“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

The Special Op in Omsk (The Poisoning of Alexei Navalny)

Leonid Volkov
Facebook
August 20, 2020

Everything happening now around Navalny (and what is happening is a special op), including not letting his doctor see him, not letting his wife see him, the huge number of security forces [at the hospital in Omsk], the refusal to transport him [to another country for treatment] is aimed at one goal and one goal alone. And it’s not treating the patient, of course.

The goal is concealing traces of the crime, making it impossible to detect the toxin, making sure no one gets access to the biomaterials, so that there is no convincing evidence of what substance was used to poison him and how it was used. So what if this is wreaks havoc with choosing the optimal medical treatment.

But it will allow the Kremlin to play their favorite game, like with the Boeing [shot down over Ukraine by Russian forces in July 2014]: to put forward 300 different hypotheses of any degree of absurdity (except the obvious and true explanation), and to shout “What is your evidence?” in response to the obvious explanation. In fact, they have already started doing it.

Translated by the Russian Reader 

NKVD Captain Yermolai Remizov fights ruthlessly against the Motherland’s enemies. His task force has cracked dozens of cases, eliminating the remnants of the White Guard, and capturing foreign spies and Trotskyist henchmen. From reliable sources, Remizov gets a signal about an upcoming act of sabotage at the Proletarian Diesel plant. The plant is the flagship of its industry, and any accident there would be a serious political statement. Remizov needs to identify the saboteurs urgently. But how? Suddenly, among the plant’s staff, the captain notices a new engineer, who bears a striking resemblance to an acquaintance from the Civil War…

This novel, Chekists, was published yesterday (August 19, 2020) by the major Russian publisher Eksmo, a fact made known to me by LitRes, Russia’s leading e-book service. The burgeoning genre of neo-Stalinist revisionist pulp fiction and the equally flourishing genre of neo-Stalinist revisionist “historiography” that nourishes it are two big parts of the relentless culture war waged by the “Chekists” in the Kremlin to make their flagrant, brutal misrule of the world’s largest country seem natural, inevitable, and historically predetermined. As part of their overall campaign to hold on to power in perpetuity, while bleeding the country dry, it only makes sense that they would turn governance into an endless, gigantic “special op,” in which poisoning “the Motherland’s enemies,” like Alexei Navalny, is all in a day’s work. // TRR


Doctors ‘fighting for life’ of Russia’s opposition leader Navalny after alleged poisoning
Yuliya Talmazan
NBC News
August 20, 2020

Fierce Krmlin critic and opposition leader Alexei Navalny is inh a coma as doctors fight for his life after he was poisoned Thursday mo rning, his spokespersoin said.

The 44-year-old foe of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin felt unwell on a flight back to Moscow from tTomsk, a city in Siberia, Kira Yarmysh said on iTwitter.

“The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk. Alexei has a toxic poisoning,” Yarmysh tweeted.

Navalny is said to be unconscious and was placed on a ventilator in an intensive care unit. Yarmysh did not say who she believed may have poisoned Navalny, but said police had been called to the hospital.

The politician is in a grave but stable condition, hospital representative Anatoly Kalinichenko, deputy chief physician at the Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1., said in a video shared by Yarmysh on Twitter.

Kalinichenko said all possible reasons for Navalny’s sudden illness were being looked at, including poisoning. “Doctors are really dealing with saving his life right now,” Kalinichenko added at a later briefing with reporters.

The spokeswoman said that doctors were preventing Navalny’s wife, Yulia, from seeing her husband. Yarmysh quoted the doctors as saying her passport was insufficient evidence of her identity, instead asking for their marriage certificate which she wasn’t carrying.

Yarmysh told Russian radio station Echo of Moscow there are tests being conducted to determine the nature of the toxin used. She said Navalny only had a black tea at an airport coffee shop before getting on the plane in the morning, and they believe that’s how he could have been poisoned.

She said she was sure it was “an intentional poisoning.”

“A year ago, he was poisoned in a prison, and I am sure the same thing happened here,” she told the station. “It’s different symptoms, obviously a different toxin, but obviously this was done to him intentionally.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said an investigation would be launched if it turned out Navalny was indeed poisoned. Asked if this was a special case because of Navalny’s outspoken criticism of the Russian government, Peskov added, “the current government has many critics,” according to the state-run TASS news agency.

Meanwhile, elements of Russia’s tightly-controlled state media have been exploring the narrative that Navalny may have had a lot to drink the previous night and took some kind of hangover pill today.

An anonymous law enforcement source told TASS that authorities are not yet considering this a poisoning.

“For the moment this version is not being considered,” the official said. “It is possible that he drank or took something himself yesterday.”

Last year, Navalny was rushed to a hospital from prison where he was serving a sentence following an administrative arrest, with what his team said was suspected poisoning.

Doctors then said he had a severe allergic attack and discharged him back to prison the following day.

In 2017, he was attacked by several men who threw antiseptic in his face, damaging one eye.

Pavel Lebedev was on the same plane as Navalny and posted an image of the politician drinking something out of a cup before the flight on his Instagram Stories. NBC News could not confirm that the photo shows the beverage that his spokeswoman believes may have poisoned him.

In a series of videos uploaded to his Instagram, Lebedev said he saw Navalny go to the bathroom after lift-off, and he did not return for a while.

“I heard a commotion and took my headphones off,” he added. “It turned out that there was an emergency landing in Omsk, so I thought someone was feeling ill. Then I turned my head and I saw Alexei lying down.”

Navalny rose to prominence in 2009 with investigations into official corruption and became a protest leader when hundreds of thousands took to the streets across Russia in 2011 to protest electoral fraud.

A few years later, and after several short-term spells in jail, Navalny faced two separate sets of fraud charges, which were viewed as political retribution aimed at stopping him from running for office.

In his only official campaign before his first conviction took effect, Navalny garnered 30 percent of the vote in the race for Moscow mayor in 2013.

Navalny also campaigned to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election, but was barred from running.

Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation has conducted in-depth investigations into the highest ranks of Russian political elite, including his most famous investigation into former prime minister and president Dmitry Medvedev.

Alexei Navalny’s brilliant March 2017 exposé of then-prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s corruption, viewed almost 36 million times

Last month, he had to shut down the foundation after a financially devastating lawsuit from Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.

Russia holds regional elections next month and Navalny and his allies have been preparing for them, trying to increase support for candidates which they back.

New Greatness Trial Ends in Guilty Verdict and Harsh Sentences

New Greatness Members Get from Six to Seven Years in Prison
RBC
August 6, 2020

ngNew Greatness defendants Vyacheslav Kryukov, Ruslan Kostylenkov, and Pyotr Karamzin in the cage at the Lyublino District Court in Moscow. Photo by Sergei Ilnitsky for EPA/TASS. 

The Lyublino District Court in Moscow has sentenced members of the organization [sic] New Greatness, Vyacheslav Kryukov, Pyotr Karamzin, and Ruslan Kostylenkov to six, six and a half, and seven years in prison, respectively, reports our correspondent. According to the verdict, they will serve their sentence in a medium-security penal colony.

The other defendants in the case—Dmitry Poletayev, Maxim Roshchin, Maria Dubovik, and Anna Pavlikova—received suspended [i.e., probationary] sentences of four to six and a half years. They should be released from custody in the courtroom.

The judge found all the defendants guilty of “creating an extremist community” (punishable Article 282.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). At the same time, the court acknowledged that there were mitigating circumstances: the fact that the defendants had no criminal records, the positive character statements made on their behalf, and the fact that some of them suffered from chronic illnesses.

“She is very upset. Even though it’s a suspended sentence, you can only be away from home from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. She wanted to work the night shift at the Moscow Zoo, but she won’t be able to do that. They will have full-fledged live only when all of them are free: a suspended sentence is still a sentence,” Anastasia, Anna Pavlikova’s sister, told RBC.

According to her, Pavlikova plans to appeal the verdict.

Our correspondent reports that the people gathered outside the courthouse are chanting “Shame!”

“In terms of standards of proof, the incident of provocation [by FSB agents] was the hardest to prove. It’s very hard to prove anything under the auspices of the security services. We did a great deal, we asked lots of questions. [Our] most important argument has been that such crimes are committed with a specific motive, but no motive was specified in the indictment. Therefore, there is no evidence of a crime,” Maxim Pashkov, Maria Dubovik’s lawyer, told reporters.

Translated by the Russian Reader

An “Acquittal” (of Sorts) in the Yuri Dmitriev Case

yuri dmitriev
#YuriDmitriev

Yevgenia Litvinova reports that Karelian historian and human rights activist Yuri Dmitriev was found “guilty” by the court today and sentenced to three and half years in prison. She remarks that this is tantamount to an “acquittal” because the prosecution had requested a sentence of fifteen years for Dmitriev. With time already served (in remand prison, where he has been nearly continuously since the spring of 2017), Dmitriev should be released from police custody in November.

It’s pointless to discuss the “crimes” of which Dmitriev was convicted today, because the charges were trumped-up and the trial was a sham. The real reason that Dmitriev was arrested and put through this hell was that he unearthed a massive NKVD execution/burial ground in a wooded place called Sandarmokh, a place that in the years since it was discovered has become a memorial to the victims of Stalin’s Great Terror.

A state now “led” by people who happily let themselves be called “Chekists” and are most certainly “ex” KGB officers could never forgive Dmitriev for a crime like that.

You can read all about Dmitriev, his persecution, and Sandarmokh by clicking on this link. \\ TRR

Photo courtesy of Yevgenia Litvinova

Chronicle of Current Vote Rigging

A Chronicle of Current Vote Rigging: The Russian National Referendum Through the Eyes of Observers of Petersburg 
July 16, 2020

This film by Observers of Petersburg shows how such how a high turnout (74.7%) and outcome (77.7% “yes” votes) were attained in Petersburg during the 2020 Russian national referendum.

Spoiler alert! All this was made possible by six days of early voting, which were impossible to monitor.

Time codes:
00:00 Opening
00:59 How will the 2020 vote be remembered?
02:44 Coronavirus: voting in a pandemic
06:12 Early voting
09:28 Voting at workplaces
13:20 Voting rolls
17:49 David Frenkel’s story: how a journalist’s arm was broken at a polling station
21:35 Observers from the Public Chamber
26:09 Vote counting
31:42 Honest polling station commissions
35:24 What will happen next? The Russian national referendum’s impact on future elections

Featuring:
Anastasia Romanova
Maria Moldavskaya
Dmitry Neuymin
Konstantin Korolyov
Olga Dmitrieva
Galina Kultiasova
Mikhail Molochnikov
Polina Kostyleva
Olga Khmelevskaya
Maria Chebykina
Natalia Yegorushkina
David Frenkel
Ivan Kvasov

The film was produced by Yulia and Yevgeny Selikhov.
Thanks to iz0 for doing the animation.

Sign a petition against multi-day voting.

Sign up to be a polling station commission member in Petersburg: https://airtable.com/shrHdcpxEuKq9f9o2

Thanks to Leokadia Frenkel for the link. The video’s title is an allusion to the Soviet-era samizdat periodical Chronicle of Current Events. Annotation translated by the Russian Reader

УИК 40 СПбCounting the votes at Polling Station No. 40 in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle

Beat the Press

agoras day

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

Andrey Loshak
Facebook
July 7, 2020

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

Pavel Chikov wrote this on Telegram:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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