at Russian servicemen. She noted that he also made an invidious comparison involving the symbols of the “special operation.”

According to her, Romanov’s speech caused a negative reaction among council members. Yevstafieva argues that such statements are unacceptable. Romanov’s statements were captured on a video posted on March 29 in the Svetlanovskoye Neighbors group page in VKontakte. After studying the recording, police investigators concluded that the activist’s words could be regarded as purveying deliberately false information about deployment of the Armed Forces, motivated by political hatred or enmity.

The topic of Romanov’s speech was probably related to statements made on March 29 by Russian deputy defense minister Alexander Fomin and Russian peace negotiator Vladimir Medinsky. After the latest round of the negotiations between the two countries [sic], the Russian officials stated that they intended to curtail military operations in the Chernihiv and Kyiv areas. 

The fifth arrest in the “fake news” investigation

The police found Romanov in his apartment on the morning of May 10. The activist’s electronic devices were confiscated, as well as various informational materials. The latter, the investigators allege, may be “extremist” in nature. A couple of hours later, the security forces showed up at the apartment of Romanov’s mother, at whose address Romanov is officially registered. Her communications devices was also confiscated.

“They said that I had raised a bad son. That I should have monitored him and brought him up right,” Margarita Romanova, the defendant’s mother, said in conversation with Zaks.ru, quoting what the police had told her.

During the search, she was told that a criminal case had been opened against her son because of a speech he made during a meeting of the Svetlanovskoye municipal district council.

After the preliminary investigation, Romanov was placed in the temporary detention facility on Zakharyevskaya Street, where he spent the night awaiting his bail hearing, which took place on May 11 in Petersburg’s Vyborg District Court. Police investigators asked the court to remand the oppositionist in custody.

Judge Oksana Golovinova read out a statement by the investigators.

“The accused Romanov posted […] knowingly false information that was aimed at destabilizing the political situation in the country and arousing panic among citizens, as well as causing a negative attitude towards Russian federal authorities, thereby demonstrating his indifference to public safety.”

The prosecution argued that Romanov could attempt to destroy evidence, influence witnesses, escape from justice, and continue his alleged “criminal activities.”

Magomedova petitioned the court to impose a restraining order on her client that would ban him from doing certain things. Romanov has an underage daughter who needs her father. He is also his family’s sole breadwinner.

Judge Golovinova took Romanov’s having a child into account, but did not consider this sufficient grounds to order a milder form of pretrial restraint. But the court did not share the prosecution’s position on the likelihood of Romanov’s attempting to hide from the authorities, since his foreign travel passport had already been confiscated. After spending about an hour deliberating in her chambers, the judge remanded the activist in custody in Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 [sic] for the duration of the investigation. He will remain there at least until July 5. The activist denies any wrongdoing.

Romanov is the fifth person arrested in Petersburg on charges of spreading “fake news” about the Russian army (as punishable under Article 207.3 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). Previously, artist Alexandra [Sasha] Skochilenko, journalist Maria Ponomarenko, Peaceful Resistance member Olga Smirnova, and Victoria Petrova had been arrested. They face from five to ten years in prison. As in the case of Romanov, the criminal charges against them were most often occasioned by social media posts.

Source: Konstantin Lenkov, “From a District Council Meeting to a Pretrial Detention Center: Yet Another ‘Fake News’ about the Army Case,”  Zaks.ru, 12 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

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