Pskov Rallies in Solidarity with Reporter Svetlana Prokopieva

prokopievaSvetlana Prokopieva. Courtesy of Article 19

“People Haven’t Found Another Way to Voice Their Opinions and Make Themselves Heard” 
moloko plus
February 16, 2019

In early February, the home of journalist Svetlana Prokopieva was searched by the security forces, who suspect her of “vindicating terrorism.” If charged and convicted, she could face seven years in prison. In November 2018, Prokopieva shared her thoughts about the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk live on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov. In December, Roskomnadzor, the Russian media watchdog, claimed the journalist’s statement could be interpreted as “vindication of terrorism.”

What do the people in Prokopieva’s hometown of Pskov think? We spoke with people who attended a rally there in support of her on February 10 and wrote down what they told us.

Nikita, 24, woodworker
I came to this rally to support someone whom the authorities are attempting to punish unjustly simply because she analyzed certain things on her radio program. And for that her home was surrounded by a SWAT team.

First, it’s a shame this is happening in Pskov. I’d always had the sense Pskov was a democratic city, a city of free speech. But things have a changed a bit, apparently.

I don’t think Russia has passed the point of no return yet, but, judging by such cases, it is trying to get there whatever the cost.

Rallies like this also give a boost to the people who attend them. You get the sense you’re not alone, that there are quite a few other people who think like you. Maybe this will also help Svetlana.

Maria, 40, homemaker
I came to this rally to support Svetlana, who back in the day wrote about us and really helped us. She got the attention of our region’s governor, who was then Andrei Turchak, because it was really hard to get to him. But Svetlana helped us with that.

The authorities just took our property. Rosimushchestvo [the Federal Agency for State Property Management] used photocopies of documents to register our house in their name, and so we lost everything. Then our daughter Serafima was born. The doctors diagnosed her with Down Syndrome. We were immediately faced with a whole slew of trials. But Svetlana wrote about us from the very beginning of this business. She found our family when we were still building the house. It was then we had given a gift to the city by restoring a fourteenth-century wall. My husband was given an award for that. They gave him an award, but then they confiscated our house.

Around the same time, there was the “Direct Line” TV program with Vladimir Putin. I think Svetlana is the sort of person who should be on the president’s team, who should work with governors and officials.

Svetlana did an investigative report and helped us. Turchak himself took charge of the matter of our house and an inspection team (sent by President Putin, I think) came to have a look. I would like our rulers to have incorruptible and honest people like Svetlana Prokopieva on their teams.

We don’t want revolutions. We just want there to be good people close to our president and our governors. Now we have a new governor. [Instead of persecuting Prokopieva], they should make her part of his team, and then everything would be terrific in our city.

Guslyana, 40, works in agriculture and handicrafts
I have read the newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya for fifteen years. It’s an excellent newspaper, one of the few independent newspapers in Pskov Region and Russia.

So, I think it’s quite important to defend a reporter from the newspaper, just like any independent reporter who tells the truth.

I think [the charges against Prokopieva] are fabricated and far-fetched. Lots of people say similar things publicly and privately. The lack of opportunities for peaceful protest cause certain people to become radicals, terrorists, and so on. I don’t consider what Prokopieva said a call for terrorism or vindication of terrorism.

It’s just getting at the root of the problem.

I would argue that when the authorities persecute journalists they are just trying to crack down on the independent press and intimidate activists and freethinkers.

God forbid the case should end with Prokopieva’s actual imprisonment. Whether it does or doesn’t happen primarily depends on us.

I would like to quote another of my favorite op-ed writers and journalists [sic], Yekaterina Schulman. She says the only effective thing is public scrutiny and grassroots protest. When they don’t work, nothing else will work at all.

Natalya, 65, pensioner, village councilwoman
I came to this rally because I had to come. That’s all there is to it. There was no way I would not come.

I think it’s a disgrace when a person is punished for her honesty and integrity.

When I heard about the case on Echo of Moscow radio station, the word “lawlessness” [bespredel] came to mind, since this is state-sponsored lawlessness.

I listened to the program on the radio and I wanted to find the article on the internet, but couldn’t find it. I recall, though, that what Svetlana had said was quoted verbatim on the radio program, as far as I understood. There was nothing criminal about it. Moreover, I agreed with her.

I believe we should value, respect, and help such people, not run them into the ground by filing criminal charges like that against them. If it weren’t for such people, the government would simply rot due to a lack of criticism. Maybe the government doesn’t want to be criticized, of course, but if wants to progress and see its mistakes, it has to have people like this. And help them.

Anya, 38, businesswoman
We came to Svetlana’s rally carrying placards about free speech. This illustration of a pencil clenched in a fest was used at the peace march in Paris in 2015 after the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. I was part of that demo in France four years ago, and now I am here. Of course, there are fewer of us in Pskov, but Pskov is not Paris.

All of us are in the media and on the social networks. We all voice our opinions. None of us is immune to this terror directed against us, actually. We want the right to speak our minds.

Svetlana, 38, content manager
I know Svetlana personally: my previous job had to do with the mass media. Personally, I want to live in a free country where I have the right to speak out, where I can voice my thoughts freely. It’s due to all these things that I’m here.

I read the article for which they are trying to bring Svetlana up on criminal charges. I didn’t find any vindication of terrorism in it. She was simply making an argument. She said nothing radical and made no calls for terrorism.

She merely discussed the situation and why it happened.

First, one of the speakers [at the rally] was right. I don’t consider it a terrorist attack. The individual could find no other way to voice his opinion so it would be heard. After all, he left a note, a message on a Telegram chat channel that he was opposed to the FSB’s use of torture.

How could he make himself heard? It turns out he couldn’t.

Pavel, 21, vigilante, guarding the rally
The people’s militia here in Pskov sent me to the rally to maintain order.

I gather [the authorities] are prosecuting a journalist for a critical article. I didn’t read the article, but I don’t think anyone has abolished freedom of speech [in Russia]. It’s another matter altogether that it falls under our country’s laws.

From the ethical point of view, however, she did nothing wrong, of course.

I believe that peaceful rallies like this one, only publicity and dissemination of information, can help individuals avoid criminal prosecution in Russia.

Translated by the Russian Reader

An Islamophobic Witch Trial in Moscow Ends with Hefty Sentences for Swarthy Men Who Read Banned Books

KMO_169609_00017_1_t218_222045Defendants in the trial holding up a homemade placard that reads, “Oh people! Wake up. We’re not tourists.” Photo courtesy of Kristina Kormilitsyna and Kommersant. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up

In Moscow, Hizb ut-Tahrir Defendants Sentenced to 11 to 16 Years in Prison
OVD Info
February 15, 2019

The Moscow District Military Court has sentenced defendants in the so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir case to eleven to sixteen years in medium security penal colonies, reports Moscow News Agency.

The men were found guilty of violating either Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 205.5 Part 1 or Part 2, which criminalizes involvement in the work of an organization deemed a terrorist organization. According to investigators, the accused men read “banned literature, including religious and ideological texts” in a rented apartment in Moscow from October 7, 2016.

The prosecutor had originally asked the court to sentence the accused men to thirteen to seventeen years in prison.

Interfax reports that Zafar Nodirov, the cell’s alleged leader, Farhod Nodirov, and Hamid Igamberdyev received the maximum sentences.

Sobirjon Burhoniddini, Alijon Odinayev, Muradjon Sattorov, Otabek Isomadinov, and Aziz Hidirbayev were sentenced to eleven to twelve years in maximum security penal colonies.

Four of them did not deny their involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. They claimed the organization was a political party whose members did not engage in prohibited activities.

The twelve natives [sic] of Central Asia were arrested in December 2016. Three defendants in the case pleaded guilty and were sentenced to ten to twelve years in maximum security penal colonies.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an international pan-Islamist political organization. It is banned in a number of Muslim countries and Russia. It is also banned in Germany for not recognizing the state of Israel. The SOVA Center for Information and Analysis has argued the party has been wrongfully deemed a “terrorist” organization in Russia.

Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up and for caring. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Why Ban Hizb Ut-Tahrir? They’re Not Isis—They’re Isis’s Whipping Boys
William Scates Frances
The Guardian
February 12, 2015

Another day, another Islamic State (Isis) meme. This one is a rather well done mimicry of the pamphlet style of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Its title reads “Hizb ut-Ta’khir”—translated roughly as the “party of delay”—and its bold headline reads, “Establishing the Khilafah since 1953.”

Beneath, the disclaimer reads: “I know, we have got nowhere so far, but we have lots of conferences and heaps of flags and are really good at sitting in cafes.”

This is not the first meme about Hizb ut-Tahrir to be spread around the oft deleted and resurrected pro-Isis Twitter handles. The Dawlah twittersphere (Dawlah meaning “state,” shorthand for Islamic State) is full of them, all of a similar theme, all targeting Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Reading much of the commentary in recent months, you would not expect Hizb ut-Tahrir to be the target of Isis supporters’ mockery. However, contrary to the common equivalency made between the two groups, the gap between Isis and the Hizb has never been wider. They are not only very different, but for some time have been in active opposition.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is a nonviolent political group that imagines itself as speaking truth to power from within the belly of the beast. Isis is a violent utopian movement that views staying in the west as inherently suspect. Hizb ut-Tahrir’s membership are generally inclined towards the classical Islamic sciences, while Isis affiliates are “Salafi-Jihadi” in approach.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has a party structure, with defined roles and official party lines. Isis is scattered, with isolated spokespeople of varied authority and rhetorical skill. The primary similarity between the two is their religion, but when their membership, approach, rhetoric and demographics are so utterly distinct, the comparison stops there.

In Australia, Hizb ut-Tahrir is something like the Muslim equivalent of a socialist student movement. Its prominent members are mostly tertiary-educated and imagine themselves as a sort of Muslim consulate to the west. They are avowedly nonviolent in their approach, but do not shy away from supporting specific “mujahedeen” groups in current conflicts, though this support has rarely been found to go beyond the rhetorical and is confined to wars within the Muslim world.

Like the aforementioned socialist student groups, their main form of communication comes through pamphlets and fiery speeches delivered by a small cadre of speakers from within their party structure.

Isis, on the other hand, is nothing like this. While in Raqqa and Mosul the group has something approaching a governance structure, in Australia the supporters of the group have no coherent hierarchy. Rather, “Dawlah fanboys,” as they are known to some, are scattered individuals confined to hidden Facebook groups, anonymous Twitter accounts and the occasional coy “spokesperson.”

They imagine the Islamic State as a sort of Muslim utopia, a land “free of humiliation.” They view themselves as destined to fight the good fight against the tyranny and disbelief which defines a postcolonial Muslim world. That they use memes is telling; they are a wholly different demographic from Hizb ut-Tahrir. Much of their membership seems to be both less educated and of a lower socioeconomic status. They deride the Hizb as all talk, and say as much often and publicly.

On the other side, Hizb ut-Tahrir has, in the few media releases in which they address Baghdadi directly, invoked verses of the Qur’an regarding the curse of God upon tyrants and their servants. This rhetoric has only increased since a senior member of the group was reportedly executed in Aleppo for “questioning Baghdadi’s self-proclaimed Caliphate.” Hizb ut-Tahrir called dibs on the Caliphate, and they view Baghdadi’s group and his title as wholly illegitimate.

Much was made of Wassim Dourehi’s refusal to denounce Isis during his Dateline interview with Emma Albarici. This was no show of support; Dourehi’s refusal was Hizb ut-Tahrir exposing the media’s ignorance of their movement. Further, it only takes a cursory look at Hizb ut-Tahrir’s website to see that they are embroiled in a bitter and ongoing feud with Isis.

While Tony Abbott has not confirmed whether the federal government will attempt to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, it would be foolish to do so. Hizb ut-Tahrir thrives on bans. It is banned in a large number of the regimes of “taghout”—tyrants, as their language describes it—and they wear these bans as a mark of honor, as a sign of their legitimacy and the fear their truths inspire. Indeed, the lack of a ban is used by some Isis supporters to prop up a persistent rumor that Hizb ut-Tahrir is a government front.

As it stands, Hizb ut-Tahrir is a whipping boy. Whenever Isis does something bad, they are dragged out in public to get a flogging. The idea that banning the Hizb will somehow reign in Isis or stop the spread of their rhetoric shows just how much this ignorance pervades discussions of public policy.

“Expressive Eyebrows”: Azat Miftakhov Jailed After Secret Witness Testifies

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Anatrr Ra
Facebook
February 12, 2019

Azat Miftakhov, a mathematics and mechanics graduate student at Moscow State University,  has been remanded in custody until March 7, 2019

Golovina District Court Judge Sergei Bazarov has remanded Azat Miftakhov in custody for a month, until March 7, at the request of police investigators. The police suspect Miftakhov of involvement in a January 13, 2018, incident in which a window in the Khovrino office of the United Russia party was broken and a smoke bomb was thrown inside.

The only evidence in the case is the testimony of a secret “witness” who emerged three days ago. Allegedly, the witness was near the United Russia office the night of the incident. He saw six young people. Three of the young people smashed the window and threw a smoke bomb in it, while the other three stood off to the side. The so-called witness supposedly recalled Miftakhov as being among the group who stood and watched, yet he was unable to describe neither what Miftakhov was wearing or his facial features, only his “expressive eyebrows.” The witness, however, did not contact the police for an entire year since, he explained, his phone had gone dead at the time and, subsequently, he had been busy with his own affairs.

Miftakhov was detained by law enforcement officers on the morning of February 1 on suspicion of making explosives, a criminal offense as defined by Article 223 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. He was held for twenty-four hours at the Balashikha police station, where law enforcement officers tortured him, demanding he make a full confession. Only on the evening of February 2 was Miftakhov officially detained and sent to the Balashikha Temporary Detention Facility.

On February 4, however, a court refused to remand him in custody due to a lack of evidence. Over the next three days, police investigators were unable to muster any evidence against Miftakhov, and so, on February 6, he was released from the temporary detention facility without charge.

As Miftakhov was leaving the detention facility, he was detained by men in plain clothes and taken to the Interior Ministry’s headquarters for Moscow’s Northern Administrative Division, where he was told he had been detained in another case, an investigation of alleged disorderly conduct outside the United Russia office in Khovrino on January 13, 2018. An investigation into vandalism (Criminal Code Article 214 Part 1) had been opened in January 2018, but Russian law does not stipulate remanding vandalism suspects in custody during investigations.

In an amazing coincidence, just as Miftakhov was detained a second time, the case was reclassified as an investigation of disorderly conduct, as defined by Criminal Code Article 213 Part 2. People suspected of disorderly conduct can be remanded in custody, and Miftakhov suddenly had become the main suspect in the case. On February 10, the Golovina District Court in Moscow refused to remand Miftakhov in custody, postponing the hearing until February 12.

Miftakhov denies the charges against him. He believes he has been framed because of his anarchist views.

Over a thousand lecturers, professors, researchers, and students from leading Russian and international universities have signed a petition in Miftakhov’s defense, include MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky and Viktor Vasilyev, president of the Moscow Mathematics Society. Mikhail Finkelberg, professor at the Higher School of Economics and Skoltech, Boris Kravchenko, president of the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR) and member of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, and Russian MP Oleg Shein have agreed to stand surety for Miftakhov.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader. Please read my earlier posts on the Khovrino vandalism case and the Russian police state’s senseless, relentless persecution of Azat Miftakhov.

Azat Miftakhov: Abducted for the Third Time in a Week

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Yana Teplitskaya writes: “Today, Azat Miftakhov was abducted for the third time in a week. (That is, he was abducted once, but allegedly “released” two times.) Attorney Svetlana Sidorkina was informed that Azat had been released from the Temporary Detention Facility. But then it became clear no one had seen him since his release. Ultimately, it transpired that he had simply been taken to a police station. The court hearing at which Azat was either to be released or remanded in custody was scheduled for today.”

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Torture First, Ask Questions Later (The Case of Azat Miftakhov)

азатAzat Miftakhov. Courtesy of Autonomous Action

Detained Moscow State University Mechanics and Mathematics Grad Student Tells Lawyer Security Forces Beat Him
Mediazona
February 3, 2019

Defense lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina reported to Mediazona that Azat Miftakhov, a graduate student in the mechanics and mathematics department at Moscow State University, told her he was beaten by security forces officers after they detained him.

“In the office [at the Balashikha police station — Mediazona] where he was held, they demanded he confess and were upset he asked to call family members or a lawyer. As he told me, one of the officers pressed an object that appeared to be a screwdriver to his chest and said he would use it if [Miftakhov] did not do as they asked,” Sidorkina told us.

“Then he was beaten on the arms and face. As [Miftakhov] said, they kicked and punched him in the chest. But there were no visible injuries. Then [one of the security forces officers]  wanted to stick the screwdriver in his anus. [Miftakhov] took the threat seriously, but [the officers] did nothing. Ultimately, [Miftakhov] did not tell them anything nor did he sign a confession,” said Sidorkina.

She noted that, aside from a bruise on Azat’s ear and a mark made by the screwdriver, there were no visible injuries on his body.

Miftakhov did not know what security agency the men who beat him represented.

Sidorkina added that Miftakhov was detained as part of an investigation into a violation of Russian Criminal Code Article 223.1 Part 1 (illegal manufacture of explosives).

According to Sidorkina, Miftakhov was detained on the morning of February 1. After his dwelling was searched, he was delivered to the Balashikha police station. In the evening, after he was interrogated by security services officers, he was taken to hospital, where he was treated for abrasions from the screwdriver and injected with a sedative. He was driven back to the police station, but held in the car until three in the morning.

Sidorkina suspects the security forces did not know how to charge the detained graduate student.

Ultimately, Miftakhov was placed in a room for people detained on administrative charges in the Balashikha police station’s other building, which houses its investigative department.

On the morning of February 2, however, he was taken back to the first building. According to Miftakhov, he was held in a office there for the entire day, but he was handcuffed. Around seven o’clock in the evening, he was driven back to the Balashikha police station’s investigative department, where the written record of his detention was read out to him.

At least eleven other people were detained as part of the explosives investigation. Except for Miftakhov, all of them have been released.

Mediazona has spoken with six of the former detainees. Daniil Galkin told us that, after the search, FSB officers tortured him with a taser and tried to force him into testifying against Miftakhov and doing an interview with a news crew from Channel One.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Torture (The Case of Pavel Zlomnov)

mediazona-van
Illustration for Mediazona by Maria Tolstova. Courtesy of Mediazona

Man Who Said He Was Tortured by FSB Released from Remand Prison and Immediately Rearrested on New Charges 
Mediazona
January 31, 2019

Petersburg resident Pavel Zlomnov, who claimed he had been tortured by FSB officers, was released on his own recognizance on charges of arms trafficking (Article 222 of the Russian Criminal Code) and immediately detained on new charges, his brother Mikhail has informed Mediazona.

Zlomnov is suspected of having violated Article 205.1 Part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code: “public calls for terrorism, vindication or promotion of terrorism.”

“Today, he was released on his own recognizance in the old case that kept him in Remand Prison No. 6 for a year and was immediately detained as part of a new case,” said Mikhail Zlomnov.

According to the written order to institute legal proceedings, a copy of which Mediazona has in its possession, on October 31, 2018, Zlomnov, who was in Remand Prison No. 6, called the person who caused the explosion in the FSB’s Arkhangelsk office [sic] a “real hero of the people.” According to investigators, he also “publicly made appeals recognizing the ideology of violence, including appeals that were poetic in terms of their rhetorical structure [sic].”

The case is being investigated by the FSB.

Mikhail Zlomnov said that investigators have once again requested that his brother be remanded in custody. His custody hearing will take place on January 31.

Zlmonov was initially detained on January 31, 2018, on charges of arms trafficking. Zlomnov’s family reported that, when he was detained, FSB officers “jumped up and down on him, injuring his kidneys, head, and arm.”

Roman Grozdov, another defendant in the case, also reported being tortured.

Mediazona published a detailed account of the case in August 2018.

In late January of this year, Pavel Zlomnov’s brother Mikhail and their father Andrei, who are lawyers, were charged with insulting FSB investigator Dmitry Sablin, per Article 319 of the Russian Criminal Code, which makes publicly insulting officials a criminal offense.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Moscow Anarchist Azat Miftakhov: Arrested, Tortured and Missing

azatMoscow anarchist Azat Miftakhov at the center of a selfie taken, apparently, by the Center “E” officers who tortured him. Screenshot courtesy of Jenya Kulakova

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
February 2, 2019

For a day and a half, lawyers have been unable to see Azat Miftakhov, an anarchist and Moscow State University graduate student who was detained yesterday. Yesterday evening, Miftakhov was taken from the Balashikha police station as a defense counselor looked on and taken to parts unknown. Miftakhov was bruised and surrounded by eight cop. It has been twenty-four hours since he was last seen. No one knows his whereabouts, his condition, and the charges against him.

On the other hand, Ren TV and Rossiya 24 have broadcast photos and videos from the Miftakhov’s search and interrogation. In one of them, an investigator mocks Miftakhov, who is handcuffed, when he claims he is afraid of being tortured. The Center “E” officers take a selfie with their prisoner. (I was unable to find any other photo, so that’s why it illustrates this post.)

The folks who were detained along with Miftakhov, but released yesterday, report they were beaten and tortured with electric shocks. The torture was so bad that yesterday Miftakhov “didn’t look like a human being.” He attempted to slash his wrists to keep from being tortured again. Today, lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina heard an investigator in court talking to someone about it.

The authorities did not produce Miftakhov in court today for his own custody hearing.

Like a year ago in Petersburg, torture is happening practically in broad daylight, but we don’t know what to do.  Yesterday, when I left a message on the Moscow police’s hotline, the operator almost laughed at me. Just as Putin claimed [at a recent meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights] that FSB officers don’t torture people in vehicles, she doubted what I was saying.

“He’s being tortured right in an Interior Ministry building? Right now? Give me a break,” she said to me.

A missing person report on Miftakhov has been filed, and lawyers have been trying since yesterday to get access to him. But what’s the point?

I hope this hell ends for him as soon as possible.

Here are a few links to articles [in Russian] about what has transpired about the searches and arrests in Moscow since yesterday.

Translated by the Russian Reader