Svetlana Prokopieva: My Day in Court

prokopA telegram informing Svetlana Prokopieva that her criminal trial has been scheduled for one o’clock on June 16 at the Pskov Regional Court and, beneath it, a copy of the criminal indictment against her. Photo courtesy of her Facebook page

Svetlana Prokopieva
Facebook
June 15, 2020

The trial in my criminal case begins at one o’clock tomorrow afternoon. After eighteen months of endless reminders about freedom of speech and the persecution of journalism as such, everyone is probably sick of my case. (And yet I’ll remind you that I’m being put on trial for voicing an opinion, for my work as as a professional journalist, and for trying to understand something and prevent it.) And then there’s the coronavirus, which is a whole different level of worry.

Yet I would still ask you to follow the trial. I think it’s important, not because it’s my life, but for the following reasons.

In the column “Crackdowns for the State” I argued that a powerful regime was using powerful instruments to restrict civil liberties. Since I wrote that

  • our twenty-year-vintage president has found a way to rule forever;
  • Russian National Guard soldiers have shot a man dead in his own apartment;
  • solo pickets can now get you arrested and thrown in jail on administrative charges;
  • you can be fined simply for leaving your house;
  • you can be handcuffed and taken to a police precinct for not wearing a mask (for the sake of your own health, of course);
  • and there have been innovations to electoral law: soon we will have a referendum in which our votes will decide nothing, even formally—but then you knew that.

In other words, the state has become harsher and more repressive, and criminal cases for “condoning” terrorism have been multiplying and multiplying. The reasons for them are more and more absurd. You now longer have to feel sorry for [suicide bomber Mikhail] Zhlobitsky or analyze the terrorist attack in detail. Nadezhda Belova is being persecuted for commenting on a news report; Lyudmila Stech, for reposting something without a adding a single word of her own commentary. The new Pskov case is really amazing, but I will write about it later. The craziest keeps on getting crazier.

The security forces really did detect a threat in this case, but decided that the threat was me, and that they had to take me on, not abstract “radicalization.”As if they think that if you don’t discuss a problem, it doesn’t exist. But there is a problem, and it won’t work itself out. The stronger and dumber the crackdown, the angrier the protest, especially if it’s driven deep inside. And the coil twists tighter.

Theoretically, it would take only one judge, making a ruling according to common sense and the spirit of the law, to put an end to all this nonsense. It would take only one prosecutor, refusing to pursue such absurd charges. Or even just one police investigator, dropping a case like mine for lack of evidence.

But now we’re talking science fiction, kids.

The reality is that a journalist is going on trial for doing her job. It is much more terrifying, of course, when journalists are killed or maimed. But those are crimes, and criminals are tracked down and punished. In my case, though, it’s all completely legal.

Svetlana Prokopieva is among a long list of Russians who have been prosecuted for or charged with “exonerating” or “condoning” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. The others are Nadezhda Belova, Lyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan Lyubshin, Anton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. On June 13, Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda) reported that a 47-year-old Pskov man, Alexei Shibanov, had been arrested by the FSB on suspicion of “condemning terrorism” and “publicly calling for terrorism.” The Pskov City Court has remanded Shibanov in custody until August 10. Translated by the Russian Reader

Don’t Mention Mikhail Zhlobitsky! (The Case of Nadezhda Belova)

belovaNadezhda Belova. Photo from the VK group page Free People of Voronezh. Courtesy of OVD Info

Voronezh Activist Released After Day in Jail for Comment on Bombing at FSB Office
OVD Info
May 14, 2020

Voronezh grassroots activist Nadezhda Belova has been released after spending twenty-fours in a temporary detention center in connection with a criminal investigation into alleged “exoneration of terrorism.” It was Belova herself who reported the news to OVD Info.

The woman was released on her own recognizance. At the moment, she is suspected of having “exonerated terrorism” (punishable under Article 205.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) by commenting online about [the October 2018 suicide bombing of the Arkhangelsk offices of the FSB]. Belova had been a witness in the case for the last month. In late March, her home was searched by police, and she and members of her family were interrogated.

In recent days, a police investigator had visited Belova at home and summoned her to an interrogation on May 13, which she went to accompanied by OVD Info attorney Sergei Garin. After Belova was questioned, she was jailed for the night in the temporary detention center, and then interrogated again the next morning. According to Belova, she was pressured into saying it was she who had posted the commentary, although she denied any wrongdoing.

According to her, a women was purposely placed in her cell who intimidated her, smoked cigarettes, used profane language, and forced her to clean up the dishes in the cell.

“Yesterday and the day before yesterday, I was a free person, but today, I’m sorry to say, they have been trying to turn me into an out-and-out convict—they have humiliated me. First they handcuffed me, then they said I could go to the toilet only in handcuffs and escorted by a wardress. I want women to know what can happen [to them], what a performance can take place. I have been humiliated to such an extent, dragged through the mud, and I don’t know why. Even if I wrote those thirty words, why such degradation?” Belova said.

During the morning interrogation, according to Belova, the investigator threatened to arrest and jail her for the next two months.

“Today, [the investigator] said to me, ‘Either you wrote this or you’re going to spend another twenty-four hours in the detention center and tomorrow, at my request, you’ll either be put under house arrest or remanded in custody for two months. Or they’ll let you go—but I can’t say what will happen,'” said Belova. “The argument was that I could tamper with witnesses who had allegedly testified that the comment was written in my style, and that I could pose a danger to them.”

The activist has been summoned to another interrogation the following day, supposedly to verify whether she had deleted the comment or not. According to Belova, the investigator has a folder containing her various social media comments and personal messages, and he threatened her that if she continued to engage in activism, there would be other criminal cases.

UPDATE: May 15, 2020. Ekaterina Seleznyova, OVD Info’s legal aid coordinator, has informed us that Belova has been pressured by investigators into confessing not only to posting the comment but also to wrongdoing.

A local grassroots activist, Belova campaigned against the cancellation of direct bus service from Voronezh to Novaya Usman [in the summer of 2019], collecting signatures at people’s gatherings. In this regard, complaints were filed against her, alleging that she was organizing riots. Belova was also actively involved in protests against fare increases.

On October 31, 2018, 17-year-old local resident Mikhail Zhlobitsky detonated a bomb in the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk. Three FSB employees were injured, and the young man himself was killed. Several minutes before the blast, a message about the attack was posted on Telegram in the open chat channel Rebel Talk [Rech’ buntovshchika]. The authorities investigated the incident as a terrorist attack.

In Russia, at least ten criminal cases of “exonerating terrorism” have been opened in connection with the October 2018 bombing in Arkhangelsk. In March, a resident of Kaluga, Ivan Lyubshin, was sentenced to five years and two months in prison for commenting on the topic on the internet.

Nadezhda Belova is the latest in a growing list of Russians who have been prosecuted or are facing prosecution for allegedly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky on social media or in the traditional media. Belova has joined the ranks of Lyudmila Stech, Oleg Nemtsev, Ivan Lyubshin, Svetlana Prokopieva, Anton Ammosov, Pavel Zlomnov, Nadezhda Romasenko, Alexander Dovydenko, Galina Gorina, Alexander Sokolov, Yekaterina Muranova, 15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

Masked Men Invade and Search Kaliningrad Woman’s Apartment over Social Network Repost

нарсамо

A screenshot of the Popular Self-Defense movement’s page on the VK social network. If you’re in Russia, you should think twice about reposting anything the PSD posts about suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Otherwise, masked men might break down your door, as just happened to Lyudmila Stech in Kaliningrad.

Masked Men Invade and Search Kaliningrad Woman’s Apartment Over Social Network Repost
Novyi Kaliningrad
May 8, 2020

In Kaliningrad, masked security forces officers broke into the apartment of a local resident, Lyudmila Stech, and conducted a search. As transpired, she is suspected of publicly exonerating terrorism because of a post on a social network. The incident was reported to Novyi Kaliningrad by a friend of the Kaliningrad woman.

“They broke into her apartment at 6 a.m. today. First they knocked on the door and said they were from Rospotrebnadzor [the Russian federal consumer watchdog]. When Lyudmila didn’t open it, they broke the window,” our source said.

According to the source, the search of Lyudmila Stech’s apartment lasted about four hours. Stech’s router and mobile phone were confiscated, and then Sech herself was taken away for questioning. By evening, she had been released on her own recognizance. She was informed that she was suspected of committing a crime under Article 205.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (public calls to carry out terrorist activities; public exoneration or promotion of terrorism) due to a post on the Russian social network Vkontakte (VK).

“No copies of the documents that she was forced to sign were given to her. She received only a certificate for work, ” says the suspect’s friend.

Novyi Kaliningrad has learned that the Kaliningrad women has been charged over an incident in October 2019 in which she allegedly reposted a post, published on the group page of the Popular Self-Defense (Narodnaya Samooborona) dealing with 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who in 2018 set off a bomb in the building of the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk, killing himself and [injuring] three FSB employees.

Kaliningrad has already seen a similar case. In the fall of 2018, FSB officers detained Kaliningrad resident Vyacheslav Lukichev. According to investigators, the antifascist had posted a text on the Telegram channel Prometheus that called anarcho-communist Zhlobitsky’s deed “heroic.” Lukichev admitted during the investigation and during the trial that it was he who had published the post on the Telegram channel, but he argued that the content of the text had been incorrectly interpreted. In March 2019, Lukichev was found guilty of vindicating terrorism, under Article 205.2.2 of the criminal code, and fined 300,000 rubles [approx. 4,066 euros at the then-current exchange rate].

Thanks to Novaya Gazeta for the heads-up. Lyudmila Stech is the latest in a growing list of Russians prosecuted or facing prosecution for allegedly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky on social media or in the traditional media. Stech has joined the ranks of Ivan Lyubshin, Svetlana Prokopieva, Anton Ammosov, Pavel Zlomnov, Nadezhda Romasenko, Alexander Dovydenko, Galina Gorina, Alexander Sokolov, Yekaterina Muranova, 15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. On March 5, OVD Info reported that Oleg Nemtsev, a trucker in Arkhangelsk Region, had been charged with the same “crime.” Translated by the Russian Reader

Fishers of Men

Riot Police Prevent Fishing Near Local Power Plant
SIA PRESS
April 27, 2020

Riot police [OMON] in Surgut prevented fishing in a body of water near the local power plant. Some fishermen had to be caught on the run with machine guns at the ready, while others refused to fall afoul of the security forces and voluntarily returned their catch. No one was injured as a result of the operation.

Fishing is prohibited in Yugra till May 31 due to flowing ice and spawning. In addition, there is now a ban on people leaving their houses due to the self-isolation regime imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

As SIA PRESS learned, the regional fish conservancy has been carrying out raids at bodies of water and fining fishermen for violating the law. Inspectors have been assisted in their raids by the security forces, including regular police, riot police [OMON], and the Russian National Guard.

fishermanSurgut fisherman fleeing from riot police

All violators face two fines at once—the first, from one to thirty thousand rubles, for violation of isolation, and the second, for fishing. When bans are in effect, double penalties are applied to the entire catch, so the amount of the fine depends on how many fish the men managed to catch.

Image courtesy of SIA PRESS. Translated by the Russian Reader

Police Detain, Rob, and Charge Petersburg Artist and Activist Yelena Osipova

osipova

Yesterday marked the thirty-fourth anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Petersburg artist and political activist Yelena Osipova took to the streets of her hometown to remind people of the anniversary and say no to nuclear energy via her unique protest paintings. Police detained the seventy-five-year-old artist, held her at police precinct for three hours, confiscated her paintings, and charged her with an administrative offense.

Varya Mikhailova
Facebook
April 26, 2020

Here is how St. Petersburg is protecting the elderly from the coronavirus infection. Police detain a 75-year-old artist [Yelena Osipova] on the street as she stands alone with her paintings, at a distance from everyone and wearing a protective mask. They drag her to the 78th police precinct, which is not just a pigsty, but also a place where people are constantly coming and going. They keep here there for three hours, putting her health at real risk while they drag “attesting witnesses” [ponyatye] at random off the street so they can legally confiscate her paintings.

Yelena Andreyevna is finally home, but she faces a court hearing on administrative charges and a battle to get back her paintings.

Photo courtesy of Varya Mikhailova. Translated by the Russian Reader

Andrei Rudomakha, Russia’s Most Famous Environmentalist

rudomakhaAndrei Rudomakha. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page and the Moscow Times

On the Watch: The Story of Andrei Rudomakha, Russia’s Most Famous Environmentalist
Vladimir Prikhodko and Angelina Davydova
Proekt
October 2, 2019

Protests against waste landfills, the clearcutting of parks, and illegally enclosed forests—the environment has been a frequent topic of regional protests in Russia. Persecution by the authorities, criminal cases, beatings, and even murders are everyday risks for environmental activists. Proekt tells the story of the persecution of the head of Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus (EcoWatch), which has been going on for almost forty years.

They go to bed late in the private house on Kerchenskaya Street in Krasnodar. The place resembles a commune. This is the home and office of Andrei Rudomakha and Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus aka EcoWatch, perhaps the most famous grassroots environmental organization in Russia. Rudomakha has led EcoWatch for fifteen years.

At 5:55 a.m. on July 30, everyone was asleep. At that moment, Investigative Committee investigator Sergei Kalashnikov and an unidentified FSB officer in a mask rang the doorbell. Not waiting for the homeowner to open the door, they ordered Emergencies Ministry officers to break down the gate. Within a couple of minutes, officers in masks had flooded the house, and two masked men with automatic rifles had thrown Rudomakha to the floor. When Rudomakha attempted to get up, the officer holding the activist pepper-sprayed him in the face.

Enemies of the State
This was the fifth search at EcoWatch in less than three years, and the second in the last four months.

“That morning, I was supposed to go to court in Maykop to face charges that we allegedly broke the law on ‘undesirable organizations’ by linking to Open Russia’s website on our sites and social media pages. My trip was canceled because of the search, and no one from our group was at the court hearing. Naturally, we lost the case,” says Rudomakha, meeting with our correspondent at the selfsame commune-like house.

EcoWatch was the first nonprofit organization in Russia to be found guilty of collaborating with Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia.

In recent years, the number of environmental protests in various regions of Russia has certainly grown—from campaigns against waste landfills in parts of European Russia to protests against coal dust in the port of Nakhodka, in the country’s Far East, says Svyatoslav Zabelin, coordinator for the International Socio-Ecological Union. The most turbulent environmental protests of the past summer were in the village of Shiyes in Arkhangelsk Region, where the authorities wanted to transport garbage from Moscow. It was in the village of Loginovskaya in Arkhangelsk Region where Rudomakha was born fifty-five years ago.

rud-2
A 2018 protest rally in Severodvinsk against the Shiyes landfill. Source: activatica.org

“My father was a descendant of Kuban Cossacks. My mother is from Perm. That is where my parents met when they were at university. After their studies, they were assigned to work in the taiga in Arkhangelsk Region, on one of the local farms. Shortly after, we all moved to my father’s native land, the Taman Peninsula. I was still a very young child when my parents divorced. My mother raised me on her own. She worked for more than forty years in the village of Oktyabrsky in the Seversky District, where we relocated. The test fields of the Tobacco, Shag, and Tobacco Products Research Institute were located there.”

At the age of sixteen, Andrei set out for Cuba. He went to Moscow, supposedly to matriculate at the university, and along the way, he hopped a freight train in order to leave the Soviet Union—but he was found by frontier guards at the Romanian border.

“During the interrogation, the KGB guys thought long and hard about what to do with me,” Rudomakha says with a laugh. “After all, I had said to them, ‘Send me to Cuba, to a school for revolutionaries.’ The KGB officers reacted to this with their peculiar sense of humor and sent me to the Kishinev Mental Hospital. I was retrieved from there by my mother. From that point on I’ve never been out of the sight [of the authorities].”

rud-3
Andrei Rudomakha and his mother

This was how the secret services, rebellion, and forests came into Rudomakha’s life.

“A military coup occurred in Chile in 1973. All of the news contrasted sharply with the reality in which I lived. Oktyabrsky was a very boring place. Books were my salvation. And the forest. I rather quickly got keen on hikes in the woods. Che Guevara was my idol and hero.”

Rudomakha studied Spanish and Greek, began playing guitar and formed a band. He calls his mid-1980s self a “rocker.” In 1987, immediately after his army service, Andrei was offered a job at the Krasnodar House of Young Pioneers, in the Candle Amateur Song Club.

The Rocker
Peaceful and troubled
Troubled and easy
What infuses the air
In the meadows around Pseushkho?

These are lines from a poem by the bard poet Vladimir “Berg” Lantzberg. In the 1980s, he was living in Tuapse, putting together amateur song festivals and establishing the first communes. It was then that Rudomakha first encountered the communard scene, whose principles he would later adopt. The Pseushkho of which Lantzberg sang is a mountain with an Adyghe name in Krasnodar Territory’s Tuapse District. In 2019, Rudomakha would protest against the construction of a limestone quarry there.

In the 1980s, however, the Kuban was fighting another construction project. A nuclear power plant was slated to be built in the Energetiki district of the village of Mostovskaya. In its waning years, the Soviet Union had planned to build dozens of such plants, from Crimea to the Ural Mountains.

rud-4Several Soviet nuclear plants whose construction was begun in the late 1970s and early 80s were not completed. After the breakup of the USSR, one of those stations, Krymskaya, came in handy anyway—not, however, for the nuclear energy industry, but for purveyors of electronic music: it became the venue for the Republic of KaZantip festival of electronic dance music.

“Back in the early 80s, the mammoth construction of a power plant similar to Chernobyl began. In 1988, I was one of the people behind a protest rally. We organized it near Goryachy Klyuch on Lysaya Gora.  I remember how we went underground and hid from the KGB. It was then that I first crossed paths with the Nature Conservation Brigades (DOPs), which had been organized at the universities,” recounts Rudomakha.

During perestroika, university students were often certified as conservation, fishing, and hunting inspectors; these groups were then dispatched into the forests to arrest poachers. Later, alumni of the DOPs would become the backbone of the Russian branches of the WWF and Greenpeace.

Like nearly all the nuclear power plants whose construction kicked off at the turn of the 70s and 80s, construction at the Krasnodar plant was soon frozen. But Rudomakha’s career as a music teacher also came to a screeching halt: KGB officers showed up at the Young Pioneers House, and Rudomakha lost his job. His employment at the Candle Club would be the only entry in his official work record book.

The Communard
Over the last nine years, four criminal cases have been brought against Rudomakha, and seven police searches conducted. He has been jailed on misdemeanor convictions more than fifty times. In the end, EcoWatch was even declared a “foreign agent,” although the decision was reconsidered last year.

In recent years, the growing physical and legal pressure on environmental activists has been as big a trend as the increase in the number of environmental protest rallies. Among the main methods of pressure are forcible dispersal of protests by police, pressure on activists at work, threats to relatives, court cases, straightforward violence, and even murder. In March 2019, environmental activist Denis Shtroo was murdered in Kaluga while participating in, among other things, a campaign against the building of a waste landfill near the village of Mikhali.

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Intimidation of Russian Environmental Activists in the First Five Months of 2019
According to information from the Russian Socio-Ecological Union

rud-5Denis Shtroo

activist murdered. In March 2019, environmentalist Denis Shtroo died of stab wounds in Kaluga. He was involved in a campaign against the construction of a waste landfill in the village of Mikhali.

5 cases of criminal prosecution.

7 attacks on activists, attacks on dwellings, property damage, and police searches.

110 cases of administrative prosecution. The total in fines has amounted to more than a million rubles [approx. 12,000 euros].

In 2019, cases of intimidation against environmentalists were most often recorded in Shiyes, Arkhangelsk Region, where illegal construction of a landfill for Moscow’s solid household waste is underway; in Yekaterinburg, where activists were defending the city’s green spaces; and, as in years past, against activists from Stop GOK, in Chelyabinsk, and EcoWatch.

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When the New Russia of the early 90s dawned, Rudomakha was in the woods.

“I decided to build a commune at Kisha Station in the Caucasus Nature Reserve. It is a secluded place in Adygea’s Maykop District. Later, our base moved to Ust-Sakhray. In 1988, for a ridiculously small amount of money (the cost of a Zaporozhets car), we bought a house there. It was an area of abandoned villages that people were trying to leave, but we were doing the opposite. I lived in Ust-Sakhray until 1995. I won’t mention the names of the comrades with whom I started out. Many have their own lives and families now,” he says.

Andrei has his own way of viewing everyday life. Remembering those days, he says with regret that the communes fell apart because people started romantic relationships and left.

“We had a lot of ideas: we wanted to transform all of Sakhray and build a public school. My first daughter was born there, and my wife left — she preferred me to another. All of our ideas were shattered by the internal conflicts and disagreements that arose among the settlers. And, basically, I regret that we sat out perestroika in the mountains. It would have been better, of course, in the city,” he says.

The New Russia brought big money to the Kuban. With its sea, mountains, forests, and springs, the southern region attracted businessmen and politicians from Moscow. Some businessmen began to cut down wood on the unique Bolshoi Thach Mountain and haul it out with helicopters.

“And I came out of the woods. The times had drastically changed, as it turned out. Grassroots organizations were on the upswing,” Rudomakha says.

Soon Rudomakha would turn up in Maykop, where he lived in a small house at a weather station run by Vladimir Karatayev, leader of the Union of the Slavs of Adygea. There a branch of the Socio-Environmental Union would be opened, the first environmental organization founded by Rudomakha.

rud-6Rudomakha examines a forest clearcutting in the Caucasus Nature Reserve

“With money from western foundations, we bought a computer and a modem—and things took off. We organized protest rallies, spiked tree trunks, and stopped clearcutting. And, as a result, Bolshoi Thach was made part of the Western Caucasus UNESCO World Heritage Site,” Rudomakha explains.

Pandora’s Box
The planet in Ursula K. Le Guin’s cult science fiction novella The Word for World Is Forest is called Athshe. This planet would become the prototype for Pandora in the movie Avatar, and would also give its name to Rudomakha’s 1990s commune, from which EcoWatch arose. Le Guin grew up in leftist Berkeley and was interested in anarchism and environmental movements. In her novella, the kind forest inhabitants, called “creechies” by earthlings, defend their planet from the “yumens.” Athshe Commune was also focused on environmental protests. Commune members took names from the novella’s characters.

Today, activists would be jailed for many of the protest actions carried out then. Rudomakha’s commune took part in many of them alongside the Federal Anarchists of Kuban (FAK) and radical environmentalists from the Keepers of the Rainbow.

“We were always blocking or blockading something,” Rudomakha recalls. “There were tragedies, too. In 1997, we locked ourselves together with metal chains and blocked the road to Sochi. A crazy trucker drove at us, who knows why, and Anya Koshikovaya’s hand was torn off. In the late 90s, this sort of thing brought palpable results. We seriously considered the idea of creating a guerrilla environmental army, to waste everyone. The forests here are wonderful—one could be guerrillas endlessly. Theoretically, if the necessary contingent of people were found, all this would be quite feasible. To do that you would need to break with your usual life and go rogue. Basically, I’ve been ready for that since childhood. If I could find five people just as mad as me!”

rud-7An environmental protest involving Rudomakha, 1990s

In the finale of Le Guin’s novella, the creechies surround and kill almost all the earthlings. They are especially keen to hunt down the women to prevent new generations of humans from taking over their forests.

Palace Coup
“Sanya [i.e., Alexander] is a thief”: in November 2011, Rudomakha’s comrades in arms spray-painted this graffiti, among others, on the fence of a luxurious estate on the Black Sea shore in Blue Bay, not far from Tuapse. The estate was officially called the Agrocomplex JSC Recreation Center, and it was owned by the family of Alexander Tkachov, former Krasnodar Territory governor and former Russian federal agriculture minister. For all of 2011, enviro-activists battled against this dacha, on whose premises rare trees were presumably being clearcut and access to the sea was illegally fenced. A protest action in November, during which one section of the fence fell, was the last for many activists. Agrocomplex soon filed criminal charges for property damage. Rudomakha’s comrade in arms Suren Gazaryan left the country after receiving political asylum in Estonia. (He now lives in Germany.) Yevgeny Vitishko, another EcoWatchman, was given a three-year suspended sentence, with two years of probation; in December 2013, the suspended sentence was replaced with a real one, and Vitishko served more than a year in a work-release penal colony near Tambov. Amnesty International recognized the activist as a prisoner of conscience.

rud-8“Sanya is a thief”: graffiti on the illegally erected fence in Blue Bay

“The constitution is in a noose, Vitishko is in prison,” Pussy Riot sang at the time. And, in fact, environmental protests against palaces owned by high-ranking officials and the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics were perhaps the main public issue in southern Russia in the early 2010s.

EcoWatch had taken on palaces practically from its official founding in 2004. There was good reason to work on the issue—the Kuban had become a favorite spot for both officials and businessmen.

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rud-9Putin’s palace on Cape Idokopas. Source: navalny.com

The Kuban—Homeland of Palaces: Vladimir Putin’s Palace

In 2010, businessman Sergei Kolesnikov told the world about the construction of a luxurious palace for the Russian president. The site was located in the Kuban, not far from Praskoveyevka on Cape Idokopas. In 2006, the land plot was transferred from the Russian Federation to the Tuapse Vacation House of the Office of Presidential Affairs, and then to the Indokopas Company in 2010.

According to EcoWatch, during construction of the residence and the roads leading up to it, more than forty-five hectares of forest were clearcut; among them, parcels harboring the threatened Pitsunda Pine (Pinus pityusa) were destroyed. According to the calculations of EcoWatch and Greenpeace, the damage from illegal clearcutting came to more than 2.7 billion rubles. Inquiries to the authorities from EcoWatch about the illegal cutting on the palace territory went unanswered.

[Note: the original article in Russian also has short briefs on the Kuban “dachas” of Dmitry Medvedev, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Alexander Tkachov, Alexander Remezkov, Patriarch Kirill, and Anatoly Serdyukov. — TRR]

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“Lots of federal officials have dachas on the coast. And basically, we don’t care who owns them. We’d like for those people not to behave like swine. It doesn’t matter whose they are,” says Rudomakha.

The first and perhaps most well-known victory was scored in 2009 when the Watchmen halted construction of a proposed dacha for Dmitri Medvedev in the tiny town of Utrish.

The campaign against environmental violations in the runup to the Olympics brought Rudomakha and EcoWatch international fame: foreign journalists flocked to them in droves. Rudomakha is now certain that the series of refusals by European cities to bid to host the Olympic games (for example, when residents of Munich voted no in a referendum on the city’s bidding for the 2022 Olympics) came about precisely because “we succeeded in creating an image of the Sochi Olympics as the most anti-environmental, expensive, and absurd in the entire history of the Olympic movement.”

“It was then that the authorities started to vigorously persecute us,” Rudomakha says about the time. “I understood that serious ‘winds of change’ had begun to blow. They no longer tried to sit down at the negotiating table with us, and cops chased us around the woods. It was kind of funny.”

The Autocrat
“Andrei’s authoritarianism has always been my number one problem,” Yevgeny Vitishko now recounts. In 2016, he and another well-known EcoWatch alumnus, Suren Gazaryan, left the organization.

“From the outside, the Watch looked quite democratic, but in fact everything revolved around one person. His leadership style can be described in sociological terms as narcissistic,” says Gazaryan.

Vitishko and Rudomakha have since reconciled. However, for many, the head of EcoWatch remains a fanatic with autocratic manners.

For several years, local and even national media have been publishing stories about Rudomakha hinting that he is guilty of everything from pedophilia to cooperating secretly with officials. Rudomakha calls the reports nonsense, saying that the regional government is behind them.

rud-9“Gazprom is a murderer” / “Stop Blue Stream”: Kuban environmentalists protesting against Gazprom 

Rudomakha does not separate the personal from his work life: he admits that his activism has not affected his family’s fortunes in the best of ways. The first floor of the rented house on Kerchenskaya is used as an office, while the second floor is home to Rudomakha and his second daughter, who, in the wake of her parents’ divorce, enrolled in university in Krasnodar and moved in with her father. Rudomakha had once hoped that his daughter would also become an environmentalist, but now he has lost that hope.

“I am quite pessimistic when I assess the evolution of Russia’s environmental movement,” says Rudomakha. “The population is very inert and severely intimidated, and the level of passionarity among people is at a minimum. People rise up, for the most part, only when they are personally affected. If there were organizations like ours in every region, it would be possible to change the situation in this arena and in the country as a whole. After all, a large number of such organizations would naturally make it necessary for them to unite.”

“I haven’t seen an influx of new people into EcoWatch,” notes Rudomakha’s former colleague Gazaryan. “Andrei’s lifestyle and views are on the fringe, and his office is also his residence. It’s hard to work in this environment. And there is no [broad environmental] movement in Russia. There are separate organizations and local groups, but they have no coordination or goals. They are not represented on the political level, and fall apart after a problem is solved,” Gazaryan says, but after thinking about it, he adds that he could be mistaken. “I haven’t lived in Russia for a long time.”

* * *

Late in the evening of December 28, 2017, Rudomakha, his colleague Viktor Chirikov, and journalist Vera Kholodnaya had just arrived at the commune house on Kerchenskaya. Rudomakha had just exited the car when three men ran up to him. Dousing him in the eyes with pepper spray, they knocked him down to the ground and kicked him repeatedly. He lost consciousness. Chirikov was beaten less, and Kholodnaya was only “blinded” by the pepper spray. After that, the attackers took several cameras and a GPS navigator from the car. The entire incident lasted no more than two minutes.

Doctors diagnosed Rudomakha with broken bones in his face and nose, a concussion, and pneumocephalus—the leakage of air into his cranial cavity. He spent three weeks in the hospital.

An investigation into the attack yielded no results. But the enviro-activists have their own theory. They had returned that day from a trip to the area around the village Krinitsa, a small resort in Gelendzhik. There, in the forest, construction had begun on a site resembling a wine-making chateau—such was EcoWatch’s assessment. A prefabricated chapel had also been erected there by order of Axis Investment JSC.  The owner of this firm is Alexei Toth, a business partner of Nikolai Yegorov, who is a well-known Petersburg lawyer and a personal friend of Vladimir Putin.

Translated by Mary Rees. Except where noted, all photos courtesy of Proekt.

BARS: Pro-EU Monarchist Stencilers

Court Hands Down Sentences in BARS Trial: From Three to Eight Years in Prison
OVD Info
April 17, 2020

In a circuit session at the Baltic Fleet Court, the Second Western Military District Court has sentenced the defendants in the trial of the Baltic Vanguard of the Russian Resistance (BARS) to up to eight years in prison, reports Mediazona, citing attorney Mikhail Uvarov from the Agora human rights group.

barsNikolai Sentsov and Alexander Orshulevich. Photo by Oleg Zurman. Courtesy of Mediazona and OVD Info

Alexander Orshulevich was sentenced to eight years in a medium-security penal colony, while Alexander Mamayev and Igor Ivanov were sentenced to six years. Although Nikolai Sentsov was sentenced to three years in a work-release colony, he was freed in the courtroom for time served in remand prison.

Orshulevich, Mamayev, and Ivanov were found guilty of making public calls to engage in terrorist and extremist activity, punishable under Articles 205.2 and 280.1, respectively, of the Russian Criminal Code. Orshulevich was also found guilty of creating an extremist community (Article 282.1.1), and Mamayev and Ivanov were found guilty of involvement in a terrorist community (Article 282.1.2). Sentsov was charged only with possession of firearms and explosives, punishable under Articles 222.1 and 222.1.1, respectively.

The prosecutor’s office had asked for sentences between six and ten years in prison for the accused men, who denied all wrongdoing.

abars-2Alexander Mamayev and Igor Ivanov. Photo by Oleg Zurman. Courtesy of Mediazona and OVD Info

According to investigators, the members of BARS, a monarchist organization, were planning to forcibly annex Kaliningrad Region to the European Union .  To achieve their goals, according to investigators, the accused were planning to use stencils to paint extremist inscriptions on walls. The defense claimed that these stencils were planted by law enforcement officers during searches.

Initially, all four men were charged with “extremism,” but then the indictment was changed to more serious charges—organizing and being involved in a “terrorist community.”  Orshulevich was then indicted on five charges. In early April, the court reclassified the charges: three of the defendants now faced “extremist community” charges, while Sentsov faced only the possession charge.

Orshulevich, who is accused of organizing BARS, said that during the search of his flat, police put a plastic bag over his head and roughed him up.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Good Friday

Uprising in Penal Colony No. 15, Angarsk, Irkutsk Region (Updated)
Russian Behind Bars
April 10, 2020

92359227_217673739465831_1340309785270026240_n
Image of text message stating “Good evening. I am asking for your help, Penal Colony No. 15, Angarsk, Irkutsk Region. They are killing prisoners, shooting them with automatic weapons, gassing them. I called my son, he asked for help.”

There is an uprising in a penal colony. Relatives report that prisoners are being shot with automatic weapons and gassed. The press service of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) reports that the uprising has been put down, while photos of the burning colony have been posted to social media. The convicts are calling their relatives crying and asking for help. There are bodies.

Source: Approximately 300 injured in uprising at Penal Colony No. 15 in Irkutsk Region
Around 300 people have been injured in an uprising at Penal Colony No. 15 in Irkutsk Region, one of the prisoners has reported to MBKh Media. He also stated that around 200 people have injured themselves.

8:11 p.m., April 10
Audio recording of a mother of one of the prisoners in Penal Colony No. 15 in the Irkutsk Region, April 10. Posted by Russia Behind Bars

Translated transcript: “Hello, I’m calling from Anzhero-Sudzhensk, Kemerovo Region. My son is at Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region. He just called and said that the situation there is getting out of control. They’re killing them, shooting them with automatic weapons, and the whole colony is drenched in blood; they’re gassing them, beating them with batons, and he just says ‘they’re killing us all.’ He asked me to call and ask for some kind of help.”

7:19 p.m., April 10
Video recorded by a prisoner at Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, April 10. Published on the Facebook page of Pavel Glushenko, chairman of the Irkutsk branch of For Human Rights

Translated transcript: “People, this another appeal from Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region. The pigs are running riot. They’re beating everyone, everyone’s wrists are slashed, nothing’s helping. The whole prison’s burning. Look, help us somehow . . . As we speak, the special forces are beating us, they’re using grenades, they’re using pump-action guns. Look, the prisoners standing here have slit their wrists, we can’t do a thing. We’re asking for your help . . . Here everyone’s wrists are slashed. Right now, we’re located in the work area, the special forces can’t get to us, soon everything will burn down and we’ll be in trouble. [Other voice: “They’re going to kill us”]. People, help us please, we’re begging for your help.”

6:52 p.m., April 10

Photos from Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, April 10. Posted by Baza

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6:38 p.m., April 10

Penal Colony No. 15IK-15. Explosions are audible and bursts of flame visible at Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, April 10. Published by Baza

6:27 p.m., April 10

Video of burning buildings at Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, April 10. Posted by Baza

5:57 p.m., April 10

Recording of a conversation between Russia Behind Bars director Olga Romanova with Penal Colony No. 15 inmate Andrei . Recorded April 10. Posted by Russia Behind Bars

Translated transcript
Andrei: They were wearing masks and had shields, naturally… They huddled up and came after us… What did we have to defend ourselves with? We didn’t have anything special. But they had batons, they had masks, they had . . . They started detonating flash grenades. They started just thrashing the prisoners they caught with batons. So, in a sign of protest we slashed our veins. I slashed mine, and I don’t know how many others did, but the majority did.
Olga Romanova: Andrei, so what is happening now in the prison colony?
A: What’s happening now? I don’t know what’s happening in the residential area. I don’t know what’s happening there. But we’re in the work area now, everything around us is burning. Every convict in the area, [inaudible] . . . everything’s on fire. All the utility yards, all the agricultural buildings, everything’s burning, everything’s just ablaze.
OR: It’s now 6 p.m. Moscow time?
A: Yes, Friday, 6 p.m. Moscow time.
OR: Can you tell us please, have people been killed or wounded? Have you seen them?
A: Well, so rumors have reached us that, yes, there’s a body . . . As for wounded, you could say everyone is, because we all slashed our veins, everyone who could.
OR: How many inmates are in the penal colony now?
A: There are 1,200 inmates in the colony, I think, at least.
OR: And 200 special forces officers have entered the colony, or is it 300?
A: Yeah, probably around 300.
OR: They came this morning?
A: No, this evening. Probably 7 p.m. Irkutsk time, 2 p.m., Moscow time.
OR: Can you tell me please, has the prison administration tried to enter into negotiations with you in some way?
A: No, they haven’t in any way . . . I have no idea where the administration is, no one has negotiated.
OR: Do I understand correctly—
A: The special forces are catching people and beating them up. What happens next, I don’t know.
OR: Do I understand correctly that the uprising happened because prison staff have been systematically beating prisoners?
A: Yes, systematically.
OR: And the prisoners—
A: —systematically beating prisoners, you got that correct, because the other day there was a similar situation, and as a sign of protest all the prisoners refused to go to morning exercise. That seemed like no big deal to them. They went back to their old tricks and started beating prisoners again.
OR: Andrei, have you been in touch with doctors? Have you been in touch with your relatives, maybe, or members of the PMC [Public Monitoring Commission; in every Russian region, these commissions monitor conditions in prisons and other places of imprisonment and confinement]?
A: No one has been in touch with us.
OR: No one ban in touch with you?
A: They say that the roads leading to the colony have been closed by the Federal Penitentiary Service’s special forces troops.
OR: But you can communicate for now?
A: I have this telephone, nothing else.
OR: Andrei, we’re getting messages from many prisoners’ relatives whose children, whose husbands, may be in your penal colony. What should we tell the families?
A: What to tell the families? Tell them hello, everything’s okay, or what? We’re hanging in there . . . Why the relatives? It would be better for you to get the attention of society, I don’t know, the mass media in Angarsk.
OR: Mm-hm. What kind of help do you need?
A: Well that’s what I’m telling you . . . We need . . . Our conditions are just that they leave here. Just that they leave. And we’ll go back to our cell blocks.
OR: You want the special forces troops to leave? And then you’ll go back to your cell blocks?
A: Of course. We don’t want to [inaudible] with them. They’re the ones who started this.
OR: Thank you, Andrey, hang in there. Thank you very much. This will be published right away.

1:50 p.m., April 10

“I was beaten by Duty Officer Krutynov.” A Video featuring Viktor Tirskikh, inmate at Penal Colony No. 15, Irkutsk Region. Posted by the Irkutsk Human Rights Council. The video was presumably made on April 9.

Translated transcript: “I was beaten by Duty Officer Krutynov, so I slashed my wrists, because this isn’t the first instance of mistreatment by the police. Look, I’ve been beaten here. They choked me. I don’t know how much one can take. The lawlessness that’s going on here . . . So I’m asking you to take action of some kind.

Translated by Comrade JS. A huge thanks to them for bringing this publication to my attention and doing the hard, important work of translating it. \\TRR

Welcome to Moscow!

chinamenThe photo accompanying the article translated below would leave no doubt in readers’ minds that it was people from China who would be targeted by the new surveillance measures. Photo by Gleb Shchelkunov. Courtesy of Kommersant

Big Tour Is Watching You
System for Monitoring Flows of Foreigners to Be Readied for When Borders Open
Yulia Tishina
Kommersant
April 9, 2020

It is not only the city’s residents that the Moscow mayor’s office wants to track: it is also interested in designing a system, based on data from telecom operators, for tracking the movements of tourists in the capital. The system should help monitor the incidence of coronavirus and localize breakouts after the borders have beern reopened. According to our sources, Yandex, which already supplies the authorities with data on transport flows and monitors the level of self-isolation in Moscow, could be eligible for the contract.

Moscow authorities could create a system for monitoring places where foreign tourists gather, a source in the mayor’s office has told our newspaper. It would track foreigners who came to Moscow and determine the areas where they spent the most time, using data from telecom providers based on roaming or local SIM cards.

According to the source, the Moscow Department of Information Technology (DIT) plans to sign a contract for providing such data with a sole provider. This information was confirmed by another source familiar with the authorities’ plans. According to the source, monitoring of tourists in Moscow would be required to control the incidence of infection after restrictions on movement between countries had been lifted: “The system should help track residents who have potentially come into contact with foreigners and localize outbreak areas.”

DIT’s press service said there were currently no plans to create such a system, but confirmed it was doing a “cost assessment of services for the provision of on-demand geo-analytical reports.”

City authorities have already been purchasing data from operators on the movement of individuals, based on the geolocation of SIM cards. Since 2015, DIT has spent 516 million rubles [approx. 6.3 million euros] on purchasing such data, Vedomosti reported in March 2019. The city administration’s analytical center acts as an intermediary between DIT and operators, and the data is anonymized.

Yandex could submit a bid design the tourist tracking system, said one of our sources. “The company already transmits its data to the authorities in various categories, including traffic flows,” he said. Yandex has also launched a system for monitoring the level of self-isolation in Moscow and other cities. Yandex declined to comment on city hall’s project. MTS, MegaFon, and VimpelCom also declined to comment.

A spokesperson at Tele2 said it is impossible to identify individual subscribers in projects using depersonalized data.

A system for monitoring coronavirus patients based on geolocation data from telecom operators was launched in Moscow on March 3.

To do this, the patient has to download a special app or get a device loaded with it from the authorities. The best option may be to implement monitoring of tourist traffic on the basis of the existing system, according to Dmitry Karosanidze, head of the network solutions sales support group at Jet Infosystems. “You would also have to work out how to rapidly upload data on newly arrived tourists from the databases of telecom operators, as well as the databases of the Tourism Ministry and the Border Guards,” he added.

Many companies in the retail and banking segment have been purchasing aggregated geolocation data for a long time from telecom operators to determine the best locations for stores and branches, said Kirill Morozov, head of the telecoms and IT division at PwC. “If data were collected and transmitted anonymously, it would not violate users’ rights,” he noted.

Such technologies already enable state agencies to analyze the flow of people in the city in order to make decisions about infrastructure development, said Anna Nikitova, an adviser at Yakovlev & Partners Law Group. “But selective tracking of individuals excludes depersonalizing information. And providing third parties with information about subscribers can only be done with their consent,” she noted. Therefore, bringing the system online would likely involve the authorities enacting new directives, the expert argued, while it would be important to ensure their compliance with European data protection regulation (GDPR).

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

Jesus and His Dog

Muscovite Detained While Walking Dog, Police Leave Dog on Street Alone
Mediazona
April 4, 2020

Eyewitness Snezhana Mayskaya has told Mediazona that a young man was detained by police while walking a dog at Patriarch Ponds in downtown Moscow. Police officers put the man in a police van and drove away, leaving the dog on the street, Mayskaya added.

“They tried to call the dog. But it didn’t go up to them—it got scared and ran away. In the end, the young man was driven away, while the dog remained here,” she said.

 

Smartphone video of the incident, shot by Snezhana Mayskaya, as posted on @patriarshi

The Twitter account @patriashi claims the detained man’s wife retrieved the dog.

OVD Info reports that the detained man was delivered to the Presna District police precinct. “The police still refuse to specify what they are charging the detainee with,” it writes. According to OVD Info, the police said that Patriarch Ponds were closed when they detained the man.

The detained man, Jesus Vorobyov, told TV Rain that he was walking the dog within one hundred meters of his home when they were stopped by police. “They didn’t let me take the dog home or contact my wife, and they put me in their van. The dog was running around and barking,” he said. Vorobyov added that, during the arrest, police “twisted” his arm, while he was threatened at the precinct with fifteen days in jail.

A stay at home order has been in effect in Moscow since March 30 due to the coronavirus. People may now leave their homes only to walk their dogs, shop for groceries, seek medical attention, and go to work.

Translated by the Russian Reader