Nine Activists Detained in Petersburg at Picket Against Amendments to Constitution

con-1“Our motto: The constitution is forever, while the president and government [should serve] only 1 (one) term.” Photo by Maksim Klyagin for RFE/RL

Nine Activists Detained in Petersburg at Picket Against Amendments to Constitution
Maksim Klyagin
Radio Svoboda
February 1, 2020

Our correspondent reports that several activists picketing against proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution have been detained on Senate Square in Petersburg.

Several people were detained without explanation. Police pointed at them, after which they were escorted to paddy wagons, one of which has left the scene.

According to OVD Info, the detainees include Vadim Kazak, Yevgeny Musin, and Marina Ken. Kazak was put in a paddy wagon for refusing to sign a warning about [violating] the rules for holding a public event. He has been taken to Police Precinct No. 77. Musin was detained for holding up a placard that read, “Say no to Putin’s amendments to the Constitution!”

con-2Riot police detain picketer on Senate Square in Petersburg. Photo by Maksim Klyagin for RFE/RL

Our correspondent reports that police have also detained activist Alexander Tonkonogov, who was holding a handmade placard on an A4-sized sheet of paper. Yegor Stroyev has also been escorted to a paddy wagon.

One of the picketers, Vladimir Shipitsyn, was detained brutally by police.

“They’re carrying him by the arms and legs, they can’t lift him up. He hit his hand on the ground. They’ve put him on a bench,” our correspondent reported. An ambulance has been called for Shipitsyn, but it has not yet arrived. He has been loaded into a paddy wagon.

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Riot police drag protester Vladimir Shipitsyn by the arms. Photo by Maksim Klyagin for RFE/RL

A total of eight activists were detained. The police stopped arresting people, and the riot squad soon left the scene. The picketers were standing in groups but had no placards.

Update, 3:39 p.m. MBKh Media has reported that activist Andrei Makashov was later detained on Nevsky Prospect. Although he had no placard, he had been among the picketers on Senate Square.

What Happened at the Rally Before the Arrests Began
Indefinite Protest, the movement which organized the rally, had labeled it a “people’s gathering” in defense of constitutional government. People took turns holding up placards and picketing. Around fifty people took part in the event. There were arrests at a similar picket on January 26.

“Even in a concentration camp, you can’t go too far. People rebelled in Stalin’s camps. But we’re not in a concentration camp, and you can’t do like things like that [with the Constitution]. I don’t think we’re active enough, because all those scoundrels and crook have a stranglehold over the country,” said Asan Mumji, one of the picketers.

“We have lived for a very long time in a country not governed by laws. First, there were the monarchs, then some bandits and general secretaries. The first attempt to make Russia a law-based country was in March 2017, when people wanted to create the Constituent Assembly. The second attempt was in the early nineties when the current Constitution was adopted. This doesn’t mean that I fully approve of it, but it works—it protects human rights and ensures the rule of law. It is completely wrong to destroy it, especially given the fact that we have had one man in power for twenty years. The state is not someone’s personal property, it belongs to everyone. It’s the managers who should be changed: they should not be allowed to get comfortable in their posts,” noted picketer Vladimir Shipitsyn.

One of the activists argued that there should be solid grounds for every amendment.

“But there have not been good arguments for any of them: they’re like surprise gifts. The only thing Putin cited was the growing public demand for radical reform. But, in fact, this was nothing other than demagoguery,” she said.

Vladimir Putin announced plans to amend the Russian Constitution during his address to the Federal Assembly on January 15. The president proposed giving the Russian Constitution precedence over international law and enshrining the status and role of the State Council, which Putin has revived. The opposition fears that Putin wants the constitution amended in this way so that when his current term as president runs out in 2024, he can head the State Council and thus remain in power.

Putin has appointed a working group of seventy-five people to draft amendments to the constitution. The group has already proposed one hundred changes to the country’s basic law. A law bill on amending the constitution was unanimously approved by the Russian State Duma in its first reading. The second reading has been scheduled for February 11, but it could be postponed to a later date.

According to a poll conducted by the Levada Center, forty-seven percent of Russians believe that the constitution is being amended to advance Putin’s interests by expanding his powers and allowing him to remain in power beyond 2024.

Thanks to Yevgenia Litvinova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Even Fascist Thugs Deserve Good Pay

d980753722fa6fe87bc7d8f46c7b5f01Russian National Guard troops. Photo courtesy of Moskva News Agency and the Moscow Times

Mishustin Introduces Bonus Pay for Security Forces in Moscow and Petersburg Working Protest Rallies
Mediazona
January 24, 2020

According to the government’s website, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has introduced bonus pay for regular police and National Guard officers in Moscow, Moscow Region, Petersburg, and Leningrad Region who perform “complicated tasks.”

The bonus would be as much as 100% of the monthly salary. It would be paid to Interior Ministry officers “involved in maintaining public order,” and National Guard soldiers “involved in providing law enforcement and ensuring public safety during mass events.”

The two government decrees introducing the bonus did not clarify what was meant by “complicated tasks.”

In October, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin thanked the security forces officers who worked last summer’s protest rallies. He said they had “ensured order on the streets of Moscow” and not let rally organizers “bring events to a critical point.”

Sobyanin also called the July 27 rally a “pre-planned, well-organized riot,” claiming that protesters had forced police to use force. Last summer, the mayor said the actions of the security forces, who brutally detained demonstrators, were “completely appropriate.”

The Moscow police later decided to sue the opposition for 10.2 million rubles for having to work the protest rallies. A court also ordered them to pay the National Guard, whose soldiers were involved in policing the summer protests, 2.3 million rubles after the Moscow prosecutor’s office filed suit on their behalf.

Thanks to Ksenia Astafiyeva and Mediazona for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the 2019 Russian regional elections and the fallout from them, including the ongoing crackdowns against opposition politicians and rank-and-file protesters.

“Red Darya” Polyudova Arrested Again

“Red Darya,” the fourth episode of Grani TV’s series “Extremists,” posted on October 30, 2017

Darya Polyudova Remanded in Custody in Terrorism and Separatism Case
Grani.ru
January 16, 2020

Judge Anna Sokova of the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow has remanded in custody Darya Polyudova, leader of the Left Resistance movement, until March 13,  Moskva News Agency has reported. Polyudova has been charged with calling for separatism and vindicating terrorism.

According to the news agency, Polyudova has been charged with violating Russian Criminal Code Articles 280.1.1 (public calls for separatism, punishable by up to four years in prison) and 205.2.2 (public vindication of terrorism via the internet, punishable by five to seven years in prison).

Polyudova pleaded innocent and informed the judge of a number of procedural violations. According to Polyudova, she has been charged with “calling for separatism and a referendum on the Kuril Islands, and vindicating terrorism on social networks.”

Earlier, civic activist Alla Naumcheva reported that the investigation of the case was focused on “two video clips of some kind.”

Kuban activist Viktor Chirikov has reported that Polyudova is represented by court-appointed lawyer Galina Timofeyeva.

The record of Polyudova’s case on the Meshchansky District Court’s website lists only one charge, the alleged violation of Russian Criminal Code Article 205.2.2.

The political prisoner’s mother, Tatyana Polyudova, wrote on Facebook that her daughter had been taken to Remand Prison No. 6 in Moscow’s Pechatniki District. According to her, FSB investigator Dmitry Lashchenov was handling the investigation.

Human rights activist Irina Yatsenko told MBKh Media that on Wednesday leftist activist Kirill Kotov had been detained and questioned in the same case. He signed a non-disclosure agreement.

The day before Polyudova’s arrest, the security forces searched her dormitory room, as well as the dwelling of Gradus TV reporter Olga Sapronova, in connection with the case. Sapronova was questioned at the FSB’s Moscow and Moscow Regional Office on Bolshoi Kiselny Alley before being released. Her attorney, Olga Pelshe, was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement on the case. Sapronova’s procedural status is currently unknown.

In 2015–2017, Polyudova served a two-year sentence at Work-Release Penal Settlement No. 10 in Novorossiysk after being convicted of publicly calling for extremism (Russian Criminal Code Article 280.1), publicly calling for extremism via the internet (Article 280.2), and publicly calling for separatism via the internet (Article 280.1.2). The opposition activist was convicted for organizing the March for the Federalization of  Kuban and solo-picketing against the war with Ukraine, and for posts she had published on the VK social network. Polyudova maintained her innocence.

After her release from prison, Polyudova moved to Moscow, where she had been organizing protest rallies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Website Builder Tilda Cracks Down on “Political” Website

tilda

A screenshot of Tilda’s homepage

Website Builder Tilda Blocks Rostov Case Website
Mediazona
January 16, 2020

Website builder Tilda has blocked a website containing information about Vladislav Mordasov and Yan Sidorov, defendants in the so-called Rostov Case, according to a Telegram channel dealing with the criminal case.

The page’s creators received an email from Tilda’s legal service.

“We wish to inform you that your project has been blocked for publishing politically directed information. Tilda is a platform designed for creating business projects,” the letter said.

The legal service stressed that Tilda was not designed for the “posting and publication of information and/or projects involving exposés, scandals, offensive content, and other such things.”

“Personally, we understand you and your position, and would like to help. But we cannot jeopardize the sites of our other users by working with such content, since it is impossible for us to moderate such projects,” the letter said.

The activists said that Tilda had allowed them to download their website in order to publish it on another platform.

In October of last year, the Rostov Regional Court sentenced 24-year-old Vladislav Mordasov and 19-year-old Yan Sidorov to six years and seven months, and six and half years, respectively, in a maximum-security prison. In December, the Third Appellate Court upheld the verdict.

rostov case

“Blocked.” The Rostov Case Telegram channel announces Tilda’s decision to shut down their website.

Mordasov and Sidorov were found guilty of attempting to organize riots (punishable under Articles 30.3 and 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). The young men frequented a chat room for supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev, and on the day of his promised “revolution,”they picketed the Rostov regional government building.

Tilda Publishing is a service that lets users create their own websites using pre-designed blocks. Russian businessman Nikita Obukhov launched the platform in 2014.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Why is this an important story? Because more Russian grassroots activists than I can count have created websites on the Tilda platform to champion their causes, and that has included publicizing political trials like the one described above. For example, human rights activists in Petersburg have used Tilda to create a website about the frame-up of immigrants from Central Asia, who were charged and, recently, convicted of helping to organize a bombing in the Petersburg subway in April 2017. Thanks to Julia Murashova for the heads-up.

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Manifesto

In 2017, Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov took part in a peaceful picket. They were arrested, accused of involvement in rioting, tortured into confessing, jailed for a few years in a remand prison, and recently sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security prison.

There is no reason to doubt that the case against them was cooked up by the Investigative Committee and Center “E”, if only because there was no rioting. Amnesty International and the Memorial Human Rights Center have recognized the young men as prisoners of conscience.

We demand the immediate release of Sidorov and Mordasov, the reversal of the court rulings in their case, and the prosecution of those in the security forces responsible for fabricating charges against them and torturing them.

Source: rostovcase.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Russia: Two youth activists jailed in deplorable act of injustice
Amnesty International
October 4, 2019

Today a court in Rostov-on-Don (southern Russia) sentenced two youth activists, Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov, to six years and six months and six years and seven months in a penal colony respectively and another, Viacheslav Shashmin, to three years on probation on fabricated charges of “attempted organization of mass disturbances” and “attempted participation in mass disturbances”. Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said:

“Yan Sidorov, Vladislav Mordasov and Viacheslav Shashmin are prisoners of conscience detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Throwing these human rights activists behind bars is a deplorable move which serves as an indictment of the state of the Russian justice system.

“These young men organized a peaceful picket with nothing more than a piece of paper and a loudspeaker. In falsely characterizing this protest as a violent ‘mass disturbance’, Russian investigators have fabricated a story designed to destroy the lives of these activists and their families. The charges brought against them contradict most apparent facts and go against international law and standards.

“During a plainly unfair trial the court closed its eyes to the evidence supporting Yan Sidorov, Vladislav Mordasov and Viacheslav Shashmin’s innocence. We call on the Russian authorities to quash the sentences and release these two young men immediately and unconditionally. Peaceful protest is not a crime and the right to peaceful assembly is enshrined in international law.”

Background

On 4 October, the Rostov-on-Don Regional Court found Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov guilty of “attempted organization of mass disturbances” and sentenced them to up to six years and seven months in a penal colony. In the same decision, Viacheslav Shashmin was found guilty of “attempted participation in mass disturbances” and was given three years of probation.

The human rights activists were prosecuted for trying to stage a peaceful protest in November 2017 in support of residents who had lost their houses in mass fires in Rostov-on-Don in August that year. Yan Sidorov and Viacheslav Shashmin were 18 years old when they were arrested in November 2017. Vladislav Mordasov was 21 years old.

Picketing in Petersburg for the People of Idlib

idlib 5

Movement of Conscientious Objectors (DSO)
Jan 8, 2020
vk.com

“Done!” An Anti-War Picket on Christmas

Members of the Movement of Conscientious Objectors to Military Service held solo pickets on the evening of January 7 outside the headquarters of the Western Military District on Palace Square in Saint Petersburg. The decision to hold an anti-war picket demanding an end to the bombing of people in the Syrian province of Idlib was prompted by a series of articles in Novaya Gazeta about the actions of the Russian military.

idlib 1

Clockwise from upper left-hand corner: “Bombs don’t solve anything!” “Stop bombing for peace!” “Don’t serve war! Don’t join the army!” “Idlib needs medical care, food, and shelter—not bombs!”

We chatted online with Amir al Muarri, a musician from Idlib, and went out to picket on [Russian Orthodox] Christmas day.

As can be clearly heard in a recording of communications between Russian pilots and headquarters, they say, “Package received. Adjusting course. Counting down. Jackpot.”

They then release a missile that brings death, blood, and destruction to people.

After the missile has hit the target, a pilot reports, “Done.”

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“Idlib! We are against bombing. I’m ashamed of my country.”

It is a pity we did not think to write these words in Arabic, only in English.

Read more about the situation in the Syrian province of Idlib in Novaya Gazeta.

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As practice has shown, there are always people who start writing comments like “Where is the evidence?” I would like to reply, Do you see microbes? No. Then how do you know they exist? You believe scientists who have studied this question and shaped scientific opinion. It is the same with many other questions. I don’t claim to have researched all the questions in the world by myself. On this particular issue, I trust the journalists at Novaya Gazeta, in particular, Elena Milashina, who has studied the subject and authored a number of articles on it.

idlib 4

As for remarks that the American military is also bombing and killing people, I would reply that a pacifist’s uppermost concern should be criticizing the policy of war waged in the name of his or her country.

Otherwise, it is like the old Soviet joke. “We can also go out onto Red Square, shout that the US president is a fool, and get away with it scot-free.”

Or it is like in the famous song by Alexander Galich in which the narrator reads out a prepared speech written for a woman whom he urgently had to replace: “The whole world knows the Israeli warmongers. / I say, as a woman and a mother, / They must be brought to justice.”

Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Photos courtesy of the Movement of Conscientious Objectors (DSO). Translated by the Russian Reader

Coffee Klatch Averted in Makhachkala

Six Activists and Journalists Detained After Refusing to Drink Coffee with Makhachkala’s Deputy Mayor
Novoye Delo
January 4, 2019

On January 4, OurCity (GorodNash) activists went to inspect Makhachkala’s main square, Effendi Kapiyev Square, after its reconstruction.

They were met by Makhachkala Deputy Mayor Effendi Khaydakov and a spokesman for the contractor, as well as city hall staffers.

After an exchange of opinions about the quality of the renovation and the completion date, the deputy minister invited the activists to go have a coffee, but they declined his offer and went on inspecting the square.

When the deputy mayor left to drink coffee, two police patrol squads arrived, detaining six people, including Svetlana Anokhina, Arsen Magomedov, Caucasian Knot journalist Musa Musayev, and two cameramen, one of them from city hall’s press service.

Magomedov told Novoye Delo by telephone that they were being taken to the Soviet District Police Department in Makhachkala.

After the square was cleared of activists, Makhachkala Mayor Salman Dadayev came out to chat with the remaining city hall staffers and townspeople.

P.S. Magomedov reported by telephone that all the detainees were released immediately after being delivered to the police department, and they have returned to the square to continue their inspection. Contractors recently handed the square over to the city.

makhachkala our cityOurCity activists in Makhachkala. Photo courtesy of RIA Derbent

What Does Makhachkala Have in Common with Yekaterinburg?
RIA Derbent
May 21, 2019

In Makhachkala, activists from the movement OurCity (Gorodnash) held a picket in support of Yekaterinburg residents protesting construction of a church in a city park.

The people who gathered on Saturday, May 18, also recorded a video message in which they voiced support for Yekaterinburg residents and proclaimed their solidarity with them against construction in park areas. Lawyer Arsen Magomedov said in the video that the Makhachkala activists had likewise been fighting plans to construct a church in the city’s Ak Gel Park.

Local activists have opposed construction of a church in the park since 2017. In September of that year, a memorial cross was dedicated on the site of planned construction in a religious service involving the Russian ethnic communities of Makhachkala, Kizlyar, and the Kizlyar District, as well as the Terek Cossacks of Dagestan. The Lenin District Court was already then considering a suit filed by activists challenging the legality of leasing land in the park for construction of a cathedral, a suit the activists won in December 2017. In April 2018, however, the Russian Supreme Court overturned the ruling by the Lenin District Court.

[…]

[T]he planned cathedral in Ak Gel Park was not the first or last target of Makhachkala urban activists opposed to redevelopment of the city’s green oases. Activists united to form the grassroots movement OurCity in January 2017 after Ramazan Abdulatipov, the former head of Dagestan, spearheaded a campaign to build an interactive museum, Russia Is My History, in Lenin Komsomol Park. After residents of Makhachkala protested, and thousands of people signed a petition opposing the plan, Abdulatipov announced that construction had been postponed in the wake of a “wide-ranging public discussion.” The same year, the now-united urban activists campaigned against plans to redevelop the square opposite the monument to Effendi Kapiyev. In both cases, activists managed to persuade courts to annul decisions by city hall to lease the land.

In December 2017, lawyer and urban activist Arsen Magomedov filed a complaint with the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service about the Makhachkala City Property Committee’s  tendering of a lease to a 520-square-meter plot in 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution Park (aka the Dog Park), a complaint that was upheld. Magomedov used a similar method to annul bidding to construct a residential building in the green belt on Ali Aliyev Street.

Comparing the situation in Yekaterinburg and Makhachkala, Magomedov complained that, over two years of grassroots confrontation and court proceedings, neither the Russian Orthodox diocese nor the municipal or republican governments had engaged in dialogue with activists to resolve the dispute. According to Magomedov, people in Yekaterinburg were able to attract the attention of the federal authorities and win concessions “because the issue turned into a shooting war, with clashes, confrontations, arrests, and fights.”

The protesters in Makhachkala and Yekaterinburg say they are not opposed to building churches, but to the redevelopment of parks. Activists in Makhachkala have suggested moving the construction site one hundred meters away from the park to wasteland near the lake.

We talked to human rights defender and OurCity activist Svetlana Anokhina about what the protests in Yekaterinburg have shown us and how we should think about them.

Svetlana, do you think what has happened in Yekaterinburg will become an example for the entire country?

I’m surprised that what happened here in Makhachkala hasn’t become an example for the entire country. After all, we were able to organize a pressure group of ethnic Russians to file a lawsuit and write a letter to Patriarch Kirill in order to protect the city’s Muslim activists from possible attacks. The authorities tried to politicize outrage over plans to build a church in Ak Gel Park, because everyone understands that if the subject were raised by Muslim activists, they would immediately be accused of extremism and belonging to a nonexistent pro-Islamic sleeper cell, of course.

It doesn’t occur to the authorities that people just want to live a normal city with parks and trees. They don’t notice how they’re destroying the city.

But to make themselves heard, people in Yekaterinburg had to tear down fences and battle the police.

I don’t believe the folks in Yekaterinburg are wrong, or that their actions have been too radical, but such risks are impossible for us. This shouldn’t become an example for the whole country, because it was a spontaneous protest by desperate people, driven to despair by the authorities themselves, who sicked riot cops and martial arts club fighters on them. In my opinion, the protest itself was spontaneous, something you cannot say about the crackdown against the protest, which involved oligarchs and fighters from a martial arts club owned by an oligarch, and the Orthodox Church, which is structured like a military organization, and the police and the authorities. In this light, it is total nonsense to say that the grassroots protests were organized by outside forces, and that the protesters were too radical.

So this is the price for getting the president’s attention and his suggestion to conduct a survey?

You did hear what Yekaterinburg’s mayor said, didn’t you? That there wouldn’t be a referendum on the issue because it required a lot of preparation (a year!), but there would be some kind of public opinion poll. Someone countered him by pointing out that the referendum in Crimea was organized in two weeks.

I don’t like the fact that residents need to get through to the president to solve local problems. Issues like this should be decided at the local level, and if local officials cannot come to an agreement with ordinary people, it means they are not doing their jobs and should be replaced.

Thanks to Marina Ken for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Judge Not

trialStill from Judge Gramm. Courtesy of YouTube

Activist Karim Yamadayev Could Face Criminal Charges for Video Depicting “Execution” of Sechin and Peskov
Grani.ru
January 3, 2019

Quoting human rights activist Ruzil Mingalimov, MBKh Media reports that the Tatarstan branch of the Russian Investigative Committee has opened a criminal investigation under Article 319 of the Russian Criminal Code (“insulting a government official”) over an episode of the web series Judge Gramm in which activist Karim Yamadayev, playing a judge, sentences Igor Sechin and Dmitry Peskov.

Judge Gramm (Episode 1)

In the video, the judge reads out sentences to people wearing black bags over their heads and signs reading “Vladimir Putin,” “Dmitry Peskov,” and “Igor Sechin,” respectively. The judge sentences Peskov and Sechin to death before escorting them off camera, taking a gun with him, in Peskov’s case, and an axe, in Sechin’s. Sounds of a gunshot and an axe striking a chopping block are then heard. At the end of the video, the judge says that the trial has been recessed until the following week.

Investigators searched Yamadayev’s home on Friday before taking him to the Russian Investigative Committee. Police also searched an office and the home of Yamadayev’s parents, said Alexei Glukhov, head of Apologia for Protest. Mingalimov reported to Mediazona that Yamadayev was interrogated and qualified as a witness before being released.

During the search, investigators seized computer equipment and a notebook containing passwords to online payment systems.

“[Yamadayev] is afraid the investigators will clean them out,” Mingalimov said.

On December 31, Yamadayev was summoned to the police over the same video.

“They got a tip, which they didn’t show us, by the way. They said they were obliged to react to the tip within seventy-two hours, and so they summoned [Yamadayev],” Mingalimov said.

After making a statement, Yamadayev was released.

96593“Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, 1952–2019.” Photo courtesy of Grani.ru

A resident of Naberezhnye Chelny, Yamadayev was jailed on March 12, 2019, for twenty-eight days for, allegedly, setting up a gravestone with Putin’s name outside the city’s Investigative Committee office. Another activist, 32-year-old Nikolai Peresedov, was sentenced to six days in jail over the incident. Yamadayev was found guilty of violating Article 20.2.8 of the Administrative Offenses Code (“repeated violation of the procedure for holding public events”), while Peresedov was found guilty of violating Article 20.2.2 (“holding a public event without prior notification”). Yamadayev went on hunger strike during his time in jail. In September, he filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.

Translated by the Russian Reader