Jenya Kulakova: A Sunny Downpour

sunny downpour

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
July 28, 2020

I exit the remand prison on Shpalernaya Street—and find myself in a sunny downpour. From inside, the storm seemed much darker. (Many things probably seem much darker inside the prison.). I stand under the awning of Center “E” and look across the road at the prison, dazzling in silver drops from the sky, in the spray made by the wheels of passing cars. I’m under the awning and safe, but my feet are getting a little wet. For a short time the street is quiet, there are no people or cars. A small rainbow falls directly on Shpalernaya from the sky, vanishing in a few minutes.

I will tell Vitya [Viktor Filinkov] about this when we meet, just I told him about the bat that flies at night in the courtyard near the prison. And he told me how a pigeon had flown into their prison cell and landed on his trousers, and how he and his cellmate had caught it by donning plastic bags. They had chased it out of the window and fed it prison bread.

About the verdict.* Vitya had received it on Thursday and immediately read it, but he hadn’t looked at it again. Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, he plans to write and send an appeal. When I asked him to comment on the verdict, he could not say anything printable—he cursed loudly and waved his hands. When I asked him one more time to make a publishable statement on the matter, he slumped his head on the table. That was when I realized that it was his verdict and his seven years in prison, and he could comment or not comment on them as he wished.

He will write an appeal, of course, there is no doubt about it. Although he doesn’t feel like doing it at all: he says that he is always busy with something, and there is not enough time. He reads a lot about math (I only remember something about graph theory, but there are a lot of other topics), devises assignments for a training course on “pogromming,” and studies English. He’s apparently in good health, and his mood is also cheerful. However, the last couple of weeks he has had increased problems with sleep. He falls asleep in the morning, when it is already time to get up. (And this is despite the fact that since February, he has been taking drugs that should also level out his sleep.)

The censor is on vacation, and for three weeks, Vitya has received no letters from the outside world. (I don’t think he is able to send letters, either). But he gets Novaya Gazeta once a week, so Vitya is more or less aware of all the news. The library has been undergoing repairs of some kind, so a month ago, Vitya and his cellmate had to return all their library books, but they cannot take out new ones yet.

Update (added here from the comments). The coronavirus restrictions, imposed in early April, have almost all been lifted: the receipt of care packages and parcels has resumed, as well as visits with relatives. Meetings with lawyers no longer take place through glass, but all visitors must still wear masks and gloves. The mysterious “cleaning day” on Friday, when lawyers cannot visit clients, is also still in place.

*The verdict has been mailed to Vitaly [Cherkasov] and me by mail, and is still on its way, but Olga Krivonos has posted it here, so you can read it.

Photo by and courtesy of Jenya Kulakova. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on Viktor Filinkov and the Network Case (see below), and go to Rupression.com to find out how you can show your solidarity with him and the other defendants in the case. All of them now face long terms in prison unless their guilty verdicts are reversed on appeal, which is not going to happen as long as the current regime remains in power, unfortunately.

#NetworkCase 

Chronicle of Current Vote Rigging

A Chronicle of Current Vote Rigging: The Russian National Referendum Through the Eyes of Observers of Petersburg 
July 16, 2020

This film by Observers of Petersburg shows how such how a high turnout (74.7%) and outcome (77.7% “yes” votes) were attained in Petersburg during the 2020 Russian national referendum.

Spoiler alert! All this was made possible by six days of early voting, which were impossible to monitor.

Time codes:
00:00 Opening
00:59 How will the 2020 vote be remembered?
02:44 Coronavirus: voting in a pandemic
06:12 Early voting
09:28 Voting at workplaces
13:20 Voting rolls
17:49 David Frenkel’s story: how a journalist’s arm was broken at a polling station
21:35 Observers from the Public Chamber
26:09 Vote counting
31:42 Honest polling station commissions
35:24 What will happen next? The Russian national referendum’s impact on future elections

Featuring:
Anastasia Romanova
Maria Moldavskaya
Dmitry Neuymin
Konstantin Korolyov
Olga Dmitrieva
Galina Kultiasova
Mikhail Molochnikov
Polina Kostyleva
Olga Khmelevskaya
Maria Chebykina
Natalia Yegorushkina
David Frenkel
Ivan Kvasov

The film was produced by Yulia and Yevgeny Selikhov.
Thanks to iz0 for doing the animation.

Sign a petition against multi-day voting.

Sign up to be a polling station commission member in Petersburg: https://airtable.com/shrHdcpxEuKq9f9o2

Thanks to Leokadia Frenkel for the link. The video’s title is an allusion to the Soviet-era samizdat periodical Chronicle of Current Events. Annotation translated by the Russian Reader

УИК 40 СПбCounting the votes at Polling Station No. 40 in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle

Beat the Press

agoras day

While looking for an original Telegram post (cited and translated, below) by Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora group of human rights lawyers, I found these more recent entries. The latest (at the bottom of the screenshot, above) informed Chikov’s readers that Agora attorney Leonid Solovyov was on his way to the apartment of activist, artist and Mediazona publisher Pyotr Verzilov, which was being searched by police and security forces for the sixth (!) time in recent weeks. Meanwhile, according to the entry above it, Agora lawyers would be representing three people at three different court hearings today: reporter Mikhail Benyash, convicted and fined for, allegedly, “assaulting a police officer” (Benyash is appealing his conviction); Lyubov Kudryashova, a 55-year-old environmentalist indicted on charges of “inciting terrorism”; and Azat Miftakhov, a young mathematician charged with breaking the window at a United Russia party office in Moscow. It’s all in a day’s work.

Andrey Loshak
Facebook
July 7, 2020

Firs they grabbed the activists, now they’re jailing the journalists. When they come for you, there won’t be anyone to defend you.

Pavel Chikov wrote this on Telegram:

Attacks on the media in the summer of 2020 (disturbing)

1. Pyotr  Verzilov, publisher of Mediazona, has home raided by police, is jailed for an administrative offense, and charged with a crime.

2. Svetlahna Prokopyeva, a journalist with Echo of Moscow in Pskov, is convicted of “condoning terrorism.”

3. Ivan Safronov, a former reporter for Kommersant and Vedomosti, is detained on charges of “treason.”

4. Police search the home of Taisiya Bekbulatova, editor-in-chief of Kholod Media.

5. Ilya Azar, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta, is jailed for an administrative offense.

6. Journalists (including Tatyana Felgengauer, Alexander Plyushchev, Sergei Smirnov, Anna Zibrova, Alexander Chernykh, Olga Churakova, Elena Chernenko, Kira Dyuryagina, and Nikita Gorin) detained for holding solo pickets in solidarity with Azar.

7. Management at the [liberal business] newspaper Vedomosti is reshuffled.

8. Policemen assault David Frenkel, a correspondent for Mediazona.

Thanks to Anna Tereshkina for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

“Take Off Your Underpants and Squat Five Times”: Nadezhda Belova’s Journey from Grassroots Activism to “Exonerating Terrorism”

nb-1Nadezhda Belova. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

“Take Off Your Underpants and Squat Five Times”: A New “Terrorism Exoneration” Case
Svetlana Prokopieva
Radio Svoboda
June 2, 2020

Two years after the bombing in the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk, law enforcement agencies continue to launch criminal cases against people who comment on the case on social media, claiming they have violated the law against “exonerating terrorism.” The story of Nadezhda Belova is more proof that the bombing carried out by 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky, resulting only in his own death, has been turned into a tool for persecuting undesirable activists.

Nadezhda Belova is 36 years old. She was born and lived her whole life in Novaya Usman, the largest village in Russia, near Voronezh. She had never been involved in politics or protest movements. She first came to the attention of the authorities in 2019, when she organized and brought to a victorious conclusion two protest actions defending the interests of her fellow villagers. In 2020, a criminal case was opened against her for “exonerating terrorism.”

“You’re in Big Trouble”
Criminal Code Article 205.2 came into Nadezhda Belova’s life on March 31—”probably at around nine in the morning, under the guise of a search for coronavirus-infected Asians,” Belova says.

“First my husband opened the door. They told him they were doing a search. Naturally, they weren’t wearing masks. First, they asked who lived there. (We rent a flat in Voronezh.) My husband told them that no one lived there but us, the two of us and our son. I came out and asked them why they weren’t wearing masks. When they saw me, they said, ‘Nadezhda Belova, you’re coming with us for questioning.'”

Nadezhda, her 15-year-old son, and her husband were taken to the police station and questioned. On the advice of a lawyer friend, she invoked Article 51 [of the Russian Constitution, which gives people the right not to incriminate themselves].

“I expected to be punished for all my campaigns in Usman,” Belova says, but investigators showed her a comment she had posted on the VK community page Lentach under one of the very first reports about the bombing in Arkhangelsk. Nadezhda had forgotten all about it.​

“This circus lasted for an hour and a half,” she says of the first interrogation. “‘You’re in big trouble,’ they said. Of course, they threatened me—with five years in prison, and with sending my son to an orphanage if I didn’t confess. I asked them what I should confess to and told them I didn’t know what they were talking about. ‘Here,’ they asked, ‘did you write this comment in 2018?’ ‘Can you hear yourselves?’ I asked them, ‘A comment in 2018!’ The investigator says, ‘If I had written this, I would have remembered.’ I wouldn’t have remembered the comment even if they had tortured me, although the investigator said, ‘If we want you to confess to the Kennedy assassination, we have ways of making you talk.'”

Leaving her family at the police station, the investigators took Nadezhda with them to search the rented flat in Voronezh and her home in Novaya Usman. They confiscated all the gadgets they found, including four phones, a laptop, two hard drives, and a flash drive. They released Nadezhda only late in the evening, dumping her in the middle of the city without a phone and without a single kopeck.

“I walked three kilometers at night, bawling my eyes out and hungry,” she says.

The next day, Belova filed complaints with the prosecutor’s office, the Interior Ministry, and the Investigative Committee. (They, of course, would respond to the complaints by claiming that everything that had happened to her was “legal.”) At first, Belova was named as a witness in the “exonerating terrorism” case, but in May she was named a suspect.

“On May 13, they came up to me on the street, shoved a piece of paper in my face, and said, ‘If you don’t show up now, police will arrest you and bring you there,'” Belova says. “I told them I was going to hire a lawyer, that I wouldn’t come without a lawyer. But things turned out badly with the lawyer, too.”

Nadezhda had bad luck with her lawyer. The person she hired on a friend’s recommendation “turned out to be either a pro-Putinist from the get-go, or he changed his stripes along the way,” she says.

He tried to persuade Nadezhda to “tell the truth” and had no objections when the investigator decided to arrest his suspect right in the middle of questioning.

“You wouldn’t confess. Now you’re going to sit in jail, think things over, and see what lies in store for you,” Nadezhda recalls him saying. She spent twenty-four hours in a temporary detention facility.

“They were not locking me up just to teach me a lesson. They put me in a cold, smoky kennel crawling with bedbugs. There were streaks of blood on the walls: apparently, the people before had been crushing the bedbugs. I was given tea and a piece of dry bread in a metal bowl and a mug, like a dog. I called an ambulance. They just give me a shot of painkiller, that was it. I hung in there till morning. In the morning, they put an actress in my cell who immediately started chewing me out. Her performance lasted fifteen minutes. ‘What’s your name? What you in for? If you’re in here, there must be a reason. Clear the dishes. Act normal. I’m going to smoke, you mind?’ I told her I did, because I was a non-smoker. ‘I’ll do as I like.’ She stood next to the bed and lit up a cigarette. I turned toward the wall and thought, ‘If only she doesn’t strangle me.’ But I knew she was an actress, so she stopped talking, too. She had played her role. Then a policeman came in: ‘Hands behind your back. Against the wall.’ They took me to another room and did a complete body search. They told me to strip naked, and patted down all my things. I was told to take off my underpants and squat five times: the idea was that I had drugs stuffed in there,” Belova recounts.

“It’s going to be like this from now on. You’re suspected of committing a really terrible crime,” she was told.

When she left the detention center, the investigator met her, promising to send her back to her cell if she didn’t immediately sign a confession stating when, where, in whose presence, and on what brand of telephone she had posted the comment.

“I said, ‘You do understand that this is really a lie? It’s nonsense.’ Well, then the three of us—the lawyer, the investigator, and I—wrote an essay entitled ‘What I Wrote on October 31,'” Belova recounts. “‘You do understand that you could go to prison for forcing a confession and lying?’ But the investigator said, ‘In 1937, we would have tortured you for an hour, and you’d have confessed right away. We wouldn’t have had to drive you here and there, we wouldn’t have wasted time: we would have needed only an hour.’ They all laughed.”

__________________

[Prokopieva:] They have blood ties with 1937 . . .

[Belova:] I’ll say even more—they’re waiting for the go-ahead. Once they get permission, I don’t think they’ll even need to be persuaded. They’re too lazy to drive me here and there and waste time. They want to turn torture me quickly and get on with their lives. I said to them, “If you were ordered to shoot at children right now, you would shoot without flinching.” 

You later retracted the confession?

Yes, of course! On May 13, I was put in the lockup. On the 14th, I confessed to everything. On the 15th, I got a new lawyer and completely recanted my testimony. I wanted them to write that I had been coerced with the threat of prison, but the investigator categorically refused to do it. “Do you think I’m going to denounce myself?” he asked.

nb-2Screenshot of the social media post, dated October 31, 2018, under which Belova posted the comment that prompted the criminal case against her. The post reads, “There has been an explosion at the FSB building in Arkhangelsk. One person has been killed. The cause of the blast is under investigation.” Courtesy of RFE/RL

Belova was unable to recall the comment for which she was being prosecuted. But she did find the post on the social media community page and reread it. She called the slain man a “martyr” and wrote that he would “go to heaven.” Nadezhda now suggests that when she wrote it, she thought that an FSB employee was the victim since, at the time, there was no information about the identity and fate of the terrorist. Her comment also included the word “pushback.”

“Yeah, and there was also the phrase ‘Putin’s devils,'” Belova recalls.

Although her comment has been deleted, the responses to it are still there, including this one: “Nadezhda, they’re already coming to get you. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.”

“Many times I’d seen comments to many people on VK like ‘They’re coming to get you’ and ‘You’ve been reported to the FSB,’ but I’d always thought they were jokes. I’d been threatened many times in my life, after the campaigns for the parking lot and the jitneys, and people had filed ‘rioting’ complaints against me when I still lived in Usman. So I would have only laughed at such comments. I didn’t really believe people were jailed for the things they said. I didn’t realize that crackdowns like that were happening in Russia,” Belova says.

“There Was No Time to Choose Who to Be the Hero”
Belova has now been charged with violating Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code and released on her own recognizance. Her new lawyer, in whom she has confidence, is being paid by OVD Info.

The answer to the question of why it took the security forces almost two years to charge her with a “really terrible crime” is incredibly simple. In 2018, Nadezhda Belova was still of no interest to the regime’s watchdogs.

“I was born in Usman and had lived there all my life. My mother worked as a commercial freight forwarder, and my father was a mechanical engineer. I graduated from high school with a silver medal. I was a goody two-shoes, even a little bit of an outcast, you could say. I spent summers in the countryside reading books—Natasha Rostova, Chekhov, and Bunin,” Nadezhda says about herself.

nb-3Nadezhda Belova’s native village. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

She graduated from the Voronezh Technological Academy in 2005, giving birth to a child in her fifth year there.

“After that, as it happens, nobody hired me because I had a child and later nobody hired me because I had no experience,” Belova says.

An economics and information specialist by education, Belova worked at the post office, then as a clerk “punching out invoices.” She had a failed marriage, which she describes as “useless and unnecessary.” Finally, five years ago, she met Sergei, with whom she has started a real family and a family business. Sergei was teaching robotics and programming to children, their son had gradually begun helping out, and Nadezhda handled advertising and moderating group pages on social media. This year, to be closer to work, they moved to Voronezh.

“By the way, we had wanted to register as self-employed, but the coronavirus and the arrest have blindsided us,” Belova says.

Even before moving to Voronezh, Nadezhda had been in the public eye as a grassroots activist. She was motivated not by power, money or popularity, but by the sense that her “shoulders were pressed to the mat.”

“They have started taking away the last things we have. As it is, they haven’t been doing anything [for us], just skinning our hides,” she says by way of explaining the reasons for her activism. “That’s how I look at it. I took it as an occupation, a war, an attack by fascists. There was no time to choose who to be the hero, so I decided, ‘Who would do it if not me?'”

Belova was annoyed by the decision of the local authorities to let a parking lot next to the ospital be redeveloped as a store. She wrote posts on local community social media pages, invited journalists to Novaya Usman, and appeared on television herself. The protest campaign was successful: the construction site was moved, and a new “huge paved parking lot, four times larger” was built in place of the old one.

nb-4The parking lot that Nadezhda Belova and other people in Novaya Usman stopped from being redeveloped as a store. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Six months later, in June, Novaya Usman faced a more serious problem: the governor of Voronezh Region, Alexander Gusev, announced that the area’s public transport routes would be optimized. Jitneys from Usman would be forbidden from entering Voronezh. People would have to transfer to Voronezh municipal transport routes on the outskirts of the city.

“We realized it would be a disaster for us,” Belova says. “I told people we shouldn’t wait for them to cut us off. We just needed to make ourselves heard: we’d make a video and circulate a petition, letting them see we were opposed. Naturally, people said yes, that nothing good could come of [the governor’s plans]. I wrote a post on a community page, asking people to meet at the shopping center to collect signatures on a petition. All that was written there was that we opposed the cancellation of suburban transport routes and banning jitneys from entering the city. That was it! No posters, no rallies against Putin.”

Belova again wrote social media posts, made media appearances, and met personally with various officials. She and her fellow campaigners successfully defended the right of rural public transport to make stops in Voronezh. Her fellow villagers thanked Belova in the comments to reports on the campaign’s progress: “Such a fragile young woman has been dealing with three big, experienced men trying to defend the rights of all the inhabitants of New Usman! And she’s not afraid to tell the whole truth to their faces! Thank you, Nadezhda! You’re a smart cookie!”

“Everyone supported me at that moment. When I wrote on the community page that someone was denouncing me to the authorities, they told me not to fear, that they would defend me, that I was doing a great job, that I should run to become village head, that they supported me,” Nadezhda recalls. “A year goes by, and people have forgotten. Not only did they not support me, but some of them suggested I should think hard about what I’d said. Back then they told me I should run for head of the village, but now they’re telling me to think about what I’ve done. People have forgotten.”

__________________

2019 was much quieter in terms of public politics, unlike 2017–18, when there was Navaly’s presidential campaign and then the elections. Where were you during this time?

I have never voted for Putin. I realized back in 1999 that our country was coming to a gradual end. I was only 16 years old—my brother, who is four years older, said, “That’s it, this country is over. The monster has come!” His phrase summed it up for me. Then there was the Nord-Ost siege, the Beslan school siege, and the annexation of Crimea. I already looked at our country with sadness and pain. When would the people wake up? I asked myself. I realized it would never happen! Where was I? We have no elections in Usman. There are some local clowns who either shuffle papers around or aid and abet corrpution. Usman is the total pits in this regard. We have no politics: there is no opposition in Usman, just bottomless corruption, theft and nepotism.

So you weren’t involved in politics or activism of any kind?

Absolutely not! By the way, I once went to meet with officials about the jitneys. One of Gusev’s people asked me, “You probably want something for yourself, right? To be a village head or a council member? What do you want? Money? power?” I told him, “No matter how poor I am, I will never join your party or knuckle under.” No, I live a dignified life, and I won’t be ashamed to look my grandchildren in the eyes in the future. I’m not a vegetable. That matters most of all. In fact, that’s what I have been punished for.

You haven’t missed Usman after moving to Voronezh?

I loved that village and am still happy when something happens there. I don’t regret speaking out, I don’t regret being arrested, because I am a human being. I always wondered who I was. For example, I could say that I was a mother, that I was a daughter. I realized in 2019 that I was a human being and a citizen. I’m not a punching bag, I’m not a pushover—I’m a citizen. I can say this with absolute certainty, and it gives me strength and confidence. Even if I were alone, I would be a citizen. That is the highest calling I could have.

nb-5Nadezhda Belova on the limits of Novaya Usman. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You’re not resentful that your home village has turned its back on you at a difficult moment?

In the house where I lived, a neighbor lady has knocked together a playground—there are some benches and chintzy swings. I recently went there to paint pictures on the walls. I paid for the paint with my own money. I breathed this paint and cleaned up dog poo and empty bottles. As a child, I saw puddles of sewage, drunks and drug addicts. Books were my only salvation, as I lived in utter poverty and was hungry all the time. May their children grow up amidst beauty. If at least one child doesn’t become a drug addict or go to prison thanks to this beauty, I will feel that I haven’t lived my life in vain. These are children, these are our children! After all, someone did not provide warmth, kindness and morality to the people who detained me and undressed me. They grew up to be monsters. This is a universal problem. It is sad that children escape into drug addiction, that they blow themselves up. I have tried to change this little world as much as I can. Everything I could do, I have done and will do. I won’t be made into a monster. I won’t retaliate, I won’t hate, and I’m not going to kill myself.

Nadezhda Belova is the latest in a growing list of Russians who have been prosecuted for allegedly publicly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Belova has joined the ranks of Lyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinSvetlana ProkopievaAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

Darya Apahonchich: #outdoorwallpaper

darya-wallpaper-2b

[darya apahonchich]

our private life has been invaded by the public, by the state. our borders are not where they used to be.

but you cannot order people not to be poor, you cannot order them to keep their distance if they have nowhere to hide or stand apart.

i have turned my house inside out with wallpaper.

#outdoorwallpaper
a tiny city apartment poem

darya-wallpaper-1a

1.
we
urge you
not to drink
from the common
cup
of poverty

darya-wallpaper-1b

darya-wallpaper-2a

2.
we have wallpaper and you have wallpaper
and the virus flies freely
in dwellings
only you come to us
with fines and billy clubs,
but you don’t invite us to your house

darya-wallpaper-2aa

darya-wallpaper-3a

3.
what if
what if
my body has become
home to the virus
I think
I am caring
for my loved ones,
but in fact
I am destroying them.
what if
what if
my heart has become
home to
the virus of violence?

darya-wallpaper-3b

Darya Apahonchich has been posting the texts and photographs of her outdoor wallpaper poems on Facebook and Instagram. Thanks to her for her permission and her assistance in republishing them here. Translated by the Russian Reader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus Outbreak at Novatek Construction Site in Murmansk Region

Worker Tells of 1,900 Infected Construction Workers at Novatek Site
According to him, work team got hold of computer file containing actual numbers of infected and test results
Artyom Alexandrov
NEWS.ru
April 28, 2020

Workers employed by contractors Velesstroy Montazh at a Novatek construction site in Murmansk Region have refused to report for their shifts due to a coronavirus outbreak in the workers’ dormitories that management has preferred to ignore. NEWS.ru has talked to workers who allege that the results of their tests for the virus have been withheld from them, and both healthy and sick workers have been encouraged to work. To top it all off, the employees fear they won’t be paid.

Novatek’s Artic LNG 2 project involves the construction of a facility for the production of liquefied natural gas on the Gyda Peninsula in the Gulf of Ob. To implement the project, a center for the construction of large-capacity offshore facilities, which the local press has dubbed the “factory of factories,” is being erected near Belokamenka in Kola Bay in Murmansk Region. The agree to build the construction center was signed in 2015. Such a a large project has not been undertaken since Soviet times.

NOVATEK

Reports of a coronavirus outbreak at the construction site started appearing in the media and social networks in mid-April, and since then the situation has become more alarming. However, neither Novatek nor local authorities believed that work should be stopped. Construction workers were tested for the virus, but officially there was not talk of a serious outbreak.

Work has been halted, however, by a “grassroots initiative.” A construction worker named Ilya told NEWS.ru that everything changed dramatically after workers got hold of an Excel file in which management had allegedly recorded the real number of cases and actual test results.

“We were not informed of the test results. In fact, until now, almost all of us know them only thanks to the documents that surfaced. It turned out we have a huge number of cases in every house where workers live. There are 205 people in my dorm and 171 infected people. There are a total of 4,000 workers, and 1,900 have been infected,” said Ilya.

According to the crisis center in Murmansk, 867 people at the construction site were confirmed to have the coronavirus. However, the other figures for the numbers of infected were not a big surprise to the workers since many of them have long since complained of symptoms of COVID-19, including fever and loss of smell. But, as was mentioned above, despite the fact they submitted to tests in good faith, they were not told the results. Despite massive health problems among their employees, construction site management has pretended that everything is fine.

“I have gone to the GP four days in a row and still haven’t received any information. If you say you’re not feeling well, they don’t really treat you. They only hand out anti-fever medicine. Some of the guys have pneumonia, however, but there are no antibiotics. Management has told us to pack up and travel to the hospital if we want. The infectious disease hospital is located 128 kilometers from here, in Monchegorsk. And yet they’re also scaring us by saying that things are so bad there, we’d better stay here,” said Dmitry, another construction worker.

Several nurse practitioners work at the site, but according to the workers, they are not equipped to fight the epidemic. There is also an Emergencies Ministry mobile hospital near the site where thirty-nine of the most severely ill patients have been taken, as well as to the Murmansk Regional Hospital. Large-scale hospitalization of the workers has not occurred, however. For some reason, construction site management does not even want to separate healthy workers from sick workers in the dorms.

“The dorms haven’t even been disinfected. No one has been moved, although the infrastructure permits it. People could be grouped together, after all. There are one to three healthy people in each room, and they could be housed in one place, but no,” Dmitry said.

On April 11, Andrei Chibis, the region’s governor, publicly stated that “all measures for quarantining, separating, and strictly monitoring” the construction site had been implemented. Chibis later said that the COVID-19 outbreak had been localized with quarantine measures, the work site had been isolated, and new workers were not being transported to the facility.  Despite what Chibis said, however, according to Ilya, he was first tested for the coronavirus only on April 22, while many other workers were tested even later.

Consequently, the builders worked until April 17, after which they had refused to go to work.

“Nearly everyone has stopped working, except those who keep the dorm facility running—food suppliers, canteen workers, sewage cleaners, and so on. However, management has recently been threatening to put everyone back to work, sick and healthy alike. The foremen have been insisting we go to work, especially the machine operators. And yet they suggest we go back to work without any preferential treatment or incentives whatsoever. But how can we work when we’re sick? This is now even prohibited by law,” said Ilya.

Initially, the construction workers were told that they were in “self-quarantine,” and they would be paid in full. Later, there was talk they could switch to sick leave, but their wages would be docked accordingly. However, this was all talk, as no orders were issued. The workers are afraid that the downtime could be deducted from their wages. The situation should be clarified when they are paid an advance for the current month on April 30, while their salaries will be paid on May 15. At the same time, there have been no threats of penalties. Nor do the workers complain of a deterioration of living conditions—they are being fed and accommodated as before.

Neither the Murmansk Region governor’s office nor Velesstroy Montazh or Novatek responded to our requests for information before press time.

On April 28, the prosecutor’s office of Yakutia’s Lensk District launched a probe into whether the rights of rotational workers at Gazprom’s Chayanda field had been violated. The probe was prompted by the protests that several hundred rotational workers staged over unacceptable working conditions. Video footage of the uprising was posted online. Workers complain that management does not care about their health and safety during the pandemic. More than ten thousand people are employed at the field. Just as in Murmansk Region, disaffected workers alleged that the results of their COVID-19 tests had been withheld from them.

Thanks to Sergei Vilkov for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Novatek and NEWS.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader. See all of my coronavirus coverage here.

Good Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6:52 p.m., April 10

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

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6:38 p.m., April 10

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

6:27 p.m., April 10

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

5:57 p.m., April 10

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

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

1:50 p.m., April 10

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

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

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