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.

#NetworkCase 

Reverse Charges

Instead of filing charges against the police officer who broke Mediazona journalist David Frenkel’s arm at Polling Station No. 318 in Petersburg during the recent sham “referendum,” the police have decided to charge David Frenkel with “disobeying a police officer” (Article 19.3 of the administrative offenses code), “interfering with an election commission’s work” (Article 5.69), and “violating the self-isolation regime [coronavirus shelter-in-place rules]” (Article 20.6.1). || TRR

charges
Varya Mikhailova
Facebook
July 17, 2020

Speaking of how we are doing and what has been happening with us. When I found out that David’s arm had been broken, the first thing I was worried about was not his arm or his health, but the possibility of criminal proceedings against him. Not because he did anything wrong or broke the law, but because if you encounter violence from the police, expect to be charged under Article 318 of the criminal code.* And while everyone was calling me and asking about his health, I was thinking only one thing: maybe this is not the worst yet. And today, instead of apologies and criminal proceedings against the officer [who broke Frenkel’s arm], we received this letter of happiness. Well heck, thanks for not charging him with a criminal offense!

* “Life- or health-threatening violence against a government official or their relatives in connection with the performance of their official duties is punishable by imprisonment for a term of up to ten years.”

Beat the Press

agoras day

While looking for an original Telegram post (cited and translated, below) by Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora group of human rights lawyers, I found these more recent entries. The latest (at the bottom of the screenshot, above) informed Chikov’s readers that Agora attorney Leonid Solovyov was on his way to the apartment of activist, artist and Mediazona publisher Pyotr Verzilov, which was being searched by police and security forces for the sixth (!) time in recent weeks. Meanwhile, according to the entry above it, Agora lawyers would be representing three people at three different court hearings today: reporter Mikhail Benyash, convicted and fined for, allegedly, “assaulting a police officer” (Benyash is appealing his conviction); Lyubov Kudryashova, a 55-year-old environmentalist indicted on charges of “inciting terrorism”; and Azat Miftakhov, a young mathematician charged with breaking the window at a United Russia party office in Moscow. It’s all in a day’s work.

Andrey Loshak
Facebook
July 7, 2020

Firs they grabbed the activists, now they’re jailing the journalists. When they come for you, there won’t be anyone to defend you.

Pavel Chikov wrote this on Telegram:

Attacks on the media in the summer of 2020 (disturbing)

1. Pyotr  Verzilov, publisher of Mediazona, has home raided by police, is jailed for an administrative offense, and charged with a crime.

2. Svetlahna Prokopyeva, a journalist with Echo of Moscow in Pskov, is convicted of “condoning terrorism.”

3. Ivan Safronov, a former reporter for Kommersant and Vedomosti, is detained on charges of “treason.”

4. Police search the home of Taisiya Bekbulatova, editor-in-chief of Kholod Media.

5. Ilya Azar, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta, is jailed for an administrative offense.

6. Journalists (including Tatyana Felgengauer, Alexander Plyushchev, Sergei Smirnov, Anna Zibrova, Alexander Chernykh, Olga Churakova, Elena Chernenko, Kira Dyuryagina, and Nikita Gorin) detained for holding solo pickets in solidarity with Azar.

7. Management at the [liberal business] newspaper Vedomosti is reshuffled.

8. Policemen assault David Frenkel, a correspondent for Mediazona.

Thanks to Anna Tereshkina for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Mardikor

“Every Day We Go Out on the Road”: A Documentary About the Lives of Female Mardikors Has Been Made in Tajikistan
Fergana
July 2, 2020

Tajik journalists have made the documentary film Mardikor [“Day Laborer” or “Handywoman,” as the filmmakers themselves have translated the term], which details the plight of female day laborers in the city of Bokhtar, 100 kilometres from Dushanbe. The picture was created as part of MediaCAMP (Central Asia Media Program), implemented by Internews with financial support from USAID, writes Asia-Plus.

Pop-up mardikor markets exist in all the cities and major towns of Tajikistan. But whereas earlier only men offered their services there, women’s markets have also recently appeared. Women who are divorced or left without the support of husbands who have gone to work abroad are willing to undertake any hard work for the sake of two or three dollars a day.

“The short film Mardikor tells the story of these women, most of whom are the abandoned wives of migrant workers. Their husbands do not return from the Russian Federation for years on end and do not send money to support their families. The majority of unemployed women at this labor market do not even have a school-leaving certificate. More than half are mothers with many children,” says the film’s director Mahpora Kiromova.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Film poster (below) courtesy of Mahpora Kiromova’s Facebook page. Translated by the Russian Reader

mardikor

Our Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing

Norilsk Nickel Dumping Toxic Waste into Lake Pyasino Right Now
Elena Kostyuchenko
Novaya Gazeta
June 27-28, 2020

Vasily Ryabinin, a former employee of the Norilsk office of Rosprirodnadzor (Russia’s federal environmental watchdog), Greenpeace activists, and Novaya Gazeta reporters have discovered that Norilsk Nickel has continued to dump industrial waste into the Kharayelakh River and Lake Pyasino.

sliv-1
The place where waste from a Norilsk Nickel facility is being discharged into the tundra and thence, via streams, into the Kharayelakh River. Photo courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Water contaminated with heavy metals, sulfurous acid, and surfactants is currently being pumped from the tailings storage facility at the Talnakh processing plant, owned by Norilsk Nickel, and drained into the tundra. The waste flows via streams into the Kharayelakh River, which empties into Lake Pyasino.

“Norilsk Nickel discharging toxic waste right now into the river.”

Witnesses have called the police, the Emergencies Ministry, Rosprirodnadzor, and the prosecutor’s office to the drainage site.

“This is a complete breakdown of law and order, and a crime against nature and our children. The clean-up must start immediately,” says Vasily Ryabinin.

UPDATE

The Norilsk Nickel security service has arrived at the scene. The pumping station that has been discharging waste into the river has been shut down.

sliv-2
Employees of Norilsk Nickel’s security service. Photo by Elena Kostyuchenko for Novaya Gazeta 

Almost immediately after that, the Norilsk rescue service arrived at the scene.

Vladimir Zhenikhov, senior duty officer of the rescue service: “Now the brass will decide what to do. It’s a good thing everything has been documented. I had heard before that something was being discharged into the tundra here.”

Vladislav Shatura: “It’s amazing that they let us in here at all. Norilsk Nickel can decide not to let anyone in. Norilsk Nickel can do anything it wants.”

And now the police have arrived.

UPDATE 2

The workers who arrived are hurrying to dismantle the pipes!

“Workers called to the scene are hurriedly dismantling the pipes! Novaya Gazeta and Greenpeace today discovered and documented how Norilsk Nickel has been dsicharging toxic waste into the river, and thence into Lake Pyasino. Less than a month has passed since the diesel spill at Power Plant No. 3.”

UPDATE 3

People from the prosecutor’s office have arrived at the scene. The police car in which the prosecutors got here has been crushed by the Norilsk Nickel tractor removing the pipes.

sliv-4
Photo by Elena Kostyuchenko for Novaya Gazeta

Prosecutor Vladimir Bolshunov: “We have called the Investigative Committee, and Rosprirodnadzor is now waiting for a car and is also on the way. They will be taking samples. We have ordered a copter and will be trying to lift [what?] up, despite the wind. It’s all we needed, of course, but we’re going to go to work and do a comprehensive job with the whole thing.”

The Emergencies Ministry officers thank the journalists and activists: “Well done.” Officer Denis Makarov says of Norilsk Nickel: “They aren’t afraid of anything.”

A month ago, Lake Pyasino was contaminated by 21,000 tons of diesel fuel from Power Plant No. 3, also owned by Norilsk Nickel.

All photos courtesy of Novaya Gazeta. Translated by the Russian Reader

power doesn’t run on nothing

we are just a child
we are just a child
we are wide awake
but our legs are shaky

we’re unaware
we’re hyper and we stare into space
with grins on our faces

so give us what we’re asking for
cause either way we’re gonna take it
our power doesn’t run on nothing
we need the land you’re standing on
so let’s go, move it

we are old as hell
we are old and tell the children
when to kill, when to sit still

everyone doing what we say
til our dying day
til our breath is empty

they’ll give us what we’re asking for
cause either way we’re gonna take it
our power doesn’t run on nothing
we need the land you’re standing on
so let’s go, move it

you need to let go, move it
we’re more equal
we’ll move you people off the planet
cause goddamn, we need the fuel

so let the beat roll over
let the beat roll over everyone in line
everyone in line
let the beat roll over
let the beat roll over everyone in line
one at a time

they’ll give us what we’re asking for
cause god is with us
and our god is the richest
our power doesn’t run on nothing
it runs on blood
and blood is easy to obtain
when you have no shame

when you have no shame

so let the sun fade, let the sun fade
we’ll still have light
we’ll burn even brighter

we’ll drain the well
we’ll tunnel to hell
and leave the earth’s surface
for the worthless and dirty

let the beat roll over
the beat roll over everyone in line
everyone in line

do you think we’ll cease?
do you see a reason?
do you think it’s fair?
do you think it’s fair?
do you think we care?

Source: The Thermals

We Can Dance If We Want To

 

dance
Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
June 22, 2020

His hands trembling and sounding breathless, Judge Muranov sentenced Vitya [Viktor Filinkov] to 7 years and Julian [Yuli Boyarshinov] to 5 1/2 years in prison. He read out the date of Vitya’s ACTUAL arrest, that is, a day before his arrest was registered in the case file. (I wonder how this will be substantiated in the published verdict.)

We took a selfie as a keepsake.

As I was leaving the empty courtroom, I shouted, “Guys, we need to dance!” and I danced a little jig. The guys seemed to be smiling, but the bailiff said, “Dance somewhere else, young lady.” Where else should I dance? I think this is the most appropriate place.

#NetworkCase #OperationBarbarossa #Antifa

As my virtual acquaintance Liza Smirnova just reminded her readers, June 22 is not just any day for people in the former Soviet Union. In fact, you could hardly think of a more inappropriate day to sentence two young antifascists to twelve and a half years in prison.

Operation Barbarossa (German: Unternehmen Barbarossa) was the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941, during World War II. The operation put into action Nazi Germany’s ideological goal of conquering the western Soviet Union so as to repopulate it with Germans. The German Generalplan Ost aimed to use some of the conquered as slave labour for the Axis war effort, to acquire the oil reserves of the Caucasus and the agricultural resources of Soviet territories, and eventually through extermination, enslavement, Germanization and mass deportation to Siberia, remove the Slavic peoples and create Lebensraum for Germany.

In the two years leading up to the invasion, Germany and the Soviet Union signed political and economic pacts for strategic purposes. Nevertheless, the German High Command began planning an invasion of the Soviet Union in July 1940 (under the codename Operation Otto), which Adolf Hitler authorized on 18 December 1940. Over the course of the operation, about three million personnel of the Axis powers—the largest invasion force in the history of warfare—invaded the western Soviet Union along a 2,900-kilometer (1,800 mi) front, with 600,000 motor vehicles and over 600,000 horses for non-combat operations. The offensive marked an escalation of World War II, both geographically and in the formation of the Allied coalition including the Soviet Union.

The operation opened up the Eastern Front, in which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in history. The area saw some of the war’s largest battles, most horrific atrocities, and highest casualties (for Soviet and Axis forces alike), all of which influenced the course of World War II and the subsequent history of the 20th century. The German armies eventually captured some five million Soviet Red Army troops, a majority of whom never returned alive. The Nazis deliberately starved to death, or otherwise killed, 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war, and a vast number of civilians, as the “Hunger Plan” worked to solve German food shortages and exterminate the Slavic population through starvation. Mass shootings and gassing operations, carried out by the Nazis or willing collaborators, murdered over a million Soviet Jews as part of the Holocaust.

The failure of Operation Barbarossa reversed the fortunes of the Third Reich. Operationally, German forces achieved significant victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union (mainly in Ukraine) and inflicted, as well as sustained, heavy casualties. Despite these early successes, the German offensive stalled in the Battle of Moscow at the end of 1941, and the subsequent Soviet winter counteroffensive pushed German troops back. The Germans had confidently expected a quick collapse of Soviet resistance as in Poland, but the Red Army absorbed the German Wehrmacht’s strongest blows and bogged it down in a war of attrition for which the Germans were unprepared. The Wehrmacht’s diminished forces could no longer attack along the entire Eastern Front, and subsequent operations to retake the initiative and drive deep into Soviet territory—such as Case Blue in 1942 and Operation Citadel in 1943—eventually failed, which resulted in the Wehrmacht’s retreat and collapse.

Source: Wikipedia

#NetworkCase

claims

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/06/22/russia-jails-e2-anti-fascists-ending-terror-case-plagued-by-torture-claims-a70653

“Plagued by torture claims” is a funny way of putting it. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) is the real plague. It tortured the defendants in the Network Case and concocted their alleged “terrorist community” from whole cloth.

I realize that editors and journalists think they’re being “balanced” when they report the news this way. But in reality they’re lending legitimacy to systematic state terror against dissidents, minorities, and oddballs.

bus

#NetworkCase

Where are these people going? Why are they in a caged bus?

Why are they singing? What are they singing?

They made the “mistake” of being outside the courthouse in Petersburg earlier today to protest the outrageous but predictable verdict in the trial of Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov, who were sentenced by a military court to 7 and 5 1/2 years in prison, respectively, for the awful crime of being antifascists in a country run by a certifiable fascist, Vladimir Putin.

What will happen to the people in this bus? I don’t know for certain, but I would guess they’ll be held at a police precinct overnight and then taken to their own kangaroo court hearings sometime tomorrow, where they will be sentenced to as many as 15 days in jail and stiff fines.

Thanks to Marina Ken for the video and much else.

bbc

#NetworkCase

Earlier today in Petersburg, the final two defendants in the notorious frame-up known, hilariously, as the Network Case, were sentenced to seven and five and a half years in prison, respectively, for “involvement in a terrorist community.”

In reality, anxious to show their paranoid fascist president that he was right to surround himself with one of the largest security and bureaucratic apparatuses in history, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) abducted and tortured a dozen absolutely harmless young men in Penza and Petersburg, and then cooked up a fascist fairy tale about how these young men (many of whom most of us would be happy to have as neighbors) were actually a secret “terrorist community,” code-named “the Network,” who were planning to cause mayhem on the eve of Putin’s triumphant re-election and the soccer World Cup in 2018.

There wasn’t any “Network,” and it had no plans of doing anything of the sort. But it is now over two and a half years since the FSB kicked off its little adventure in Penza (in October 2017). Over the last year, the ten defendants in the case have been sentenced to a total of 110 years in prison due to the FSB’s sick fantasy.

Thanks to the BBC Russian Service for the picture, the news reports and so much else.

video

#NetworkCase

It wasn’t bad enough that Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov were sentenced today in Petersburg to 7 years and 5 1/2 years, respectively, for “involvement” in the nonexistent “terrorist community” “the Network.” No, the Putinist police state had to send a small army of riot police and “Russian National Guardsmen” to the courthouse to settle the hash of the brave people who came out to protest the verdict, which was a foregone conclusion.

If you’re sitting in other parts of the world, especially the US, and having a hard time getting your head around this story, just think about the remarkable “coincidence” that, just before his now infamous conference call with US governors, Trump had been chatting with his mentor and idol Vladimir Putin on the phone.

What is happening in Petersburg today is what happens when “policing” is the end all and be of “government,” when the powers that be have to preserve their supreme power at all costs, even if this means, ultimately, destroying their people and their country.

Thanks to Yevgenia Litvinova, who shared this video (which she found on Telegram), and all the other people who have taught me the lesson of endurance and solidarity in the face of overwhelming odds.

Edited, written and translated by the Russian Reader

The Network Case

DSCN5441 “Stay human”

This is a complete list of all the articles on the Network Case (aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case) and related developments that I have published on this website to date. The list will be updated and republished periodically as more articles are added. \\ TRR

[Updated: 3 September 2020]

#NetworkCase #ДелоСети

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

Do Black Lives Matter in Russia?

ponaexaliAnush Avetisyan’s opinion piece in the Stavropol Pravda newspaper. The sidebar contains a summary of polling data on (the mostly negative) Russian attitudes towards ethnic minorities and migrants. Courtesy of Anusha Avetisyan’s Facebook page

Anush Avetisyan
Facebook
June 5, 2020

I haven’t written about racism, the death of George Floyd, or the protests all these days. It hurts me to think and talk about it. No matter how childish it sounds, I would have liked to have been on the scene at that moment and saved Floyd by getting personally involved. When I was a second-year student of journalism, I needed such help. I couldn’t breathe, either. I was suffocated by constant reminders that I was an “other,” that I and my kind had “ruined the neighborhood,” that I was “desecrating Russian culture,” and that I was a “blackass.” (Sorry!)

I had thought that once I found myself among educated people, I would finally forget what discrimination and nationalism were. But no. Even more often was I forced to hear comments like “Why are so you normal, when all wogs act like they’ve just come down from the mountains?”

Maybe because you have a lot of prejudices?

I was the only person in my class to graduate from school with distinction, and the teacher decided to congratulate me by saying the following to my schoolmates: “Look, you lot should be ashamed. Even she, a NON-RUSSIAN, could do it!”

During lectures on the cultural history of Stavropol Territory, my female university classmates were eager to prove that Caucasians were originally not from the Caucasus, and that “national minorities” (as they called all non-Russians) had no place in Russia. My classmates would ask me mockingly why I didn’t cover my head with a scarf and celebrate Ramadan. This proved not only that they were ignorant of the history and culture of other countries, but also that they viewed all people with dark hair and thick eyebrows as an undifferentiated black mob of non-Russians with cultures, traditions, and values they found incomprehensible.

When I got a job on the radio, the editor tried to make me lose my “Caucasian accent.” I still don’t understand how I could have had one, since we spoke Russian at home all our lives. Unfortunately, my dad does not know Armenian, as he grew up in Petersburg.

As my colleague Fatima Tlis has correctly pointed out, I could not and cannot even imagine that my schoolteacher, my classmates, and my employers would take to the streets to protest the fact that nationalism made it hard for me and others like me to breathe in Russia. Would the ethnic Russian population have protested the death of a Caucasian, Tajik, or Armenian at the hands of the police?!

The problem of racism exists here in the United States, but it was in this country that I first felt at home. This can be said by many immigrants from all over the world, by people of various nationalities. Here “others” are accepted and given the same opportunities.

I found this copy of an opinion column in the Stavropol Pravda that I wrote as a second-year journalism student in my grandmother’s personal belongings. She trusted me with her innermost secrets. Among letters from her son, audiotapes of her daughter singing, and postcards from her beloved granddaughters, I found my cri de coeur, neatly clipped from the newspaper. My grandmother, the closest person in the world to me, knew how important the subject was to me, how much anguish I feel when faced with injustice.

#GeorgeFloyd #BlackLivesMatter

Anush Avetisyan is a journalist at Voice of America and lives in Washington, DC. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader