And Then There Were Sixteen (“Condoning Terrorism” Witch Hunt Continues)

Vologda Resident Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Comments about Bombing at Arkhangelsk FSB
OVD Info
October 18, 2020

On October 15, the Vologda Garrison Military Court sentenced Sergei Arbuzov, a resident of Vologda, to five years in a high-security penal colony for “condoning terrorism on the internet” (punishable under Article 205.2.2 of the criminal code) writes local politician Sergei Gusev on his VK group page.

Arbuzov was found guilty of “condoning terrorism” over several comments he posted on a VK public page under a news item about anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky’s suicide bombing at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices.

Photo of a page from Arbuzov’s case file, as posted on the VK group page The Nationalist Guzhev Is the People’s Politician 

In particular, Arbuzov was charged with writing, on November 1, 2018, “That’s who should be given the title Hero of Russia: he did not cut himself any slack.” According to Guzhev, the accused had admitted his guilt, repented [sic] and actively cooperated with the prosecution throughout the investigation.

In addition, according to the politician, Arbuzov has two young children and certificates of merit for volunteering in the social sector. Despite this, the court sent the Vologda resident to a high-security penal colony for five years.

Sergei Arbuzov is the sixteenth person in Russia who has been convicted of or prosecuted for, allegedly, “exonerating” or “condoning” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. The others are Alexander Merkulov, Alexei ShibanovSvetlana ProkopyevaNadezhda 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 Action Plan

September 21, 2020

Education Committee
Government of Saint Petersburg
8 Antonenko Lane
190031 Saint Petersburg
Tel.: (812) 417-3454
Email: kobr@gov.spb.ru
www.k-obr.spb.ru

To: Directors of educational organizations under the Committee’s jurisdiction

Re: Action Plan

Dear Directors,

In September 2020, as instructed by the St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office, specialists at Center “E” of the Russian Interior Ministry’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate, together with the Education Committee, developed an “Action Plan for homeroom teachers and school counselors in notifying law enforcement agencies when information is found on the Internet and other sources about the involvement by pupils of educational institutions in informal youth associations and extremist movements” (hereinafter, “Action Plan”).

We are sending the Action Plan, as approved by the St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office, to your address.

We ask you to familiarize homeroom teachers and other interested specialists with this Action Plan in order to organize monitoring of the Internet, including the social networks, of [sic] pupils of educational institutions for possible involvement in informal youth associations and extremist movements.

Enclosure: 4 pages in 1 copy

Yours sincerely,
Deputy Chairman of the Committee
A.A. Borshchevsky

This letter was made public by Maxim Reznik, an independent member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly. Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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

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

Darya Apahonchich: Did The Police Have Nothing More Important to Do?

apaDarya Apahonchich is greeted by supporters outside the October District Court in Petersburg, August 4, 2020

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
August 5, 2020

So, here is a more detailed account of my arrest and trial.

Yesterday, I was stopped by police officers on the street near work. They would not let me pass, grabbing my scooter and saying that I should go with them, because they had “material” on me. I said I wasn’t going anywhere, so they just forced me into a vehicle.

In the vehicle, they refused to tell me what the reason was for detaining me. We drove to the first police precinct for a very long time, and the car broke down along the way. All the way, I scolded them, appealing to their conscience and reason. There were four of them and a vehicle, they had spent the whole day on me (probably more than one): did they have nothing more important to do? Later, I found out that they had been waiting for me since 5:30 in the morning, but I had left the house only at 2:00 in the afternoon. (So many resources wasted on me! Whatever for?) By the way, it’s funny that they were waiting for me near my house, but they only arrested me near my work, because I when I left the house I immediately jumped on my scooter, so they probably didn’t have time to grab me there. I can imagine how annoyed they were.

Varya Mikhailova, a community public defender, came and found me at the precinct, where I was handed charge sheets, concocted on the spot, for two street performances: the vulva ballet in support of Yulia Tsvetkova, and the road to the ocean of blood in support of the Khachaturyan sisters. There were a lot of mistakes in the charge sheets, which Varya had better tell you about, and I just refused to testify against myself.

vardarVarya Mikhailova and Darya Apahonchich waiting for her hearing at the October District Court in Petersburg, August 4, 2020. Photo courtesy of Ms. Mikhailova’s Facebook page

Around six o’clock, I was taken to court and tried on the two charges at once. It was there that I had a gander at my case files. They were quite hilarious. There was a touching insert from Center “E” [the “anti-extremism” police] where you could see the photos from all my old [internal] passports, in which I was fifteen, twenty-one, and so on. Then there were screenshots of videos, and disks containing these same videos. In short, it was a cool folder, better than my pathetic portfolio. Another funny thing was that all the performances had been taken from a page on the MBKh Media Northwest website. They also wrote in my file how many likes and comments there were. There were very few likes.

The judge’s assistant showed the video and read aloud the text of the performance “this road leads to an ocean of blood.” She read very well, after which everyone fell silent. I really liked it, I would also add it to my portfolio.

I was found guilty (under Article 20.2, Part 5 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Russian Federation [“violation by a participant of a public event of the established procedure for holding an assembly, rally, demonstration, march or picket”] and was sentenced to pay two fines of 10,000 rubles each [approx. 230 euros]. We will appeal the fines, of course, and I think we will also file a complaint against police officers for unlawful arrest.

***

I am upset, of course. (My “joking” program clicks on in such situations, but then when I get home, the “get scared” program turns on.) I don’t like living in a world where people in uniform grab you on the street and shove you into a paddy wagon. (I told them, “Don’t touch my scooter!” They said, “We’re not touching it!”—and then they grabbed the scooter.) I’m also sorry, of course, that I said I worked at the Red Cross. In the past, I usually didn’t tell them where I worked, but I didn’t get picked up on the street like this in the past. It’s an important lesson for everyone who has a “civilian” job: don’t tell the police about it.

I’m also upset that I have to constantly be ready for violence from all directions. Today, I have again been getting messages containing insults from strangers. Thank you for only sending messages. I categorically don’t like that, in this world, I constantly have to prove I have the right to voice my opinion. You see, the system thinks that if you are a teacher, a mother, then okay, that is a normal job, a normal life, you have the right to be (a little) dissatisfied, to engage in a little activism. (Moms cannot be held overnight at police stations on administrative charges.) But employers rarely like it when you are an activist. This system is very complicated and stifling.)

But I cannot help doing what I do. My support for Yulia Tsvetkova, for Angelina, Maria, and Krestina Khachaturyan is a very important part of my life. It is my freedom, my fight for the safety of all women, and my contribution to my children’s future. (I am really, really worried that my daughter is growing up in an unsafe world, that my son is growing up in an unsafe world, that society imposes places on them in the hierarchical meat grinder.) I am still going to be involved in activism: I cannot do it any other way.

(I had a year in my life when I worked at a college and was quite afraid that my name would be googled at work and I would be fired. Consequently, I tried not to do performances, and then I was fired anyway, because the college was shuttered, and my students were deported to boot.)

I want to say a huge thank you for your support. Yesterday, I got calls and emails, and my wonderful friends came to the courthouse. (No one was allowed inside, but we met outside when it was all over.) I am very glad for this a world of solidarity, thank you.

***

My  public defender suggested that I should immediately announce that I was soliciting donations to pay the fines. I decided this was probably reasonable. There is hope that we will be able to get the fines reversed. In this case, I will transfer all money donated to Yulia Tsvetkova and Mediazona.

So here’s my card number. 4276 5500 7321 7849.

(This photo was taken near the courthouse. I found it on the Telegram channel  https://t.me/armageddonna.)

Photo courtesy of Ms. Apahonchich’s Facebook page. Translated by the Russian Reader

Jenya Kulakova: A Sunny Downpour

sunny downpour

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
July 28, 2020

I exit the remand prison on Shpalernaya Street—and find myself in a sunny downpour. From inside, the storm seemed much darker. (Many things probably seem much darker inside the prison.). I stand under the awning of Center “E” and look across the road at the prison, dazzling in silver drops from the sky, in the spray made by the wheels of passing cars. I’m under the awning and safe, but my feet are getting a little wet. For a short time the street is quiet, there are no people or cars. A small rainbow falls directly on Shpalernaya from the sky, vanishing in a few minutes.

I will tell Vitya [Viktor Filinkov] about this when we meet, just I told him about the bat that flies at night in the courtyard near the prison. And he told me how a pigeon had flown into their prison cell and landed on his trousers, and how he and his cellmate had caught it by donning plastic bags. They had chased it out of the window and fed it prison bread.

About the verdict.* Vitya had received it on Thursday and immediately read it, but he hadn’t looked at it again. Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, he plans to write and send an appeal. When I asked him to comment on the verdict, he could not say anything printable—he cursed loudly and waved his hands. When I asked him one more time to make a publishable statement on the matter, he slumped his head on the table. That was when I realized that it was his verdict and his seven years in prison, and he could comment or not comment on them as he wished.

He will write an appeal, of course, there is no doubt about it. Although he doesn’t feel like doing it at all: he says that he is always busy with something, and there is not enough time. He reads a lot about math (I only remember something about graph theory, but there are a lot of other topics), devises assignments for a training course on “pogromming,” and studies English. He’s apparently in good health, and his mood is also cheerful. However, the last couple of weeks he has had increased problems with sleep. He falls asleep in the morning, when it is already time to get up. (And this is despite the fact that since February, he has been taking drugs that should also level out his sleep.)

The censor is on vacation, and for three weeks, Vitya has received no letters from the outside world. (I don’t think he is able to send letters, either). But he gets Novaya Gazeta once a week, so Vitya is more or less aware of all the news. The library has been undergoing repairs of some kind, so a month ago, Vitya and his cellmate had to return all their library books, but they cannot take out new ones yet.

Update (added here from the comments). The coronavirus restrictions, imposed in early April, have almost all been lifted: the receipt of care packages and parcels has resumed, as well as visits with relatives. Meetings with lawyers no longer take place through glass, but all visitors must still wear masks and gloves. The mysterious “cleaning day” on Friday, when lawyers cannot visit clients, is also still in place.

*The verdict has been mailed to Vitaly [Cherkasov] and me by mail, and is still on its way, but Olga Krivonos has posted it here, so you can read it.

Photo by and courtesy of Jenya Kulakova. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on Viktor Filinkov and the Network Case (see below), and go to Rupression.com to find out how you can show your solidarity with him and the other defendants in the case. All of them now face long terms in prison unless their guilty verdicts are reversed on appeal, which is not going to happen as long as the current regime remains in power, unfortunately.

#NetworkCase 

In the World of Animals

tiktokmashaA screenshot of the TikTok post by Petersburg blogger @youngmasha (Maria Magdalena Tunkara) that prompted an ominous visit from the prosecutor’s office

Petersburg Blogger Summoned to Prosecutor’s Office over TikTok Post on Racism in Russia
Mediazona
June 17, 2020

Petersburg blogger Maria Magdalena Tunkara has told Mediazona that officials from the prosecutor’s office visited her mother to “have a conversation” about a parody of TV presenter Nikolay Drozdov that Tunkara had posted on TikTok.

[. . .] They also wanted to talk to the blogger herself to persuade her not to publish “extremist materials.” The Petersburg resident noted that the prosecutor’s office employees came without a summons, promising to send the paperwork later.

According to Tunkara, she was told that her post, in which she parodies Drozdov’s program In the World of Animals, could lead to her being charged under Article 282 [of the Russian Criminal Code, which punishes the “incitement of ethnic, religious, or other forms of hatred or public discord”]. In the video that prompted the visit by prosecutor’s office employees, the young woman replies to a comment made by viewer of her previous videos, who called her “black.”*

“Good afternoon, dear viewers. With you is the program In the World of Animals, and today we are looking at a Russian who has seen a mulatto for the first time. Look how agitated he is and how he tries to laugh it off. Don’t scare him—he’s already stressed,” says Tunkara, imitating Drozdov’s trademark delivery.

In addition, according to Tunkara, the prosecutor’s office had concerns with the last six last videos she had posted. In them, she talks about racism and nationalism in Russia and responds to comments.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

The 15th

number15

Man Suspected of “Condoning Terrorism” Remanded in Custody by Pskov City Court
Lyudmila Savitskaya
Sever.Realii
June 13, 2020

Pskov City Court has remanded in custody for two months 47-year-old Alexei Shibanov, whom the regional FSB office suspects of “condoning terrorism” and publicly calling for extremism in sixteen entries on his personal page on the social network VK (Vkontakte), lawyer Tatyana Martynova has reported to us.

Shibanov will be jailed until August 10.

On VK, Shibanov had commented on the suicide bombing of the Arkhangelsk FSB office in 2018, the criminal case against journalist Svetlana Prokopieva (who has also been charged with “condoning terrorism),” the protests against plans to build a church in a park in Yekaterinburg, the suicide of a Russian National Guard deputy commander in Moscow, and the incident in Smolensk Region in which an armored vehicle hit two Russian National Guardsman. The suspect expressed his agreement with Georgian TV presenter Giorgi Gabunia’s televised tirade against Vladimir Putin, and he criticized the actions of the Moscow police during the summer 2019 protests in the city.

At his court hearing, Shibanov said that he made all the entries himself. An FSB investigator testified that more than two persons had read them. Experts at the Moscow State Linguistic University had found in the texts linguistic and psychological cues “to commit violent actions,” “incitement and veiled calls to commit destructive acts,” and “evidence of the condoning of terrorist activity.”

According to Martynova, Shibanov was detained on June 11. He was sitting on a bench when a busload of Russian National Guardsman drove up to his house. They put him on the ground, and one of the officers stepped on him with a boot. After that, Shibanov’s house was searched and his computer and laptop were seized.

After the bombing in Arkhangelsk, the FSB opened several criminal investigations into “condoning terrorism” over comments published on social networks and in the media. Yekaterina Muranova, a resident of Karelia, was 350,000 rubles for a comment on a social network. A resident of Kaluga, Ivan Lyubshin, was sentenced to five years in prison. Vyacheslav Lukichev, a 24-year-old anarchist, anti-fascist and environmental activist from Kaliningrad, was sentenced to a fine of 300,000 rubles for posting an article about the Arkhangelsk bomber [Mikhail] Zhlobitsky on Telegram. Criminal charges have been filed against Pskov journalist Svetlana Prokopieva.

Alexei Shibanov is the fifteen person in Russia who has been prosecuted for, charged with, or accused of “exonerating” or “condoning” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky since October 31, 2018. The others are Nadezhda BelovaLyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan Lyubshin, Svetlana Prokopieva, Anton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader. The number 15 courtesy of Kids Math Games

Reviewed, it seemed
5 As if someone were watching over it
Before it was
As if response were based on fact
Providing, deciding, it was soon there
Squared to it, faced to it, it was not there
Renewed, it fought
As if it had a cause to live for
Denied, it learned
As if it had sooner been destroyed
Providing, deciding, it was soon there
Squared to it, faced to it, it was not there
Reviewed, it fought
As if someone were watching over it
Before it had sooner been denied
Renewed, it seemed
As if it had a cause to live for
Destroyed, it was later based on fact

Svetlana Prokopyeva: My Day in Court

prokopA telegram informing Svetlana Prokopyeva that her criminal trial has been scheduled for one o’clock on June 16 at the Pskov Regional Court and, beneath it, a copy of the criminal indictment against her. Photo courtesy of her Facebook page

Svetlana Prokopyeva
Facebook
June 15, 2020

The trial in my criminal case begins at one o’clock tomorrow afternoon. After eighteen months of endless reminders about freedom of speech and the persecution of journalism as such, everyone is probably sick of my case. (And yet I’ll remind you that I’m being put on trial for voicing an opinion, for my work as as a professional journalist, and for trying to understand something and prevent it.) And then there’s the coronavirus, which is a whole different level of worry.

Yet I would still ask you to follow the trial. I think it’s important, not because it’s my life, but for the following reasons.

In the column “Crackdowns for the State” I argued that a powerful regime was using powerful instruments to restrict civil liberties. Since I wrote that

  • our twenty-year-vintage president has found a way to rule forever;
  • Russian National Guard soldiers have shot a man dead in his own apartment;
  • solo pickets can now get you arrested and thrown in jail on administrative charges;
  • you can be fined simply for leaving your house;
  • you can be handcuffed and taken to a police precinct for not wearing a mask (for the sake of your own health, of course);
  • and there have been innovations to electoral law: soon we will have a referendum in which our votes will decide nothing, even formally—but then you knew that.

In other words, the state has become harsher and more repressive, and criminal cases for “condoning” terrorism have been multiplying and multiplying. The reasons for them are more and more absurd. You now longer have to feel sorry for [suicide bomber Mikhail] Zhlobitsky or analyze the terrorist attack in detail. Nadezhda Belova is being persecuted for commenting on a news report; Lyudmila Stech, for reposting something without a adding a single word of her own commentary. The new Pskov case is really amazing, but I will write about it later. The craziest keeps on getting crazier.

The security forces really did detect a threat in this case, but decided that the threat was me, and that they had to take me on, not abstract “radicalization.”As if they think that if you don’t discuss a problem, it doesn’t exist. But there is a problem, and it won’t work itself out. The stronger and dumber the crackdown, the angrier the protest, especially if it’s driven deep inside. And the coil twists tighter.

Theoretically, it would take only one judge, making a ruling according to common sense and the spirit of the law, to put an end to all this nonsense. It would take only one prosecutor, refusing to pursue such absurd charges. Or even just one police investigator, dropping a case like mine for lack of evidence.

But now we’re talking science fiction, kids.

The reality is that a journalist is going on trial for doing her job. It is much more terrifying, of course, when journalists are killed or maimed. But those are crimes, and criminals are tracked down and punished. In my case, though, it’s all completely legal.

Svetlana Prokopyeva 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 Nadezhda Belova, Lyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan Lyubshin, Anton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. On June 13, Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda) reported that a 47-year-old Pskov man, Alexei Shibanov, had been arrested by the FSB on suspicion of “condemning terrorism” and “publicly calling for terrorism.” The Pskov City Court has remanded Shibanov in custody until August 10. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Take Off Your Underpants and Squat Five Times”: Nadezhda Belova’s Journey from Grassroots Activism to “Exonerating Terrorism”

nb-1Nadezhda Belova. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

“Take Off Your Underpants and Squat Five Times”: A New “Terrorism Exoneration” Case
Svetlana Prokopieva
Radio Svoboda
June 2, 2020

Two years after the bombing in the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk, law enforcement agencies continue to launch criminal cases against people who comment on the case on social media, claiming they have violated the law against “exonerating terrorism.” The story of Nadezhda Belova is more proof that the bombing carried out by 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky, resulting only in his own death, has been turned into a tool for persecuting undesirable activists.

Nadezhda Belova is 36 years old. She was born and lived her whole life in Novaya Usman, the largest village in Russia, near Voronezh. She had never been involved in politics or protest movements. She first came to the attention of the authorities in 2019, when she organized and brought to a victorious conclusion two protest actions defending the interests of her fellow villagers. In 2020, a criminal case was opened against her for “exonerating terrorism.”

“You’re in Big Trouble”
Criminal Code Article 205.2 came into Nadezhda Belova’s life on March 31—”probably at around nine in the morning, under the guise of a search for coronavirus-infected Asians,” Belova says.

“First my husband opened the door. They told him they were doing a search. Naturally, they weren’t wearing masks. First, they asked who lived there. (We rent a flat in Voronezh.) My husband told them that no one lived there but us, the two of us and our son. I came out and asked them why they weren’t wearing masks. When they saw me, they said, ‘Nadezhda Belova, you’re coming with us for questioning.'”

Nadezhda, her 15-year-old son, and her husband were taken to the police station and questioned. On the advice of a lawyer friend, she invoked Article 51 [of the Russian Constitution, which gives people the right not to incriminate themselves].

“I expected to be punished for all my campaigns in Usman,” Belova says, but investigators showed her a comment she had posted on the VK community page Lentach under one of the very first reports about the bombing in Arkhangelsk. Nadezhda had forgotten all about it.​

“This circus lasted for an hour and a half,” she says of the first interrogation. “‘You’re in big trouble,’ they said. Of course, they threatened me—with five years in prison, and with sending my son to an orphanage if I didn’t confess. I asked them what I should confess to and told them I didn’t know what they were talking about. ‘Here,’ they asked, ‘did you write this comment in 2018?’ ‘Can you hear yourselves?’ I asked them, ‘A comment in 2018!’ The investigator says, ‘If I had written this, I would have remembered.’ I wouldn’t have remembered the comment even if they had tortured me, although the investigator said, ‘If we want you to confess to the Kennedy assassination, we have ways of making you talk.'”

Leaving her family at the police station, the investigators took Nadezhda with them to search the rented flat in Voronezh and her home in Novaya Usman. They confiscated all the gadgets they found, including four phones, a laptop, two hard drives, and a flash drive. They released Nadezhda only late in the evening, dumping her in the middle of the city without a phone and without a single kopeck.

“I walked three kilometers at night, bawling my eyes out and hungry,” she says.

The next day, Belova filed complaints with the prosecutor’s office, the Interior Ministry, and the Investigative Committee. (They, of course, would respond to the complaints by claiming that everything that had happened to her was “legal.”) At first, Belova was named as a witness in the “exonerating terrorism” case, but in May she was named a suspect.

“On May 13, they came up to me on the street, shoved a piece of paper in my face, and said, ‘If you don’t show up now, police will arrest you and bring you there,'” Belova says. “I told them I was going to hire a lawyer, that I wouldn’t come without a lawyer. But things turned out badly with the lawyer, too.”

Nadezhda had bad luck with her lawyer. The person she hired on a friend’s recommendation “turned out to be either a pro-Putinist from the get-go, or he changed his stripes along the way,” she says.

He tried to persuade Nadezhda to “tell the truth” and had no objections when the investigator decided to arrest his suspect right in the middle of questioning.

“You wouldn’t confess. Now you’re going to sit in jail, think things over, and see what lies in store for you,” Nadezhda recalls him saying. She spent twenty-four hours in a temporary detention facility.

“They were not locking me up just to teach me a lesson. They put me in a cold, smoky kennel crawling with bedbugs. There were streaks of blood on the walls: apparently, the people before had been crushing the bedbugs. I was given tea and a piece of dry bread in a metal bowl and a mug, like a dog. I called an ambulance. They just give me a shot of painkiller, that was it. I hung in there till morning. In the morning, they put an actress in my cell who immediately started chewing me out. Her performance lasted fifteen minutes. ‘What’s your name? What you in for? If you’re in here, there must be a reason. Clear the dishes. Act normal. I’m going to smoke, you mind?’ I told her I did, because I was a non-smoker. ‘I’ll do as I like.’ She stood next to the bed and lit up a cigarette. I turned toward the wall and thought, ‘If only she doesn’t strangle me.’ But I knew she was an actress, so she stopped talking, too. She had played her role. Then a policeman came in: ‘Hands behind your back. Against the wall.’ They took me to another room and did a complete body search. They told me to strip naked, and patted down all my things. I was told to take off my underpants and squat five times: the idea was that I had drugs stuffed in there,” Belova recounts.

“It’s going to be like this from now on. You’re suspected of committing a really terrible crime,” she was told.

When she left the detention center, the investigator met her, promising to send her back to her cell if she didn’t immediately sign a confession stating when, where, in whose presence, and on what brand of telephone she had posted the comment.

“I said, ‘You do understand that this is really a lie? It’s nonsense.’ Well, then the three of us—the lawyer, the investigator, and I—wrote an essay entitled ‘What I Wrote on October 31,'” Belova recounts. “‘You do understand that you could go to prison for forcing a confession and lying?’ But the investigator said, ‘In 1937, we would have tortured you for an hour, and you’d have confessed right away. We wouldn’t have had to drive you here and there, we wouldn’t have wasted time: we would have needed only an hour.’ They all laughed.”

__________________

[Prokopieva:] They have blood ties with 1937 . . .

[Belova:] I’ll say even more—they’re waiting for the go-ahead. Once they get permission, I don’t think they’ll even need to be persuaded. They’re too lazy to drive me here and there and waste time. They want to turn torture me quickly and get on with their lives. I said to them, “If you were ordered to shoot at children right now, you would shoot without flinching.” 

You later retracted the confession?

Yes, of course! On May 13, I was put in the lockup. On the 14th, I confessed to everything. On the 15th, I got a new lawyer and completely recanted my testimony. I wanted them to write that I had been coerced with the threat of prison, but the investigator categorically refused to do it. “Do you think I’m going to denounce myself?” he asked.

nb-2Screenshot of the social media post, dated October 31, 2018, under which Belova posted the comment that prompted the criminal case against her. The post reads, “There has been an explosion at the FSB building in Arkhangelsk. One person has been killed. The cause of the blast is under investigation.” Courtesy of RFE/RL

Belova was unable to recall the comment for which she was being prosecuted. But she did find the post on the social media community page and reread it. She called the slain man a “martyr” and wrote that he would “go to heaven.” Nadezhda now suggests that when she wrote it, she thought that an FSB employee was the victim since, at the time, there was no information about the identity and fate of the terrorist. Her comment also included the word “pushback.”

“Yeah, and there was also the phrase ‘Putin’s devils,'” Belova recalls.

Although her comment has been deleted, the responses to it are still there, including this one: “Nadezhda, they’re already coming to get you. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.”

“Many times I’d seen comments to many people on VK like ‘They’re coming to get you’ and ‘You’ve been reported to the FSB,’ but I’d always thought they were jokes. I’d been threatened many times in my life, after the campaigns for the parking lot and the jitneys, and people had filed ‘rioting’ complaints against me when I still lived in Usman. So I would have only laughed at such comments. I didn’t really believe people were jailed for the things they said. I didn’t realize that crackdowns like that were happening in Russia,” Belova says.

“There Was No Time to Choose Who to Be the Hero”
Belova has now been charged with violating Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code and released on her own recognizance. Her new lawyer, in whom she has confidence, is being paid by OVD Info.

The answer to the question of why it took the security forces almost two years to charge her with a “really terrible crime” is incredibly simple. In 2018, Nadezhda Belova was still of no interest to the regime’s watchdogs.

“I was born in Usman and had lived there all my life. My mother worked as a commercial freight forwarder, and my father was a mechanical engineer. I graduated from high school with a silver medal. I was a goody two-shoes, even a little bit of an outcast, you could say. I spent summers in the countryside reading books—Natasha Rostova, Chekhov, and Bunin,” Nadezhda says about herself.

nb-3Nadezhda Belova’s native village. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

She graduated from the Voronezh Technological Academy in 2005, giving birth to a child in her fifth year there.

“After that, as it happens, nobody hired me because I had a child and later nobody hired me because I had no experience,” Belova says.

An economics and information specialist by education, Belova worked at the post office, then as a clerk “punching out invoices.” She had a failed marriage, which she describes as “useless and unnecessary.” Finally, five years ago, she met Sergei, with whom she has started a real family and a family business. Sergei was teaching robotics and programming to children, their son had gradually begun helping out, and Nadezhda handled advertising and moderating group pages on social media. This year, to be closer to work, they moved to Voronezh.

“By the way, we had wanted to register as self-employed, but the coronavirus and the arrest have blindsided us,” Belova says.

Even before moving to Voronezh, Nadezhda had been in the public eye as a grassroots activist. She was motivated not by power, money or popularity, but by the sense that her “shoulders were pressed to the mat.”

“They have started taking away the last things we have. As it is, they haven’t been doing anything [for us], just skinning our hides,” she says by way of explaining the reasons for her activism. “That’s how I look at it. I took it as an occupation, a war, an attack by fascists. There was no time to choose who to be the hero, so I decided, ‘Who would do it if not me?'”

Belova was annoyed by the decision of the local authorities to let a parking lot next to the ospital be redeveloped as a store. She wrote posts on local community social media pages, invited journalists to Novaya Usman, and appeared on television herself. The protest campaign was successful: the construction site was moved, and a new “huge paved parking lot, four times larger” was built in place of the old one.

nb-4The parking lot that Nadezhda Belova and other people in Novaya Usman stopped from being redeveloped as a store. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Six months later, in June, Novaya Usman faced a more serious problem: the governor of Voronezh Region, Alexander Gusev, announced that the area’s public transport routes would be optimized. Jitneys from Usman would be forbidden from entering Voronezh. People would have to transfer to Voronezh municipal transport routes on the outskirts of the city.

“We realized it would be a disaster for us,” Belova says. “I told people we shouldn’t wait for them to cut us off. We just needed to make ourselves heard: we’d make a video and circulate a petition, letting them see we were opposed. Naturally, people said yes, that nothing good could come of [the governor’s plans]. I wrote a post on a community page, asking people to meet at the shopping center to collect signatures on a petition. All that was written there was that we opposed the cancellation of suburban transport routes and banning jitneys from entering the city. That was it! No posters, no rallies against Putin.”

Belova again wrote social media posts, made media appearances, and met personally with various officials. She and her fellow campaigners successfully defended the right of rural public transport to make stops in Voronezh. Her fellow villagers thanked Belova in the comments to reports on the campaign’s progress: “Such a fragile young woman has been dealing with three big, experienced men trying to defend the rights of all the inhabitants of New Usman! And she’s not afraid to tell the whole truth to their faces! Thank you, Nadezhda! You’re a smart cookie!”

“Everyone supported me at that moment. When I wrote on the community page that someone was denouncing me to the authorities, they told me not to fear, that they would defend me, that I was doing a great job, that I should run to become village head, that they supported me,” Nadezhda recalls. “A year goes by, and people have forgotten. Not only did they not support me, but some of them suggested I should think hard about what I’d said. Back then they told me I should run for head of the village, but now they’re telling me to think about what I’ve done. People have forgotten.”

__________________

2019 was much quieter in terms of public politics, unlike 2017–18, when there was Navaly’s presidential campaign and then the elections. Where were you during this time?

I have never voted for Putin. I realized back in 1999 that our country was coming to a gradual end. I was only 16 years old—my brother, who is four years older, said, “That’s it, this country is over. The monster has come!” His phrase summed it up for me. Then there was the Nord-Ost siege, the Beslan school siege, and the annexation of Crimea. I already looked at our country with sadness and pain. When would the people wake up? I asked myself. I realized it would never happen! Where was I? We have no elections in Usman. There are some local clowns who either shuffle papers around or aid and abet corrpution. Usman is the total pits in this regard. We have no politics: there is no opposition in Usman, just bottomless corruption, theft and nepotism.

So you weren’t involved in politics or activism of any kind?

Absolutely not! By the way, I once went to meet with officials about the jitneys. One of Gusev’s people asked me, “You probably want something for yourself, right? To be a village head or a council member? What do you want? Money? power?” I told him, “No matter how poor I am, I will never join your party or knuckle under.” No, I live a dignified life, and I won’t be ashamed to look my grandchildren in the eyes in the future. I’m not a vegetable. That matters most of all. In fact, that’s what I have been punished for.

You haven’t missed Usman after moving to Voronezh?

I loved that village and am still happy when something happens there. I don’t regret speaking out, I don’t regret being arrested, because I am a human being. I always wondered who I was. For example, I could say that I was a mother, that I was a daughter. I realized in 2019 that I was a human being and a citizen. I’m not a punching bag, I’m not a pushover—I’m a citizen. I can say this with absolute certainty, and it gives me strength and confidence. Even if I were alone, I would be a citizen. That is the highest calling I could have.

nb-5Nadezhda Belova on the limits of Novaya Usman. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You’re not resentful that your home village has turned its back on you at a difficult moment?

In the house where I lived, a neighbor lady has knocked together a playground—there are some benches and chintzy swings. I recently went there to paint pictures on the walls. I paid for the paint with my own money. I breathed this paint and cleaned up dog poo and empty bottles. As a child, I saw puddles of sewage, drunks and drug addicts. Books were my only salvation, as I lived in utter poverty and was hungry all the time. May their children grow up amidst beauty. If at least one child doesn’t become a drug addict or go to prison thanks to this beauty, I will feel that I haven’t lived my life in vain. These are children, these are our children! After all, someone did not provide warmth, kindness and morality to the people who detained me and undressed me. They grew up to be monsters. This is a universal problem. It is sad that children escape into drug addiction, that they blow themselves up. I have tried to change this little world as much as I can. Everything I could do, I have done and will do. I won’t be made into a monster. I won’t retaliate, I won’t hate, and I’m not going to kill myself.

Nadezhda Belova is the latest in a growing list of Russians who have been prosecuted for allegedly publicly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Belova has joined the ranks of Lyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinSvetlana ProkopievaAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader