Russia’s Most Dangerous Shaman

shamanAlexander Gabyshev. Photo by Andrei Zatirko. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Riot Police Storm House of Alexander Gabyshev, Yakut Shaman Who Promised to Exorcise Putin
Radio Svoboda
May 12, 2020

Riot police have detained Alexander Gabyshev, the Yakut shaman who last year promised to exorcise Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin, and taken him to a mental hospital, according to MBKh Media, citing Alexei Pryanishnikov, the coordinator of Pravozashchita Otkrytki [Open Russia’s human rights program].

According to the human rights activist, at least twenty special forces officers had stormed the shaman’s house in Yakutsk. The reason for his arrest is unknown. Earlier in the day, Gabyshev had been visited several times by people who presented themselves as medical professionals, and asked to test him for the coronavirus. Two of Gabyshev’s supporters were detained along with him for violating self-isolation rules.

Gabyshev gained notoriety in the spring of 2019, when he set off on foot to Moscow to perform an exorcism ritual to force Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin.

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A Shaman for Putin: What Siberians Are Telling Gabyshev on His Way to Moscow, Radio Svoboda, September 12, 2019. Yakut shaman Alexander Gabyshev believes that Vladimir Putin is the “spawn of dark forces,” so he set off on foot to Moscow to “exorcise” him. The shaman began the journey alone, but soon followers began to join him. In Chita, he spoke to a large rally. Buryatia was the next region on Gabyshev’s journey: mass protests started in Ulan-Ude after his supporters were arrested. Gabyshev planned to take two years to get to Moscow so he could unhurriedly converse with the people along the way. The shaman and his followers moved along the roads, covering an average of twenty kilometers a day, stopping for the night in tents, sometimes at roadside motels. Local residents and passing people went to talk to Gabyshev, taking pictures, and helping with food and money.

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On September 19 of last year, Gabyshev was detained at the border between Buryatia and Irkutsk Region during an operation involving special forces. He was identified as a suspect in a criminal investigation into alleged instances of “incitement to extremism” and released on his own recognizance. A psychological and psychiatric examination ordered by police investigators found that Gabyshev was mentally incompetent.

Gabyshev subsequently tried to resume his campaign, promising to make another march on Moscow in June.

The criminal case against Gabyshev was suspended for the duration of the epidemic. International human rights organization Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

“‘What sounds like a tale from Russian folklore has become, in today’s Russia, just another act of brutal suppression of human rights,” the organization noted.

Translated by the Russian Reader

BBC Russian Service, From Yakutia to Moscow: A Shaman’s Journey Against Putin, September 24, 2019

Bless This Mess

metropolitanMetropolitan Varsofonius and his crew. Photo by Andrei Petrov. Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Archdiocese of the Russian Orthodox Church and Fontanka.ru

“Above All, We Must Repent Our Sins”: Petersburg Metropolitan Flies over City with Icon and Prayer Against Coronavirus
Fontanka.ru
March 31, 2020

Metropolitan Varsofonius of Saint Petersburg and Ladoga, following the example of his colleague in Leningrad Region, flew over the city in a helicopter. From the air, he prayed for an end to the epidemic.

This was reported on the metropolitan’s website on March 31. Varsofonius took on board an icon [sic] of the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan after holding a service in front of it at Kazan Cathedral.

“An aircraft containing the reigning archbishop and clergymen flew over the borders of the Northern Capital, crisscrossing its historical part, while a molieben and the akathist of the Intercession of the Theotokos were sung,” the metropolitan’s press service wrote of the devotional flyover.

metro-2

The metropolitan emerged from the helicopter with the thought that the ubiquitous virus was a signal that “we [were] not living right.” Varsofonius advised us to take the quarantine as a time to reflect on our lives.

“Let’s not despair. All troubles pass—this too shall pass, and life will return to normal. Most importantly, we must repent of our sins and mend our ways, and the Lord will send deliverance,” Varsofonius concluded.

Two days earlier, a prayer flight passed over Leningrad Region. Bishop Ignatius of Vyborg and Priozersk took on board an icon of the Mother of God of Konevits and the relics of Saint Arsenius of Konevits.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia’s War on “Terrorists” and “Extremists” in Crimea and Syria

filatovPersecuted Crimean Jehovah’s Witness Sergei Filatov faces seven years in prison for “extremism.” Photo courtesy of Grati

Prosecutor Requests Seven Years in High-Security Prison for Jehovah’s Witness in Crimea
OVD Info
February 25, 2020

During closing arguments in the trial of local resident Sergei Filatov, who organized meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the prosecutor asked the Dzhankoy District Court to sentence Filatov to seven years in a high-security penal colony, according to the online publication Grati, which cited Filatov himself as its source.

Filatov, who is currently free on his own recognizance, is accused of “organizing the activities of an extremist organization,” punishable under Article 282.2.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. According to investigators, Filatov, as the head of a religious organization, “undermined the foundations of the constitutional system and the security of the state.” The case files include an audio recording, made by local FSB field officer Vladislav Stradetsky, in which Filatov and other believers can be heard discussing religious topics.

The prosecution claims that Filatov is a co-organizer of a Jehovah’s Witness organization called Sivash, which held gatherings and religious lectures at the defendant’s registered domicile.

The only witness at the previous hearings in Filatov’s trial was a man named Verbitsky, a computer science teacher at a rural school. In September 2019, he testified that he had gone to Jehovah’s Witness gatherings right up until the organization was banned in April 2017, and therefore was unaware of Filatov’s further actions. In November 2019, however, he changed his testimony, saying he had continued attending meetings of believers for another six months or so.

Verbitsky claimed the defendant was intimidating him, so the judge honored his request to hold the hearings in closed chambers. The website Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia reports that the “intimidation” in question was phone calls from strangers. The defense made several requests to hold the trial in open chambers, but to no avail.

Filatov has four children, two of whom are minors. He considers the trial biased,  and the whole case an instance of religious persecution.

“The prosecutor asked the judge to sentence me to seven years for extremist activity—seven years for religious convictions, for believing in God. There was no crime, no culpability. 1951 and 1937 are coming back. They happened in Russia and here [in Crimea]: there are people among us today who were persecuted and sent into exile. This is tyranny and genocide,” Grati reports Filatov as saying after the trial.

In November 2018, the security forces raided a number of homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Dzhankoy. Searches were conducted at several dozen addresses, but only Filatov was detained, allegedly because police found extremist literature and manuals on psychology and recruiting in his home.

On April 20, 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an “extremist organization,” disbanded it, and prohibited it from operating in Russia. In August 2017, all Jehovah’s Witness organizations were placed on the official list of banned organizations, sparking a subsequent wave of criminal cases against members of the confession.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Putin: Our Forces Stopped a Serious Threat to Russia in Syria
Asharq Al-Aswat
February 24, 2020

President Vladimir Putin has revealed a decisive Russian military attack last week to prevent Turkish-backed Syrian opposition factions from advancing towards Neirab city.

The Russian military has rooted out well-equipped terrorist groups in Syria and prevented major threats to Russia, Putin said at a gala on Defender of the Fatherland Day.

The attack was followed by intense airstrikes on militant sites in Idlib province.

Putin’s statements came in line with accusations launched by the Kremlin against Turkey on its violation of the Sochi Agreement.

According to Russian sources, the military sought to prevent Ankara from trying to impose a new fait accompli by controlling sites that have been recently occupied by the regime.

Russia “will not allow the return of the previous situation, when Idlib province and its surrounding areas were under the control of Syrian factions,” the sources added.

Putin, however, revealed on Sunday another aim for his country’s intervention in Syria.

Russia’s officers and soldiers have confidently confirmed their high professionalism and combat capabilities, the strength of spirit and their best qualities during the military operation in Syria, he said.

“They have wiped out large and well-equipped terrorist groups, thwarted major threats for our motherland at distant frontiers, and helped the Syrians save the sovereignty of their country,” he stressed, thanking all soldiers who have participated in the fight in Syria.

Putin’s remarks highlighted information circulated on Ankara supplying the Syrian factions with US mobile anti-air systems, which enabled them to shoot down two Syrian army helicopters last week.

The Ministry of Defense said these weapons could be used against Russian forces, slamming Ankara and Washington.

It said both sides “cannot predict how and when the terrorists will use these weapons.”

Putin affirmed Moscow’s intention to continue to enhance its military capabilities and provide its armed forces with the most advanced arms, including laser weapons, hypersonic systems and high-precision systems.

Yevgenia Litvinova: Stop the Crackdown in Crimea!

litvinova placard“Stalinist prison sentences. Crimean Tatars: 7, 8, 12, 12, 18, 19 years. Network Case: 6, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 18 years. Coming soon to a location near you!” Photo by Yevgenia Litvinova

Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
February 18, 2020

#StopCrackdownInCrimea #FreeCrimeanTatars

Strategy 18

Today I will go to Nevsky Prospect and do a solo picket as part of Strategy 18’s indefinite protest campaign in support of the Crimean Tatars.

My placard addresses the huge sentences handed out to people convicted of far-fetched “crimes.”

My family went through all of this once upon a time. My grandfather was arrested in 1934 and shot in 1937, while my grandmother was imprisoned for nearly 20 years in the Gulag. It is a good thing there is a moratorium on the death penalty, and the arrests have not yet become widespread. But otherwise, the same thing is happening.

In November 2019, the following Crimean Tatars—ordinary people, ordinary believers—were sentenced to monstrous terms of imprisonment:

  • Arsen Dzhepparov, 7 years in prison
  • Refat Alimov, 8 years in prison
  • Vadim Siruk, 8 years in prison
  • Emir-Usein Kuku, 12 years in prison
  • Enver Bekirov, 18 years in prison
  • Muslim Aliyev, 19 years in prison

In February 2020, the defendants in the Network Case—ordinary young men, anarchists—were sentenced to the following monstrous terms of imprisonment:

  • Arman Sagynbayev, 6 years in prison
  • Vasily Kuksov, 9 years in prison
  • Mikhail Kulkov, 10 years in prison
  • Maxim Ivankin, 13 years in prison
  • Andrei Chernov, 14 years in prison
  • Ilya Shakursky, 16 years in prison
  • Dmitry Pchelintsev, 18 years in prison

I will remind you of the famous quote: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.” And so on.

What is happening now with the Crimean Tatars—86 of them have been arrested for being from the “wrong” ethnicity and having the “wrong” faith—tomorrow could happen to anyone.

What is happening now with the lads from the Network Case—they were convicted based on testimony obtained under torture—tomorrow could happen to anyone.

Let’s show solidarity with those who have been marked out as sacrificial victims today.

Let’s try and pull these people out of the dragon’s mouth.

When we are together, we have a chance.

Today’s Strategy 18 protest in support of the Crimean Tatars will take place on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya at 7 p.m.

Join us!

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Network Case in Context

Scenes from the reading of the verdict in the Network trial in Penza on February 10, 2020. Filmed by Vlad Dokshin, edited by Alexander Lavrenov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
February 10, 2020

Today’s verdict in Penza was terribly inhumane, exorbitantly vicious, and so on, of course. The Putin regime handed out humongous sentences to members of the anti-authoritarian scene, punishing them for exercising their right to be themselves. Anarchists and non-official antifascists were severely and cruelly punished by the dictatorial regime—acting through the FSB and a kangaroo court—for their DIY activities, for making connections outside the official, formalized world, for dissenting, for rejecting all hierarchies. These political prisoners have been sent to the camps for many years, and it will take an enormous effort to keep them alive, if they are sent to the north, to keep them healthy and sane, and to get them released early. I wish them and their relatives and friends all the strength in the world.

Unfortunately, many people have reacted to the verdict in the Network Case as if it were utterly unprecedented, as if the bloodbath in Chechnya, and the torture and savage sentences meted out to defendants in other “terrorist” cases had never happened. It as if, even recently, their own government had not committed numerous crimes against the people of Ukraine and Syria, against prisoners in camps and other “others,” against National Bolshevik party activists and a range of other movements, against young radicals and people who professed the “wrong” religion, and on and on and on.  People, including political activists, have been surprised by the torture of the defendants, the rigged trial, and the harsh sentences in Penza, as if they lived in a happy, prosperous society, not a totally toxic, brazen empire whose security forces are the heirs of a centuries-long tradition of butchery and fanatical cruelty.

You are not supposed to say out loud what I am about to write, but if the young men had attacked government offices, there would probably have been no national and international solidarity campaign on behalf of these political prisoners. Or they would simply have been tortured to death or subjected to extrajudicial executions. If the Networkers had gone to jail for direct actions, a good number of Russian “anarchists” and “antifascists” would have disowned them, stigmatized them, urged others not to help them, and denounced them to western socialists. This was what really happened to the Underground Anarchists a hundred years ago: they were condemned by their “allies,” who wanted to go legal and curried favor with the Red despots.  The same thing has happened in our time: there were anarchists who hated on the young Belarusians sentenced to seven years in prison for setting fire to the KGB office in Bobruisk, the political refugees in the Khimki Forest case, the persecuted activists of the Popular Self-Defense, and Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Or, for example, some of the people in the ABTO (Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization) case, who were sent down for many years for arson attacks: they were tortured and accused of “terrorism,” and we had to work hard to scrape away the mud tossed at them by the state and “progressive” society. Oddly enough, the attitude of “thinking people” to “incorrect” political prisoners is matched by the Russian government’s refusal to exonerate Fanny Kaplan or the revolutionaries who blew up the Bolshevik Party city committee office on Leontievsky Lane in Moscow on September 25, 1919. (After the bloodshed in Moscow in 1993, however, Yeltsin made the populist move of exonerating the people involved in the Kronstadt Rebellion.)

One of the places we should look for the roots of the savage trial of the Penza prisoners is the disgusting newspeak that people in the RF have been taught—”the president’s orders have not been implemented,” “the government has sent a signal,” “the annexation of Crimea,” “the conflict in Donbass,” “the clash in the Kerch Strait,” “s/he claims s/he was tortured,” “s/he claims the evidence was planted,” “the terrorists of the People’s Will,” “Chechen terrorists,” “the Russophobe Stomakhin,” “the neo-Nazi Astashin,” “the guerrilla band in the Maritime Territory,” “the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk,” and so on.

Various people, including people from the anarchist scene, have written that the Network Case has shattered them and the people they know. If this is so, it is even worse than the outrageous criminal case itself. Yes, I am a living person, too, and yes, I find it very hard myself. But we cannot let the circumstances bend and break us: this is exactly what they want. This is especially the case if you are a consistent foe of systematic oppression, if you are an anarchist. Really, people, what would you do if the regime launched a truly massive crackdown on dissenters of the kind we have seen in the past, from tsarist Russia to Erdogan’s Turkey, from America at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the Iran of the ayatollahs? However, a massive crackdown would entail having a mass liberation movement, something that does not exist in today’s Russia. By the way, it would appear that our half-strangled semi-free media have been doing an excellent job of spreading fear among the atomized masses by regaling them with stories of the state’s repressive policies, of its crimes and nefarious undertakings, instead of using the news to instill people with righteous anger.

We can assume that the brutal verdict in the Network Case and other instances of rough justice on the part of the state will have direct consequences for the Kremlin both at home and abroad. Generally speaking, evil is not eternal. Over time, people will be able to overcome their disunity, believe in themselves, and finally destroy the thousand-year-old kingdom of oppression. “The jailed will sprout up as bayonets.”

politzeki1“Russia’s political prisoners: the jailed will sprout up as bayonets.” A banner hung over Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg by the Pyotr Alexeyev Resistance Movement (DSPA) in August 2012. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

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Elena Zaharova
Facebook
February 10, 2020

I don’t understand.

You can throw a brick at me, you can ban me, you can do what you like, but I don’t get you. Why this sudden mass fainting spell? When the authorities started abducting, murdering, and imprisoning the Crimean Tatars in 2014, you didn’t notice. Okay, you couldn’t care less about Crimea and Ukraine. The authorities have long been imprisoning members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazan and Bashkortostan, but there’s the rub—we defend Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Hizbites. And the authorities have been sentencing the Crimean Tatars and the Hizbites to ten years, twenty years, twenty-two years in prison. But you haven’t heard about that. And suddenly today you say, “Oh the horror!!! It’s fascism!!!”

It’s the same with the Constitution. The authorities long ago trampled it into the dust, killing it off with Federal Law No. 54 [on “authorization” for  demonstrations and public rallies] and giving us the heave-ho. No one noticed. For the last couple of weeks, however, everyone has been calling on people to defend the Constitution—that is, to defend what it is written in a booklet that everyone was too lazy to read before.

Need I mention the wars no one has noticed yet?

Only don’t remind me about the dozens of people who have been picketing outside the presidential administration building in Moscow for two years running. I have nothing but praise for them, but they are the exception.

Vladimir Akimenkov was one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case and currently raises money for Russian political prisoners and their families. Elena Zaharova is an anti-war and civil rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Eduard Nizamov Gets 23 Years Hard Time for Thought Crimes

nizamovEduard Nizamov. Photo courtesy of Idel.Realii (RFE/RL)

Court Sentences Kazan Resident Eduard Nizamov to 23 Years in Maximum Security for Managing Hizb ut-Tahrir
Regina Gimalova
Idel.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
February 10, 2020

Today, February 10, the Central Military District court in Yekaterinburg announced its verdict in the trial of Kazan resident Eduard Nizamov, accused of managing the Russian wing of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Nizamov was sentenced to 23 years in a maximum-security penal colony.

The Kazan resident was charged with financing terrorism (punishable under Article 205.1.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), organizing terrorist activity (Article 205.5.1), and attempting to seize power illegally (Article 278.30.1). Nizamov pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. He and his defense attorney, Rifat Yakhin, consider the case a frame-up.

During the trial, the defense revealed the real identity of a secret witness who testified to investigators. The defense argued that their testimony was used to implicate Nizamov.

“This witness, whose identity was hidden under a man’s name, allegedly donated money to finance Hizb ut-Tahrir’s activities. In fact, the witness is a woman whose child goes to the same school and studies in the same class as my client’s child,” Yakhin said.

“The financing of terrorism” in question was the payment of 200,000 rubles to Nizamov. According to Yakhin, the woman acting as a hidden witness gave his client this amount because Nizamov was building her a house. He argues that the authorities “got to” the woman, whose husband was then serving time for involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir. Investigators were unable to find this amount of money in Nizamov’s possession during the investigation.

The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Nizamov to 25 years in a penal colony and fine him 200,0000 rubles, to be paid to the state treasury. The defense asked the court to acquit Nizamov. The court sided with the prosecution, finding Nizamov guilty on all three counts and sentencing him to 23 years in a maximum-security penal colony and ordering him to pay the 200,000 rubles.

Nizamov was detained on October 10, 2018, at his home in Kazan. He was suspected of running the Russian wing of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir organization. In September of last year, the final version of the charges against Nizamov were made public. In addition to managing the organization, he was charged with financing terrorism and planning the violent seizure of power.

Two other residents of Kazan, Ildar Akhmetzyanov and Rais Gimadeyev, were also detained on the same day as Nizamov. They were identified by authorities as “leaders” of the banned organization in Tatarstan.

All of them have pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. The maximum punishment for the crimes they are alleged to have committed is life in prison.

After his arrest, Nizamov complained that officers at the remand prison had tortured him. He also said that his cellmates had been provoking him. According to our source, Nizamov was moved to another cell after his story went public.

In 2005, Nizamov was convicted of involvement in an extremist organization, as punishable under Article 282.2.2 of the Criminal Code, and sentenced to two years’ probation.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was designated a “terrorist organization” in Russia in 2003. According to human rights activists, the decision was groundless, since there was no evidence that members of the movement had ever planned or carried out terrorist attacks. The Memorial Human Rights Center has placed Nizamov on its list of Russian political prisoners.

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

Do Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses Deserve Our Solidarity?

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

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

Woman, Prison, Society
Facebook
January 25, 2020

FAITH AS A CRIME

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

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

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

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

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

Coffee Klatch Averted in Makhachkala

Six Activists and Journalists Detained After Refusing to Drink Coffee with Makhachkala’s Deputy Mayor
Novoye Delo
January 4, 2019

On January 4, OurCity (GorodNash) activists went to inspect Makhachkala’s main square, Effendi Kapiyev Square, after its reconstruction.

They were met by Makhachkala Deputy Mayor Effendi Khaydakov and a spokesman for the contractor, as well as city hall staffers.

After an exchange of opinions about the quality of the renovation and the completion date, the deputy minister invited the activists to go have a coffee, but they declined his offer and went on inspecting the square.

When the deputy mayor left to drink coffee, two police patrol squads arrived, detaining six people, including Svetlana Anokhina, Arsen Magomedov, Caucasian Knot journalist Musa Musayev, and two cameramen, one of them from city hall’s press service.

Magomedov told Novoye Delo by telephone that they were being taken to the Soviet District Police Department in Makhachkala.

After the square was cleared of activists, Makhachkala Mayor Salman Dadayev came out to chat with the remaining city hall staffers and townspeople.

P.S. Magomedov reported by telephone that all the detainees were released immediately after being delivered to the police department, and they have returned to the square to continue their inspection. Contractors recently handed the square over to the city.

makhachkala our cityOurCity activists in Makhachkala. Photo courtesy of RIA Derbent

What Does Makhachkala Have in Common with Yekaterinburg?
RIA Derbent
May 21, 2019

In Makhachkala, activists from the movement OurCity (Gorodnash) held a picket in support of Yekaterinburg residents protesting construction of a church in a city park.

The people who gathered on Saturday, May 18, also recorded a video message in which they voiced support for Yekaterinburg residents and proclaimed their solidarity with them against construction in park areas. Lawyer Arsen Magomedov said in the video that the Makhachkala activists had likewise been fighting plans to construct a church in the city’s Ak Gel Park.

Local activists have opposed construction of a church in the park since 2017. In September of that year, a memorial cross was dedicated on the site of planned construction in a religious service involving the Russian ethnic communities of Makhachkala, Kizlyar, and the Kizlyar District, as well as the Terek Cossacks of Dagestan. The Lenin District Court was already then considering a suit filed by activists challenging the legality of leasing land in the park for construction of a cathedral, a suit the activists won in December 2017. In April 2018, however, the Russian Supreme Court overturned the ruling by the Lenin District Court.

[…]

[T]he planned cathedral in Ak Gel Park was not the first or last target of Makhachkala urban activists opposed to redevelopment of the city’s green oases. Activists united to form the grassroots movement OurCity in January 2017 after Ramazan Abdulatipov, the former head of Dagestan, spearheaded a campaign to build an interactive museum, Russia Is My History, in Lenin Komsomol Park. After residents of Makhachkala protested, and thousands of people signed a petition opposing the plan, Abdulatipov announced that construction had been postponed in the wake of a “wide-ranging public discussion.” The same year, the now-united urban activists campaigned against plans to redevelop the square opposite the monument to Effendi Kapiyev. In both cases, activists managed to persuade courts to annul decisions by city hall to lease the land.

In December 2017, lawyer and urban activist Arsen Magomedov filed a complaint with the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service about the Makhachkala City Property Committee’s  tendering of a lease to a 520-square-meter plot in 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution Park (aka the Dog Park), a complaint that was upheld. Magomedov used a similar method to annul bidding to construct a residential building in the green belt on Ali Aliyev Street.

Comparing the situation in Yekaterinburg and Makhachkala, Magomedov complained that, over two years of grassroots confrontation and court proceedings, neither the Russian Orthodox diocese nor the municipal or republican governments had engaged in dialogue with activists to resolve the dispute. According to Magomedov, people in Yekaterinburg were able to attract the attention of the federal authorities and win concessions “because the issue turned into a shooting war, with clashes, confrontations, arrests, and fights.”

The protesters in Makhachkala and Yekaterinburg say they are not opposed to building churches, but to the redevelopment of parks. Activists in Makhachkala have suggested moving the construction site one hundred meters away from the park to wasteland near the lake.

We talked to human rights defender and OurCity activist Svetlana Anokhina about what the protests in Yekaterinburg have shown us and how we should think about them.

Svetlana, do you think what has happened in Yekaterinburg will become an example for the entire country?

I’m surprised that what happened here in Makhachkala hasn’t become an example for the entire country. After all, we were able to organize a pressure group of ethnic Russians to file a lawsuit and write a letter to Patriarch Kirill in order to protect the city’s Muslim activists from possible attacks. The authorities tried to politicize outrage over plans to build a church in Ak Gel Park, because everyone understands that if the subject were raised by Muslim activists, they would immediately be accused of extremism and belonging to a nonexistent pro-Islamic sleeper cell, of course.

It doesn’t occur to the authorities that people just want to live a normal city with parks and trees. They don’t notice how they’re destroying the city.

But to make themselves heard, people in Yekaterinburg had to tear down fences and battle the police.

I don’t believe the folks in Yekaterinburg are wrong, or that their actions have been too radical, but such risks are impossible for us. This shouldn’t become an example for the whole country, because it was a spontaneous protest by desperate people, driven to despair by the authorities themselves, who sicked riot cops and martial arts club fighters on them. In my opinion, the protest itself was spontaneous, something you cannot say about the crackdown against the protest, which involved oligarchs and fighters from a martial arts club owned by an oligarch, and the Orthodox Church, which is structured like a military organization, and the police and the authorities. In this light, it is total nonsense to say that the grassroots protests were organized by outside forces, and that the protesters were too radical.

So this is the price for getting the president’s attention and his suggestion to conduct a survey?

You did hear what Yekaterinburg’s mayor said, didn’t you? That there wouldn’t be a referendum on the issue because it required a lot of preparation (a year!), but there would be some kind of public opinion poll. Someone countered him by pointing out that the referendum in Crimea was organized in two weeks.

I don’t like the fact that residents need to get through to the president to solve local problems. Issues like this should be decided at the local level, and if local officials cannot come to an agreement with ordinary people, it means they are not doing their jobs and should be replaced.

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

Ibrahimjon Ermatov: “The FSB Let the Terrorist Slip, and a Terrible Tragedy Happened”

ermatovIbrahimjon Ermatov. Photo courtesy of The Insider

“The FSB Let the Terrorist Slip, and a Terrible Tragedy Happened”: Man Accused of Planning Terrorist Attack in Petersburg Subway Calls Case Frame-Up
Yevgenia Tamarchenko
The Insider
November 2, 2019

Ibrahimjon Ermatov, accused of planning a terrorist attack in the St. Petersburg subway, declared his innocence and called the case a frame-up in a letter that has been made available to The Insider.

“Unfortunately, our case is a frame-up. The FSB let the terrorist slip, and a terrible tragedy happened. To vindicate themselves somehow, they ‘exposed a gang of terrorists,” that is, us,” Ermatov writes.

“We are ordinary people, just like you. And we did not come here […] for the fun of it. There is no work at home, no way to feed our families. We are hardworking, we don’t drink or smoke, we don’t break the laws, we only work and work,” he writes. “I’m now twenty-six. I could be sentenced to ten years, at least, for something I didn’t do. That is, I will spend half my life in prison.”

“We simply have no rights here and can be easily manipulated. The FSB has taken advantage of this,” Ermatov notes.

letter-1

letter-2Ibrahimjon Ermatov’s letter. Courtesy of The Insider. “Hello, Yevgenia! Thanks, guys, that you have not forgotten me. I am very touched. Unfortunately, our case is a frame-up. The FSB let the terrorist slip, and a terrible tragedy happened. To vindicate themselves somehow, they ‘exposed a gang of terrorists,’ that is, us. We are ordinary people, just like you. And we did not come here to the big common motherland of the USSR for the fun of it. There is no work at home, no way to feed our families. We are hardworking, we don’t drink or smoke, we don’t break the laws, we only work and work. I’m now twenty-six. I could be sentenced to ten years, at least, for something I didn’t do. That is, I will spend half my life in prison. Unfortunately, there is the opinion in Russia that we immigrants from Central Asias are like the characters Ravshan and Jamshut in [the Russian TV comedy show] Our Russia. This is wrong, and ordinary Russians understand this. We simply have no rights here and can be easily manipulated. The FSB has taken advantage of this. [They think] Who would believe them (that is, us)? I would again like to thank you and all the people who care about our situation. I would have perished with you. May Allah be with you.”

On April 17, 2017, an explosion occurred on a subway train traveling between the stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut. Sixteen people were killed, and over a hundred people were injured. According to investigators, the bomb was detonated by a suicide bomber, 22-year-old Akbarjon Jalilov. Eleven people were arrested and charged with planning the attack. The FSB abducted three of the defendants before formally arresting them. They tortured the men in an attempt to force them to confess. One of these men was Ermatov’s brother Muhamadusup. None of the defendants pleaded guilty.

Prosecutors have claimed the terrorist group Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad was behind the attack. However, there is no corraborated evidence that the group claimed responsibility for the blast or made demands.

You can read more about the case in the following articles [in Russian]:

“‘I Could Hear My Brother’s Screams from the Next Cell’: Torture, Secret FSB Prisons, and Falsified Evidence in the Case of the Terrorist Attack in the Petersburg Subway”

“Copy Pasters Are Running the Investigation: Thirteen Glaring Inconsistencies in the Official Charges in the Case of the Terrorist Attack in the Petersburg Subway

You can also find more information on the website created by a pressure group that has been publicizing the case.

Thanks to Yana Teplitskaya for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the terrorist attack, the case against its alleged planners, its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of international solidarity with Ermatov and the other twelve defendants in the case:

“Binoculars,” a sketch featuring the fictional Central Asian migrant workers Ravshan and Jamshut on the Russian TV comedy show Our Russia

Special Rapid Deployment Force Raids Jehovah’s Witness Gathering in Norilsk

tomsk raidPolice raiding Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tomsk in 2018. Photo courtesy of the website Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia

Special Forces Raid Recreational Compound in Norilsk Where More Than 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses Were Gathered, Criminal Charges Filed
OVD Info
October 22, 2019

On October 20, the Special Rapid Deployment Force (SOBR) raided a recreational compound in Norilsk where more than fifty Jehovah’s Witnesses had gathered, later carrying out searches in some of their homes, according to a report posted the next day on the religious organization’s website. A source in law enforcement confirmed that the raid had happened, according to local news website Tayga.info.

“Masked commandos broke into the building and ordered everyone who was there to surrender their telephones and tablets,” said the report on the Jehovah’s Witness website. Some of the people were then taken away in minivans to be interrogated or have their homes searched. Witnesses noticed the Norilsk Nickel logo on some of the vans.

There is information about searches in five homes. They lasted around five hours. Police confiscated Bibles, computers, tablets, and telephones from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The interrogations took place at the local headquarters of the Russian Investigative Committee. The people interrogated were asked questions from a questionnaire consisting of twenty-five questions. In particular, they were asked about their affiliation with the “forbidden” faith.

According to Tayga.info’s source, criminal charges have been filed against the leader of the local Jehovah’s Witness community.

On April 20, 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an “extremist” organization, abolishing it and banning it from operating in Russia. In August of the same year, all local Jehovah’s Witness organizations in Russia were banned, setting off a subsequent wave of criminal cases against members of the church.

In February 2019, a court handed down the first sentence against a Jehovah’s Witness involving a long term of imprisonment: Danish national Dennis Christensen was sentenced to six years in prison. He has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which has promised to review it.

Translated by the Russian Reader