“I Examined You from a Distance”: Journalist and Human Rights Lawyer Attacked in Grozny

84412382_3207050759323702_7873276774191202304_n“My poor head.” This was the photo that reporter Elena Milashina posted on her Facebook page after being attacked in Grozny earlier today.

Novaya Gazeta Journalist Elena Milashina and Human Rights Lawyer Marina Dubrovina Assaulted in Grozny
Mediazona
February 6, 2020

Novaya Gazeta has reported that persons unknown assaulted its correspondent Elena Milashina and human rights lawyer Marina Dubrovina in Grozny.

Milashina and Dubrovina had arrived in Grozny for the trial of blogger Islam Nukhanov, who shot a video entitled How Kadyrov and His Associates Live, Part 1. After the video was posted, Nukhanov was charged with illegal possession of weapons, punishable under Article 222 Part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Novaya Gazeta writes that the assault took place in the lobby of the Continent Hotel and near the building’s entrance. Unidentified men and women beat up lawyer Marina Dubrovina.

“It was mostly women who assaulted her, punching and kicking her,” the newspaper said.

The newspaper noted that the assailants videotaped the incident.

Milashina and Dubrovina are now having their injuries documented by physicians and plan to file charges with Chechen law enforcement authorities.

84105461_3207145192647592_8637423701794488320_nHuman rights lawyer Marina Dubrovina. “We are being driven to the crime scene in a police van with its lights flashing,” writes Elena Milashina.

Milashina has just written that Musa Bekov, a neurosurgeon at the Grozny hospital [where they went], refused to examine Dubrovina carefully.

“I examined you from a distance. Everything is fine, everything will heal. Have a nice day,” Milashina quoted the doctor as saying.

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Yegor Skovoroda
Facebook
February 6, 2020

It so happened that four years ago, when Kadyrov’s men attacked our van in Ingushetia, lawyer Marina Dubrovina was the first person I called and told about it —while lying on the floor of the van, its windows broken. I was beaten with sticks, first in the van, and then in a roadside ditch. Several young women next to me were beaten in the same way.

Today in Grozny, Marina Dubrovina and Elena Milashina, from Novaya Gazeta, were attacked near a hotel. I would not be surprised if the perpetrators were the same, but the man who commissions all crimes in Chechnya is Ramzan Kadyrov. Novaya writes that Marina was beaten up.

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Chechen Man Who Shot Video “How Kadyrov and His Associates Live” Charged with Crime
Mediazona
December 9, 2019

Novaya Gazeta reports that Islam Nukhanov, a Chechen man who shot a video entitled How Kadyrov and His Associates Live, has been charged with a criminal offense.

According to the newspaper, Nukhanov spent most of his time outside Chechnya, but in the spring he came to the republic to apply for a free operation. It writes that Nukhanov often watched the videos of opposition blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov.

“He frequently raised in conversation the question of how people were so filthy rich and lived in such palaces in a subsidized republic with very high unemployment,” Novaya Gazeta writes.

On October 31, Nukhanov posted a video, entitled How Kadyrov and His Associates Live, on YouTube. Shot from a car, the video features houses in a Grozny neighborhood that Novaya Gazeta calls the “Chechen Rublyovka.”

The newspaper describes the video’s contents: “The dashcam blankly records the houses on either side of the road. The driver does not utter a single word.”

According to Novaya Gazeta, the next day men in camouflage uniforms burst into Nukhanov’s house and took the young man away. It writes that the men confiscated all of his telephones, his computer and CPU, and the “ill-fated” Ford Focus whose dashcam Nukhanov used to shoot his video.

Novaya Gazeta writes that a day after the arrest Nukhanov’s father saw his son at the police station. He had been beaten up, his hand was bandaged, and his clothes were bloody and nearly torn to shreds.

Nukhanov was charged with illegal possession of weapons, as punishable under Article 222.1 of the Criminal Code. According to investigators, the young man was summoned to the police station to “verify intelligence.” Once at the station, Nukhanov allegedly behaved suspiciously, and so it was decided to search him. Police allegedly found two gun cartridges in his pocket, and when they searched his car, they also found a pistol. The young man pleaded guilty on the advice of his state-appointed lawyer.

The newspaper writes that Nukhanov spent nearly a month in the basement of the Grozny central police station. The court remanded him in custody only on November 27. After his wife hired Nukhanov a “proper” lawyer, he withdrew his confession.

Thanks to Yegor Skovoroda for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Nine Activists Detained in Petersburg at Picket Against Amendments to Constitution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

con-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Am the Lizard King, I Can Say Anything

The flag of Polevskoy. Courtesy of Wikipedia

United Russia Councillor Suggests Ural Villagers Send Children to Boarding School Due to Lack of Bus
Mediazona
January 27, 2020

In Sverdlovsk Region, Lyudmila Boronina, a member of the Polevskoy Urban District Council, suggested that residents of the village of Krasnaya Gorka send their children to a boarding school since the village does not have its own school or a bus to take children to Polevskoy, the nearest town. Boronina’s remarks were quoted by the newspaper Vechernye Vedomosti.

As the newspaper writes, on January 21, the council’s committee on social policy discussed educational issues, including the fact that there are few regular buses to Polevskoy from Krasnaya Gorka, forcing children to walk four kilometers along the highway to school. Boronina, who took part in the discussion, works at the Center for Culture and Folk Art and coordinates United Russia’s Strong Families project.

“Let’s recall the good old Soviet times: we had a system of boarding schools for children from rural areas. Children were brought to school on Monday morning and picked up on Saturday evening. We have a remedial school in the district. It is temporarily under repairs, but the district owns the building, and it is heated. Maybe we could consider a boarding school for rural children whose parents are not able to drive them to school?” Boronina said at the committee meeting.

Maxim Bestvater, a spokesman for the regional branch of the United Russia party, told the website Nakanune.RU that the proposal was far from perfect and would probably not be implemented since it had been met with hostility.

Bestvater urged people not to compare Boronina with Olga Glatskikh, as their remarks were of a “different caliber.”

As director of the Sverdlovsk region’s youth policy department, Glatskikh met with teenagers in Kirovgrad in 2018. She told them that the state basically did not owe them anything, but their parents did. She also said that the state had not asked their parents to have them. Glatskikh’s department was soon abolished, and she herself resigned.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Why do I translate and post stories like this? There are several reasons. First, because seemingly unimportant dispatches from the Russian back of beyond punch big holes in the myth of the “stability and prosperity” supposedly enjoyed by people in the nonexistent “Russian heartlands” under Putin. If I had the time, the money, and some extra help, I could churn out dozens of posts a day, all of them from places other than Moscow and Petersburg (although they are not immune to these problems, either) showing the staggering instability and immiseration the regime has visited upon villages and towns like Krasnaya Gorka and Polevskoy. Second, the fact that stories like this one are widely reported in Russian media and hotly discussed in Russian social media complicates the simplified picture of Russia as a country with no independent media or civil society. Third, they show how an authoritarian-populist regime functions in the twenty-first century—by “welcoming” certain limited, localized expressions of public discontent, thus deflecting attention away from the decision-making elites in the capitals and their overawing responsibility for the “minor apocalypses” that have been unfolding for decades in the provinces. Given Putin’s new “social turn,” as outlined in his recent state of the nation speech, it will be interesting to see what contradictions and collisions are sparked as the mafia state pretends to put on a more human face. [trr]

Supreme Ruler

verkhovnyi pravitel

As this biography by Valery Povolyaev indicates, Admiral Alexander Kolchak, a leader of the anti-Bolshevik White Movement, styled himself the “Supreme Ruler of Russia.” Image courtesy of Amazon

Proposed Amendment to Constitution Would Establish Office of “Supreme Ruler”
Radio Svoboda
January 28, 2020

Kommersant reports that the working group amending the Russian Constitution has proposed adding over a hundred new points to the country’s basic law, including renaming the office of president the “supreme ruler” [verkhovnyi pravitel’], establishing Orthodoxy as Russian’s main religion, and constitutionally securing Russia’s status as a “victorious power” in the Second World War.

Pavel Krasheninnikov, a member of the working group and chair of the State Duma’s committee on state-building and legislation told journalists about the group’s plan to rename the president the “supreme rulers.” The title, moreover, would be capitalized.

Vladimir Putin announced the plan to amend the Russian Constitution during his address to the Federal Assembly on January 15. In particular, the president proposed elevating the Russian Constitution above international law and enshrining the State Council’s role and status. The opposition fears that Putin announced the measure in order to head the State Council when his current term expires in 2024 and thus remain in power.

At the same time, Putin appointed a working of seventy-five people to draft amendments to the constitution. The group includes Federation Council member Andrei Klishas, who authored the laws on insulting the authorities and the “sovereign” internet; writer Zakhar Prilepin, who commanded militants in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic; Nikolai Doluda, head of the Russian Cossack Society, athlete Yelena Isinbayeva, well-known actors and directors, and members of the State Duma and Federation Council.

The draft law on amending the constitution was passed in its first reading in the Russian State Duma. The second reading has been scheduled for February 11. A referendum on the amendments is planned for April, although the format of the vote is not mentioned at all in the draft law. It is anticipated that the working group and the Central Election Commission will handle the matter.

Thanks to Marina Ken, Jukka Mallinen, and Modest Sokolov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Do Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses Deserve Our Solidarity?

[E]mpathy also requires identifying with the person you’re em­pathizing with. And sometimes you only identify with those whom you recognize. That’s a problem because part of solidarity is the people you don’t recognize. The people who you don’t see yourself in. And we’re raised in this particular era of liberal multiculturalism to see ourselves in others. When in fact I tell my students, “Look, not only do you not see yourself in others, but if we’re talking about en­slaved people in the eighteenth century, I’m sorry, none of y’all can know what that means.” We can begin to understand not by simply imposing our own selves but by stepping outside of ourselves and moving into different periods of history. Understanding the constraints and limitations of people’s lives that are not us, as opposed to those who are like us. The fallback is always, “Well, if it were me,” or, “I can see how other people feel,” as opposed to, “Let me step outside myself.”
—Robin D.G. Kelley, quoted in “Solidarity Is Not a Market Exchange”: An Interview with Robin D. G. Kelley, Black Ink, January 16, 2020

witnessesIvan Pryanikov, Venera Dulova, and Darya Dulova are considered “extremists” by the Putin regime. Image courtesy of Woman, Prison, Society

Woman, Prison, Society
Facebook
January 25, 2020

FAITH AS A CRIME

Charged with “extremism,” three Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sverdlovsk Region are awaiting the verdict in their trial. The defendants are Venera Dulova, who has a hearing disability, her twenty-year-old daughter Darya, and Alexander Pryanikov. The prosecutor’s office has asked the court to give them two to three years of probation.

According to the case file, all three prayed and read the Bible, “knowing that they belonged to an organization banned in Russia.”

The reading of the verdict is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., January 27, in the Karpinsk City Court (ul. Mira, 60)

By the way, Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted in Hitler’s Germany and the USSR during the Stalinist crackdowns.

Thanks to Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Even Fascist Thugs Deserve Good Pay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viktor Filinkov: “It’s As If You Disappear—Only the Pain Remains”

Viktor Filinkov’s Speech in Court on 4 June 2019 While Recording a Voice Sample (The Court Could Not Interrupt the Defendant for Ten Minutes)

Viktor Filinkov: When I was tortured . . . Well, it was unexpected, of course. It was nothing like in the movies. There was no time to think or laugh like some superheroes do or anything like that: you’re just screaming in pain. You’re in a terrible state, in fact. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Yes, I’d been shocked when touching an electrical socket or a telephone wire, and when licking a battery. But it’s a completely different sensation when you’ve been shocked with a stun gun. They were beating me at the same time, but I didn’t feel it at all, except for the blows to my head. When they hit me in the head, my vision went a little white. My eyes were mostly closed, because I had a cap pulled over my face, but I saw white when they hit me in the head.

When they twisted my arms or something like that, I didn’t feel anything at all. On the other hand, if you’re riding in the back seat of a car with your hands cuffed behind your back like this—like when they later took me to see a psychologist—your shoulders and joints start hurting really bad after the first hour or so. By the second hour, it’s completely unbearable. You’re wriggling and fidgeting the whole time because the pain is so unbearable.

I was tortured for around four hours, and although my hands were behind my back the entire time, I felt no pain at all in my shoulders. In fact, I felt no pain at all because my whole body hurt. When your whole body hurts, you can’t single out a specific part that hurts more. The burns from the electrical shocks didn’t hurt—they hurt only the next day or so—meaning the pain spreads out over your whole body. It feels like everything hurts, although they’re hitting and shocking you in very specific places.

I don’t even know where the shocks hurt the most. They shocked me in different places, mainly my feet, the shocks to my feet were the longest. And to the chest as well. I could twist my wrists, and work my neck a bit, but I think it didn’t matter where they shocked me: the shocks were quite painful. When they press the stun gun to your foot, it’s like you lose yourself completely. It’s as if you disappear—only the pain remains.

Recording Technician Volkov: Maybe you could talk about something more pleasant.

Filinkov (smiling): There was nothing pleasant about it.

Volkov: Not this instance, necessarily. Maybe some memorable instances from childhood.

Filinkov: Hmm… Memorable instances from childhood. It depends what you mean by childhood.

Volkov: Okay, then, what do you miss right now?

Filinkov: My wife—I miss my wife a lot. I love her very much. When they were torturing me, a field agent asked me why I was with my wife. I screamed that I loved her. They were shocking me, but I still screamed that I loved her. They would yell at me, “Why are you with her? Confess!” I would yell that I loved her, and they would give me a shock for saying so. This went on for a while. It was probably one of the most humiliating parts of the whole thing.

No, there was another one. They would ask me who my wife associated with—shocking me as they asked, of course—and I tried to remember who she associated with. I would reply that she had many acquaintances, but didn’t know who she associated with. I didn’t know that many people, especially my wife’s acquaintances. And they would say to me, “She’s getting fucked. Didn’t you know that?” The whole thing was just awful. And there were lots of questions like that… Apparently, it was a way of catching me out.

It was also a way of turning me against everyone. You realize that the people who are torturing you are the guilty one, but they try to put the blame on someone else. So, they would tell me about my “pal” Boyarshinov: I didn’t know who Boyarshinov was then. They would say, “That guy Yuri,” and try to explain he’d been going to plant a bomb to kill people. Under those circumstances I really believed “Yuri” (Yuli) Boyarshinov had gone to plant a bomb. They were really persuasive.

They also told me other people had wanted to kill people. Like Arman Sagynbayev: they said he wanted to make an explosive called ammonal. They knew I didn’t know that he had the ingredients, but I had to teach them a lesson. Then I cheated a little: when they asked me what they had found in Sagynbayev’s closet, I said they had found only aluminum powder. They didn’t specify that I was also supposed to say there had been saltpeter there as well. They kept saying, “A barrel! A barrel of powder!” The fact that it was a barrel was important, apparently. I never saw it.

They also said, of course, that everyone was ready to dish on me, and told me what would happen if I didn’t sign the interrogation report.

In fact, their threats were completely meaningless. I was completely broken after ten minutes of torture, but the threats continued for another twenty or twenty-five hours or however long I was there. It was a very long time. All the threats—that they would kill me there or put me in a cell with tuberculosis-infected prisoners or the SWAT team would take me to Penza—were pointless.

The SWAT team business was a trick. They told me a SWAT team would take me to Penza, where I would be in a line-up. All [of the other defendants] would identity me, point their fingers at me, and then I would go back [to Petersburg]. Besides the driver, there would be two SWAT officers in the vehicle. They would take turns sleeping, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep, and there wouldn’t be any water. The FSB agents would wonder aloud how long a person could last without water. The whole thing was completely pointless. I would have signed the interrogation report in any case.

It wasn’t like they said, “Here, sign it,” and I said, “No, I won’t sign it. Go to hell!” and they were like, “Oh yeah? We’ll show you.” It was just a prelude to everything they did. Just a prelude. Violence is seemingly the basis of their work. I later learned those guys in masks were from [the FSB’s] “Hail” SWAT team. When they escort someone in handcuffs, they drag him in different directions. I would say, “Hang on! You’re dragging me in different directions. I don’t understand where to go.” They would laugh and say it served me right. Meaning the violence was for its own sake. And none of them were bothered then about what had happened.

When I tried talking about the fact that torture was inhumane, they would interrupt me and say, “Did anyone really torture you? You bumped yourself in the car.” Different field agents who were there said this in front of investigators. The one who I remembered the most was an investigator named Alexei from the second floor of the FSB regional headquarters building [in Petersburg]. He wore a jacket and suspenders.

The jacket was bright green. He would give me toilet paper when I went to the toilet. I would go to the toilet not to go to the toilet, of course. I was thinking how to put an end to my suffering and contemplated slitting my wrists. But the office was right there, and an agent would always follow me out and stand by the door, which couldn’t be closed. I went there several times, hoping they’d let their guard down, but no: there was always an agent outside the door, and I wouldn’t have been able to shatter the mirror or the toilet tank.

If I’d known that I had a sharpened coin in my pocket, but I’d forgotten about it. It made it through several pat downs. The SWAT team patted me down twice and didn’t find it. Then an investigator searched me and didn’t find it. Then I was searched at the temporary detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street [in Petersburg], and they didn’t find the coin. It was found only at Remand Prison No. 3. They decided to put it in the till, but it was a Ukrainian hryvnia coin, so they decided not to mess with it. They asked me what to do with it, and I told them to throw it away.

“Fine, fine, just don’t tell anybody,” they said. And they threw it away.

Volkov: That’s long enough, thank you.

Judge Muranov: Is that it?

Volkov: Yes.

Judge: So, Viktor Sergeyevich, I didn’t interrupt you when you were recording your monologue, but now I’m giving you an official warning. If you use obscene language again in the courtroom, you’ll be removed until the closing arguments. Have I made myself clear?

Filinkov: Yes, you have. May I ask a question?

Judge: Ask away.

Filinkov: How I am supposed to quote obscene language?

Judge: I don’t know, but I would ask you not to use obscene expressions. I gave you an official warning, which has been entered into the record.

Filinkov: Understood.

Judge: Sit down.

Judge: Maxim Alexandrovich, are you done?

Volkov: I would like to take literally a minute to check the quality of the recording . . . The recording is fine.

Thanks to Jenya Kulakova for the original Russian text and the video. Translated by the Russian Reader

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case aka the Network Case, and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and share the articles I have posted on these subjects.