And Then There Were Sixteen (“Condoning Terrorism” Witch Hunt Continues)

Vologda Resident Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Comments about Bombing at Arkhangelsk FSB
OVD Info
October 18, 2020

On October 15, the Vologda Garrison Military Court sentenced Sergei Arbuzov, a resident of Vologda, to five years in a high-security penal colony for “condoning terrorism on the internet” (punishable under Article 205.2.2 of the criminal code) writes local politician Sergei Gusev on his VK group page.

Arbuzov was found guilty of “condoning terrorism” over several comments he posted on a VK public page under a news item about anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky’s suicide bombing at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices.

Photo of a page from Arbuzov’s case file, as posted on the VK group page The Nationalist Guzhev Is the People’s Politician 

In particular, Arbuzov was charged with writing, on November 1, 2018, “That’s who should be given the title Hero of Russia: he did not cut himself any slack.” According to Guzhev, the accused had admitted his guilt, repented [sic] and actively cooperated with the prosecution throughout the investigation.

In addition, according to the politician, Arbuzov has two young children and certificates of merit for volunteering in the social sector. Despite this, the court sent the Vologda resident to a high-security penal colony for five years.

Sergei Arbuzov is the sixteenth person in Russia who has been convicted of or prosecuted for, allegedly, “exonerating” or “condoning” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. The others are Alexander Merkulov, Alexei ShibanovSvetlana ProkopyevaNadezhda BelovaLyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

“The Network Case Is Russia’s Disgrace”

Natalia Sivohina
Facebook
October 18, 2020

“The Network Case is Russia’s disgrace.” Photo of Natalia Sivohina courtesy of her Facebook page

One of the most vile criminal cases in our country turned three years old today. Although it is far from the only such case, it has been very revealing. I remember the desperate social media posts by the young ladies from the [Petersburg] Public Monitoring Commission, Yana Teplitskaya and Katya Kosarevskaya, when the relatives and the lawyers looked for the first people interrogated as part of the case. FSB “investigators” communicated with them using stun guns.

Then there were the mendacious TV broadcasts by propagandists, numerous letters in support of the guys, and the rivers of sleaze in “bespoke” articles and posts. And there were the huge sentences [for all of the defendants] and tuberculosis for two of them—for conversations, for idiotic videos, for confessions obtained under duress, which the young men, yesterday’s children, recanted in the courtroom. The appeals hearing for the Penza defendants is currently underway. Now everybody knows the names and faces of the nighttime torturers and the scum who concocted this case in broad daylight. I really hope to live to see the trial at which those fraudsters will get what they have coming to them. And to see the guys released and testify against them.

Dear universe or whatever your name is, please make it happen sooner rather than later.

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 defendants in the case.

#NetworkCase 

Khabarovsk: Day 92

“Riot Police Beating People in Khabarovsk,” RusNews, October 10, 2020

Echo of Moscow, 09:31, October 10, 2020. On the 92nd day of protests, the authorities in Khabarovsk for the first time used riot police to disperse demonstrators. According to the website OVD Info, quoting supporters of former governor Sergei Furgal, one of the protesters lost consciousness near a paddy wagon. The website’s correspondent reported that the Russian National Guard vehicles had license plates bearing the number 15, meaning they were from North Ossetia.

Protest Russia, 10.10.20, 10:16. Update! A staffer at the Navalny HQ in Khabarovsk, Andrei Pastukhov, said that about forty people had been detained. They were taken to different police departments. He added that in the second regional hospital there are two victims of the actions of the security forces. Galina Pridannikova has a hematoma on her head. “Activist Maklygin is unconscious and is being resuscitated,” Pastukhov said.

Thanks to Yevgenia Litvinova and other friends for the video and these reports. Translated by the Russian Reader. Mediazona is live-blogging the events as they unfold (in Russian).

Igor Yakovenko: The Execution of Yuri Dmitriev

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by the Russian Reader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dmitriev has vehemently denied the charges against him.

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

The Action Plan

September 21, 2020

Education Committee
Government of Saint Petersburg
8 Antonenko Lane
190031 Saint Petersburg
Tel.: (812) 417-3454
Email: kobr@gov.spb.ru
www.k-obr.spb.ru

To: Directors of educational organizations under the Committee’s jurisdiction

Re: Action Plan

Dear Directors,

In September 2020, as instructed by the St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office, specialists at Center “E” of the Russian Interior Ministry’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate, together with the Education Committee, developed an “Action Plan for homeroom teachers and school counselors in notifying law enforcement agencies when information is found on the Internet and other sources about the involvement by pupils of educational institutions in informal youth associations and extremist movements” (hereinafter, “Action Plan”).

We are sending the Action Plan, as approved by the St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office, to your address.

We ask you to familiarize homeroom teachers and other interested specialists with this Action Plan in order to organize monitoring of the Internet, including the social networks, of [sic] pupils of educational institutions for possible involvement in informal youth associations and extremist movements.

Enclosure: 4 pages in 1 copy

Yours sincerely,
Deputy Chairman of the Committee
A.A. Borshchevsky

This letter was made public by Maxim Reznik, an independent member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly. Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Ufa Twenty: 329 Years in Prison for Nothing

Alexandra Kalistratova
Facebook
September 21, 2020

⚡️⚡️⚡️Today a panel of judges at the Russian Supreme Court upheld the sentences of eighteen of the defendants in the case of the so-called Ufa Twenty. They reduced the sentence of one defendant from 22 years to 21 years.

Here are the sentences according to the appeals ruling:

Rinat Nurlygayanov — 24 years
Rustem Khamzin — 23 years
Linar Vakhitov — 22 years
Rustem Galyamov — 22 years
Artur Salimov — 22 years
Danis Fayzrakhmanov — 22 years
Rafael Fattakhov — 22 years
Radik Akhmetov — 21 years
Khalil Mustafin — 21 years
Azamat Kayumov — 20 years
Ilgiz Gimaletdinov — 14 years
Irek Tagirov — 14 years
Shamisl Sharipov  — 14 years
Alexander Kornev — 13 years
Ural Yakupov — 13 years
Fanis Akhmetshin — 11 years
Farit Mustafayev — 11 years
Radmir Maksutov — 10 years
Ruslan Fattakhov — 10 years

All the defendants convicted in the case will serve their sentences in high-security penal colonies.

They were given the sentences for suspected involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is officially deemed a “terrorist organization” in Russia.

The ruling was made by a judicial panel consisting of the presiding judge Igor Krupnov and judges Alexander Voronov and Oleg Derbilov.

Translated by the Russian Reader

ufim 20Images from the appeals hearing in late August. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Karinna Moskalenko: Ten Questions about the Ufa Twenty
Rights in Russia
August 25, 2020

Karinna Moskalenko is a lawyer, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and founder of the International Protection Centre

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Эхо Москвы]

The real tragedy-cum-farce of our times are the events unfolding in the Supreme Court of Russia right now. [The Supreme Court’s judicial panel] on cases concerning military service personnel is currently considering the appeal of a group of Muslim activists from Bashkortostan (with no connection at all to the military) in a case best known as case of the Ufa Twenty. In fact, the judicial panel has already commenced the appeal proceedings, and it’s worthwhile attending for anyone who can visit the Supreme Court Building (the address is 12 Maly Kharitonyevsky Pereulok, entrance to the court is free but you should bring your passport).

Recently, there have been several prosecutions related to the Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir that began with ambiguous and ‘murky’ charges and ended with lengthy prison sentences – sometimes exceedingly so. Case in point: one of my clients was sentenced to serve 24 years in a maximum-security penal colony, while some of my other clients were given sentences only slightly shorter in length. Yet despite the already lengthy sentence, the Prosecutor’s Office has submitted an appeal demanding a tougher sentence for this client.

This has forced our international team of lawyers to get involved with the case and attempt to fathom the true nature of what can best be described as a repressive campaign launched by the authorities. If the authorities plan to launch this campaign soon under some sort of official title, we should really establish who the ultimate beneficiaries of such a campaign are.

Without doubt, the law enforcement agencies are one of the biggest beneficiaries. Thanks to this campaign of repression, law enforcement officers can now ‘heroically’ rise in status, adorn themselves with awards, and climb the career ladder, and all by ‘exposing’ so-called ‘criminal groups’ like Hizb ut-Tahrir with little effort. It’s all a rather devious business. Law enforcement officers carry out Operational Investigative Measures (what people often call ‘Special Repressive Measures’ [these have the same initials in Russian – ed.] and infiltrate agents who often act as provocateurs. And instead of combating real crime, blatant banditry, protection rackets, corruption that has paralysed the state, and the many crimes left without investigation, instead, without especial effort or risk, they catch dozens of innocents in their nets who have gone to discussions in search of the meaning of life, religious knowledge, and to read religious literature together – religious literature that includes pamphlets published by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation banned in Russia. It is these people who become the victims of these deviously set out traps.

If you were an unbiased observer, you would immediately see that there is no evidence at all of acts of violence or even preparation to commit such acts, and there is simply no crime at all.

If you were some sort of an incorrigible hardliner, you might say: sure, let them all go to jail anyway as a precaution, as a lesson to everyone else.

We, however, don’t just have purely human sympathy for the people prosecuted in this case, we also have a lively professional interest. We have yet to fully form an in-depth legal opinion, but the court so far has refused to accept even well-founded appeals from the lawyers who have newly taken up the case after reviewing the more than 374 volumes of the case materials.

While this remains the case, here are ten short questions of the kind ‘One curious person can ask enough questions that hundreds of clever people can’t answer.’

1. Why do the authorities drag people into the criminal justice system and sentence them to maximum prison stretches for activities which do not exhibit the slightest trace of terrorist or violent behaviour, and why has the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, banning this movement, not been officially published in order that those whose rights have been impacted by it can at least appeal against it?

2. Why does the military court system become involved with cases of non-military persons and even non-combatants who have never used weapons and are not going to do so? How has such an abnormal practice evolved and how has it been justified?

3. Why did the preliminary court hearing hold the most important part of the trial in closed court, in the absence of any justification on legal grounds?

4. Why were those defendants, who made the slightest attempts to make statements and voice objections, removed from the courtroom ‘until the end of the trial’ in such a rough manner that other defendants were simply afraid to deliver their own statements?

5. It is impossible to establish where, from whom and under what circumstances the prohibited literature was seized. It ‘emerged’ to form the charges and the evidence in this case. Where did the protocols of the searches disappear from the case files? Who failed to keep them secure? Why were the statements of the criminal investigative department destroyed?

6. What happened during the trial at court of first instance with the defence team in this case? Can they be considered as effective and adequate, judging by the position and actions of the defence as reported in the court transcript?

7. What is wrong with the trial transcript if it does not correspond, according to the statements of the defendants, to the progress of the trial or the audio recording of the trial, and if the comments of the defendants themselves on the transcript of the trial are not considered by the court?

8. Can the trial at first instance be considered fair and impartial if its many decisions regarding the pre-trial detention of the defendants over the course of many years has already been recognized by the European Court of Human Rights as violations of human rights?

9. Why did the court of appeal begin to hear the case, despite the fact that those convicted had not been able to read the dozens of volumes of court reports on the case and their new lawyers had not been able to examine all the materials of the case?

10. Why did the judicial panel for cases involving military service personnel, even without waiting for the end of the trial, engage in reprisals against the lawyers, initiating disciplinary cases against them? Was it because they had reacted to particularly intolerable violations of the court with urgent complaints and telegrams to the chair of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation? And should not any lawyer, in the face of arbitrary behaviour by any official, defend the rights of their clients by all means not forbidden by law, instead of passively watching irreversible procedural violations take place?

So this is the case currently being considered by the judicial panel ‘for cases of people with no connection to the military’ involving victims of numerous miscarriages of justice, though this is far from all the violations in the case, but just the most pressing questions… The court must respond to these questions after hearing from the parties during these days of the trial.

Though it is regrettable to note, there is little hope for justice. Suffice to say that the oral hearings began with a scandal, namely with a violation of the adversarial principle. Judge for yourself. The two sides filed their objections to the judgment in an appeal. Who should be the first to speak in this instance? The prosecution, of course, so that the defence may object to the arguments of the prosecution based on the results of the appeal proceedings. But the court gave the prosecution the last word, leaving the defence to speak first(!). The defence objected but were forced to comply. Suddenly, sometime after these protestations, during the statements of the defence, the prosecutor took the floor and, without any introduction or detailed analysis of the evidence, stated that the verdict was lawful and grounded and that he would not uphold the appeal by the Prosecutor’s Office. This was the bizarre way in which the court and the prosecution apparently attempted to justify the violation of the adversarial principle and oral hearing procedures.

Thus, it is the eleventh question that remains the most relevant:

Will the appeal court remedy these violations by overturning the unjust verdict, or will lawlessness prevail?

All concerned citizens attending the trial in the Supreme Court building on Maly Kharitonyevsky Pereulok over the next few days will be able to find the answer to this question.

Translated by Fergus Wright, Graham Jones and Verity Hemp. The translation has been slightly edited to make it more accurate and readable. || TRR

The Russian National Guard Has Canceled Your Yulia Tsvetkova Solidarity Film Screening

Flacon Design Factory in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Popcornnews.ru

Russian National Guardsmen Disrupt Screening of Film in Support of Yulia Tsvetkova at Flacon Design Factory in Moscow
MBKh Media
September 15, 2020

Russian National Guardsmen have come to the Flacon Design Factory in Moscow and stopped a screening of the [2014 documentary] film Vulva 3.0, an event planned in support of the activist Yulia Tsvetkova. The screening’s curator, Andrei Parshikov, reported the incident to MBKh Media.

According to Parshikov, Petrovka 38 [Moscow police headquarters] had received an anonymous call that so-called propaganda of homosexualism [sic] would take place during the event.

“First, Petrovka 38 got an anonymous call, and then the local police precinct was informed about the call. The precinct commander came to Flacon and said that things looked bad. We told him about the movie. He said that while he understood everything, he couldn’t help us because since Petrovka 38 had received the call, a detachment would be dispatched in any case and they would shut down the screening. The only solution, he said, was to give the local police a screening copy of the film so they could that could look at it and make sure it checked out, but he still could not promise anything. We said, Okay, we’ll give you a screening copy, and we’ll postpone the screening,” Parshikov said.

Subsequently, around twenty Russian National Guardsmen arrived at Flacon. They are patrolling the premises and making it impossible to screen the film.

UPDATE (8:24 p.m.)

The screening of the film has been canceled for today, curator Andrey Parshikov has informed MBKh Media. According to him, the Russian National Guardsmen are still at Flacon. Parshikov added that the film would be sent for a forensic examination tomorrow.

Yulia Tsvetkova is an activist from Komsomolsk-on-Amur. In November 2019, she was charged with “distributing pornography”(under Article 242.3.b of the Russian Criminal Code) over body-positive drawings she published on Vagina Monologues, a social media group page that she moderated. Due to pressure and harassment, she had to close the Merak Children’s Theater [which she ran with her mother].

Law enforcement authorities began their criminal inquiry into Tsvetkova after two criminal complaints were filed against her by Timur Bulatov, who runs the homophobic social media group page Moral Jihad, which mostly publishes threats, insults, and Bulatov’s own derogatory monologues about gays.  [Bulatov] informed the police that Tsvetkova was distributing pornography.

Tsvetkova was subsequently also charged with several administrative offenses for “promoting non-traditional sexual relations” on her personal page on VK and the group pages Komsomolka: Intersectional Feminism and The Last Supper: LGBTQIAPP+on-Amur | 18+.  Tsvetkova was convicted on these charges and fined.

Thanks to Maria Mila for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Alexander Merkulov Test

“I am/we are Alexander Merkulov”

Alexei Sergeyev
Facebook
September 8, 2020

The Alexander Merkukov Test

An abyss of silence. You shout at the top of your lungs, but there’s no response, only silence. It’s like in a dream when you need to shout, but you have no voice at all. It’s gone. In a dream, however, you can wake up, while in this case…

On the placard, I had tied a bell to a symbolic spool of the white thread that was used to sew the shaky case against Alexander shut. It trembles in the wind, and passersby hear its “ding-ding.” For whom does the bell toll? Don’t walk on by, don’t look away…

Why did I get involved in the case of Alexander Merkulov (aka Aleksandr Peĵiĉ)? We weren’t friends, just acquaintances. Why, even though I hate court hearings, did I attend three court hearings last week?

The bell has a tongue. Many people in prison don’t have a tongue. The Russian Themis does not hear them. Not only has she blindfolded her eyes, but she has also put earplugs in her ears and plugged them tight. Whether you yell or not, you will be sentenced The judicial ear is sensitive only to the sovereign’s oprichniks. Gulag-minded, the courts presume that you are guilty, nor are their verdicts subject to review or appeal.

So it turns out that the only voice prisoners have is their circle of support on the outside. These groups are different for everyone. The famous blogger has hundreds of thousands of subscribers. The arrested journalist enjoys the corporate solidarity of the media: the major newspapers publish editorials about him, while his colleagues devote columns and radio and TV broadcasts to him.

A prominent public figure is supported by ordinary Russians, his fellow activists, and human rights defenders. And doctors, actors, truckers, feminists, LGBT activists, etc., have the support of their own communities. But Merkulov’s case has nothing to do with LGBT issues, so LGBT organizations can’t give it the proper attention and resources.

Sometimes, it is possible to raise a regional case to a national and even international level of publicity, as many people have managed to do in the case of Yulia Tsvetkova by pooling their efforts. While it is no guarantee of victory, it increases the chances.

But most cases in Russian courts are heard in complete silence. People are sentenced, transported to prison, and serve their sentences or die trying, and yet nobody says a word. Of the five cases that were heard in Petersburg City Court on Wednesday morning in the same courtroom as Alexander’s case, only his hearing featured a few members of the public in the gallery. The other defendants faced indifferent silence before hearing the judge say, “The appeal is denied, the defendant will remain in custody.”

Recently, the Perm human rights activist Igor Averkiev wrote an excellent post entitled “The Personal Usefulness of Crowds.” It’s not about people, it’s about animals—about the chances a hypothetical “introverted reindeer named Sergei,” a “social reindeer named Kostya,” or a “young musk ox named Proshka” would have against a pack of predators, a pack of “Lake Taimyr wolves.” I will quote a couple of passages from it.

“I’m a reindeer named Sergei. But I’m a very introverted, nearly autistic reindeer, and I only really feel good when I’m alone. And so, being the only other reindeer for many miles around, I come across a pack of hungry wolves. My chances are almost zero: I run faster, but they are more resilient. Moreover, when I’m alone, it’s easier for the wolves to work together smoothly as a group. Basically, I’m no longer here… Natural selection is why we don’t see ‘nearly autistic introverts’ among reindeer.”

“Any danger forces people (and not only people) to band together in a group, in a crowd. This happens instinctively. The import of this instinct is obvious: it depersonalizes the threat. When I am in a crowd, the danger is not focused on me personally, but rather is distributed over a large number of people, which increases my own chances of survival. But you can not only hide in a crowd, the crowd can also protect you. When it comes to self-defense, the size of the crowd matters.”

Any metaphor has its limits, of course. So, returning to Alexander, I want to talk about more than just him. We know that he is one of Averkiev’s “autistic introverts.” Not only does he lack media fame, but he also lacks a large number of what are called “stable social connections.”

(The topic of how the system cracks down on people with psychiatric or mental peculiarities deserves a separate post).

And this was where I said to myself: Stop, Alexei. There is no retreating. If it weren’t for you and the few colleagues who have got involved in this ‘hopeless case,’ and for Alexander’s mother, Alexander would be a goner.

I think this was what Olga Masina, who is seriously ill and undergoing medical treatment, and yet still works, said to herself. She stubbornly spends the few free hours and energy she has covering Alexander’s case. And then, like ripples on water, other people plug into the campaign. Svetlana Prokopyeva, who was convicted of the same “crime,” wrote an article about Alexander between her trial and her appeal. And Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko has got involved, too.

This story is not so much about Alexander, it’s about all of us. This is a test of our personal commitment, of our capacity for overcoming ourselves and our circumstances. Do we do something, however small, or do we just turn away and make excuses?

Of course, even a serious public response does not guarantee a 100% positive outcome. But the lack of support almost guarantees a negative outcome. And, at least, our involvement is felt by Alexander, and it is important for him, he writes about it in his letters.

I will end this post with two actual quotations.

“We’re not going to Merkulov’s court hearings. He’s not as cute as Yegor Zhukov,” writes a gay man.

No comment.

“I’m not ready to picket yet. The case itself is quite murky.”

Of course, I respect the right to choose.

But let me remind you that Alexander, a pacifist and anti-fascist, is accused of “condoning terrorism” on the internet for three reposts and a four-word post about 17-year-old [Mikhail] Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up in the FSB building in Arkhangelsk.

Does this warrant up to 7 years in prison? Do we need to keep Alexander in jail for three months running as if he were a particularly dangerous criminal? For me, the answer is obvious, and the point is clear in this sense: there were no calls for violence in Alexander posted. On the contrary, when reposting, he wrote that he did not approve of violence.

There is no counting the streets in our country that still bear the names of terrorists, but our valiant security forces could not care less. We LGBT activists send notarized bundles of the threats we receive to the police, but they don’t open criminal investigations because, they say, “the threats are not real.” Assaults, domestic violence, and poisoning are “not grounds for criminal prosecution.”

But Alexander’s actions are a “threat to national security”? The criminal case against him is a joke. The article in the criminal code under which he has been charged [Article 205.2] a mockery of the law. In my opinion, if it is left on the law books, then at most it should be an administrative offense.

Read the Wikipedia article about the bombing in Arkhangelsk: more and more people have been getting prison sentences for its “long echo.”

We’re talking about people’s lives here. We’re talking about Alexander’s life. Will his fate be decided in silence, or will we pass this test of caring? We don’t have horns and hooves like musk oxen and deer, the only things we have are our voices and our conscience.

At 12:30 p.m. on September 10, the appeals hearing on Alexander’s remand in police custody will take place at Petersburg City Court.

Follow Alexander’s case on Telegram: https://t.me/save_merkulov

#FreeMerkulov

Save Alexander Merkulov (Peĵiĉ)
Telegram
September 10, 2020

The Petersburg City Court upheld the original decision to remand Alexander Merkulov in custody. In the photo, you see the face of this “justice”: Judge Tatyana Matveyeva Tatyana , hiding behind the monitor.

Prosecutor Minina didn’t even stay for the announcement of the court’s decision. Apparently, she already knew it in advance.

Alexander was present via video link and was very happy to see us in the camera🙂

Alexander Merkulov 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 Alexei Shibanov, Svetlana Prokopyeva, Nadezhda BelovaLyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

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 

ACAB (Dispatch from Minsk)

black and bluePeople examining the bruised back of a man released from police custody in Mogilev, Belarus. Photo courtesy of Yevgenia Litvinova and Mediazona

Here is a curious dispatch from my friend the Belarusian anarchist activist and blogger Mikola Dziadok, who, the last time I checked, was in hiding after police raided his and his girlfriend’s apartment and his mom’s apartment in search of Mikola, hoping to arrest him on trumped-up charges. // TRR

Mikola Dziadok
Facebook
August 14, 2020

Here’s another morsel for those who enjoy shouting “The police are with the people!”

A Minsk resident told me this story.

A 17-year-old boy was detained the day before yesterday under the pretext of “What you doing here?” He was taken to a police station, where he was beaten in the assembly hall. Moreover, although it was regular cops who had brought him in, it was the OMON (riot police) who did the beating. Then they laid him face down on the floor, like so many other [detainees in recent days].

They telephoned his guardians. His guardian came to the police station, and they started beating the fuck out of him, too.

He asked what for.

They asked him why the fuck he had come.

He replied that they had telephoned him themselves and told him to come retrieve his kid.

They replied by asking him how old he was and what kid he was talking about. (The man has two kids of his own.)

After some time, the man and his ward were finally released. The man said that another man, around fifty years of age, was still in police custody when they left, and he had been jailed for the same reason: for coming to pick up his kid. And the same thing had happened to him.

Translated by the Russian Reader