Guided Tour of a Torture Chamber

torture-1Darya Apahonchich, just one big torture chamber, 2019. Photo courtesy of Ms. Apahonchich

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
July 8, 2019

Here’s a little about torture chamber.

My Words Have Been Recorded Correctly, an art exhibition in solidarity with imprisoned anarchists and antifascists, took place July 5–7, 2019, at Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center in Petersburg.

The show was sad and daring. During the three days it was up, it was visited by both regular cops and the “anti-extremism” police from Center “E” [known in Russia as eshniki or “eeniks”].

Our group {rodina} [“motherland“] did a performance, and there were concerts and discussions as well. I also had a piece in the show, entitled just one big torture chamber.

I really liked how Jenya [Kulakova] talked about it simply and calmly during her guided tours of the show.

“According to the latest surveys by Levada Center, ten percent of Russians have been tortured.”

True, it’s a really simple figure, but when I hear it I want to hear more figures. What percentage of Russians have tortured someone? What percentage of Russians have ordered someone tortured? What percentage of Russians said nothing although they knew someone was being tortured? What percentage of Russians share a home with people who torture other people at work? Do torturers beat their wives, children, and elderly parents?

At first, I wanted to fashion Russia from a single piece of cardboard, but then I realized I had no sense of how I could unify the country except with borders, frontier guards, and barbed wire. I know tons of different Russias. I know academic Russia and literary Russia. I know the Russia of forests and mushrooms. I know the Russia of poor people and factories. I know the elegant Russia of rich people. All of these Russias have one thing in common: the violence of torture and the fear of torture. So, I assembled the map from scraps of cardboard.

torture-2Ms. Apahoncich writing the names of Ukrainian and Crimean political prisoners imprisoned in Russian jails and prisons on the wall below a hand-drawn map of occupied Crimea. Photo courtesy of Ms. Apahonchich

I didn’t know what to do with Crimea. I couldn’t include it since I don’t consider its presence on a map of Russia legal, but I also had no choice but to include it because people are tortured there as well, and the people doing the torturing have Russian passports. So, I drew Crimea on the wall in pencil and wrote a list of Ukrainian political prisoners under it. The list was terrifyingly long.

I spelled the word “torture chamber” as it is pronounced in received Moscow standard [pytoshnaya instead of pytochnaya], although maybe no one speaks that way anymore. I would imagine I don’t need to explain why.

It’s a sad piece. If it were carnival now, I would burn it instead of a straw puppet.

Thanks to Alina for the photographs.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ms. Apahonchich for her permission to translate and publish her post here. Thanks to Nastia Nek for the link to the article on the Levada Center study.

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[…]

Policemen visited the exhibition at the end of its first day. Witnesses said it was the coolest performance in the show. The soloist was Senior Lieutenant Ruslan Sentemov aka Mister Policeman. According to people who took part in the protest action Immortal Gulag, Sentemov insisted this was how the president obliged them to address him when he was detaining them.

The phrase turned into a meme, and Sentemov became the target of parodies and epigrams. It is rare when people are detained at protest rallies in Petersburg and he is not involved. In 2017, 561 people were detained during a protest against corruption. All of them were charged with disobeying the lawful demands of a police officer, and in all 561 cases, that officer was Lieutenant Sentemov. Petersburg civil rights activist Dinar Idrisov claimed each of the ensuing 561 court case files contained a copy of Sentemov’s police ID and his handwritten, signed testimony.

words-1Ruslan Sentemov (right) and another police officer at My Words Have Been Recorded Correctly, July 7, 2019, Pushinskaya 10 Art Center, Petersburg. Photo by Elena Murganova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

In interviews with the press and when he is on camera, Sentemov likes to maintain the image of a “good cop.” He was true to this image at Pushkinskaya 10 as well, upsetting activists, who surrounded him and peppered him with questions about why he had come to the exhibition.

“This is Russia’s cultural capital. But you, young lady, have a very nasty habit of interrupting people and horning in on the conversation,” he said to one of them.

Reassuring activists he was in no hurry, Sentemov set about perusing the show. The police officer who was with him photographed each exhibit in turn.

Jenya Kulakova volunteered to give Sentemov a guided tour.

“These are drawings made by Dmitry Pchelintsev in the Penza Remand Prison. He was tortured with electricity. Here is a banner with the slogan ‘The ice under the major’s feet.’ Perhaps you are familiar with the music of Yegor Letov and Civil Defense?”

“Perhaps.”

Yegor Letov and Civil Defense (Grazhdanskaya oborona) performing the song “We Are the Ice under the Major’s Feet” at a concert at the Gorbunov Culture Center in Moscow in November 2004. Courtesy of YouTube

“Here is Viktor Filinkov’s account of being tortured, handwritten by a female artist. This is a postcard made by Yuli Boyarshinov. Did you know that, in prison, defendants are prohibited from using colored pencils and pens?”

“No, I didn’t know that, unfortunately. I will probably have to study up on the topic.”

spinach“We have no money and machine guns, but we do have a herbarium of spinach leaves.” Photo by Jenya Kulakov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

“These are drawings from the trials in the Network case. We have an artist who attends the hearings and draws them. This next piece also draws on the case files.”

“I got it. Let’s speed things up.”

“No, you should read a bit of it. Here’s a passage about how someone was hit on the legs and the back of the head. And this is what the tortures said to Viktor Filinkov as they were torturing him. After that, they gave him a Snickers bar to eat. That was probably humane of them, don’t you think?”

“I’ve already read it.”

After strolling around the room containing works by the [Network defendants], Sentemov admitted what interested him most of all was whether the art had been forensically examined for possible “extremism.”

“Look,” said Ms. Kulakova, “all of this was sent to us from remand prisons. By law, all correspondence going in and going out is vetted by a censor. Do you see this stamp here? Have you ever sent a letter to a remand prison?”

“Unfortunately, I haven’t. Or maybe I should say, fortunately. If you say all of this was vetted by the censor, we will definitely have to verify your claim.”

“You seriously want to verify whether remand prison censors working for the FSB have been doing their jobs?”

“At very least, I’d like to send them an inquiry.”

“Here is an installation entitled just one big torture chamber. You may have heard that Levada Center recently did a survey on torture. One in ten people reported they had experienced torture in their lives.”

jenyaJenya Kulakova (center) gives Lieutenant Sentemov and his colleague a guided tour of My Words Have Been Recorded Correctly, July 7, 2019, Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center, Petersburg. Photo by Elena Murganova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta 

“Have you been tortured by chance?” Sentemov suddenly asked Ms. Kulakova, staring unpleasantly at her.

“My friends have been tortured,” she replied.

“I was asking about you.”

“Why would ask me about that?”

“You just talk about it so enthusiastically.”

Sentemov appreciated the interest among exhibition goers aroused by his appearance and laughed smugly.

“I think I’m getting more attention than all these pictures,” he said.

He brushed aside questions about what had brought the police officers to the exhibition and how they had heard about it.

“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” he said.

“We gave you a whole guided tour, but you’re just one big mystery,” said Ms. Kulakova disappointedly, fishing for an answer.

“Thank you for such a comprehensive tour. I am quite pleased with the attentiveness of you and your gadgets. Nevertheless, I must leave this wonderful event. I am very pleased you welcomed us so warmly,” Sentemov said in conclusion, turning towards the exit.

“See you soon,” he said as he left.

Source: Tatyana Likhanova, “A Guided Tour of a Torture Chamber,” Novaya Gazeta, July 8, 2019. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Petersburg: Russia’s Window on the West

windy petersburg“One day windy Petersburg won’t let me light a cigarette and I’ll give up smoking on its advice.” Graffiti, Petersburg, July 19, 2018.  Photo by the Russian Reader

Rotunda
June 17, 2019

While Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and the Kremlin were trying to spearhead protests and organize their own rally in support of [the briefly arrested investigative journalist] Ivan Golunov, Petersburg’s acting governor Alexander Beglov missed the political bandwagon once again. Today, during a session of the governor’s so-called inner cabinet at the Smolny, he was told by his underlings the Vesna (Spring) Movement wanted to hold a rally against the persecution of journalists on June 23. Beglov ordered city officials to reach out to the organizers and move the rally to another date since, otherwise, it “would ruin the celebration for school leavers.”

When Beglov gave this order, he was likely unaware city officials had already taken care of the kids. The Smolny turned down Vesna’s request to approve their rally by making up literally a million excuses. For example, a source in the Smolny reported a military band would be playing on Lenin Square (one of the city’s specially designated so-called Hyde Parks, where, theoretically, protesters do not need the city’s go-ahead to hold rallies) on June 23. It also transpired that urgent repairs of heating mains, buildings, pedestrian crossings, etc., were underway at all the other venues in the city center where protest rallies could be held.

Rotunda (Rotonda) is a Telegram channel, covering city politics in Petersburg and written by reporters Maria Karpenko and Ksenia Klochkova. Translated by the Russian Reader

Five Crimean Tatars Sentenced to as Long as 17 Years in Prison in Rostov-on-Don

800px-Flag_of_the_Crimean_Tatar_people.svgThe Crimean Tatar national flag. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Five Crimean Tatars Sentenced to as Many as 17 Years in Prison in Rostov-on-Don
Anton Naumlyuk
Radio Svoboda
June 18, 2019

The North Caucasus Military Court in Rostov-on-Don has rendered a verdict in the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir trial.

Five Crimean Tatars were detained after searches of their homes in October 2016. They were charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that has been banned in Russia. One of the five defendants, Teimur Abdullayev, was also charged with organizing cells for the organization in Simferopol.

During closing arguments, the prosecution has asked the court to sentence the defendants to between 11 and 17 years in prison. However, except for Abdullayev, who was sentenced to 17 years in a maximum-security prison camp, the other four defendants were given longer sentences than the prosecutor had requested. Uzeir Abdullayev was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Emil Jemandenov and Ayder Saledinov were sentenced to 12 years in prison, while Rustem Ismailov was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The convicted men had pleaded innocent to the charges. Their defense team plans to appeal the verdict.

“We are not terrorists. We have not committed any crimes,” Uzeir Abdullayev said in his closing statement. “I would also like to say that the criminal case [against us] was a frame-up, a fabrication. The secret witness alone was proof of that—and he was proof of our innocence. […] I thus want to show that human rights are violated in Russia and you violate your own Constitution.”

Nearly 70 individuals have been arrested in Crimea, occupied by Russia since 2014, as part of the criminal investigation into Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that is not illegal in Ukraine and most European countries. Most of the suspects and defendants in the case, include the Crimean Muslims convicted today, have been declared political prisoners by the International Memorial Society, an alliance of human rights organizations headquartered in Moscow.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Valentin Urusov: A Worker’s Struggle (August 2012)

One of the most egregious frame-ups on drug charges in Russia in recent memory was the case of Yakutia trade union activist Valentin Urusov.

The weekly magazine Russian Reporter told Urusov’s story in August 2012, after he had been in police custody and then prison for over three years.

The article was, in fact, part of a second international campaign, led by Russia’s independent trade unions, to persuade the Russian authorities to release Urusov from prison.

This time around, their efforts paid off, and after his release, Urusov was awarded the Arthur Svensson Prize, the “Nobel Prize” of international trade unionism.

When I posted the following translation of the Russian Reporter article on January 25, 2013, Urusov was still in prison, doing time for crimes everyone who knew anything about the case knew he had not committed.

It is silly to compare these things, but I think Urusov’s story is much more horrifying than the much more recent story of Meduza reporter Ivan Golunov. First, it happened at the end of the earth, geographically speaking. Second, Urusov’s supporters had neither the social capital or the numbers to instantly launch a widespread moral panic to secure his immediate release.

Powerful men, including the men who run Alrosa, Russia’s state-owned diamond mining company (whose board at the time included Alexei Kudrin, laughably regarded as a “liberal” by people who do not want to know any better), wanted Urusov to go down, and so he went down, despite the absurdity of the charges against him, despite the fact that the police officer who engineered his frame-up was later found guilty of fraud and abuse of authority, and despite the fact that the Yakutia Supreme Court overturned his conviction in May 2009. (It was reinstated by the original, lower court a little over a month later.)

In fact, although Urusov’s story is a central episode in the recent history of independent trade union activism in Russia, I would wager a large amount of money that the vast majority of Russians have never heard of Urusov and his horrifying ordeal at the hands of Russian “law enforcement.” || TRR

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A Worker’s Struggle
How an attempt to create a real labor union lands you in a penal colony
By Andrei Veselov
Russian Reporter
August 23, 2012

It is now acceptable to talk about political prisoners in Russia—it has become good form. But for some reason, bankers and financiers now and again end up on lists of “prisoners of conscience.” Their troubles are discussed in great detail, and there is sincere sympathy for them. Little is said about the fact that for the last four years Valentin Urusov, a rank-and-file worker, has been doing time at the penal colony in Verkhny Vestyak, Yakutia, for attempting to establish an independent labor union. Russian Reporter has decided to rectify this.

“When they drove off the road into the taiga, I hear, ‘Take out the plastic sheet so nothing gets splattered.’ That, as they say, is when I bid farewell to life, calmed down and resigned myself. I lay on the floor of the car and waited. Hands cuffed behind my back. They pulled me out, put me on my knees and fired three shots over my head. But they didn’t kill me.”

urusov

Valentin Urusov. Photo by Aleskey Maishev for Russian Reporter

The senior officer for education at the colony listens attentively to my conversation with Valentin Urusov, a prisoner at Penal Colony No. 3 in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and former leader of the independent labor union local in the town of Udachny. After the interview, the officer comes up to me and says, “You know, maybe he is really innocent. But if five percent are wrongly convicted in America, what can you expect from us?”

“What a terrific job!”

The idea that a full-fledged rather than puppet labor union could emerge in Udachny occurred to Valentin, a rank-and-file employee at Almazenergoremont, a subsidiary of the local mining and processing plant, after the scandalous “affair of the sandblasters.” Urusov himself is a local man, although he was born in Karachay-Cherkessia: he has lived in Yakutia since he was two years old and worked here since he was sixteen, mostly at facilities run by the state-owned diamond mining company Alrosa. There are few other options here.

Udachny is a town fourteen kilometers from the Arctic Circle, and one of the three main sites, along with Mirny and Aikhal, where diamonds are mined. Among the workers involved in the mining process are the so-called abrasive blasters or, more simply, sandblasters, whose job is to work solid surfaces with an abrasive, high-pressure stream of air pumped through a hose. It is not a job that is good for the health of the worker, to say the least: pulmonary silicosis is the occupational illness. Neither a safety helmet nor a [hazmat] suit, like cosmonauts wear, helps.

In 2007, a team of these sandblasters demanded overtime pay, which at that time went chronically unpaid. The workers filed a lawsuit and even managed to win their case: the Labor Code was clearly on their side.

“A special commission arrived in Udachny to arbitrate the dispute directly,” explains Andrei Polyakov, an Alrosa spokesman. “The company agreed with the validity of the claims, an agreement settling all grievances was signed, and compensation was paid out. The managers who were in direct dereliction of their duties were punished.”

This happened, it is true, but later. The main scandal occurred when the dispute was still being settled: the semi-official labor union at Alrosa, Profalmaz, negotiated not on the side of the workers, but on behalf of . . . management. This provoked astonishment and outrage in Udachny.

So, on the one hand, Profalmaz’s authority was undermined. On the other, the feeling arose that one’s labor rights could be protected—moreover, in a civilized manner, through the courts and arbitration, the European way, so to speak.

“I just found it interesting. I’m a generally curious person, and that is probably why I’m in prison,” jokes Valentin. “I went online and came across Sotsprof, a trade union association that is an alternative to the FNPR (the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia). I wrote an email to its leader, who was then Sergei Khramov. He replied by sending me documents on how to create a new union.”

“But why a new one?” I ask. “Was it really impossible to make things work within the existing union?”

“All [organizations] belonging to Mikhail Shmakov’s FNPR, including Profalmaz, are not labor unions but appendages of personnel departments. All they do is allocate vacation vouchers. They will never oppose management.”

“Was the only problem overtime and the fact it wasn’t being paid then?”

“Of course not. There were a lot of problems! And then, you understand, this is very difficult work: you have to work night and day, and on holidays, and take someone else’s shift, whatever management says. But you get paid for an eight-hour day. And then there are the working conditions and safety. In the department where I worked, the equipment should have been scrapped twenty years ago, at best. There are a lot of accidents as a result. The ones that were made public were like a speck in a big heap of sand. I got a big piece of flesh taken out of my hand, and that was nothing. Of course, it’s hard to hush up fatal incidents. But fractures and injuries are different. There are thousands of them and nobody cares. It was a shame that the company was so wealthy, that it built five-star hotels and all kinds of business centers, but scrimped on us.”

In Moscow, I met with Sergei Khramov, to whom Valentin had sent the email and who had instructed him on creating a union local.

Udachnaya_pipe

The open pit of the Udachnaya Diamond Mine, Russia, from a helicopter, July 17, 2004. Photo by Alexander Stepanov

“Add to this the aggressive water in the gully where they mine diamonds.” Khramov hands me a complaint from Udachny miners addressed to Vladimir Putin. “It’s nearly acid and it penetrates their rubber suits. Here they write, ‘We don’t know what it is we are breathing when the ventilation equipment is lubricated with used oil.’ Or there’s this one: ‘Cold, unheated air is pumped into the mine, even in winter.’ And it’s minus forty-fifty in winter there. What a terrific job!”

How to frighten a republic’s leadership

Right at this time, in August 2008, the so-called Siberian Social Forum was held in Irkutsk. “Free” trade unions were among the forum’s founders. Urusov’s new acquaintances invited him there, too. In fact, it was a small event, attended by no more than two hundred people, but it made a strong impression on Valentin.

“[Civil rights lawyer] Stanislav Markelov, who was later murdered in Moscow, lectured on legal issues. He was a very competent, energetic, lively man—it’s a shame [what happened] to him. He talked about how to act in this or that situation so as not to set oneself up and achieve [your goals] at the same time. And then the call came. Problems with pay had begun at the second motor depot, and the guys had decided to organize a strike.”

Events unfolded rapidly. In a small suburban home outside of Udachny, Urusov met with motor depot drivers and mechanics in an almost conspiratorial atmosphere and began persuading them to join the union. Armed with new knowledge, Urusov tried to prove to his comrades that if a strike began they would immediately be fired for trumped-up excuses, and there would be no one left to work on getting them reinstated. During the second “conspiratorial” meeting, sixty-two people joined Urusov’s union local.

There were two options as to how to proceed. First, a classic strike. But the Udachny miners had no experience with strikes, and therefore they could easily have been fired for “absenteeism.” And even if they had managed to get fired workers reinstated, they would have lost the initiative, and the remaining workers would have been demoralized. The second option was a hunger strike. Everyone goes to work; there is no downtime and, therefore, nothing for management to complain about. But demands are loudly declared and, basically, a scandal erupts. They chose the second option.

“At first, [management] demonstratively paid no attention to us. Then they see we aren’t going to back down. That is when they began dropping by,” Urusov laughs. “People came from the police, from plant security, from the company itself, trying to talk us out of it. In exchange for setting up a conciliation commission, we suspended the hunger strike.”

However, the commission was unable to achieve a compromise. Management made no concessions.

“We decided to hold an open union meeting right on the town’s central square. It wasn’t a [protest] rally, and by law, we weren’t required to notify anyone. On the first day, all the motor depot workers came, plus another two hundred people. The director of the plant came and tried to say something. But he couldn’t answer a single question and left. And right there on the square, people began joining the union. By the end of the day, something like three hundred people had joined. We decided to repeat the meeting. The second time, more than eight hundred people gathered. There was no rioting and no laws were broken. We didn’t even have a loudspeaker. By evening, I remember it even now, 1,012 people had joined the union.”

We have to remember that Udachny is a very small town with a population of slightly over ten thousand, and such developments outright scared both the local authorities and certain people in high places. The situation was headed towards a citywide strike and a potential stoppage of diamond mining in the Udachnaya kimberlite pipe—the largest in the world, by the way.

“We have enormous enterprises in our country. Often [they] monopolize their regions, and so a strike or simply a large [industrial] action could freeze an entire industry,” explains Alexander Zakharin, Urusov’s friend and colleague, and chair of the Sotsprof local in Surgut. “And if you organize such an action, you risk running into a brutal response. From the owners and from the authorities. But it happens that milder measures don’t work. Then you need to choose: take a risk or keep your mouth shut.”

At Alrosa itself, the union’s activities in Udachny are seen primarily as an attempt at self-promotion.

“A media effect—promoting awareness of Sotsprof and the number of times it got mentioned in the press—was probably the main objective for some of its executives,” argues company spokesman Polyakov.

As during the [dispute in 2007], Profalmaz adopted a peculiar position in the new confrontation. Its leader, Il Tumen (Sakha Republic State Assembly) deputy Pavel Tretyakov, not only failed to help the workers but also asked the republic’s leaders to reason with the “rebels.” Profalmaz’s executive committee sent an appeal to the President of Yakutia, Vyacheslav Shtyrov, and FNPR head [Mikhail] Shmakov asking them to prevent “incitement of a conflict.”

Tretyakov later, in a similar vein, told Vasily Gabyshev, the Mirny town prosecutor, “It’s surprising that law enforcement authorities didn’t respond to attempts by various persons to artificially incite conflicts, to calls for illegal hunger strikes and [labor] strikes.”

The Yakutia presidential administration composed a panicked memo on the basis of Tretyakov’s appeals. The President instructed law enforcement agencies to figure out what was happening. (Russian Reporter has all these documents in its possession.) What exactly Shtyrov wanted from the security services is still unclear, but the local office of the FSKN (the Federal Drug Control Service) reacted to the situation, let’s say, in an extremely original way.

Udachny—Aikhal—Mirny

“Then what happened? Then the third of September came. I was leaving my place. I heard a car door open. I instinctively turned around.  It was a simple UAZ[-452], a “Pill” [i.e., a van] with tinted windows. Out came three guys in leather jackets and jeans with shaved heads. I didn’t know them. I immediately knew something was wrong and ran. They caught up to me and knocked me down.”

“Did they show you any identification?”

“Absolutely nothing. They restrained me and brought me to the van. First, they handcuffed me with my hands in front. Later, in the van, they tried to cuff me with my hands behind my back. I clasped my hands and held on. They pulled and pulled, broke my finger, and finally handcuffed my hands behind my back. They threw me to the floor and one of them sat on top of me. We drove for a long time.”

It subsequently emerged that Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Rudov, the head of drug control in the Mirny District, had personally led this “operation.” In order to apprehend Urusov, he and his subordinates had driven six hundred kilometers [to Udachny]: [his] “Hunter” [i.e., jeep] was waiting for the “Pill” on the outskirts of the town. In court, Rudov claimed to have had “operational information” that Urusov was involved in selling drugs.

“We asked the court to confirm or refute Rudov’s testimony, and requested written confirmation that the ‘operational information’ had been registered in the police operational ledger,” says Urusov’s attorney Yevgeny Chernousov, a former police colonel who specializes in narcotics cases. “We didn’t demand that this information itself or its source be revealed. We just wanted to confirm that the information had existed. The court did not fulfill our request. There is thus no evidence of its existence. In light of this, Rudov’s unwarranted trip to Udachny and back seems more than suspicious.”

Valentin says that Rudov was on the phone with a certain Alexei Yurevich or Yuri Alexeyevich the whole time, reporting to him that they had “taken” Urusov and wanting to know what to do next. After one of these conversations, the van pulled off into the taiga. There the narcotics officers spread out plastic sheeting and fired a few shots over Urusov’s head, recounts Urusov.

“They were shooting the whole time,” says Valentin. “They shot at birds, and at trees. Apparently, they wanted to frighten me. We had already driven far from town, and basically, they could have done whatever they wanted with me.”

At a fork in the Udachny-Aikhal-Mirny road, the car of Grigory Pustovetov, head of security at the Aikhal mining and processing plant, drove up to Rudov’s group “entirely by accident.” Only then did the police decide to search Urusov for drugs. Pustovetov and his driver acted as official witnesses. The search was a complete success: sixty-six grams of hashish oil were found in the union activist’s pocket.

“A number of questions arise,” says an outraged Chernousov. “First, when the arrest happens in one place, but the [official] search with witnesses happens dozens of kilometers away, it’s a clear sign that the drugs could have been planted. Second, if the head of one of a company’s security units serves as a witness when an employee in a labor dispute with that company is being searched, it also gives rise to the most unpleasant thoughts.”

Urusov himself claims the hashish was planted on him in the car after the fake execution. He says that hash oil was specially applied to his hands so that traces of the drug would later be detected when his hands were swabbed.

“When we were organizing the miners’ union in Neryungri (a major industrial center in Yakutia), I was reminded of this story,” says Valery Sobol, first secretary of the Neryungri Communist Party City Committee. “I won’t name the names [of the persons involved] because I live there. Employees of the so-called organs [i.e., the security services] invited me to a pub. We hung out there for a while. Then at another place, and then another. I myself didn’t drink, [but] they drank a lot. And, as if it was an afterthought, though they had summoned me there [to deliver just this message], one of them says, ‘You remember that thing with Urusov? You also better not be naughty. If anything happens, we’ll plant a gun [on you] or whatever.’ And then he laughed. Like it was a joke.”

Several months ago, Sobol nearly won the election for the head of the Neryungri District. He came in second by only a small margin. And if a potential district head can be threatened almost openly, then the kidnapping of a simple working stiff like Urusov, who has no political backing at all, does not seem farfetched.

Sobol and I sat in the kitchen of Sergei Yurkov, an engineer, businessman, and leader of [an organization called] the Russian Community of Yakutia. He met Urusov in a pre-trial detention facility. I ask him how he had ended up there.

“My story is simple. Transneft was building a pipeline here. They didn’t want to pay normal wages to the locals. So when the locals balked, they brought in rural Chinese willing to work for peanuts and live in barracks. When we organized a rally and put up flyers saying this wasn’t how things were done, I was arrested under Article 282 of the Criminal Code for ‘incitement of interethnic hatred.’ What does ‘incitement’ have to do with it? I was sentenced to two years in prison.”

Drugs via the Special Courier Service?

It must be said that the theme of drugs, with which they decided to shut Urusov up, did not arise by accident. Drug use is a local scourge. And this makes sense. There are few other ways to have fun in small towns and villages in the North. That is why on the surface Urusov’s prosecution under a drug statute was meant to have appeared more or less plausible.

“It’s a big problem here, as is drinking,” says Maxim Mestnikov, a Sotsprof spokesman in Yakutia. “When Friday comes, hang onto your head: there is a deluge of knife wounds [and] head injuries.”

But Urusov, in fact, never had the reputation of a mischievous drug addict. In his youth, at the beginning of the 2000s, he and a few friends created an organization called Youth for an Athletic Movement-North, whose activists patrolled the city monitoring places where drugs were sold. Eventually, the mayor of Udachny even suggested that they create a branch of City Without Drugs on the line of [Yevgeny] Roizman’s [controversial anti-drugs organization].

The relationship between certain local [Alrosa] subcontractors and drug dealers, however, may require a separate investigation. Russian Reporter has in its possession an official memo written by Sergei Denisov, the predecessor of [Grigory] Pustovetov (the man who acted as a witness during the police search of Urusov) as head of security at the Aikhal mining and processing plant.

The memo is addressed to Yuri Ionov, former vice-president for security at Alrosa, and it deals with the overall crime situation in the area. Among many others, the memo contains the following passage: “It is impossible to ignore the fact that a drug trafficking network has developed in the village. According to operational information from the Mirny office of the FSB, the delivery of drugs is carried out by the [Federal] Special Courier Service, with which Alrosa has a contractual relationship for the transportation of diamonds.” Moreover, the memo shows that confidential and friendly relations exist between certain high-ranking Alrosa executives, law enforcement officers, and outright criminals.

“I’ll say this: the criminal world is generally in first place here,” [Sotsprof’s] Mestnikov says with conviction. “In this respect, it is still the nineties here. Something needs to be done so you go to them and they handle it. And this could also have happened with Valentin. Perhaps it was better that they sicked the cops on him and not the wise guys.”

After he presented the memo to Ionov, Denisov was forced to resign and move to Novosibirsk.

“No decision was taken on my report. Ionov showed me the door and said he didn’t need any unnecessary problems. As for Urusov, I can say that it’s a pure frame-up,” [Denisov says].

In May 2010, Lieutenant Colonel Rudov was sentenced to three years of probation for fraud and abuse of authority. According to [Urusov’s other] lawyer Inga Reitenbakh, “He was charged with receiving 2.5 million rubles from Alrosa for the purchase of an apartment in Mirny.” The investigators and Rudov himself categorically denied any connection between this case and the Urusov case. Nevertheless, the funds were allocated to Rudov shortly after Urusov’s arrest. According to Russian Reporter’s source, Rudov now works as a procurements specialist in the repair and construction office at the Mirny mining and processing plant.

“He shoots before he thinks”

Urusov was also unlucky in that he had set about creating a Sotsprof local in Udachny exactly when the union’s leadership had entered the complex process of building relations with the Kremlin.

“Beginning in 2007, people from the Russian Presidential Administration began to pressure us very actively,” says Sergei Khramov. “We were strongly recommended to name Sergei Vostretsov from the United Russia party as [our] new leader. I had good reason to believe that if we didn’t, we would simply be destroyed. And I figured, the heck with him, let Vostretsov be the leader and do public relations, while I, as Sotsprof’s general labor inspector, will do the day-to-day work.”

The first outcome of this “castling” move was that the formerly oppositional Sotsprof supported Dmitry Medvedev in the 2008 presidential elections.

”And when they began pressuring Valentin, Vostretsov told me not to make any unnecessary noise, because he would fix everything anyway. I knew that the Vostretsov family—his younger brother was the youngest FSB colonel in the country—was very close to General Alexander Mikhailov, the then-director of the Federal Drug Control Service. I thought that Valentin’s case would be decided with a single phone call.”

For the sake of fairness, we should note that complicated events were underway at the Federal Drug Control Service at the time. Viktor Ivanov had replaced Viktor Cherkesov, who had famously publicized the existence of a war within the security services in an article [entitled “We Can’t Let Warriors Turn into Traders”]. In October, General Mikhailov left the FSKN as well. There was simply no one left to make that “single phone call.”

Subsequently, Vostretsov pushed Khramov out of Sotsprof altogether, and the organization became completely loyal to the Kremlin.

In December 2008, the Mirny District Court sentenced Valentin Urusov to six years in prison for drug possession. Vostretsov tried to fight it, but more from behind the scenes: he met with officials from the Yakutia administration and officials of the security services, and even, allegedly, raised the issue of Urusov with Medvedev. It was no use.

Khramov, in contrast, acted publicly. It was he who got the famous lawyer Chernousov to take the case. Chernousov convinced the Yakutia Supreme Court to overturn the verdict (on procedural grounds: the judge had not retired to chambers while considering a motion to dismiss), after which the case was retried.

“I had absolutely no illusions,” Valentin smiles. “After the Supreme Court decision, many people thought I would be exonerated.  I was certain of the opposite, that now I would be ‘shut down’ for sure. This was evident from the faces of those in the courtroom at the second trial. After the first hearing, I gathered my belongings, put on the track suit I’d been wearing while traveling between pre-trial detention facilities and prisons, and from then on I went to hearings in this outfit.”

In Udachny, there is a small newspaper with the humorous name of Gorodok [“The Burg”], edited by a local journalist named Alla Demidova. After Urusov was released, she published a short article. Immediately, the very same day, she got a call from Maxim Dobarkin, one of the police investigators who had participated in Urusov’s “arrest.”

“Dobarkin called me at home,” says Demidova. “Drunk. He told me how many bullets he would put in me, said that ‘he shoots before he thinks,’ that he knows where I live, and that he would ‘get’ me ‘whether in Udachny or in Sochi.’”

“What did you do?”

“I filed a complaint with the FSB.”

“Did they respond?”

“They responded by sending me a one-line answer: ‘There is no threat.’”

Dobarkin, however, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and together with Rudov took command of the Federal Drug Control Service’s interdistrict department in Mirny.

Another Yakutia journalist, Aitalina Nikiforova, was also threatened for covering Urusov’s case.

“I reported on every hearing during the trial from the courtroom. Rudov called me over during one of the hearings and said word for word, ‘Your oldest daughter is fifteen. It would be interesting to see how you’ll defend Urusov after some old drug dealers drug her up and pass her around.’ This definitely sounded like a threat. At the time I was working as editor-in-chief at the only independent newspaper in Mirny, Moya Gazeta. The only printing plant in town refused to print us. Local Federal Drug Control Service agents began coming to my house, allegedly because of anonymous tips that I also used and dealt drugs. Some of [the agents] were insolent and rude; others were ashamed because the last visits took place when I was six to seven months pregnant with my third child.”

After that Nikiforova decided it would be safer to leave her hometown and move to Yakutsk.

In June 2009, the Mirny District Court delivered a new verdict in the Urusov case that completely upheld the previous verdict, but in September the Yakutia Supreme Court lightened Urusov’s prison sentence by one year. The Sotsprof local in Udachny had been crushed. The second motor depot has been completely shut down. The company has had no more problems with the workforce in this town.

“Valentin, who do you tend to blame for what happened to you?” I finally asked.

“Alrosa is a state-run company. It is owned by the government, by the state, so . . . you understand.”

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Valentin Urusov. Photo by Aleskey Maishev for Russian Reporter

***

“Our government is fascist,” Yurkov, the leader of the Russian Community of Yakutia, suddenly declares, and it sounds quite equivocal.

Sobol, the man who missed becoming head of the Neryungri District by a heartbeat, turns and stops smoking next to the window.

“We have to be precise with our terms: neither Nazi nor nationalist, but precisely fascist as it is understood in Mussolini’s theory of the corporate state, as Franco, Salazar, and even Pinochet understood it. In our country, the authorities and big business are intertwined in a ball. And anyone who gets in their way is crushed. Here in Yakutia, in the provinces, it’s just more clearly felt.  But it’s the same thing all over the country.”

Translated by Sean Guillory and Chtodelat News. Slightly different versions of the same translation were published by n+1 and Sean’s Russian Blog.

Circassian Activist Martin Kochesoko Arrested in Drugs Frame-Up

martin-2

Shown here protesting a law bill that would make Russia’s minority languages an elective part of the curriculum, Circassian grassroots activist Martin Kochesoko was detained and charged with narcotics possession on June 7 in Nalchik, the capital city of the Kabardino-Balkar Republic. Will the nationwide grassroots movement that, allegedly, forced police in Moscow to drop identical charges against investigative reporter Ivan Golunov reemerge as forcefully to demand justice for Kochesoko? Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

Circassian Activist Martin Kochesoko Detained in Nalchik
Vera Zherdeva
Caucasian Knot
June 8, 2019

On June 7, police searched the offices of the civic organization Habze, detaining its leader Martin Kochesoko and other activists, our sources have informed us.

The security forces arrived at Habze’s office at around eleven in the morning. They confiscated the office’s computers.

According to preliminary reports, Kochesoko has been remanded in custody on charges of drugs possession, a Habze activist told us.

The other Habze activists detained with Kochesoko were soon released, Kavkaz. Realii reports, citing its own sources.

In late May, Kochesoko reported his parents had been paid a visit by local officials, who told them their son should “slow down” his activism. The incident took place after Kochesoko had organized a round table on federalism in Nalchik.

“A man from the district council visited my parents. He told them he had been sent by the top bosses and I should slow my activism down. I know this man personally. He has my phone number and email address, and he and I could have met. I was taken aback he chose this way of doing things. I would thus like to underscore the fact I use only legal methods. I want the laws and the Russian Constitution to be obeyed. I am not hiding from anyone. I am constantly in the public eye,” Kosechoko wrote in an article, “Solving the Crisis of Federalism: Grassroots Activism,” published May 29 on Habze’s website.

Caucasian Knot has written about Kochesoko’s work. We have often cited his critical comments on controversial public issues.

In April 2019, for example, Kochesoko criticized the ban of an auto rally on Circassian Flag Day in Nalchik and the treatment of Circassian returnees by Russian officials. He also lambasted the controversial law bill to make the study of minority languages an elective rather than a mandatory part of the school curriculum.  Activists and public figures from twelve of Russia’s ethnic republics, including Kabardino-Balkaria, denounced the law bill.

Kochesoko took part in the September 2018 horse ride commemorating the 310th anniversary of the Battle of Kanzhal. The event provoked clashes between Kabardians and Balkars, and regular police, riot police, and Russian National Guardsmen intervened.

In his article for Caucasian Knot, “Kanzhal as a Knife in the Governor’s Back,” Denis Sokolov, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, discussed Kochesoko’s role as a peacemaker during the events in question, which occurred when residents of the Balkar village of Kendelen refused to let the riders pass through their town.

“Due to a willingness to compromise on the part of Kendelen negotiators, Kochesoko was on the verge of peacefully leading the Circassian march out of the Balkar village, but the crude actions of the security forces rendered their agreement null and void,” wrote Sokolov.

Thanks to Comrade GJ and Anna Etkina for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. NB. The accounts of Mr. Kochesoko’s arrest here and on the Radio Svoboda-affiliated website Kavkaz.Realii differ considerably in their details.  When and if a definitive account of Mr. Kochesoko’s arrest is published, I will update this post.

Vocalese (The Network Trials)

DSCN0045Viktor Filinkov (left) and Yuli Boyarshinov (right) in the dock at the Network trial in Petersburg, discussing matters with their defense lawyers. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

Petersburg Defendants in Network Case Remanded in Custody till September 11
Zaks.ru
June 4, 2019

On Tuesday, June 4, a panel of judges from the Moscow Military District Court, presiding at a circuit hearing in Petersburg, extended the remand in custody of anarchists Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov, defendants in the trial of the so-called Network terrorist community, until September 11.

The defendants’ previous remand in custody would have expired on June 11. The prosecution insisted it be extended. The defendants asked to release them on house arrest. Filinkov and Boyarshinov have been imprisoned for nearly a year and a half.

Earlier in the hearing, the court granted a motion, made by Filinkov’s defense counsel, Vitaly Cherkasov, to order a phonoscopic forensic examination of an audio recording in the case files containing, allegedly, a conversation between the Petersburg defendants.

As part of the forensic examination, FSB Captain Maxim Volkov recorded their voices in the courtroom. They were told to say anything they liked in the microphone.

Filinkov spoke for around eleven minutes about what happened during the early days after he was detained by the FSB, including  the electrical shock torture to which he had previously accused the FSB officers who detained him of subjecting him.

Boyarshinov recounted the time he had spent in remand prison, his loved ones, and his passion for traveling.

The trials of the Network defendants have been taking place simultaneously in Petersburg and Penza.

There are nine defendants in the dock. They have been charged with establishing a terrorist organization that, allegedly, wanted to carry out terrorist attacks against officials and security services officers. They also, allegedly, planned to overthrow the government.

On the contrary, the defendants claim they practiced airsoft together and discussed anarchist ideas, but had no plans to commit any crimes whatsoever.

Translated by the Russian Reader

_________________________________________

They took a dynamo out of a bag and put it on the table. All the agents were wearing balaclavas and medical gloves.

They strapped my hands behind my back, I was only in my underpants, they strapped my legs to the bench with tape. One agent, Alexander, stripped the wires with a craft knife and attached them to my toes. They didn’t ask any questions, they simply started cranking the dynamo.

I felt electric currents in my legs up to the knees. It feels like you are being skinned alive, but when it stops, it’s as if nothing happened at all. There’s no pain when the electricity stops.

Well, it’s impossible to endure this. They hit me [with electric shocks] maybe about five times without asking any questions, probably, to stun me or something like that. Then they told me: if you haven’t figured it out, you are in the hands of the FSB, we are not going to play games, you will have to answer our questions now. The answers “no”, “I don’t know”, “I don’t remember” are wrong answers.

Excerpt from Network defendant Dmitry Pchelintsev’s testimony at the Penza Network trial, as published by People and Nature on June 4, 2019. Read the rest of Pchelintsev’s nearly unbearable story there.

Yana Teplitskaya: Can Torture Be Endured?

buch stele“We shall never forget the memory of the heroes who fell in battle to liberate humanity from the yoke of fascism.” A nearly effaced Soviet war memorial in Berlin-Buch, June 1, 2019. Photo by the Russian Reader

Yana Teplitskaya
Facebook
June 1, 2019

In a recent radio broadcast, Ekaterina Schulman talked about torture in the Network case. She told listeners what she thought people should do if they were tortured by the FSB. They should do everything they are told to do, remember exactly what happened to them, and go public with the story of their torture.

“If you are subjected to physical force, say everything they want you to say. Don’t try and be a hero under any circumstances. That is not the task at hand. The task at hand is to remember as much as possible of what happened to you and tell people about it. You can recant your testimony in court. You can tell your defense lawyer what happened to you. The task at hand is to publicize what happened. It is the only tool you have at your disposal,” she said.

I was quite surprised by this way of stating the matter. It is hard to remember, but a year and half ago or so I used to give the same advice myself. Nowadays, on the contrary, I don’t think it is very good advice. It could even be harmful. I would argue it is based on several misapprehensions.

1. Torture Cannot Be Endured

This is not necessarily true. The Tosno policemen tasered by FSB officers did not confess. Nor did Pavel Zlomnov sign a confession.

Sometimes, torturers give up torturing their victims for some reason. This what happened to Dilmurod Muidinov, a defendant in the Petersburg subway bombing case.

Sometimes, torture can be endured. Sometimes, it cannot.

It’s also not clear what it is meant by the word “endure.” The accounts I read suggest people always attempt to conceal something from their torturers even when they have given in, as it were. In fact, they try and reduce the potential harm of the words they are made to say when they are being tortured. They fight over the wording of their “confessions” and barter over it as much as they are able.

I don’t know what happened during Igor Shishkin’s 24-hour interrogation, but I am certain it would not have lasted so long if Igor had just signed the statement the FSB field officers wanted him to sign.

Dmitry Pchelintsev has spoken at length about how he tried to change the wording of his statement, given under duress, when talking to the FSB investigator, how he spun his initial statement.

The FSB often tortures people in one place and interrogates them for the first time in another place. When they are tortured, people agree to sign anything whatsoever. During the first interrogation, however, they try and deny their guilt. At this point, it is sometimes enough for the investigator and state-appointed defense counsel to make it clear to a person they are on the same side as the torturers, and for field officers to suggest they will torture the person again in order to persuade them to give in.

Sometimes, this works: this was what happened to Viktor Filinkov and Akram Azimov. Sometimes, it doesn’t, as in the case of Sergei Laslov and Ilya Shchukin, the Tosno policemen.

2. You can recant the testimony you signed under torture

No, you cannot! Of course, you can try and prove you were tortured, which is almost impossible in practice. But the statement you signed stays in the case file all the same. The court can deem it proof of your guilt and the guilt of the people against whom you were forced to testify, even if you recant your testimony.

Nor it is clear where you will find a lawyer who, after hearing your account of being tortured, will take all the necessary legal steps to make your going public pay off. Ilya Shakursky, for example, told his lawyer that he had been tortured, but it was pointless.

3. Publicity is your savior

This is not obviously the case.

If you don’t talk publicly about being tortured, you will get a lighter sentence. If you talk about it publicly, you can be charged with new crimes, as happened in the cases of Pavel Zlomnov and Igor Salikov. You can be charged under more serious paragraphs of the Criminal Code for the same crimes, as in the case of Network defendants Ilya Shakursky and Dmitry Pchelintsev. You can be tortured again, as happened to Pchelintsev. You can be threatened, as happened to Viktor Filinkov. Your loved ones can be threatened and intimidated, as happened to Zlomnov and the Azimov brothers.

The arsenal the torturers have at their disposal is endless.

Nor it is guaranteed you will draw attention to your case by going public. Or, at any rate, that you will draw enough attention to your case to shut down the legal nihilism unleashed against you.

An example of this is the Petersburg subway bombing investigation and trial, which have taken place in nearly total media and public silence, despite public statements by three of the defendants that they were tortured in a secret FSB prison.

Translated by the Russian Reader