Oleg Sentsov: “Catastrophically Bad”

DSCN0173Dmitry Dinze is Oleg Sentsov’s lawyer. Oleg Sentsov is the Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner who has been on hunger strike for eight-six days in the Polar Bear Maximum Security Penal Colony in Labytnangi, Yamalo-Nenetsk Autonomous District, Russian Federation. His only demand has been that the Kremlin release the sixty-four other Ukrainian political prisoners currently held in Russian prisons.

Late last night, Mr. Dinze, one of Russia’s best human rights and criminal defense lawyers, wrote“I’m no fan of rumors, of course. I find facts more interesting, even better, confirmed facts, but in this case the circumstances are different. According to diplomats who have been in contact with Russian officials on resolving the issue of Oleg Sentsov, they have no intention of releasing Sentsov. They are thinking his death should be a lesson to other inmates. If this is true, I don’t know what to say.”

Natalya Kaplan
Facebook
August 8, 2018

Things are not just bad, they are catastrophically bad. Oleg sent me a letter via his lawyer. He almost cannot stand up anymore. He wrote the end was near, and he was not talking about being released from prison. He asked whether anyone was still interested in his hunger strike: he is not given the letters sent to him, none of them. He said was in a news vacuum and had no idea what was happening.

The European Court of Human Rights insisted he be transferred to a civilian hospital, one close to his place of residence. Oleg refused. He said he would simply not survive the trip, and he had been bullied even more in the civilian hospital in Labytnangi, where he was hospitalized in the intensive care ward, than he had been in the prison hospital.

That’s Russia for you. I have no clue what else we can do and how we can save him. Things are really bad.

Natalya Kaplan is Oleg Sentsov’s cousin. Thanks to Yana Teplitskaya for heads-up. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

“They Are Trying to Destroy Us for Daring to Speak Up”

“They Are Trying to Destroy Us for Daring to Speak Up”
Rural Pensioners Threatened with Fines for Rally against Police Inaction in Investigating Fatal Road Accident
Nadezhda Andreyeva
Novaya Gazeta
August 4, 2018

Residents of the village of Tersa in Saratov Region’s Volsk District have sent an open letter to the president asking him to take charge of investigating road accident in which 30-year-old Alexander Lopasteysky was killed. According to the letter’s authors, the local police have tried to cover up a crime. A criminal case has not yet been opened, although the fatal accident occurred more than two months ago. Over three hundred people, every tenth resident of the village, signed the letter. The residents then held an assembly where they discussed the inaction of law enforcement agencies. The police immediately sprang into action—but not to investigate the accident. The next night, the police made the rounds of the village, threatening residents with huge fines for attending an unauthorized public event. 

“To: The Kremlin, Moscow. From: Your Voters”
Railroad Street has never been paved or lighted. On the side of the road stands a black metal cross, fenced off with a chain.

“We didn’t bother to attach a plaque. Everyone knows who it’s for anyway.”

In the early hours of May 28, 2018, 30-year-old Tersa resident Alexander Lopasteysky died here while riding a motorcycle. According to his relatives, he was knocked off his bike and run over by Alexander Letov, driving a VAZ 2108 car.

Alexander Lopasteysky. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

An investigation of the fatal road accident was not opened. Villagers claim an investigator from the district Interior Ministry office came to Tersa to question witnesses forty-two days after the accident.

“The police probably thought they could dillydally, and the collective farmers would forget the whole thing,” argues Tersa resident Viktor Konstantinovich.

“I can’t say the police have been paid off. They have just been negligent in this case. A man accidentally fell off a motorcycle and died through his own fault. It’s convenient. They don’t have to make any effort,” says Valentina Vasilyevna, mother of the dead man, shuffling through photos of her son.

Lopasteysky’s relatives wrote to the district council and prosecutor’s office, asking them to take charge of the investigation. They received formal but meaningless replies to their requests. The only thing left to do was write the president.

“To: The Kremlin, Moscow. From: Your voters in the village of Tersa, Volsk District,” reads the opening of their appeal to the president, which was signed by over three hundred residents of the village, whose total population is approximately three thousand.

As the letter’s authors note, “There has been an attempt to cover the crime up, since Letov’s father is an officer in the Volsk District Police.”

Dream’s Backyard
The shop Dream is in the middle of the village, a one-storey brick box crowned with a tall wooden attic. Manufactured goods are through the door on the right, while groceries are through the door on the left.  Dream’s backyard was the site of the “unauthorized public event” at nine in the evening on a Sunday.

“The entire village waited for the investigation to begin. We were patient for two months. We sent letters to all the relevant authorities. What was left for us to do? People said we should raise a ruckus,” says Lyudmila Lopasteyskaya, the dead man’s sister.


Lyudmila Lopasteyskaya, Alexei Lopasteysky’s sister. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

On the social media website Odnoklassniki [“Classmates”], Lyudmila asked everyone concerned about the tragedy to meet by the entrance to the village shop. Around one hundred people came.

Half a dozen police officers from Volsk also came to the meeting, including one armed with a video  camera.

“They said it was forbidden to gather near the porch, that it was a public place. We went into the backyard. We wanted to find out what stage the investigation was at. But the police commander from Volsk turned his back on us and chewed out Lyudmila,” recounts pensioner Lydia Nikolayevna, a former schoolteacher.

“I said to him, ‘You’re treating people with disrespect, turn around and face us. He wouldn’t tell us his name. He only ordered the cameraman to film everyone who opened their mouths and told the other officers to write down people’s license plate numbers,” says pensioner Nadezhda Ivanovna, a former college employee.

People dispersed after village council head Vyacheslav Mokhov promised he would go with the dead man’s relatives to meet with the district police chief.

The next day, five Tersans went to Volsk.

“We were allowed to enter the police building in twos. Alexander’s daughter and the village head went in, then Alexander’s friends. I wanted to go last. But the police said to me, ‘No, that’s enough,'” says Valentina Vasilyevna.


Dream, the village shop. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

“We told them what evidence had been seen at the accident site. But the police weren’t really interested. They kept asking whether the village council had authorized the protest rally, and why the shop owners had agreed to let us in,” Viktor Konstantinovich recounts.

A 20,000 Ruble Fine on an 8,000 Ruble Pension
The police returned to the village a day later.

“They made the rounds of the houses yesterday and the day before yesterday. It was our village beat cop and some officers from Volsk. They knocked on the doors of old women at eleven, eleven-thirty at night. They told people to come outside, shoved papers in their faces, and told them to sign them. They told my wife that by six in the morning they had to get the signatures of the people who had gone to the meeting,” say Viktor Konstantinovich.

He nervously twirls a phone in his hands.

“Dont mention my surname in the newspaper,” he adds.

“He didn’t even get out of the car. I asked where he’d got my name and address. That stopped him short,” recounts Nadezhda Ivanovna.

“He said fines for protest rallies range from 10,000 to 20,000 rubles. My monthly pension is 8,000 rubles. I worked as a lab assistant for thirty-nine years. I spend my entire pension on the gas and light bills, and medicines. We’re frightened.”

“The police are not protecting us. On the contrary, they are destroying us for daring to speak up. Don’t take a picture of me. I have a grandson I’m raising.”

The village beat cop served Lopeystskaya with a notice of initiation of administrative proceedings under Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code (“Violation of the Rules for Holding a Public Event”), as filed “against an unknown person,” along with an official warning from the Interior Ministry’s district office.

The police informed Lopeystskaya that “in case of a public event, planned by you in the village of Tersa, you could face administrative and criminal sanctions.”

The warning was followed by list of six articles from the Administrative Offenses Code and Criminal Code, including the article that stipulates “organization of an extremist community” as a felony.


A box marked “Information about Incidents of Corruption” at the local police department. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

The neighborhood police precinct is in the village council  building. It is quiet and hot in the hallway, and flies are buzzing. The beat cop’s office hours are glued to a window: two hours on Tuesdays and  Saturdays, one hour on Fridays.

I call the mobile phone listed there.

“There was an unauthorized protest rally on my beat, ninety-seven people. I’ve been ordered to gather evidence,” says Lieutenant Alexander Bakanov.

Lieutenant Bakanov does not specify who gave the orders and why. He cuts the conversation short.

The village council head’s office. A United Russia party flag covers the window on the right. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

The door to the office of village council head Vyacheslav Mokhov is open. A blue United Russia party flag covers a crack in a window. There are framed photos of the president, the region’s governor, and the district head on the wall. The Volsk coat of arms features a sleeping bear.

The ladies in the office next door chime in unison that the boss has left the village.

“He’s gone to Volsk. No, he’s gone to Shikhany.”

Pointing at each other, they argue about who should replace Mokhov when he is out of the office.

Mokhov hangs up on me twice, but then he arrives at the office anyway.

“Don’t you photograph me. I’m scared of everything. This thing can be spun the wrong way,” he says.

“That was the first unauthorized protest rally in the Volsk District ever,” he adds, lowering his voice.

P.S. The press’s attention to this story has been reflected in the surprising speed with which local law enforcement has reacted. While this issue was going to press, a criminal case was opened under Criminal Code Article 264 (“Violation of Traffic Rules”), and the Volsk District Court placed Alexander Letov under house arrest. Volsk District Deputy Prosecutor Andrei Shevchenko refused to comment on the case when asked by Novaya Gazeta.

Meanwhile, the Volsk District Court has begun hearing the matter of Lyudmila Lopasteyskaya’s alleged violation of Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code. The Tersans summoned to testify have told the court that what happened was not a protest rally, but a meeting of villagers concerned about the tragedy. The next court hearing in the case has been scheduled for August 9.

Thanks to Valentin Urusov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

LGBT Pride in Petersburg: Thirty Activists Detained

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Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
August 4, 2018

A LGBT pride event was scheduled today, but the authorities refused to permit it, and it was decided we should limit ourselves to solo pickets on Palace Square. The protest was scheduled for 12:34 p.m. It looks pretty (1,2,3,4), but the time is horribly early for me.

But I remembered the words of Alexei Sergeyev and forced myself to get up.

“I hope solidarity is not an empty phrase for you. Maybe we have been together at architectural preservation marches and the Marches for Peace. Or we came out to support the striking truckers and women’s reproductive rights, protested against the destruction of confiscated produce, against corruption, against torture by the FSB, and mourned the murdered Boris Nemtsov. Maybe this is your first picket holding a flag or card. Or you are coming just to support us, to be with us. All of it matters. Every person counts.”

Alexei and I wound up on the same bus. We were running a bit late.

38301108_1907384719314324_5175463354348601344_n

On Palace Square, we saw crowds of patriotically minded Petersburgers. Many had dressed in camouflage and adorned themselves with St. George’s Ribbons. It transpirted that today was a party for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and their owners.

Palace Square was completely cordoned off and chockablock with cops.

I got held up, and when I got to the square, Alexei Sergeyev had already been detained. Then Alek Naza (Alexei Nazarov) was detained: he had no placard, only a rainbow flag. Before that 28 more people had been detained. That is a total of 30 people detained for trying to hold solo pickets [which, according to Russian law, can be held without permission and without notifying authorities in advance]. There are minors among them. Some have been taken to the 74th Police Precinct (in particular, Alexander Khmelyov), while a third group is still being held in a paddy wagon, as far as I know.

Information from witnesses: “Six of the people detained on Palace Square were dropped off at the 69th Police Precinct at 30/3 Marshal Zhukov Avenue, including Yuri Gavrikov, Alexei Sergeyev, and Tanya (Era) Sichkaryova. One of the detainees is an underaged girl. We have refused to be fingerprinted and photographed.”

I was taking pictures with Yelena Grigorieva’s camera. I don’t have those photos yet. I’m using ones that have already been published on group pages and the social media pages of the protesters.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE. Please do not credit the accounts of this incident published by Gay Star News, Gay Tourism, and True Media. I sent the following letter to them a few minutes ago.

Your websites published a very sketchy summary of a post I published on my blog The Russian Reader earlier this evening.

Namely, you characterized the source of my post, Yevgenia Litvinova, as a “LGBTI activist.” She is no such thing. She is a well-known opposition journalist and pro-democracy (anti-Putin) activist, whose organization, Democratic Russia, feels it important to show solidarity with the LGBTI movement in Petersburg. 

Please correct or delete this baseless speculation on your part or I’ll expose your bad journalistic practices on social media and my blog.

My blog is a copyleft website, but no one has the right to rip what I translate and write out of context—a context I know well because I’ve lived in Petersburg for 25 years—and fit it into a fake context that makes more sense to your readers, who, apparently, cannot imagine a non-LGBTI person would or could show solidarity with the LGBTI movement.

83 Days

83 daysImage courtesy of Askold Kurov

Ukrainian filmmaker and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike in a prison in the far north of Russia for eighty-three (83) days. His only demand is that the Kremlin release the other sixty-four (64) Ukrainian political prisoners it has incarcerated on trumped-up charges in the wake of its illegal, unprovoked occupation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine. {TRR}

#SaveSentsov
#FreeOlegSentsov
#Free64

Do the Right Thing

38072215_2021826408147215_5307798211635707904_n.jpgFamous Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov picketing outside the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow on July 31, 2018. His placard reads, “Send Anya Pavlikova, 18, and Masha Dubovik, home immediately! #StopFSB.” Anna Pavlikova and Maria Dubovik are currently under in police custody in a remand prison, charged with involvement in a “terrorist community,” New Greatness, that by all accounts was concocted by undercover agents of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) as a means of entrapping the people who attended its political discussions, held, allegedly, in rooms rented by the FSB for the purpose and fastfood restaurants. The fact that two teenage girls are in jail, while four of the ten people charged in the case are under house arrest has outraged many people in Russia, as well as the torture-like treatment meted out to Ms. Pavlikova by the authorities. Photo courtesy of the Support Group for Suspects in the New Greatness Case, a public group on Facebook

My posts on the New Greatness case and related affairs:

_____________________________

Do you remember the controversy that erupted when Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was released in 1989? I do, as well as going to a rather heated showing of the film at a cinema in downtown Portland, Ore., at which moviegoers were evenly divided between frightened white liberals and screaming black kids. That was a hoot.

The funny thing is that, when I watched the movie again a year or two ago, I realized that, for all its tremendous performances and stunning cinematography, editing, and directing, the question that plagued Americans in 1989—namely, what was the right thing to do?—was answered quite plainly and simply by one of the main characters at the end of the film. He understood what the right thing to do was and he did it.

When it comes to the Putinist secret police whacking on people who did nothing wrong— people like Oleg Sentsov, Anna Pavlikova, and the eleven young men implicated in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case—there’s no controversy. If we don’t publicize their cases, discuss them aloud, make a fuss, make a lot of noise, show our solidarity, and encourage other people to do the same, they will die in the effort to get other political prisoners released (i.e., Oleg Sentsov) or be tried in kangaroo courts and sent to prisons for many years for thought crimes or no crimes at all (i.e., Anna Pavlikova, her fellow New Greatness suspects, and the eleven Network lads).

Is that you want? It’s not what I want. But I don’t hear many of you making much noise about it. What are you scared of? Looking stupid? So what, “being cool” is more important than doing the right thing? Or do you thinking doing the right thing should make you look cool? In reality, most of the time, doing the right thing either goes wholly unnoticed or makes you look stupid, as in Spike Lee’s film.

There are people, however, who almost always know what the right thing to do is and have learned the simple lesson that solidarity is a two-way street. One of those people is the famous Russian human rights defender Lev Ponomaryov. {TRR}

 

Network: Parents versus the FSB

Network: Parents of Anarchists versus the FSB
Alexei Polikhovich and Ksenia Sonnaya
OVD Info
July 30, 2018

Members of the Parents Network. Photo courtesy of OVD Info

Eleven antifascists from Penza and Petersburg have been charged in the case against the alleged “terrorist community” known as the Network. Many people have got used to news of the violence, threats, and electrical shock torture used against the suspects in the case, but the accused themselves and their loved ones will probably never grow inured to such things. The parents of the accused came together in a committee known as the Parents Network. They have been trying to do something to help their loved ons.

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claims the Network is an international organization. Aside from Penza and Petersburg, secret cells were, allegedly, established in Moscow and Belarus. Yet no one has been arrested either in Russia’s capital or abroad. Meanwhile, the Parents Network is definitely an international organization. Aside from Penza, Petersburg, Moscow, and Novosibirsk, the committee has members in Petropavlovsk, the city in Kazakhstan where Viktor Filinkov’s mother lives.

Members of the Parents Network have appeared at two press conferences, in April and May of this year. They have established a chatroom on Telegram where they discuss new developments in the case, exchange opinions, share impressions of hearings and interrogations, and give each other support. In addition, the parents try and force reactions from Russian government oversight and human rights bodies. They write letters to Russia’s human rights ombudsman and the Presidential Human Rights Council, and file complaints with the Investigative Committee and the Russian Bar Association.

OVD Info spoke with members of the Parents Network.

Tatyana Chernova, Andrei Chernov’s mother, shop clerk
All this kicked off in March at the next-to-last custody extension hearing in Penza.

I went to see Ilya Shakursky. I knew reporters and human rights advocates would be there. I just approached the people who had come to the hearing and asked for help. One of those people was Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the movement For Human Rights. He responded and proposed meeting in Moscow.

I didn’t know any human rights activists. I didn’t know where to go or to whom to turn, since I’d never dealt with this. When I’d discuss it with my daughter, she would scold me, telling me we had to wait or we might make things worse.

My husband and I went to see Lev Ponomaryov. We said we didn’t know what to do. We had a lawyer. Our lawyer did his job, while we, the parents, didn’t know how to help. We were told to take a pen and sign up, that the first thing to do was unite with all the other parents. I found their telephones numbers and gradually called all of them.

Andrei Chernov’s family

I couldn’t get hold of Lena Shakurskaya. I sent her an SMS, saying I’m so-and-so’s mom, I want to talk, if you want to talk, write. She called me right back. Everyone was probably waiting for it. We shared a misfortune, and it brought us together. Our first meeting was at Lev Ponomaryov’s office. Lena came to Moscow for the meeting. It was only there she heard the whole truth. Mikhail Grigoryan, Ilya’s former lawyer, had been telling her a different story. The Pchelintsevs met her. They told her what was going on. Lena was made sick by what she found out.

We try to have each other’s backs. The blows are such that it’s hard to take. Yes, I have friends. But I can call Sveta Pchelintseva or Lena Bogatova, say, knowing they’ll know where I’m coming from, because this is part of our personal lives.

Yelena Bogatova, Ilya Shakursky’s mother, shop clerk
We had a lawyer, Mikhail Grigoryan. He warned me against communicating with the relatives of the other lads. He said each of us had to defend their own son. Nothing good would come of fraternizing. I listened to him.

In March, I saw Andrei Chernov’s mom. Again, at Grigoryan’s insistence, I didn’t go up to her or chat with her. Later, I had doubts. I wanted to talk to someone. God was probably reading our minds: it was then Tatyana Chernova sent me an SMS. We got in touch on the phone. I went to Moscow without telling the lawyer. We met with human rights activists. We discussed how to talk about the kids.

It’s really rough when you’re on your own in these circumstances, but now we are together. You realized you’re not alone and our boys are not alone. What we do is mainly for them. We put on these t-shirts when we go to hearings so they can see we are fighting. We have gone to all the hearings together so they see we’re all together.

At first, I was a “cooperative” mom. I was friendly with the investigator. We would talk. He said unflattering things about the other parents. Grigoryan would ask me to meet with Ilya to “talk sense” into him. The investigator would talk to me, telling me that if I was a good mom, I would get the message through his head, that is, if we had a good relationship, as I had told him. Then I would get to see Ilya for ten minutes.

Yelena Bogatova and Ilya Shakursky

In February, when Ilya signed a statement saying he had not been tortured, his uncle and I persuaded him to sign the paper. We didn’t understand a thing, of course. Grigoryan said Ilya had to sign the paper. He said he was working for us and Ilya shouldn’t be obstinate, but should sign everything he asked him to sign.

Ilya stared at me.

“Mom, what are you doing?” he said. “I’m not guilty of anything.”

“Sign it or things will get worse for you, and I’ll have it worse. I won’t see you again,” I said to him.

I was selfish, drowning in my own grief. I pushed my son into doing it because I felt sorry for myself. The FSB used me. Yes, you can see him, but make him to sign this. Hold his hand.

It’s psychologically easier for me now. I feel strong inside. I have the confidence to keep going and try and rescue the boys from the paws of the FSB. I don’t have any friends per  se anymore. At first, they would call and ask about things, but then they would do it less and less often. I don’t know, maybe they’re afraid of the FSB. They’re afraid of calling me once too much because they know my phone is bugged.

On the other hand, I have a sense of how many friends Ilya has. I communicate with the Parents Committee and Ilya’s friends, who are not afraid of anything. We talk on the phone. They visit Ilya’s grandma and help. They water the garden and go to the store, just like Timur and his friends.

Natalya, Viktor Filinkov’s mom, businesswoman
It was like a bolt out of the blue. Viktor’s wife, Alexandra, wrote to me. I was ready to go see him that very minute, but I was told it would be better for me not to show up in Russia for the time being. I live in Petropavlovsk in northern Kazakhstan, which is not far from Omsk. It’s sixty kilometers to the Russian border.

Then I could not wait any longer. I said I was going to Petersburg, come what may. Everyone was surprised I was allowed to see him. I was the first parent allowed to see their child. But it was so little time. It was so hard to talk to him through the glass.

“Mom, I’ve been tortured,” he said.

I could see he had a scar. He told me to stay strong and be reasonable about what was happening.

Viktor Filinkov

I’d never been interested in politics. Now, though, I’m interested. I’m interested in Russian politics and Kazakhstani politics, and I read all the news straight through. I read about what incidents happened where, who was tortured where, who has been framed, who has been protected. I read everything about what’s happened to antifascists and anarchists everywhere.

I think about why I don’t live in Russia, in Petersburg. I cannot move right now. It’s complicated to do the paperwork, register as an immigrant, and get a temporary resident permit. The thing that causes me the most pain is the thought they could ban me from entering the country.

Nikolai Boyarshinov, Yuli Boyarshinov’s father, artist
It’s a terrible state, which everyone has been through, when you suddenly find out your son has been arrested, and the charges are so absurd. You have no idea at all what to do. It’s a wall against which you beat your head. You quite quickly realize you’re completely powerless.

I joined the Parents Network when it had quite a few members. I was completely crushed then. At first, I imagined it existed for its own sake, to keep from going insane. But then I noticed it got results. By then I had completely recovered from my initial state, so I did things, thought about things, and discussed things. Being involved in the Parents Network was my salvation.

We have a chat page on Telegram. In contrast to the Network, which the FSB concocted, we don’t hide the fact we have a Network. If you think our children organized a criminal Network, then our Network is probably criminal, too.

Our actions get few results, perhaps, but it is this way, bit by bit, that you build up the desire to do something to improve the conditions in which the boys are incarcerated.  Publicity was their salvation, after all. It’s not a matter of getting them released yet. We are still thinking about how to keep them alive.

That was how it happened with my son. I saw him at the first custody extension hearing, a month after his arrest. I saw what he looked liked when he arrived at the courthouse. He looked drab and battered. He had fresh bruises on his head. You could see that it couldn’t go on for long like that. His friends, thirty people or so, came to the next hearing. When he saw everyone, he was happy. A new phase began after that. It was clear that at least they wouldn’t kill him.


Yuli Boyarshinov in childhood

It was a turning point for me. When everything went public, it saved my son’s life. Yet now I’m afraid the publicity will die down and the boys will again be isolated, and the nightmare will recommence. That’s why I never turn down an interview.

I go out picketing on Fridays. I had doubts when the World Cup was underway. The first day I had the sense I was preventing people from enjoying themselves, but I decided to keep going out. Something unexpected happens each time. A young man came up to me and said he knew nothing about the Network. He walked away, apparently looked in the internet, and came back. I told him about the other boys.

“I don’t share those views,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter now whether you’re leftist or rightist,” I replied. “What matters is that you have views, and that is sufficient grounds to arrest you and charge you with a crime.”

The Parents Network is now like a family. We’ve agreed that when this travesty of justice is over, we will definitely have a reunion with everyone. Everyone has become family. Viktor’s mom lives in Kazakhstan, and his wife had to escape, so when I take care packages to Yuli, I take packages for Viktor, too. I really want to meet all the boys. I’m worried sick about all of them. My wife sometimes reads an article about Dima Pchelintsev or Viktor, and she cries. We feel like they’re our children.

Yelena Strigina, Arman Sagynbayev’s mother, chief accountant 
The first to get together were the people in Penza, the Pchelintsevs and the Chernovs. I joined along the way. The defense lawyers had to sign a nondisclosure agreement, so we had to go public with all our problems.

I live in Novosibirsk. We all stay in touch through a certain banned messenging site. When we were at the hearings in Penza, we made t-shirts emblazoned with the logo “Free [son’s surname].” It might look like a game to outsiders, but we have to stay afloat. It’s important to do something. And to publicize everything that happens.


Arman Sagynbayev and his niece. Screenshot from the website of the Best of Russia competition (left); photo of a billboard in Moscow (right)

Arman has a serious chronic illness. There was no point in torturing him. His first testimony was enough to send him down for ten years. He testified against himself more than he did against the others. He was extradited from Petersburg to Penza. Along the way, the men who were transporting him opened the doors when they were in the woods and dragged Arman out. They promised to bury him alive. That was at night. In the morning, he was taken to the investigator for questioning. When people are under that kind of pressure, they would say anything. I would say I’d attempted to invade Kazan and blow up chapels.


Arman Sagynbayev in childhood

I kept the story secret from friends and relatives. But after the film about the case on NTV, everyone called and started looking funny at me. The news even made it to the school that Arman’s little brother attends. Imagine: your brother is a terrorist. It was a good thing honest articles had been published at that point. I would send people links to them. Thanks to those articles, people read a different take on events, and we have been protected from a negative reaction from society.

Svetlana Pchelintsev, Dmitry Pchelintsev’s mother, cardiologist
The Parents Network has empowered us a hundredfold. By joining together, we are no longer each fighting for our own son, we are fighting for all the boys. We love kids we don’t know at all, kids who are complete strangers, as if they were our own kids. Our hearts ache for each of them. I think it’s wonderful. A whole team of parents fighting for all the boys. What can stop parents? Nothing can stop them.

What has happened is terrible. Whether we like or not, we have to go on living while also helping the children. So, when one mom has a moment of weakness, she can telephone another mom, who is feeling the opposite emotions. It’s vital when a person hears that support.


Dmitry Pchelintsev in childhood

Dmitry Pchelintsev, Dmitry Pchelintsev’s father, engineer
We are a committee of parents. What we do is support each other. We live in Moscow, but our son is jailed in Penza. The parents who live in Penza visit our son. Our kids, as it turns out, belong to all of us. We were in Penza and we gave all the children all their care packages at the same time. If we talk with the warden of the remand prison, we speak on behalf of all the kids.

This has helped us and helped our children. We get emotional support. It’s one thing when you sit alone in a closed room and don’t know what’s happening to your child. It’s another thing when all the parents meet and discuss everything. Tiny facts come together into a big picture, and you more or less understand what’s happening.

In my view, publicity is quite effective. This has been borne out by the actions of the case investigator, Tokarev. If it makes Tokarev uncomfortable, if it makes Tokarev angry, it’s a good thing. As he said, “You raised this ruckus in vain. They would have been in prison long ago.” So, what’s bad for him is good for me. I visited the offices of the Investigative Committee in Penza. They couldn’t believe it was possible the FSB would torture people in a remand prison.

Lena, Ilya Shakursky’s mom, said Tokarev always referred to us and the Chernovs as “uncooperative” parents. He complained that, if it weren’t for us, our kids would have been sentenced to two years each in prison and that would have been it. How can a person say such things? You put a man in jail for nothing, and then you sit and clap.

The FSB are Putin’s hellhounds. Putin loosened their leash a little, and they grabbed everyone they could before the presidential election and the World Cup. Now it’s all coming to an end, and he’ll again say, “Heel!” Let’s see where it leads. Perhaps the plug will be pulled, unfortunately.

All photos courtesy of the parents and relatives of the accused and OVD Info. Translated by the Russian Reader.

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What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about the Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find printable posters and flyers you can download. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandise, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You can find the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are examined by actual judges, the Russian government will again be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and republish the recent articles the Russian Reader has posted on these subjects.

Opinion Leaders Are Losers

The other day, I closed my Facebook accounts and pages, I hope for good.

Part of the reason I closed them was that a New York City writer whose books and opinions I admire greatly, and who has a huge following on Facebook, wrote a mean-spirited and divisive post on Facebook condemning “the Heartland,” meaning the middle part of the United States.

She labeled the place “heartless” and “dangerous” on the basis of her cursory perusal of an “interactive” map of the 2016 US presidential election results, published in the New York Times.

While the map she cited is certainly worth studying and full of surprises, I imagine the writer saw only red, literally and figuratively, and blew a fuse.

I doubted out loud, in the comments, whether the writer knew much about the “heartless, dangerous” Heartland. On the contrary, I know a great deal about it, since I was born and grew up there.

She did not respond to my petty, eminently ignorable objections nor did most of her thousands of self-satisfied, bien-pensant followers, certain that the “heartless, dangerous” (and completely imaginary) “Heartland” had irrevocably damaged their beautiful souls and beautiful lives in Clintonia.

But as reporter Issie Lapowsky and map expert Ken Field argue in an article published on July 26 by WIRED (“Is the US Leaning Red or Blue? It All Depends on Your Map”), there are maps, and then there are maps. For example, there is this map, devised by Mr. Field.

Dasymetric-Dot-Density-wKen Field, “Presidential election 2016: dasymetric dot density.” Courtesy of WIRED

To Field, there’s no such thing as a totally comprehensive map, but he says, “Some are more truthful than others.” The so-called dasymetric dot density map is one of them. The term “dasymetric” refers to a map that accounts for population density in a given area. Instead of filling an entire state or county with the color red or blue to indicate which party won, Field uses red and blue dots to represent every vote that was cast. On this particular map from 2016, there are roughly 135 million dots. Then, rather than distributing the dots evenly around a county, he distributes them proportionally according to where people actually live, based on the US government’s National Land Cover Database. That’s to avoid placing lots of dots in, say, the middle of a forest, and to account for dense population in cities.

Taken together, Field says, these methods offer a far more detailed illustration of voter turnout than, say, the map in Yingst’s tweet. That map uses different shades of red and blue to indicate whether candidates won by a wide or slim margin. But by completely coloring in all the counties, it gives counties where only a few hundred votes were cast the same visual weight as counties where hundreds of thousands of votes were cast. So, the map looks red. But on the dasymetric dot density map, it’s the blue that stands out, conveying the difference between the popular vote, which Clinton won, and the electoral college vote, which Trump won.

Why do I bring this sad business up on a website dealing with “news and views from the other Russias”?

Over the last several years, I have been fighting a similarly invidious myth about Russia and Russians. To wit, Vladimir Putin is incredibly popular, as conclusively shown, allegedly, by dicey “public opinion polls” and rigged elections, and his “base” is in the “Russian heartlands,” which are, apparently, just as “heartless” and “dangerous” and stupid as the US “Heartland,” and similarly prone to throw their electoral weight behind a tyrant, unlike, we are meant to imagine, the smart sets in Russia’s two capitals, Moscow and Petersburg.

I have been at great pains to show a discursive apparatus I have dubbed the “pollocracy” produces the results that both Putin’s quasi-fascist supporters and faux-liberal detractors need to cling to their respective security blankets. In the case of the so-called liberals, the security blanket consists in the notion that the world’s largest country is largely inhabited by woefully ignorant yahoos who have laid waste to any chance at building a democracy in the Motherland. As viewed by their opponents, the fake “patriots” in Putin’s camp, the same heartland yahoos are the country’s “pious,” “conservative” core and the source of the Putin’s ruling elite’s self-produced mandate to rule the country till kingdom come and particularly badly.

Seventy percent of why I do this website is to show that Russia actually consists of lots of other Russians and lots of other Russias that belie the dodgy “findings” of pollsters and the lazy clichés reproduced ad nauseam by Russian and international reporters, “Russia experts” (nearly all of them resident somewhere other than Russia), politicos, and spin doctors to prove a self-serving conclusion they arrived at long ago without bothering to find out whether it was true or not.

It’s not true. Just as it is emphatically not true the US “Heartland” is “heartless” and “dangerous.” Or maybe it and its mythical Russian counterpart, the “Russian heartlands,” are heartless and dangerous part of the time, but not all of the time and everywhere and on the part of every single woman, child, man, dog, and cat who live there. Nor, vice versa, are the alleged oases of high intellect and liberalism where pollsters, reporters, and opinion leaders (such as the well-known New York writer who, railing and trembling like the Prophet Jeremiah, condemned the place where I was born and grew up to the fires of hell) congregate, cities like New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Petersburg, utterly free of meanness, menace, vice, crime, bad governance, popular indifference, ignorance, and support for tyrants.

What does this have to do with abandoning Facebook? First, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to produce a quasi blog there that would complement and promote this website. Since I am nobody, however, more or less nobody was interested in what I wrote.

They did, however, hang on every word written by people like the New York writer, who, having achieved a modicum of fame, felt no compunction about compounding a rank prejudice about a huge part of her own country and all the people who live there.

So, I have found Facebook an incredibly dispiriting place to try get out my word, a word very few of my so-called friends, real and virtual, wanted to hear, much more wanted to share and spread with their own friends.

Second, the continuing crackdown on bloggers and social media users in Russia has meant that fewer and fewer Russians are willing to write anything interesting on Facebook and its Russian ripoff, VK. Judging by my own real friends, more and more of them have either been observing total radio silence or retreating into the little cubbyholes known as Telegram channels, where they are invisible and inaudible to all the world except their own clique. Since one important feature on this website has been translations of the pithy, thought-provoking things Russian activists and just plain Russians have posted publicly on Facebook and other social media, I was left staring at a once-overflowing well going drier by the minute.

Third, WordPress gives its bloggers some crude but decent tools to see where their readers are finding out about their blogs and blog posts. Over the last two years, as my readership here as continued to climb, the share of those readers who were turned onto my website or particular posts through Facebook has shrunk, meaning that my own friends, real and virtual, have been less likely to share my posts with their friends than complete strangers have been to look up Russia-related topics on the internet and find their way here.

So, rather than continue to pine for support from actually hostile liberal and leftist opinion leaders whose only interest in my Facebook posts and blog posts was to scavenge them for news and ideas they would instantly pass off as their own thoughts and finds without crediting me, I have decided to live without them in order to more fully embrace you, my anonymous, ever more numerous, faithful readers.

In any case, this website will continue to be promoted on Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, and Ello, as before, so it is not as if I am doing a disappearing act. I just wanted to stop pretending I had friends in places where I did not have them. {TRR}