Whose Bodies? Whose Selves?

Putin Instructs Government to “Strengthen Financial Interest” of Hospitals in Preventing Abortions 
Mediazona
October 27, 2020

President Vladimir Putin has instructed the government to “strengthen the financial interest of medical organizations” in preventing abortions, as follows from the list of instructions published on the president’s website after an expanded meeting of the State Council’s presidium.

Putin appointed Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Governor of the Novgorod Region Andrei Nikitin as his point men in dealing with the issue.

Together with a State Council working group, they must evaluate the work of doctors in preventing abortions and improve its effectiveness, including ensuring that hospitals cooperate with “social service organizations.”

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

People attend a anti-government, pro-abortion demonstration in front of parliament, on April 9, 2016 in Warsaw. Photo: WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images via Foreign Policy

Putin Orders Government to Improve Abortion Prevention Efforts
Moscow Times
October 27, 2020

President Vladimir Putin has urged the government to improve abortion prevention strategies in an effort to reduce the number of terminated pregnancies and offset Russia’s population decline.

Putin’s order was made public days after Poland’s top court deemed abortions performed in cases of fetal defects to be unconstitutional. For Poland, which already had some of Europe’s strictest abortion laws, the decision amounted to a near-total ban on the procedure, sparking mass protests in over 150 Polish cities.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and regional heads will be tasked with reassessing Russia’s abortion prevention strategies and developing mechanisms to increase funding for medical organizations that improve their abortion prevention rates, according to Putin’s order published Saturday.

Improving access to legal, psychological and medical assistance through the maternity insurance program is outlined in Putin’s order as a key measure expected to dissuade women from abortion.

Russia, which has one of the world’s highest abortion rates, has named abortion reduction as one of its key demographic policy priorities. In the past five years, pregnancy terminations have decreased by nearly 30%, Deputy Health Minister Oleg Salagai said Tuesday.

Russia’s efforts to improve abortion prevention have largely failed to revert its looming demographic crisis, however, with the country’s population predicted to decline by 352,500 in 2020 compared to a decrease of 32,100 in 2019.

Russia has one of the world’s most liberal abortion laws, with most procedures performed at no cost under the mandatory state health insurance program. Terminating a pregnancy is allowed up until the 12th week, with abortions at later stages only permitted if the pregnancy was a result of rape or for medical reasons.

The Russian Orthodox Church and conservative lawmakers have pushed for an end to state-funded abortions in recent years.

Women’s rights advocates have voiced concern over Russia’s move toward tighter restrictions after the government introduced a mandatory waiting period between the abortion request and the procedure itself in 2011. Some Russian regions also require women to undergo counseling with a priest or a psychologist before the procedure can be performed.

Russian women reported being denied access to free abortions during the coronavirus lockdown this spring when Russian clinics postponed scheduled medical procedures.

“The FSB Are the Main Terrorists”: The Political Biography of Ivan Astashin

Ivan Astashin in prison. Photo by Maxim Pivovarov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

“The FSB Are the Main Terrorists”: The Political Biography of Ivan Astashin
Dmitry Volchek
Radio Svoboda
October 3, 2020

On the night of December 20, 2009, the eve of State Security Officers Day, a group of young people threw a Molotov cocktail into the FSB’s offices in Moscow’s Southwest District. No one was injured, and the room was slightly damaged: a windowsill and several chairs were burned. A video of the protest soon appeared on the internet, entitled “Happy Chekists Day, Bastards!” The author of the video was 17-year-old Ivan Astashin.

The arson sparked a large-scale, trumped-up criminal case against the so-called Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization (ABTO), which was headed, according to investigators, by Astashin. Initially, the alleged members of ABTO were charged with property damage, but soon they were also accused of disorderly conduct. The Investigative Committee later decided that the defendants in the case had wanted to impact state policy, so they should be tried for “terrorism”(as punishable under Article 205 of the criminal code). They were tortured into confessing.

Ten young people were involved in the ABTO Case. In 2012, they were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. Astashin received the longest sentence—13 years in a high-security penal colony, which was later reduced to 9 years and 9 months. Astashin was first sent to Krasnoyarsk Correctional Colony No. 17, but in 2014 he was transferred to Norilsk Correctional Colony No. 15. Lawyers and human rights activists argued that the case was political, pointing out that ABTO did not exist, and the members of the alleged “terrorist organization” did not even know each other.

“In Ivan’s case, the FSB took revenge on teenagers who dared to throw a bottle of petrol through their window. The case was a bellwether. It showed how the security forces had degenerated: why should they stake out real criminals and document their every move, if they could torture children until they lose consciousness, forcing them to sign a horseshit ‘confession’ that will then be called ‘evidence’ in the verdict?” said lawyer Igor Popovsky, who argued Astashin’s case before the Russian Supreme Court.

In recent years, Astashin has become known as an op-ed writer, penning articles about prison mores. On September 1, 2019, Radio Svoboda published his letter “Breaking Convicts Under the Law’s Cover,” which detailed the injustices at Krasnoyarsk CC 17, about the differences among castes of prisoners, their collaboration with wardens, and the psychological coercion employed on prisoners by correctional officers. We soon received a response from the penal colony’s wardens that Astashin had not written the letter and that no violations of the law were permitted in the colony. Although we knew that the letter had been written by Astashin, we took down the article, fearing for his safety.

On September 21, 2020, Astashin completed his sentence and was released. He is currently working on a book about his prison experience. He told Radio Svoboda about what happened to him on the outside and in prison.

Your comrade Alexei Makarov said that he became a revolutionary when he was 15 years old. When did you get interested in politics?

When I was about 14 years old. And it all started with a nationalist agenda. There were violent clashes between [ethnic] Russians and Caucasians in Kondopoga [in 2006]. I looked for information and in early 2007 I joined the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI).

When they called you a nationalist in court, were they right?

At first I was a nationalist, then my views expanded. I left DPNI and in 2009 joined The Other Russia coalition, which at that time was led by Eduard Limonov, Mikhail Kasyanov, and Garry Kasparov, and it included nationalists, liberals, communists, and anyone else you can think of. In the same year, 2009, I visited Ukraine, where I got acquainted with the movement of autonomous nationalists, and I thought that we should do something like it. At that time, there was a split in The Other Russia coalition, everything there came to a grinding halt. My radicalization occurred because there were no people organizing above ground. Then there was the movement of autonomists in Russia, both nationalists and left-wing anarchists. Direct action against the police began: police departments and police cars were torched. I also thought that we should do something like this. At that time, I felt like a revolutionary. I was 17 years old, and we decided to hold a protest action against the FSB.

You made a video of the action. It is still accessible on the internet, and there is a slogan “Russian action.” So, this was a nationalist protest?

Yes.

Do you regret it or recall it with pleasure?

Neither one nor the other. I don’t regret anything: what’s done is done. At the same time, I now believe that it was ineffective: the protest’s efficiency rating was negative. We had wanted to draw attention to the dictatorship of the Chekists, but [the video had] ten thousand views, which is a drop in the ocean. It did not spark a public discussion, it was all a big waste of time. Meanwhile, the people involved in the protest received long prison sentences. Of course, these were ineffective actions.

You were also accused of trying to blow up a Lexus. Whose car was it?

That was a stupid story. As a chemist, I experimented, I was interested in pyrotechnic devices and explosives. I built this thing and decided to test it. I found a Lexus: I thought it was probably insured. That’s another social subtext.

Attack the rich?

Yeah.

The investigators claimed that you were the leader of an organization that consisted of about ten people. Who were these people?

Guys I knew, but not all of them. They also carried out direct actions: seven arson attacks. The only thing we had in common was that we were acquainted. We were tortured into confessing that we had collaborated. If you read the verdict carefully, there are many inconsistencies. They write that the guys saw a police department and decided to torch it. But why do they then write that I was in charge of the action? Nevertheless, we were tried as an organized criminal group: everything those guys did I was charged with as well, and I was convicted as the organizer.

But did you know of ABTO’s existence? And did the organization even exist?

It was during the investigation that I found out that I was the head of the organization. And I saw the videos that they posted on the internet. Neither they nor we had any organization. The person who posted the videos just decided that it would be more interesting if he wrote that it was some kind of organization. It was four people going round setting fires.

Are the Network and New Greatness cases similar to what happened in the ABTO Case, or have the methods of the Chekists changed over the last ten years?

They are very similar, only worse. We were arrested for real actions. There was no terrorism in our case, but there were actions: they can be qualified as property damage or disorderly conduct. In the Network and New Greatness cases, there were no actions at all, that is, they were tried simply for belonging to mythical organizations. The laws that are now used to judge the defendants in those cases simply did not exist in our time. If we were tried now, we would probably be given twenty years in prison. All those articles [in the criminal code] are getting tougher and tougher, and the cases are now tried by special military courts. In addition, now there is the Rosfinmonitoring list [a financial stop list of “extremists” and “terrorists”], plus probation until your conviction has been expunged from your record. It’s easier for [the security services] to work in this way, because they don’t have to wait for someone to set something on fire, they can just take some guys who behave the wrong way, talk about the wrong things, or look the wrong way, and whip up a nice terrorism case, and get awards and promotions.

Ivan Astashin and comrades holding a rally on Chekists Day, on December 20, 2009, on Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow. Their banner reads, “The FSB are enemies of the people.” Courtesy of Ivan Astashin and RFE/RL

I read the article in which you write that the FSB are the only terrorists in Russia.

Yes, I wrote that, because terrorism is defined in the criminal code as various actions (not necessarily explosions and arson) intended to frighten and intimidate the populace. And who is intimidating the populace now, other than the FSB? We have other security services, but they are also dependent on the FSB. You know, when I carried out the action against the FSB, I really didn’t fully understand what kind of an organization it was. I understood that they had a lot of power, that the country was actually a Chekist dictatorship, but I had no idea how big it was. Even ordinary cops shake in their boots when FSBniks show up. The doors to all government institutions are open to the Chekists. All civil servants, judges, and MPs obey them unquestioningly. That’s why I called the FSB the main terrorists.

Did FSB officers visit you in the prison camp and threaten you?

Yes, that was in 2015. As usual, they did not introduce themselves, but only mentioned that they had flow in from Moscow: I was serving my sentence in Norilsk at the time. They were interested in what I was going to do after my release. I said that there were five more years until the end of my sentence, and I didn’t know yet what I would do after my release. They told me something to the effect that I shouldn’t get it into my head to engage in any political activity. Not that they directly threatened me, but they mentioned that even if I went abroad and mad trouble for them there, they would still get to me.

How did ordinary prisoners perceive you? As a hero or as a weirdo whose motives were impossible to understand?

Differently. There really were convicts who would say, Well done, cool, they need to be burned. There were also who thought it was odd: you’ve been sent down for ten years, what was the point?

Drawing by Stanislav Tanichev. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You said in an interview that you saw all of Russia in the Siberian prison camps. What have you learned about Russia? Is it ready for the revolution you dreamed of?

Many people living in Moscow have no idea what is happening beyond the Moscow Ring Road, how people survive on a salary of 5-10 thousand rubles [a month; meaning between 55 and 110 euros, approximately]. They often live on the outside according to the same concepts as they do in prison. As for whether they are ready for revolution, that is a difficult question. Many people just can’t imagine that things could be different. There is the famous question: who [will be president], if not Putin? Indeed, many people have this notion in their heads.

Did you meet Putin fans even in the camps?

Yes.

Were they outliers or were there many of them?

The ardent Putin supporters were outliers, of course, but I would often hear people say that Putin was doing a great job: he’d lifted up the economy, whereas in the nineties there had been nothing to eat at all. But now the situation is moving away from Putin. Meaning that, whereas in 2014 everyone got behind “Crimea is ours” and Novorossiya, and sometimes a couple of prisoners would argue with several dozen [Putin supporters], but now they mostly chew out Putin’s policies.

Even in the Siberian camps in 2014, there was a patriotic upsurge and people were happy about the annexation of the Crimea?

Yes, but then the situation changed, and the whole upsurge fizzled out.

Last year, we published your letter about the situation at the Krasnoyarsk colony, and then the wardens demanded that it be removed: allegedly, you were not the author. We took it down so you wouldn’t get hurt. What happened to you then?

It was unexpected. It is clear that if you are institutionalized and you write something negative about the institution, then, of course, there will be a reaction. I was in Norilsk, describing the general practices that had developed in the prison system, and I mentioned the Krasnoyarsk camp as an example. And they got so upset! They made threats, very clear threats. In Krasnoyarsk Territory, there is Remand Prison No. 1, known for its torture cells. There is a regional tuberculosis hospital where convicts are absolutely illegally injected with the strongest psychotropic drugs. And when I was summoned for a chat about the matter by the head of the prevention and enforcement department [of the penal colony], he made it clear what could happen to me in the future. I know such stories about how a person wrote complaints about the wardens, and then he was taken to these places of torture, and then the person recanted his testimony while being videotaped. I knew that something similar could be done to me. I had to write the document that your editors received. Of course, when I wrote it, I really hoped that they would understand the situation.

Of course, we understood, but we were afraid for your safety and took down the article.

I was hoping they wouldn’t remove it. Both there and through the convicts, they tried to get to me, and for some time the email server was disabled, and the warden, when he went on rounds, made it clear that it was all because of me. Then I found out that I was to be transferred. Initially, there was information that I would be taken to that hospital in Krasnoyarsk. I had already been given to understand via the convicts that they could take me through the torture remand prisons there. Consequently, everything followed a completely different scenario: I was transferred to CC 17, which I had just been writing about. I was transported without any untoward happening to me. I arrived at the transit and transfer prison, and everything was cool: not a word was said about the situation. I was there for four days before arriving at CC 17, where the deputy warden said to me on my first day, “I know why you have been brought here. I don’t care about that article. Let’s put it this way: you are now going to quietly finish out your sentence, and you’re not going to create problems for me, and I’m not going to create problems for you.”

Did your other articles about life in the prison zones go unnoticed?

The others were also noticed, but there was a fairly calm reaction to them. At one time, there was a special field officer in charge of working with “extremists” and “terrorists,” and he sometimes called me in to say he’d read my articles.

I’m sure you met other prisoners convicted on similar charges.

Yes, there a lot of people convicted in high-profile cases in Krasnoyarsk and Norilsk. When I arrived at CC 15 in Norilsk, there were quite a lot of people who had been convicted under Article 205, but mostly they were people who had been involved in the fighting in the North Caucasus. When you read their verdicts you find mentions of [Chechen rebel commanders] Maskhadov, Khattab, and Shamil. And when I was transferred to CC 17 in Krasnoyarsk a year ago, I also saw quite a lot of people who had been involved in combat or attacks on security forces in the North Caucasus over the years.

Drawing by Stanislav Tanichev. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You rubbed shoulders in the camps with people of different ethnic groups living in Russia. Have you reconsidered the beliefs that moved you to become a revolutionary at the age of seventeen?

Yes, my views have changed. When I joined DPNI, I saw migrants as the problem, but over time I began to see the state as the problem. Migrants are not to blame for anything: they come here out of desperation, because their home countries are even worse than here, just as many people are leaving Russia for Europe now. In other words, these processes are quite natural. People of different ethnic groups and faiths can easily get along with each other. We just need competent policy to avoid conflicts. All this xenophobia is largely groundless. While I was on the inside, I read Robert Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, which examines why people are often biased against those who belong to a different race or ethnic group. If you get to the root of the problem, there is no reason for it. We need to think about what unites us, not what divides us.

I noticed in your interview with the BBC a reference to Vladimir Sorokin. Did you find something in common in what he describes with what you saw in the camps?

Yes, I love Vladimir Sorokin. One of the things that clicked with me was the idea of the new Middle Ages, as described in his novel Tellurium. I can say for sure that the Russian penitentiary system is the new Middle Ages. Here, in each region, there is a special way of life, which is shaped both by prison officials and prisoners, despite the fact that the law seems to be the same, and the codes prisoners live by is the same everywhere. In some places, prisoners live free and easy, while in others the wardens set up a totalitarian regime in the camps through beatings and torture, as, for example, was the case in Omsk before the riot there in 2018. In yet other places, the wardens and the pseudo-kingpins from among the convicts converge. There are unwritten rules, procedures, and forms of interaction everywhere. It really is the new Middle Ages.

Ivan Astashin with the artist Stanislav Tanichev, who illustrated his articles. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You have now been released, but you remain under probation?

Yes. The law on probation was adopted in 2011. I was arrested in 2010, but in 2017, changes were made to the law such that all those convicted of terrorist charges must be placed on probation until their criminal record is expunged, which in my case is eight years. No one cares about you behaved in prison. Whereas earlier, repeat offenders and those who were deemed repeat violators of prison rules were put on probation, now everyone convicted on terrorist charges is put on probation, too. No one cares that I went to prison long before the law was passed. Logically, according to the Russian Constitution and international norms, the law should not apply to me. However, it applies not only to me, but also to other people in this situation. Restrictions are imposed on us: we have to check in at a police department between one to four times a month. (I’m required to check in twice a month.) You cannot leave your home between ten at night and six in the morning. I have filed an appeal against my probation and plan to bring the case to the European Court of Human Rights, as I believe that this practice violates the European Convention on Human Rights. A complaint on similar grounds, filed by one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case, Sergei Udaltsov, has already been communicated to the European Court of Human Rights.

You don’t want to leave Russia?

I don’t. Everything is bad in Russia nowadays, but there are a lot of areas where you can do something and change things for the better. Nor am I talking about politics in the literal sense. For example, there is human rights advocacy. In any case, no matter what the circumstances, no matter where I am, I will still do something to change society for the better.

• • • • •

This translation is dedicated to Vladimir Akimenkov, a former Russian political prisoner and prisoner rights activist who over the years persuaded me to pay attention to Ivan Astashin’s remarkable story. If you have the means and the opportunity, please consider donating to Vladimir’s fund for Russian political prisoners. You will find the details below. || TRR

Ivan Astashin and Vladimir Akimenkov, October 11, 2020, Moscow. Courtesy of Vladimir Akimenkov’s Facebook page

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
June 7, 2020

My Annual Birthday Fundraising Event for Political Prisoners

On June 10, it will be eight years since I was arrested as part of the Bolotnaya Square Case. Every year on this date I hold a fundraiser in support of the political prisoners with whom I am currently working.

Every year we meet live on my birthday to help political prisoners. This year, for obvious reasons, we will not be able to meet on June 10. We will definitely do this later, when we can get together without the obvious threat of getting sick. (The live fundraising event will be announced later, via a separate post and an update to this post.)

In the meantime, I am launching a remote fundraising event. In recent years, we have managed to find over 16.8 million rubles [approx. 186,000 euros] for people who have been politically repressed. Please chip in. We need to raise a lot of money. I don’t want to be broken record, but such are realities of Russian society.

Bank details:

— Yandex Money: https://money.yandex.ru/to/410012642526680

— Sberbank Visa Card: 4276 3801 0623 4433, Vladimir Georgievich Akimenkov

Bank details for ruble transfer:

Correspondence account 30101810400000000225
Bank BIC 044525225
Recipient’s account 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s Individual Tax Number 7707083893
Recipient’s full name AKIMENKOV VLADIMIR GEORGIEVICH

Bank details for foreign currency transfers:

SWIFT Code SABRRUMM
Recipient’s account 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s full name AKIMENKOV VLADIMIR GEORGIEVICH

You can send funds from one foreign currency account to another via the Western Union website.

If you send me a personal message, I can send you a final report on the funds collected.

Please share information about the fundraiser on different venues.

I’m worried about this fundraiser. But I believe in people.

Thanks.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Birthday Party

OVD Info
Facebook
October 8, 2020

On October 7, protests took place in various cities in honor [sic] of President Vladimir Putin’s birthday. Police reacted differently in each case.

📍 In Moscow, members of Pussy Riot held an anti-homophobic protest by hanging rainbow flags on various government buildings. Police detained a journalist during the protest, and two participants later that evening. They were charged the rules for holding a public event. Today, police continued visiting the homes of the activists.

Left Bloc activists left bottles of PVA glue and swimming fins outside the office of the presidential administration. [This was an allusion to the Russian prison slang expression “to glue the fins” (skleit’ lasty), meaning “to die.”] Police detained a journalist who wanted to see how officials reacted to the installation. He was charged with violating the rules for holding a public event and has his electronic devices confiscated.

📍 In Kurgan, supporters of Alexei Navalny held solo pickets, wishing the president a speedy retirement. Afterwards, Center “E” officers attempted to enter the local Navalny headquarters, but were not allowed to enter.

📍 In Novokuibyshevsk (Samara Region), opposition activists picketed on the city’s central square. Police officers took them to the police station, where they questioned them, scolded them for violating social distancing rules, and released them without charge.

📍 In Petersburg, several people in Putin masks staged a protest outside Gostiny Dvor. Six people were detained and taken to three different police stations. They were charged with violating the self-isolation regime.

Activists of the Vesna Movement arranged a birthday spread outside the house where Vladimir Putin lived as a young man. After drinking tea, they pretended to be dead. The police are looking for the people involved in the protest at their actual and registered places of residence.

Photos by David Frenkel. Courtesy of OVD Info and Vesna. Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexander Skobov: Coping with Putin’s Fascism Lite

“Russia Day, June 12.” Petersburg, June 8, 2015

Alexander Skobov
Facebook
October 2, 2020

My deepest condolences to the family and friends of Irina Slavina. The words get stuck in our throat, and we clench our fists, but something has to be said. We must force ourselves.

The fascist Putin regime has killed tens of thousands of people from its very emergence in 1999. It has killed them with carpet bombing and rocket and artillery attacks. But it has killed them outside of Russia—in the Chechen Republic, in Ukraine, in Syria.

The fascist Putin regime has also killed undesirables in Russia. Some have been struck down by assassin’s bullets in the entryway of their buildings, other with poison. Still others were denied timely medical care in prison. Nevertheless, within Russia, the fascist Putin regime has killed piecemeal, not by the thousands. Its crackdowns on dissenters have not been nearly as brutal as that of the fascist regimes of the past.

In comparison with the crackdowns of fascist regimes in the past, the crackdowns administered by the fascist Putin regime could even be called child’s play. For this reason, the fascist Putin regime has been dubbed a “hybrid” regime by some political scientists.

The lower level of brutality the Putin fascist regime has meted out compared to the well-known classic examples of fascism has rendered these crackdowns routine, almost ordinary, tolerable, as it were. At the same time, the utter inability to prove one’s innocence and protect oneself from blatant lawlessness and tyranny has become something routine, ordinary, seemingly tolerable, seemingly normal.

Has anyone ever wondered how humiliating it is to exist in this sort of everyday life, this twisted “normality,” about the constant torment it is for people with a heightened sense of justice and self-esteem? The fascist Putin regime kills people through this continuous torture—through the systematic humiliation of human dignity and the impossibility of proving that it is, in fact, abnormal, that things should not be this way.

Like the fascist regimes of the past, Putin’s improved postmodern fascism lite continues to destroy what makes people human and continues to destroy people who have preserved their own humanity.

Alexander Skobov, a left-liberal writer and activist, is a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Igor Yakovenko: The Execution of Yuri Dmitriev

The Public Execution of the Historian Dmitriev
Igor Yakovenko’s Blog
September 30, 2020

Three days before the Karelian Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the “case” of the historian Yuri Dmitriev, the program “Vesti” on state TV channel Rossiya 24 ran a segment in which “shocking pictures” of Dmitriev’s foster daughter were aired. The voice of reporter Olga Zhurenkova shook with anger as she said that “hundreds of Internet users were shocked by these terrible pictures that appeared on the Internet on the morning of September 26,” that “the Internet is boiling with indignation” at this monster who “ruined a child’s life.” The security services got into Dmitriev’s computer and pulled out photos of his foster daughter. Then the security services leaked these photos to the Internet for thousands to see. After that, Rossiya 24 showed them on TV to millions. And they also showed a video in which the foster daughter hugs Dmitriev: the girl can clearly be identified in the video, and just to make sure, Rossiya 24’s reporters called her by name.

This goes to the question of who actually ruined the child’s life and why they did it.

Rossiya 24’s handiwork lasts 4 minutes, 48 seconds. The state channel’s reporters managed to pack into this amount of time all the hatred that the ideological heirs of Stalin’s executioners feel towards the man who for many years studied and presented to the public the traces of the latter’s crimes. In all his previous trials, Dmitriev and his defense team managed to fully prove his innocence. And the prosecutors were well aware that he was innocent, so to concoct and pass a monstrous sentence on him, they recreated the ambiance of the show trials during the Great Terror. Back then, the “people’s anger” was fueled by newspaper articles, demonstrations outside the courtroom, and meetings at factories where shockworkers demanded that the Trotskyite-fascist Judases be shot like mad dogs. Now, in the third decade of the 21st century, the Internet and TV organize the “people’s anger.”

The appeals hearing in Dmitriev’s case was orchestrated like a special military operation whose goal was to prevent the human rights defender from getting out of prison alive. To accomplish this, in addition to organizing the “people’s anger,” the authorities virtually deprived Dmitriev of legal counsel. His lead defense attorney, Viktor Anufriev, was quarantined on suspicion of having the coronavirus, while the court-appointed lawyer said that it was a mockery to expect him to review the nineteen volumes of the case file in three days. Despite the fact that Anufriev petitioned to postpone the hearing for a specific period after his release from quarantine, and Dmitriev declined the services of the court-appointed lawyers, the court, contrary to normal practice, refused to postpone the hearing, and so Dmitriev was left virtually with no legal representation.

Yuri Dmitriev’s work touched a very sensitive chord in the collective soul of Russia’s current bosses, who see themselves as the direct heirs of those who organized the Great Terror, which, they are firmly convinced, is a purely internal matter of the “new nobility.” It is virtually a family secret. They believe that Dmitriev—who not only investigated the mass murders at the Sandarmokh killing field, but also invited foreign journalists there and published lists of those who were killed—is a traitor who deserves to die.

Moreover, the Dmitriev case has come to embody one of the most important amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation adopted this past summer. Namely, the new Article 67.1, which establishes a completely monstrous norm: “The Russian Federation honors the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland [and] ensures the protection of historical truth.” In other words, the task of protecting the “historical truth” is assumed not by historians, but by the state, that is, by the apparatus of violence and coercion.

In fact, the Dmitriev case has been a demonstrative act of “historical truth enforcement.”

The fact is that on the eve of Dmitriev’s trial, members of the Russian Military History Society attempted to write a “correct history” of the killing field in Sandarmokh. They dug up mass graves and hauled away bags of the remains for “forensic examination,” subsequently that they were Soviet soldiers who had been shot by the Finnish invaders.

There should be no blank or black spots in the history of the Fatherland: everything should shine with cleanliness, resound with military exploits and feats of labor, and smell of patriotism. To this end, MP Alexei Zhuravlyov—the man who recently told Russian TV viewers that Europe has brothels for zoophiles where you can rape a turtle—introduced a bill under which you could get three years in prison for “distorting history.” To Zhuravlyov’s great disappointment, his legislative initiative was not appreciated.

And really, why send someone down for three years for promoting “incorrect history,” when you can send them to a maximum security penal colony for thirteen years, which for the 64-year-old human rights activist is tantamount to a death sentence. It was this verdict that was issued by the Karelian Supreme Court by order of the heirs of those who organized the Great Terror.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Yuri Dmitriev. Photo by Igor Podgorny/TASS. Courtesy of the Moscow Times

Prominent Gulag Historian’s 3.5-Year Prison Sentence Lengthened to 13 Years
Moscow Times
September 29, 2020

A Russian court has lengthened the term prominent Gulag historian Yuri Dmitriev must serve in prison to 13 years, the Mediazona news website reported Tuesday, a surprise increase of a lenient sentence for charges his allies say were trumped up to silence him.

Dmitriev was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison in July after a city court in northwestern Russia found him guilty of sexually assaulting his adopted [sic] daughter, a ruling his supporters viewed as a victory given the 15 years requested by prosecutors.

The Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia overturned that ruling and sentenced him to 13 years in a maximum-security penal colony, Mediazona reported, citing the lawyer of Dmitriev’s adopted [sic] daughter.

Under his previous sentence, Dmitriev, 64, would have been released in November as his time already served in pre-trial detention counted toward his sentence.

Human rights advocates condemned the Karelia Supreme Court’s ruling, calling it a “shame.”

Dmitriev has vehemently denied the charges against him.

The head of the Memorial human rights group’s Karelia branch, Dmitriev is known for helping open the Sandarmokh memorial to the thousands of victims murdered there during Stalin-era political repressions in 1937 and 1938.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crimean Solidarity volunteer Server Zekiryaev: 13 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample letter

Привет,

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

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

Addresses

Marlen  Asanov

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

Асанову, Марлену Рифатовичу, 1977 г. р

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

Asanov, Marlen Rifatovich, b. 1977]

Memet Belyalov

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

Белялову, Мемету Решатовичу, 1989 г.р.

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

Belyalov, Memet Reshatovich, b. 1989]

Timur Ibragimov

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

Ибрагимову, Тимуру Изетовичу, 1985 г.р.

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

Ibragimov, Timur Izetovich, b. 1985]

Server Mustafayev

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

Мустафаеву,  Серверу Рустемовичу, 1986 г.р.

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

Mustafayev, Server Rustemovich,  b. 1986]

Seiran Saliyev

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

Салиеву,  Сейрану Алимовичу, 1985 г.р.

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

Saliyev, Seiran Alimovich, b. 1985]

Edem Smailov

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

Смаилову,  Эдему Назимовичу, 1968 г.р.

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

Smailov, Edem Nazimovich, b. 1968]

Server Zekiryaev

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

Зекирьяеву, Серверу Зекиевичу, 1973 г.р.

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

Zekiryaev, Server Zekievich, b. 1973]

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

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

Minsk, September 6, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by the Russian Reader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Easy Way Merkel Could Punish Putin for Poisoning Navalny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Sota.Vision and Novaya Gazeta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The Witnesses

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Forensic Examinations

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

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

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

3. Bias and Presumption of Guilt

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

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

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

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

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

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

A huge number of questions immediately come to mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#NetworkCase 

Artemy Troitsky: Putin’s Last Autumn? (Song of the Ordinary Man)

Putin’s “Last Autumn”? (Song of the Ordinary Man)
Artemy Troitsky
Echo of Moscow
August 28, 2020

I’m an ordinary guy, not lacking in simplicity.
I’m just like him, I’m just like you.
I don’t see the point in talking to me —
It’s the same as talking to yourself.

The are the opening lines from Mike Naumenko’s “Song of the Ordinary Man.” Mike Naumenko died on August 27, 1991, twenty-nine years ago, an anniversary that many remembered, especially since in recent years Mike’s legacy has been held in high esteem, and rightly so. However, I’m sorry to say I won’t be talking about my late friend this time, but about something else entirely. I recalled Mike’s song because I am a one-hundred-percent “ordinary man” in Mike’s sense of the term, someone who has neither inside info nor insights, nor political science tricks up his sleeve, nor political party experience, and besides I am absolutely indifferent to conspiracy theories. At the same time, I am quite interested in what is happening in Russia, and I want to get to the bottom of it without resorting to any bells and whistles except for publicly available information and common sense.

For many months, the popular expert and lonely nightingale known as Valery Solovey has been trying to persuade his audience, weary with uncertainty, that this autumn 1) mass protests of unprecedented power will kick off; 2) the authorities will most likely be unable to cope with this “turbulence,” especially since 3) President Putin, due to “force majeure” circumstances, will hardly be able to be involved in this process and generally has been fading away; 4) although Putin has appointed a successor, there is little chance that the Kremlin’s scenario will be implemented; 5) consequently, we will probably be “living in a different country” by 2022. Needless to say, this all appears quite appetizing (to a person with my anarcho-libertarian tastes).

Because I live abroad permanently, I did not attend Solovey’s private lectures. I was too bashful to shout “Give me the details!” over the phone, so I didn’t think it possible to get into a debate or, on the contrary, celebrate our country’s imminent deliverance from the hated regime. But another dear “talker and troublemaker,” Gennady Gudkov, has just made a similar forecast (in an article entitled “Putin is leaving: the transition has already begun”). Gudkov is super-experienced: he’s an KGB officer, a former MP, and a prominent opposition figure. At the same time, like the “ordinary man” that I am, Gudkov does not rely on secret data from the backstreets of the deep state, instead making his conclusions based on news bulletins. And his conclusions, in short, are that Putin is going to leave the Kremlin, either due to unbearably bad health, or because he is just very tired. Accordingly, the people of Russia are going to be transported from one reality to another like a passenger changing planes.

This, unfortunately, is what I would like to argue with.

First of all, I don’t enjoy regularly watching Putin on screen, but from the bits and pieces I have come across, I wouldn’t conclude that he has physically and/or mentally noticeably thrown in the towel. Sixty-eight is a laid-back age: I am sixty-five, say, but I don’t do sports and fitness, I’m not under the care of doctors, I don’t inject Botox and stem cells, I don’t deny myself any “harmful excesses” (except smoking tobacco), and I feel great. And since when did a ruler’s feeble state affect anything in Russia? Let’s remember dear old Leonid Brezhnev, who could barely move his tongue, the zombie-like Chernenko, and late-period Yeltsin. Secondly, it is absolutely impossible that Putin would voluntarily deign to vacate the throne due to fatigue or anything else. He’s only going out on a gun carriage. In my opinion, it is quite clear: this is Lukashenko’s scenario, not F****ace’s. And we should note that the Reset One doesn’t even have Consanguineous Kolenka to fall back on, while iPhone Boy, the Buddhist, and the Reindeer Herder are . . . Even arguing this point is boring.

Nikolai “Kolenka” Lukashenko (far left) and his father, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, at a meeting “in the situation room of Independence Palace” on August 23, 2020. Screenshot from the Telegram channel Pul Pervogo. Courtesy of Mediazona Belarus

Nor do I think that the predictions of mighty grassroots turbulence are more realistic. Why should I? Russians have learned to put up with poverty, and empty store shelves, and “elections,” and the riot police. Russians who haven’t learned to put with these things have left the country and will continue to leave it: as many who can get out will get out as soon as the quarantine is lifted. What happened on Maidan and is happening in Belarus is regarded by the majority of the Russian populace as a nightmare, while the minority sees it as a miracle, an impossible miracle. The only obvious reaction to the events in Belarus has been on the darned social networks. In tiny Lithuania, fifty thousand people turned out for a rally of solidarity with the rebellious people of Belarus; in Tallinn, two or three thousand people lined up in a chain; in Moscow, a couple of hundred young people protested outside the Belarusian embassy on Maroseyka, most of them Belarusian nationals. And what about the Russian city of Khabarovsk? Everyone is, like, amazed at the resilience of the protesters (for the time being it’s as if they’re talking to a brick wall), but only solo picketers come out in support of them in other parts of Russia. Or have I fallen behind the times in my own little corner of Europe, and it’s just the good weather that is to blame for everything? And in the autumn Russians are going to cut loose and go bonkers?

This is how Mike’s song ends:

If you ask me what the moral is,
I will turn my gaze into the misty distance
And I’ll tell you: I’m sorry,
But, by God, I don’t know what the moral is.
We live the way we lived before,
And we’ll live that way until we die,
And if we live like this,
That means that’s how we should live!

Mike always spat out the last line with fury. I don’t know whether this was the desperate rage of a stoic or the impotent rage of a fatalist . . . Let’s hope, in any case, that I’m wrong.

Artemy Troitsky is a well-known Russian journalist and musical critic. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Thanks to TL, VL, NK, and AR for helping me to identify the Belarusian and Russian supervillains mentioned at the end of the fifth paragraph. Translated by the Russian Reader