Oleg Sentsov: “Catastrophically Bad”

DSCN0173Dmitry Dinze is Oleg Sentsov’s lawyer. Oleg Sentsov is the Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner who has been on hunger strike for eight-six days in the Polar Bear Maximum Security Penal Colony in Labytnangi, Yamalo-Nenetsk Autonomous District, Russian Federation. His only demand has been that the Kremlin release the sixty-four other Ukrainian political prisoners currently held in Russian prisons.

Late last night, Mr. Dinze, one of Russia’s best human rights and criminal defense lawyers, wrote“I’m no fan of rumors, of course. I find facts more interesting, even better, confirmed facts, but in this case the circumstances are different. According to diplomats who have been in contact with Russian officials on resolving the issue of Oleg Sentsov, they have no intention of releasing Sentsov. They are thinking his death should be a lesson to other inmates. If this is true, I don’t know what to say.”

Natalya Kaplan
Facebook
August 8, 2018

Things are not just bad, they are catastrophically bad. Oleg sent me a letter via his lawyer. He almost cannot stand up anymore. He wrote the end was near, and he was not talking about being released from prison. He asked whether anyone was still interested in his hunger strike: he is not given the letters sent to him, none of them. He said was in a news vacuum and had no idea what was happening.

The European Court of Human Rights insisted he be transferred to a civilian hospital, one close to his place of residence. Oleg refused. He said he would simply not survive the trip, and he had been bullied even more in the civilian hospital in Labytnangi, where he was hospitalized in the intensive care ward, than he had been in the prison hospital.

That’s Russia for you. I have no clue what else we can do and how we can save him. Things are really bad.

Natalya Kaplan is Oleg Sentsov’s cousin. Thanks to Yana Teplitskaya for heads-up. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

Everyones Wants to Like and Be Liked

Mail.ru Group Speaks Out against Punishments for Likes and Reposts
Company Proposes Changing the Law and Law Enforcement Practice
Olga Churakova and Yekaterina Bryzgalova
Vedomosti
August 6, 2018

Mail.ru Group не раз критиковала громкие законодательные инициативы, касающиеся интернетаMail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile law bills and laws affecting the internet. Photo by Yevgeny Yegorov. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Mail.ru Group, which owns the largest social networks in Russia, VK and Odnoklassniki [“Classmates”], has harshly condemned the practice of filing criminal charges against social media users for likes and reposts on social networks.

“Often the actions of law enforcement authorities have been clearly disproportionate to the potential danger, and their reaction to comments and memes in news feeds are inordinately severe,” reads a statement on the company’s website. “We are convinced laws and law enforcement practices must be changed. We believe it necessary to grant amnesty to people who have been wrongly convicted and decriminalize such cases in the future.”

Recently, the number of convictions for posts and reposts on social networks has reached a critical mass, explained a Mail.ru Group employee. Most of the convicitions are not only unjust but also absurd. He would not explain what specific corrections the company was going to propose.

“We believe current laws need to be adjusted, and we are going to make pertinent proposals,” VK’s press service told Vedomosti.

Mail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile laws and law bills affecting the internet. In 2013, for example, the company opposed an anti-piracy law. In 2015, it teamed up with Yandex to criticize the “right to be forgotten” law. In 2016, it opposed a law bill that proposed regulating messengers and search engines.  But punishing people for likes and reposts has become a political issue. Members of the opposition and social activists have often been the victims of Criminal Code Article 282, amended in 2014 to allow prosecution of people for incitment to hatred or enmity while using the internet.

Communist Party MP Sergei Shargunov addressed the problem during the President’s Direct Line in June of this year.

“If Article 282 were taken literally, certain zealots would have to convict Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Mayakovsky, and have their works removed,” he said.

Putin agreed it was wrong to reduce such cases to absurdity. Subsequently, he tasked the Russian People’s Front (ONF) and the Prosecutor General’s Office with analyzing how the notions of “extremist community” and “extremist crime” were employed practically in law enforcement.

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“Prosecutions for Incitement to Enmity (Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1) in Russia. Numbers of People Convicted, 2009–2017. Source: Trials Department, Russian Supreme Court.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

An Agenda for the Autumn
On June 25, Shargunov and Alexei Zhuravlyov, leader of the Rodina [“Motherland”] party, tabled draft amendments in the Duma that would decriminalize “extremist” likes and reposts. The MPs proposed transferring the violation described in Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1 to the Administrative Offenses Code, where infractions would be punishable by a fine of up to 20,000 rubles or 15 days in jail, while leaving only Part 2 of Article 282 in the Criminal Code. Part 2 stipulates a punishment of up to six years in prison for the same actions when they are committed with violence, by a public official or by an organized group. The government, the Supreme Court, and the State Duma’s legal department gave the draft amendments negative reviews, pointing out that the grounds for adopting them were insufficient. A spokesman for Pavel Krasheninnikov, chair of the Duma’s Committee on Legislation, informed us the committee would start working on the amendments when MPs returned from summer recess.

The ONF, which held a meeting of experts in July, has begun drafting a report for the president. The legal community, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Supreme Court must send their proposals to the Kremlin’s control directorate before September 15.

Leonid Levin, chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, agreed there was a problem.

“The law is repressive, and there is no misdemeanor offense, although the Supreme Court issued an opinion that different cases should not be treated identically,” he said.

While there has been no lack of proposals, no one is in a hurry to abolish the law completely. A source in the Kremlin said dissemination of prohibited information should be punished. But a way of relaxing the law must be devised and, most important, a means of avoiding random convictions, he added.

A Demand for Liberalization
Recently, VK had been under pressure from the public due to the huge number of criminal prosecutions for posting pictures and reposts, said Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group. He argued the statement issued by Mail.ru Group was an attempt to defend the company’s reputation. According to the so-called Yarovaya package of amendments and laws, since January 1, 2018, VK has been obliged to provide law enforcement agencies with information about its users upon request, but the question of the legality of providing information having to do with people’s private lives remains open, since under Russian law a court order is required for this, Chikov noted.

Political scientist Abbas Gallyamov argued political decentralization and moderate opposition were now fashionable.

“Even the most cautious players sense the dictates of the age and have been trying to expand the space of freedom. Mail.ru Group is trying to be trendy,” he said.

Gallyamov predicted that, as the regime’s popularity ratings decline, the screws would be loosened, and the number of people advocating liberalization would grow.

Part of the political elite realizes many things have gone askew, agreed political scientist Alexander Kynev. A number of people hoped the circumstances could be exploited to push the idea of moderate liberalization. This could be a way of showing the regime was ready to talk, he argued.

“A lot will depend on what the autumn brings, on the results of regional elections. Now it would appear to be a topic that is up for discussion, but there are no guarantees. There are people in the government interested in having the topic discussed, but this doesn’t mean a decision has been taken,” Kynev said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“They Are Trying to Destroy Us for Daring to Speak Up”

“They Are Trying to Destroy Us for Daring to Speak Up”
Rural Pensioners Threatened with Fines for Rally against Police Inaction in Investigating Fatal Road Accident
Nadezhda Andreyeva
Novaya Gazeta
August 4, 2018

Residents of the village of Tersa in Saratov Region’s Volsk District have sent an open letter to the president asking him to take charge of investigating road accident in which 30-year-old Alexander Lopasteysky was killed. According to the letter’s authors, the local police have tried to cover up a crime. A criminal case has not yet been opened, although the fatal accident occurred more than two months ago. Over three hundred people, every tenth resident of the village, signed the letter. The residents then held an assembly where they discussed the inaction of law enforcement agencies. The police immediately sprang into action—but not to investigate the accident. The next night, the police made the rounds of the village, threatening residents with huge fines for attending an unauthorized public event. 

“To: The Kremlin, Moscow. From: Your Voters”
Railroad Street has never been paved or lighted. On the side of the road stands a black metal cross, fenced off with a chain.

“We didn’t bother to attach a plaque. Everyone knows who it’s for anyway.”

In the early hours of May 28, 2018, 30-year-old Tersa resident Alexander Lopasteysky died here while riding a motorcycle. According to his relatives, he was knocked off his bike and run over by Alexander Letov, driving a VAZ 2108 car.

Alexander Lopasteysky. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

An investigation of the fatal road accident was not opened. Villagers claim an investigator from the district Interior Ministry office came to Tersa to question witnesses forty-two days after the accident.

“The police probably thought they could dillydally, and the collective farmers would forget the whole thing,” argues Tersa resident Viktor Konstantinovich.

“I can’t say the police have been paid off. They have just been negligent in this case. A man accidentally fell off a motorcycle and died through his own fault. It’s convenient. They don’t have to make any effort,” says Valentina Vasilyevna, mother of the dead man, shuffling through photos of her son.

Lopasteysky’s relatives wrote to the district council and prosecutor’s office, asking them to take charge of the investigation. They received formal but meaningless replies to their requests. The only thing left to do was write the president.

“To: The Kremlin, Moscow. From: Your voters in the village of Tersa, Volsk District,” reads the opening of their appeal to the president, which was signed by over three hundred residents of the village, whose total population is approximately three thousand.

As the letter’s authors note, “There has been an attempt to cover the crime up, since Letov’s father is an officer in the Volsk District Police.”

Dream’s Backyard
The shop Dream is in the middle of the village, a one-storey brick box crowned with a tall wooden attic. Manufactured goods are through the door on the right, while groceries are through the door on the left.  Dream’s backyard was the site of the “unauthorized public event” at nine in the evening on a Sunday.

“The entire village waited for the investigation to begin. We were patient for two months. We sent letters to all the relevant authorities. What was left for us to do? People said we should raise a ruckus,” says Lyudmila Lopasteyskaya, the dead man’s sister.


Lyudmila Lopasteyskaya, Alexei Lopasteysky’s sister. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

On the social media website Odnoklassniki [“Classmates”], Lyudmila asked everyone concerned about the tragedy to meet by the entrance to the village shop. Around one hundred people came.

Half a dozen police officers from Volsk also came to the meeting, including one armed with a video  camera.

“They said it was forbidden to gather near the porch, that it was a public place. We went into the backyard. We wanted to find out what stage the investigation was at. But the police commander from Volsk turned his back on us and chewed out Lyudmila,” recounts pensioner Lydia Nikolayevna, a former schoolteacher.

“I said to him, ‘You’re treating people with disrespect, turn around and face us. He wouldn’t tell us his name. He only ordered the cameraman to film everyone who opened their mouths and told the other officers to write down people’s license plate numbers,” says pensioner Nadezhda Ivanovna, a former college employee.

People dispersed after village council head Vyacheslav Mokhov promised he would go with the dead man’s relatives to meet with the district police chief.

The next day, five Tersans went to Volsk.

“We were allowed to enter the police building in twos. Alexander’s daughter and the village head went in, then Alexander’s friends. I wanted to go last. But the police said to me, ‘No, that’s enough,'” says Valentina Vasilyevna.


Dream, the village shop. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

“We told them what evidence had been seen at the accident site. But the police weren’t really interested. They kept asking whether the village council had authorized the protest rally, and why the shop owners had agreed to let us in,” Viktor Konstantinovich recounts.

A 20,000 Ruble Fine on an 8,000 Ruble Pension
The police returned to the village a day later.

“They made the rounds of the houses yesterday and the day before yesterday. It was our village beat cop and some officers from Volsk. They knocked on the doors of old women at eleven, eleven-thirty at night. They told people to come outside, shoved papers in their faces, and told them to sign them. They told my wife that by six in the morning they had to get the signatures of the people who had gone to the meeting,” say Viktor Konstantinovich.

He nervously twirls a phone in his hands.

“Dont mention my surname in the newspaper,” he adds.

“He didn’t even get out of the car. I asked where he’d got my name and address. That stopped him short,” recounts Nadezhda Ivanovna.

“He said fines for protest rallies range from 10,000 to 20,000 rubles. My monthly pension is 8,000 rubles. I worked as a lab assistant for thirty-nine years. I spend my entire pension on the gas and light bills, and medicines. We’re frightened.”

“The police are not protecting us. On the contrary, they are destroying us for daring to speak up. Don’t take a picture of me. I have a grandson I’m raising.”

The village beat cop served Lopeystskaya with a notice of initiation of administrative proceedings under Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code (“Violation of the Rules for Holding a Public Event”), as filed “against an unknown person,” along with an official warning from the Interior Ministry’s district office.

The police informed Lopeystskaya that “in case of a public event, planned by you in the village of Tersa, you could face administrative and criminal sanctions.”

The warning was followed by list of six articles from the Administrative Offenses Code and Criminal Code, including the article that stipulates “organization of an extremist community” as a felony.


A box marked “Information about Incidents of Corruption” at the local police department. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

The neighborhood police precinct is in the village council  building. It is quiet and hot in the hallway, and flies are buzzing. The beat cop’s office hours are glued to a window: two hours on Tuesdays and  Saturdays, one hour on Fridays.

I call the mobile phone listed there.

“There was an unauthorized protest rally on my beat, ninety-seven people. I’ve been ordered to gather evidence,” says Lieutenant Alexander Bakanov.

Lieutenant Bakanov does not specify who gave the orders and why. He cuts the conversation short.

The village council head’s office. A United Russia party flag covers the window on the right. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

The door to the office of village council head Vyacheslav Mokhov is open. A blue United Russia party flag covers a crack in a window. There are framed photos of the president, the region’s governor, and the district head on the wall. The Volsk coat of arms features a sleeping bear.

The ladies in the office next door chime in unison that the boss has left the village.

“He’s gone to Volsk. No, he’s gone to Shikhany.”

Pointing at each other, they argue about who should replace Mokhov when he is out of the office.

Mokhov hangs up on me twice, but then he arrives at the office anyway.

“Don’t you photograph me. I’m scared of everything. This thing can be spun the wrong way,” he says.

“That was the first unauthorized protest rally in the Volsk District ever,” he adds, lowering his voice.

P.S. The press’s attention to this story has been reflected in the surprising speed with which local law enforcement has reacted. While this issue was going to press, a criminal case was opened under Criminal Code Article 264 (“Violation of Traffic Rules”), and the Volsk District Court placed Alexander Letov under house arrest. Volsk District Deputy Prosecutor Andrei Shevchenko refused to comment on the case when asked by Novaya Gazeta.

Meanwhile, the Volsk District Court has begun hearing the matter of Lyudmila Lopasteyskaya’s alleged violation of Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code. The Tersans summoned to testify have told the court that what happened was not a protest rally, but a meeting of villagers concerned about the tragedy. The next court hearing in the case has been scheduled for August 9.

Thanks to Valentin Urusov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Leonid Volkov: The List

list-2.jpegA screenshot of Rosfinmonitoring’s list of “extremists” (5 August 2018)

Leonid Volkov
Facebook
August 3, 2018

I hadn’t come across this subject before, but it’s completely hellish. It has to do with the conveyor belt of arrests in Barnaul of people who posted memes on social networks. By the by, you read that each of these people, who has been charged with “extremism” for posting funny pictures on VK, is placed on Rosfinmonitoring’s list of people who are, allegedly, accomplices to terrorists.

The list is no joke at all. All your bank accounts and bank cards are blocked, and you cannot open new accounts and get new bank cards. No one can transfer money to you. You cannot be employed anywhere. You cannot take out more than 10,000 rubles [approx. 136 euros] in cash per month from own bank account, so go ahead and live high on the hog.

The kicker is that people are placed on the list without a court order. So, you are charged with a crime and you wind up on the list.

I took a glance at the list: there are 8,507 people on it. Eight thousand five hundred and seven people.* The list really does include “5203. Motuznaya, Maria Sergeyevna, born 26.8.1994, Barnaul, Altai Territory.” Maria Motuznaya is the young woman who broke the story about the Center “E” officers and their informers in Altai Territory.

Of course, Rosfinmonitoring could definitely not care less about the laws on personal information. While you are tortured and fined, they quietly hang you out to dry on their list.

By the way, the list is called the “List of Persons about Whom There is Information of Their Involvement in Extremism or Terrorism,” and its URL is even more telling: http://www.fedsfm.ru/documents/terrorists-catalog-portal-act. So, a state agency, Rosfinmonitoring, labels 8,507 people “terrorists” just like that. It is obvious the majority of them have been placed on the list in the absence of a court ruling, because even when you take into account all the “terrorists” the FSB has dreamt up, actual terrorist cases have probably not amounted to a tenth of this number.

If you’ve been added to the list, there’s no going back. The web page containing the list also features a list of people who have been removed from the list: there are fourten such people.  I don’t know whether this is the number of people who have been removed from the list since it was established or over the last year. In any case, it is less than 0.2% of 8,507.

It’s probably no coincidence the number of acquittals in Russian courts is roughly the same percentage.

Anyone can end up on the list merely for posting a meme. There is no investigation, no trial, no explanations. Wham! Just like that you’re a “terrorist,” a lowlife excluded from modern society.

It’s a horrible thing.

* Since Mr. Volkov wrote this post, two days ago, Rosfinmonitoring seems to have added another nine people to the list.

Leonid Volkov is project manager at Navalny’s Team. Thanks to Yevegnia Litvinova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

83 Days

83 daysImage courtesy of Askold Kurov

Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike in a prison in the far north of Russia for eighty-three (83) days. His only demand is that the Kremlin release the other sixty-four (64) Ukrainian political prisoners it has incarcerated on trumped-up charges in the wake of its illegal, unprovoked occupation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine. {TRR}

#SaveSentsov
#FreeOlegSentsov
#Free64

The Happy Chooks of Ryazan

You never know what scam will be visited on your weary head when you buy a cartoon of eggs from the Dixie supermarket. When the country’s reigning tyrant instituted reverse sanctions against the infidels of the west in 2015, all imported dairy products, eggs, and lots of other produce disappeared from the shelves, prompting a shameless wave of newly hatched brands made to look as if they had been produced in Finland and other straunge strondes.

Now that the triumph of the will known as import substitution has filled some of the yawning gaps on the shelves, the new three-card monte in the Russian food industry involves imitating “corporate responsibility” and “best practices.”

I happened upon a sterling specimen the other day, again after buying eggs at the Dixie in our neighbourhood. I opened the carton to find this message from the producers.

okskoye-1“Oksky Eggs: Delicious and Fresh. Dear Friends! I offer you a product that my children, acqaintances, friends and, of course, I myself enjoy eating. I guarantee that we monitor the entire production process at Oksky Eggs. I promise I will always be in touch. I will be attentive and responsive to all your messages. Whatever the issue, write to me at my personal email address: 0076@okskoe.com. Ivan Grishkov, Commercial Director, Oksky Poultry Farm JSC.”

Sounds nifty, eh? It gets better when turn the little slip of paper over.

okskoye-2
“PRODUCER’S GUARANTEE. Each egg is stamped with the production date, the number of the henhouse, and the poultry farm’s trademark seal. [Producer] [Category of egg] [Production date (date and month)] [Henhouse number]. || Oksky Eggs: Delicious and Fresh. Oksky Poultry Farm JSC, 390540, Russia, [Ryazan Region], Ryazan District, Village of Oksky. Tel.: (4912) 51-22-62. Email: sbit@okskoe.com. Website: www.okskaya-ptf.ru.”

A farmboy myself, I have no wish to malign my brother and sister Russian farmers. So, I should point out that the three Oksky Eggs left in our fridge are indeed stamped as advertised.

DSCN0022.jpg

The rubber hits the road, however, when you take a gander at the poultry farm’s slick website, where you are treated to this tear-jerking video about the happy lives led by the chooks at Oksky Poultry Farm.

It’s a veritable vision of the good life, isn’t it?

oksky-the good life

oksky-anoshina

At the end of this accidental disco anthem to cruel and unusual hen exploitation, a woman identified as “Yelena Anoshina, poultry barns supervisor,” reading from cue cards, says, “A modern electronic system generates the most comfortable conditions for the birds. It makes sure they are fed and watered. And I am personally responsible for this.”

I can only imagine the dialogue that would ensue if an enlightened consumer or, god forbid, a animal rights advocate tried to call Mr. Grishkov and Ms. Anoshina on their imitation of “corporate responsibility” and “modern poultry farming.”

The kicker, however, is that you will find these half-hearted attempts at instituting customer friendliness and gesturing in the direction of best (western) practices all over corporate Russia these days. Of course, you are more likely to find real friendlessness and good quality in a mom-and-pop Uzbek dive or even a hipster coffeehouse, but oddly enough the impulse to do things better and shed the shabbiness and sheer meanness of the “Soviet consumerist hell” (Joseph Brodsky’s phrase) actually shapes the behavior of the mostly younger and early middle-aged people working in places like banks and certain government offices as well.

The only problem is the Russian ruling elite still wants to keep kicking rank-and-file Russians in the teeth on a daily basis, so the rules, regulations, red tape, and imperatives of the resurgent post-Soviet surveillance state and the kleptocratic oligarchy running the country mostly reduce the natural kindness and gentleness of these pleasant, soft-spoken cogs in the machine to naught. {TRR}

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Diskoteka Avariya (Accident Discotheque), “Disco Superstar” (2001)

 

Do the Right Thing

38072215_2021826408147215_5307798211635707904_n.jpgFamous Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov picketing outside the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow on July 31, 2018. His placard reads, “Send Anya Pavlikova, 18, and Masha Dubovik, home immediately! #StopFSB.” Anna Pavlikova and Maria Dubovik are currently under in police custody in a remand prison, charged with involvement in a “terrorist community,” New Greatness, that by all accounts was concocted by undercover agents of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) as a means of entrapping the people who attended its political discussions, held, allegedly, in rooms rented by the FSB for the purpose and fastfood restaurants. The fact that two teenage girls are in jail, while four of the ten people charged in the case are under house arrest has outraged many people in Russia, as well as the torture-like treatment meted out to Ms. Pavlikova by the authorities. Photo courtesy of the Support Group for Suspects in the New Greatness Case, a public group on Facebook

My posts on the New Greatness case and related affairs:

_____________________________

Do you remember the controversy that erupted when Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was released in 1989? I do, as well as going to a rather heated showing of the film at a cinema in downtown Portland, Ore., at which moviegoers were evenly divided between frightened white liberals and screaming black kids. That was a hoot.

The funny thing is that, when I watched the movie again a year or two ago, I realized that, for all its tremendous performances and stunning cinematography, editing, and directing, the question that plagued Americans in 1989—namely, what was the right thing to do?—was answered quite plainly and simply by one of the main characters at the end of the film. He understood what the right thing to do was and he did it.

When it comes to the Putinist secret police whacking on people who did nothing wrong— people like Oleg Sentsov, Anna Pavlikova, and the eleven young men implicated in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case—there’s no controversy. If we don’t publicize their cases, discuss them aloud, make a fuss, make a lot of noise, show our solidarity, and encourage other people to do the same, they will die in the effort to get other political prisoners released (i.e., Oleg Sentsov) or be tried in kangaroo courts and sent to prisons for many years for thought crimes or no crimes at all (i.e., Anna Pavlikova, her fellow New Greatness suspects, and the eleven Network lads).

Is that you want? It’s not what I want. But I don’t hear many of you making much noise about it. What are you scared of? Looking stupid? So what, “being cool” is more important than doing the right thing? Or do you thinking doing the right thing should make you look cool? In reality, most of the time, doing the right thing either goes wholly unnoticed or makes you look stupid, as in Spike Lee’s film.

There are people, however, who almost always know what the right thing to do is and have learned the simple lesson that solidarity is a two-way street. One of those people is the famous Russian human rights defender Lev Ponomaryov. {TRR}