Mikola Dziadok: A Tortured Political Prisoner in Belarus

Lawyer on Dziadok’s Condition: “Injuries from Handcuffs on the Hands, Huge Bruises on the Thighs and Back”
Viasna
November 19, 2020

Novy Chas journalist and blogger Mikola Dziadok was detained on November 12 in the village of Sosnovy in the Asipovichi District. In a video that was circulated by the Belarusian Interior Ministry, it is clear that Dziadok had been beaten. His lawyer, Natalya Matskevich, has announced that she has filed a motion to order a forensic medical examination in respect of Dziadok. Novy Chas contacted Matskevich to find out more about what is happening with Dziadok.

Mikola Dziadok, as seen in the notorious Belarusian Interior Ministry video published after his arrest

Where is Mikola now? What is his condition?

On November 17, Mikola was transferred from the temporary detention center on Okrestin Street to Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 1 on Volodarsky Street in Minsk. For the time being he is in quarantine. His physical condition can now be called normal, and emotionally he is also holding up well: he is cheerful. He says that he remains true to his beliefs and principles.

Did he tell you how he was detained?

Before his arrest, Mikola had rented an apartment in the village of Sosnovy for several months. He was not hiding from anyone, but he understood that in the current circumstances it was better for him not to be in Minsk, since for the past several years he had been closely watched by GUBOPiK [the Department for Organized Crime and Corruption Prevention], solely in connection with his [political] views and stance, which he expressed publicly. According to Mikola, on November 11, at about eleven in the evening, seven masked law enforcement officers broke into his second-floor apartment by breaking a window. After capturing him, they used physical violence and special equipment until they got him to “confess” on camera. Then they took him to Minsk, where they worked him over for several hours, demanding access to a computer disk and [his] Telegram channels. It was only after five in the morning that they took him to the temporary detention center.

What methods were used to make him talk? How forceful were they?

I will not go into details: I will be filing an appropriate procedural motion to this effect. I can say that I have had several clients who fled Chechnya after being tortured and were detained in Belarus for deportation. But I never thought that I would hear stories about such things happening in our own country.

As Mikola told me, a few hours after his arrest, when he was lying on the floor in one of the [law enforcement] departments, he was made to swear that he would not speak about GUBOPiK. Let’s say that happened. Moreover, we do not know yet the names of those who made the arrest. But on November 12, it was this department that reported on its actions in detaining Dziadok and [published] videos showing Mikola’s state after he was detained. Even a slightly experienced person will immediately notice traces of tear gas use at close range in the first video, and the second video clearly shows a hematoma around [Mikola’s] left eye. What else did I see in the temporary detention center? Injuries from handcuffs on his hands, and huge bruises on his thighs and back.

I think that, taking into account the fact that several law enforcement officers detained the unarmed Dziadok unexpectedly, the question of the proportionate use of force for the purpose of detention should not be considered at all. Rather, there should be a legal assessment of whether there was an abuse of power and legal authority.

All [of Mikola’s] visible injuries were documented, at least, when he entered the pre-trial detention center. Investigators have sufficient grounds for conducting an inquiry and deciding whether to initiate a criminal case [against the officers who detained Dziadok].

Do you expect such an investigation, given that there were thousands of allegations of violence against people by law enforcement officers in August of this year, but not a single criminal case was opened?

It’s hard to be sure of the results. Even in 2017, when after Mikola was detained on his way to a Freedom Day rally, he was taken to the emergency hospital with a concussion, which was absolute proof of the use of violence by the police, no criminal case was initiated. Then, after an official inquiry, the authorities issued an opinion that Mikola already had these injuries when he was detained. We appealed this decision both through the prosecutor’s office and in the courts, but to no avail. The case is currently under review by the UN Human Rights Committee.

As far as the current situation is concerned, the investigators are obliged to respond in an appropriate procedural manner. The international standard for investigating torture is a prompt, independent, objective and effective investigation, provided that the victim is protected from possible threats in connection with the investigation. The Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Belarus also contains these principles. So let’s see how principled the Investigative Committee will be in its actions.

What can you say about the “Molotov cocktails” and “cold weapons” that GUBOPiK allegedly found in Mikola’s apartment?

Are you referring to the bottles shown in the Interior Ministry’s video? How do they know what was in them? Who performed the expert analysis on the “cold weapons”? If you recall the notorious case of the White Legion, state TV channels then showed viewers a whole trunkload of bottles filled with liquids, and some knives, too. And where are they now? Mikola told me that he did not have these bottles. We should ask simple logical questions, taking into account that Dedok has not recently been involved in any marches and rallies, and has not called for violent actions. Why would he have needed “Molotov cocktails” in the village of Sosnovy? Would he have taken them by bus to Minsk?

Can you tell us what the charges against Dziadok are?

As of today, we only know what the Interior Ministry said in its communique. As long as there is no specific description of the criminal acts alleged to have been committed by Dziadok, there is no way I can comment on anything. From what was said in the Interior Ministry’s communique—”[he] actively administered a radical Telegram channel, where he publicly called for participation in mass riots”—we can conclude that he is being criminally prosecuted for making certain statements, for expressing a certain opinion. But I don’t think that any of Dziadok’s publications can be objectively assessed as calls for violent action.

You can write letters to Mikola Dziadok at SIZO-1, ul. Volodarskgo, 2, Minsk, 220030, Belarus.

Thanks to Comrade NN for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

New Wave of Police Terror in Minsk

Serge Kharytonau
Facebook
November 16, 2020

Following a major crackdown on civilians on Sunday afternoon, terrorist units of the Belarus “interior ministry” have been kidnapping civilians from residential housing in Minsk for 12+ hours in a row.

Masked interior ministry officers led by the so-called interior minister Ivan Kubrakov have been breaking into private apartments across Minsk since early afternoon with no search warrants, no explanations of their activity, and without identifying themselves or presenting their IDs.

Civilians are being kidnapped on no valid grounds from streets, stores, residential yards, building lobbies, and private apartments.

A de facto curfew with [riot police] checkpoints and passport control has been established across numerous residential areas in the Belarusian capital.

Over 1,100 civilians have been kidnapped or faced arbitrary arrests across Belarus in the last 24 hours, with hundreds subjected to torture in detention centers. Prisons in Minsk are overloaded: numerous convoys of riot police vans transported detainees from Minsk to smaller regional towns this weekend.

Over 100 days, Belarus has turned into a failed state of unprecedented human rights atrocities with no comparable precedents in the last 40 years of European history.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 25,000 people were detained in Belarus over the first 95 days of protests.

The situation in Belarus is turning into a real humanitarian catastrophe as doctors are being arrested on a large scale, with up to 1,900,000 cases of Covid-19 officially acknowledged by the acting authorities since March 2020 in a country of 9.5 million people.

Lukashenko’s regime has to be eliminated. All members of the Belarus interior ministry, military, and acting civil administration involved in the crackdowns must face justice at an International Criminal Tribunal for Belarus.

Thanks to Sasha Razor for the heads-up. Image courtesy of the author. The text has been edited lightly to make it more readable. || TRR

Dmitry Strotsev: 13.11.2020

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
November 13, 2020

*

bees are certain
said Tolstoy
that they are gathering honey for themselves

but in fact
they are pollinating the garden

Belarusians think
says Christ
that they are rallying their land

but in fact
they are healing the world

13.11.2020

“Let’s call it what it is: Roman Bondarenko was murdered.” Photo courtesy of BelarusFeed and TUT.BY

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
November 13, 2020

For Matches

going out
for matches

leaving the house
for any necessity

dress
carefully

pack as if
you might be gone for ten,
fifteen days

you never know
where terror’s claw
will grab you

the ever-watchful eye
can see you
everywhere

13.11.2020

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Murder of Roman Bondarenko

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
November 12, 2020

The Chorus of My People

it is not a public event

the unauthorized
supplications and groans of those tortured
by nkvd hoodlums
by kgb and mvd scum
in the torture chambers of police stations and prisons

it is not a public event

the death rattles
of those hanged in forest parks
buried alive
by the riffraff from the riot police

it is not a public event

it is my country’s ruptured womb
the chorus of my people’s birth trauma

September 10–18, 2020

Roman Bondarenko, who was beaten by men in plainclothes in Minsk, has died in intensive care
Current Time
November 12, 2020

On the evening of November 11, Bondarenko was seized by persons unknown dressed in plainclothes and masks in the courtyard of his house on so-called Change Square and taken away. Neighbors who got through to the Minsk central police department were told that Bondarenko had taken ill and was in hospital. At midnight, Bondarenko was taken to the emergency hospital in serious condition: he was in a coma.

TUT.BY reports that the doctors operated on Bondarenko for several hours: his chances of survival were estimated as one in a thousand. He was unconscious the entire time. He needed another operation, but it was impossible to perform it given his condition.

Bondarenko’s sister Olga Kucherenko told TUT.BY that someone came to the hospital and took all of her brother’s belongings. The family does not know who it was.

In the evening, Bondarenko’s condition deteriorated. He died soon after.

Kucherenko also told Radio Liberty’s Belarusian bureau that she doubted that her brother could have provoked someone into a fight.

“Roma did not provoke anyone: I know this for sure from the the witnesses, and not just one of them. Everything that happened to him happened after Change Square, I know that. I am recording this video so that a large number of people will know what is happening in this country, that people are absolutely defenseless. I very much hope that the law enforcement agencies will open a criminal case. Roma is a very calm person, he never got into any conflicts, even in family relationships. He was very calm and always saw the positive, humorous side of things. I very much hope that justice will prevail and those who did this to him will be punished by real law.”

After the news of Bondarenko’s death, concerned citizens gathered at Change Square. They brought flowers and candles.

Late in the evening on November 11 in the Minsk courtyard known as Change Square, persons unknown tried to remove white-red-and-white ribbons. Bondarenko went out to find out what was going on. People in plainclothes and balaclavas attacked him. A fight broke out. Bondarenko was captured and taken to the central police department. Two hours later, he was in a coma in the intensive care unit of the emergency hospital

The Interior Ministry called the incident a “neighborhood conflict” and a “conflict of opinion.” According to the ministry, “concerned citizens have been trying to restore order and prevent violations of municipal beautification rules.”

The Mingorispolkom police department reported that the security forces arrived on the scene after the brawl: allegedly, the police had received a report about persons unknown fighting in the courtyard on Chervyakov Street.

“Police officers found a 31-year-old citizen with injuries. Subsequently, law enforcement officers called him an ambulance. The man has been hospitalized,” they said.

However, the surveillance video clearly shows persons unknown dragging Bondarenko into a minibus and driving away.

Who Was Roman Bondarenko?
Roman Bondarenko lived on Chervyakov Street near Change Square. Periodically, he spent time with neighbors in the yard. He was an artist by education and had graduated from the Belarusian State Academy of Arts. Recently, he had been working as manager of a store in the Island of Cleanliness chain. He was married. He had served in special forces unit 3214 of the Interior Ministry troops, Belsat reports.

According to relatives, Bondarenko never had any problems with the police, and he did not attend protests or opposition marches.

“He told me that he knows what they can do to him if they detain him, because he served in the special forces,” Bondarenko’s sister told Nasha Niva.

Change Square in Minsk is the name for the courtyard formed by Smorgovsky Tract and Chervyakov Streets. Residents of the nearby residential buildings have created a very close-knit community: in the evenings, tea parties, concerts, and performances are held in the courtyard. For a long time, there was a mural entitled DJs of Change on the transformer vault, and white-red-and-white ribbons constantly hang on the fence. In September, local resident Stepan Latypov was detained there. He demanded that persons unknown who were erasing the mural identify themselves and show their documents. Since September 15, Latypov has been behind bars, accused of “organizing mass riots” and “intending to poison the security forces.”

Thanks to Sasha Razor for the heads-up and other assistance. Photo courtesy of RFE/RL. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Arrest and Framing of Mikola Dziadok

Tatsiana Chulitskaya
Facebook
November 12, 2020

My good friend and former student, the very honest person and true patriot Mikola Dziadok has been detained and beaten in Belarus. The video shows that he was severely beaten. There is no point in commenting on the fact that bundles of money were found in Mikola’s flat. Anyone who knows him at all understands what nonsense this is. And I’m even afraid to imagine what these inhumans did to make Mikola talk about “love for the Motherland” in such interiors. We can only hope that we will see Mikola released very soon.🤍❤️🤍

Belarusian Interior Ministry, “A Leader of the Country’s Anarchist Movement Has Been Detained”

Belarus on the Brain
Telegram
November 12, 2020

Reports of Blogger Mikola Dziadok’s Arrest Confirmed

Dziadok ran the increasingly popular Telegram channel Mikola, where he published political analyses of the situation in Belarus and gave his opinion on what should be done to security victory for the peaceful revolution. Now his channel has obviously been hacked and is in the hands of the security forces.

The purge of the Belarusian political blogosphere began in the summer with the arrest of bloggers Sergei Tikhanovsky (A Country for Living), Vladimir Tsyganovich (MozgON), Igor Losik (Belarus on the Brain), Brest blogger Alexander Kabanov, and others.

Dziadok was one of the few Belarusian political bloggers who did not leave the country. Now he is suspect of violating Article 342* of the criminal code of the Republic of Belarus.

* “The organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them, is punishable by a fine, or arrest, or restriction of liberty for up to three years, or imprisonment for the same term.”

________________

Thanks to Tatsiana Chulitskaya for permission to translate and post her message here, and to Sasha Razor for the heads-up and introductions. As soon as I have information about how you can show your support to Mikola  Dziadok, I will publish it here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Mikola Dziadok in happier times. Courtesy of his Facebook page

People and Nature: Labour Protests in Belarus (Rage Against the Machines)

Belarus: labour protest as part of political revolt
People and Nature
November 12, 2020

The popular revolt against the autocratic regime in Belarus and its thuggish security forces is now going into its fourth month. On Sunday, mass anti-government demonstrations were staged for the 13th week in a row – and more than 1000 people were arrested.

A first-class analysis of the relationship between the street demonstrations and the Belarusian workers’ movement was published last week in English, on the Rosa Luxemburg foundation site.

The article, by two researchers of labour movements, Volodymyr Artiukh and Denys Gorbach, compares the labour protests against the Belarussian regime, which they call “state capitalist”, with those in Ukraine, where private capital dominates.

In Belarus, the falsification of results in the presidential election in August first gave rise

Medical students demonstration in Vitebsk on 20 September. Polina Nitchenko is carrying the sign, which reads: “You can’t just wash away blood like that, I can tell you”. Photo: Ales Piletsky, TUT.By

to monster street demonstrations, and then to a wave of strikes, mass meetings and other workplace actions. (I published what information I could find herehere and here.)

This was not only “the most numerous, geographically diverse, and most sustained labour unrest” since 1991, Artiukh and Gorbach write, but also “the first large-scale labour protest to happen within the context of a broader political mobilisation”.

Three months on, the unrest has “gained a more individualised, sporadic and invisible form”, they argue. The workers’ acts of defiance “have been effective, but more on the symbolic level than in material terms”.

Workers “became an inspiration for the broader protesting masses” and were greeted on the streets with banners and chants – “a significant exception in the region, for in no other Eastern European country including Ukraine, have workers gained such symbolic prestige among society at large”.

Workers, Artiukh and Gorbach argue, derive their confidence from the streets, not from their workplaces where they suffer atomisation and strict management control.

Belarusian workers protest as citizens rather than workers. This is, however, an ambivalent process: the very experience of uniting and standing up to the bosses is vital for workers to overcome atomisation and gain organisational experience, but at the same time they have not yet learned to articulate politically their demands within a broader social agenda.

In fact work-related demands have been “only sporadically articulated”. Artiukh and Gorbach see a parallel with Poland and the Soviet Union in the 1980s: “political demands take precedence over bread-and-butter grievances”.

They discuss at length the post-Soviet history of “bureaucratic despotism in the workplace” that is now being challenged. Official unions act as an arm of state control; free and independent unions are small and weak.

In the near future, they expect that the opening-up of Belarus to Russian capital will impact workers.

On the one hand, it will increase the precariousness of workers’ living conditions: wages will not rise, enterprises will slowly be sold off to Russian capitalists, ‘optimised’ or closed. On the other hand, bureaucratic control over workplaces will also increase, while the state-affiliated trade unions will prove incapable of channelling workers’ discontent. This combination of workers’ newly gained politicisation and organisational experience, combined with a deteriorating economic situation, may spark new waves of labour unrest, perhaps more autonomous from larger political protests.

I hope readers will look at the whole article.

Now that Belarus has gone out of mainstream media headlines, it is hard to find insightful reports from the protest movement.

Judging by the Belarussian news site TUT.By, the focus of much anger this week are the Minsk police officers who on Sunday forced detainees to stand for several hours facing a wall in a police station courtyard.

Residents in flats overlooking the courtyard filmed the detainees in the afternoon, and again several hours later as night fell. The videos circulated on line, provoking outrage.

The police tactic of mass arrests and detention has led to a procession of court appearances against demonstrators. One that hit the news this week was Polina

Video, circulated on line, of detainees in a police station courtyard. They were forced to stand in this position for several hours

Nitchenko, who participated in a picket of the state medical university at Vitebsk singing protest songs. She was found guilty of participation in an unsanctioned demonstration and fined; she intends to appeal.

Medical staff and students played a prominent role in the early weeks of the movement by speaking out against the savage injuries inflicted by police thugs on demonstrators. And they have not gone quiet.

The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Natalya Kochanova, said last week that there would be “no dialogue on the streets” with protesting medical staff.

Nikita Solovei, a doctor and adviser to the Minsk health authorities, shot back in a facebook post that health workers had finished with being treated like “slaves” by officials. He denounced the “unlimited violence of the security forces against peaceful citizens”, the “imitation elections”, official “lying” about the coronavirus epidemic and repressive measures against medical staff and students alike.

As for there being no dialogue on the streets, he concluded, the dialogue “would be where the people of Belarus want it to be”.

The political strike at the Belaruskalii potash fertiliser plant, which People & Nature reported in August, led to the detention of strike committee members.

Anatoly Bokun, the committee chairman, was released last month after 55 days’ imprisonment. Sergei Cherkasov, a strike committee member and vice president of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union, was released last week along with Yuri Korzun and Pavel Puchenya: they all served 45 days. The union reported that they are all at home and in good spirits.

The federation is hoping to expand its international contacts: if you are in a union, please get in touch. Another support network, Bysol, set up by Belarusians working outside the country, conveys financial support to victims of repression. GL, 12 November 2020.

Belaruskalii strike committee members Yuri Korzun, Sergei Cherkasov and Pavel Puchenya after their release. Photo: BITU

________________________________________________________________________________________

Gabriel Levy
Facebook
November 11, 2020

Rage against the machines

Plenty of lies on facebook. Donald Trump’s lying page is working fine. And Breitbart News’s. And Fox news presenter Tucker Carlson’s. And Trump’s former press secretary’s Kayleigh McEnany’s. And Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon’s (although, to be fair, facebook has stopped him adding posts, after he called for the execution of Anthony Fauci, the White House medical science adviser).

But facebook has blocked anyone from posting links to peoplenature[dot]org, my humble web site where I write about socialism, ecology, the labour movement in eastern European countries and stuff like that.

It’s certainly a computer that decided to block me (for “breaching community standards”. As if). I’ve complained to the computer. And the computer may eventually notice its mistake. Or not …

So if you usually follow peoplenature[dot]org on facebook – as many of you lovely people do – please let’s use alternatives:

■ Join the whatsapp group to get updates. https://chat.whatsapp.com/FLJtISmn1ew9Bg2ZcR5fDl

■ Follow @peoplenature on twitter. https://twitter.com/peoplenature

■ Drop an email to peoplenature[at]yahoo.com, and get updates that way.

And please circulate this message to friends. Thanks for your support.

Keep raging against the machines!

Grassroots

The English term “grassroots” is often used around the world to denote local civic activism.

The documentary film Grassroots explores three landmark environmental struggle—the fight to save the Suna Forest in Karelia, the ongoing work of EcoWatch in Krasnodar Territory, and the fight to save the Khopyor River in Voronezh Region—using them as a springboard for trying to answer the main questions facing environmental activists in our country today.

In the film, we hear the voices of many environmental activists and listen to the opinions of the most experienced of them, including Yevgeny Vitishko, Andrei Rudomakha, Konstantin Rubakhin, Suren Gazaryan, Yevgeniya Chirikova, Tatyana Chestina, and Grigory Kuksin.

Some of these extraordinary activists have been forced into exile, while others have done serious prison time.

What does it cost to defend our forests, parks, and cities? Who is up to the task?

Director: Konstantin Davydkin
Producer: Maria Muskevich
2018, 58 min., Russia; in Russian with no subtitles
Production: Regista Studio / Make a Movie Production Center

Annotation translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for encouraging me to watch the movie.

Number Seventeen

The Belomor Canal Administrative building in Medvezhyegorsk, Russia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Medvezhyegorsk Resident Suspected of “Condoning Terrorism” over Posts on VK Group Page
OVD Info
October 31, 2020

Yevgeny Gavrilov, a resident of Medvezhyegorsk and the admin of the public page Cocktail on the social network VK, is suspected of “condoning terrorism” (punishable under Part 2 of Article 205.2 of the criminal code) over posts about the bombing at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices [on October 31, 2018]. Gavrilov informed OVD Info about the case himself.

The criminal case was launched due to two posts about Mikhail Zhlobitsky’s suicide bombing of the Arkhangelsk offices of FSB, as published on the group page Cocktail (Kokteil’). In the first post, dated November 2, 2018, the author, identified as Yarey Tengri, argues that “Russia can look forward to People’s Will-style underground terrorism.” The second post is an attempt by the Telegram channel Awakening (Probuzhdenie) to analyze Zhlobitsky’s actions.

Gavrilov has no idea why these posts were classified as “condoning terrorism.”

“I’m not an expert. Apparently, they didn’t like something about them. They could have asked VK to delete them, and then launched criminal cases,” he said.

According to Gavrilov, the security forces searched his home, seizing all his computer equipment and devices. He is free on his own recognizance. He is a suspect in the criminal investigation.

“At first, in 2017, Cocktail was conceived as a humor project,” says Gavrilov about his group page. “Then, a year later, as there was nothing for people to eat, [contributors] started writing to me: ‘Let’s slowly switch [the page’s agenda] more to politics. Living on an empty stomach is not funny.’ We shifted to politics and the economy, and then to a focus on the news. Now, probably, we will refrain from all this, but we are not closing the group yet.”

____________

Yevgeny Gavrilov is the seventeenth person in Russia who has been investigated or prosecuted for, allegedly, “exonerating” or “condoning” the apparent suicide bombing by Mikhail Zhlobitsky on October 31, 2018. The others are Sergei Arbuzov, Alexander MerkulovAlexei ShibanovSvetlana ProkopyevaNadezhda BelovaLyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

“The FSB Are the Main Terrorists”: The Political Biography of Ivan Astashin

Ivan Astashin in prison. Photo by Maxim Pivovarov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

“The FSB Are the Main Terrorists”: The Political Biography of Ivan Astashin
Dmitry Volchek
Radio Svoboda
October 3, 2020

On the night of December 20, 2009, the eve of State Security Officers Day, a group of young people threw a Molotov cocktail into the FSB’s offices in Moscow’s Southwest District. No one was injured, and the room was slightly damaged: a windowsill and several chairs were burned. A video of the protest soon appeared on the internet, entitled “Happy Chekists Day, Bastards!” The author of the video was 17-year-old Ivan Astashin.

The arson sparked a large-scale, trumped-up criminal case against the so-called Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization (ABTO), which was headed, according to investigators, by Astashin. Initially, the alleged members of ABTO were charged with property damage, but soon they were also accused of disorderly conduct. The Investigative Committee later decided that the defendants in the case had wanted to impact state policy, so they should be tried for “terrorism”(as punishable under Article 205 of the criminal code). They were tortured into confessing.

Ten young people were involved in the ABTO Case. In 2012, they were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. Astashin received the longest sentence—13 years in a high-security penal colony, which was later reduced to 9 years and 9 months. Astashin was first sent to Krasnoyarsk Correctional Colony No. 17, but in 2014 he was transferred to Norilsk Correctional Colony No. 15. Lawyers and human rights activists argued that the case was political, pointing out that ABTO did not exist, and the members of the alleged “terrorist organization” did not even know each other.

“In Ivan’s case, the FSB took revenge on teenagers who dared to throw a bottle of petrol through their window. The case was a bellwether. It showed how the security forces had degenerated: why should they stake out real criminals and document their every move, if they could torture children until they lose consciousness, forcing them to sign a horseshit ‘confession’ that will then be called ‘evidence’ in the verdict?” said lawyer Igor Popovsky, who argued Astashin’s case before the Russian Supreme Court.

In recent years, Astashin has become known as an op-ed writer, penning articles about prison mores. On September 1, 2019, Radio Svoboda published his letter “Breaking Convicts Under the Law’s Cover,” which detailed the injustices at Krasnoyarsk CC 17, about the differences among castes of prisoners, their collaboration with wardens, and the psychological coercion employed on prisoners by correctional officers. We soon received a response from the penal colony’s wardens that Astashin had not written the letter and that no violations of the law were permitted in the colony. Although we knew that the letter had been written by Astashin, we took down the article, fearing for his safety.

On September 21, 2020, Astashin completed his sentence and was released. He is currently working on a book about his prison experience. He told Radio Svoboda about what happened to him on the outside and in prison.

Your comrade Alexei Makarov said that he became a revolutionary when he was 15 years old. When did you get interested in politics?

When I was about 14 years old. And it all started with a nationalist agenda. There were violent clashes between [ethnic] Russians and Caucasians in Kondopoga [in 2006]. I looked for information and in early 2007 I joined the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI).

When they called you a nationalist in court, were they right?

At first I was a nationalist, then my views expanded. I left DPNI and in 2009 joined The Other Russia coalition, which at that time was led by Eduard Limonov, Mikhail Kasyanov, and Garry Kasparov, and it included nationalists, liberals, communists, and anyone else you can think of. In the same year, 2009, I visited Ukraine, where I got acquainted with the movement of autonomous nationalists, and I thought that we should do something like it. At that time, there was a split in The Other Russia coalition, everything there came to a grinding halt. My radicalization occurred because there were no people organizing above ground. Then there was the movement of autonomists in Russia, both nationalists and left-wing anarchists. Direct action against the police began: police departments and police cars were torched. I also thought that we should do something like this. At that time, I felt like a revolutionary. I was 17 years old, and we decided to hold a protest action against the FSB.

You made a video of the action. It is still accessible on the internet, and there is a slogan “Russian action.” So, this was a nationalist protest?

Yes.

Do you regret it or recall it with pleasure?

Neither one nor the other. I don’t regret anything: what’s done is done. At the same time, I now believe that it was ineffective: the protest’s efficiency rating was negative. We had wanted to draw attention to the dictatorship of the Chekists, but [the video had] ten thousand views, which is a drop in the ocean. It did not spark a public discussion, it was all a big waste of time. Meanwhile, the people involved in the protest received long prison sentences. Of course, these were ineffective actions.

You were also accused of trying to blow up a Lexus. Whose car was it?

That was a stupid story. As a chemist, I experimented, I was interested in pyrotechnic devices and explosives. I built this thing and decided to test it. I found a Lexus: I thought it was probably insured. That’s another social subtext.

Attack the rich?

Yeah.

The investigators claimed that you were the leader of an organization that consisted of about ten people. Who were these people?

Guys I knew, but not all of them. They also carried out direct actions: seven arson attacks. The only thing we had in common was that we were acquainted. We were tortured into confessing that we had collaborated. If you read the verdict carefully, there are many inconsistencies. They write that the guys saw a police department and decided to torch it. But why do they then write that I was in charge of the action? Nevertheless, we were tried as an organized criminal group: everything those guys did I was charged with as well, and I was convicted as the organizer.

But did you know of ABTO’s existence? And did the organization even exist?

It was during the investigation that I found out that I was the head of the organization. And I saw the videos that they posted on the internet. Neither they nor we had any organization. The person who posted the videos just decided that it would be more interesting if he wrote that it was some kind of organization. It was four people going round setting fires.

Are the Network and New Greatness cases similar to what happened in the ABTO Case, or have the methods of the Chekists changed over the last ten years?

They are very similar, only worse. We were arrested for real actions. There was no terrorism in our case, but there were actions: they can be qualified as property damage or disorderly conduct. In the Network and New Greatness cases, there were no actions at all, that is, they were tried simply for belonging to mythical organizations. The laws that are now used to judge the defendants in those cases simply did not exist in our time. If we were tried now, we would probably be given twenty years in prison. All those articles [in the criminal code] are getting tougher and tougher, and the cases are now tried by special military courts. In addition, now there is the Rosfinmonitoring list [a financial stop list of “extremists” and “terrorists”], plus probation until your conviction has been expunged from your record. It’s easier for [the security services] to work in this way, because they don’t have to wait for someone to set something on fire, they can just take some guys who behave the wrong way, talk about the wrong things, or look the wrong way, and whip up a nice terrorism case, and get awards and promotions.

Ivan Astashin and comrades holding a rally on Chekists Day, on December 20, 2009, on Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow. Their banner reads, “The FSB are enemies of the people.” Courtesy of Ivan Astashin and RFE/RL

I read the article in which you write that the FSB are the only terrorists in Russia.

Yes, I wrote that, because terrorism is defined in the criminal code as various actions (not necessarily explosions and arson) intended to frighten and intimidate the populace. And who is intimidating the populace now, other than the FSB? We have other security services, but they are also dependent on the FSB. You know, when I carried out the action against the FSB, I really didn’t fully understand what kind of an organization it was. I understood that they had a lot of power, that the country was actually a Chekist dictatorship, but I had no idea how big it was. Even ordinary cops shake in their boots when FSBniks show up. The doors to all government institutions are open to the Chekists. All civil servants, judges, and MPs obey them unquestioningly. That’s why I called the FSB the main terrorists.

Did FSB officers visit you in the prison camp and threaten you?

Yes, that was in 2015. As usual, they did not introduce themselves, but only mentioned that they had flow in from Moscow: I was serving my sentence in Norilsk at the time. They were interested in what I was going to do after my release. I said that there were five more years until the end of my sentence, and I didn’t know yet what I would do after my release. They told me something to the effect that I shouldn’t get it into my head to engage in any political activity. Not that they directly threatened me, but they mentioned that even if I went abroad and mad trouble for them there, they would still get to me.

How did ordinary prisoners perceive you? As a hero or as a weirdo whose motives were impossible to understand?

Differently. There really were convicts who would say, Well done, cool, they need to be burned. There were also who thought it was odd: you’ve been sent down for ten years, what was the point?

Drawing by Stanislav Tanichev. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You said in an interview that you saw all of Russia in the Siberian prison camps. What have you learned about Russia? Is it ready for the revolution you dreamed of?

Many people living in Moscow have no idea what is happening beyond the Moscow Ring Road, how people survive on a salary of 5-10 thousand rubles [a month; meaning between 55 and 110 euros, approximately]. They often live on the outside according to the same concepts as they do in prison. As for whether they are ready for revolution, that is a difficult question. Many people just can’t imagine that things could be different. There is the famous question: who [will be president], if not Putin? Indeed, many people have this notion in their heads.

Did you meet Putin fans even in the camps?

Yes.

Were they outliers or were there many of them?

The ardent Putin supporters were outliers, of course, but I would often hear people say that Putin was doing a great job: he’d lifted up the economy, whereas in the nineties there had been nothing to eat at all. But now the situation is moving away from Putin. Meaning that, whereas in 2014 everyone got behind “Crimea is ours” and Novorossiya, and sometimes a couple of prisoners would argue with several dozen [Putin supporters], but now they mostly chew out Putin’s policies.

Even in the Siberian camps in 2014, there was a patriotic upsurge and people were happy about the annexation of the Crimea?

Yes, but then the situation changed, and the whole upsurge fizzled out.

Last year, we published your letter about the situation at the Krasnoyarsk colony, and then the wardens demanded that it be removed: allegedly, you were not the author. We took it down so you wouldn’t get hurt. What happened to you then?

It was unexpected. It is clear that if you are institutionalized and you write something negative about the institution, then, of course, there will be a reaction. I was in Norilsk, describing the general practices that had developed in the prison system, and I mentioned the Krasnoyarsk camp as an example. And they got so upset! They made threats, very clear threats. In Krasnoyarsk Territory, there is Remand Prison No. 1, known for its torture cells. There is a regional tuberculosis hospital where convicts are absolutely illegally injected with the strongest psychotropic drugs. And when I was summoned for a chat about the matter by the head of the prevention and enforcement department [of the penal colony], he made it clear what could happen to me in the future. I know such stories about how a person wrote complaints about the wardens, and then he was taken to these places of torture, and then the person recanted his testimony while being videotaped. I knew that something similar could be done to me. I had to write the document that your editors received. Of course, when I wrote it, I really hoped that they would understand the situation.

Of course, we understood, but we were afraid for your safety and took down the article.

I was hoping they wouldn’t remove it. Both there and through the convicts, they tried to get to me, and for some time the email server was disabled, and the warden, when he went on rounds, made it clear that it was all because of me. Then I found out that I was to be transferred. Initially, there was information that I would be taken to that hospital in Krasnoyarsk. I had already been given to understand via the convicts that they could take me through the torture remand prisons there. Consequently, everything followed a completely different scenario: I was transferred to CC 17, which I had just been writing about. I was transported without any untoward happening to me. I arrived at the transit and transfer prison, and everything was cool: not a word was said about the situation. I was there for four days before arriving at CC 17, where the deputy warden said to me on my first day, “I know why you have been brought here. I don’t care about that article. Let’s put it this way: you are now going to quietly finish out your sentence, and you’re not going to create problems for me, and I’m not going to create problems for you.”

Did your other articles about life in the prison zones go unnoticed?

The others were also noticed, but there was a fairly calm reaction to them. At one time, there was a special field officer in charge of working with “extremists” and “terrorists,” and he sometimes called me in to say he’d read my articles.

I’m sure you met other prisoners convicted on similar charges.

Yes, there a lot of people convicted in high-profile cases in Krasnoyarsk and Norilsk. When I arrived at CC 15 in Norilsk, there were quite a lot of people who had been convicted under Article 205, but mostly they were people who had been involved in the fighting in the North Caucasus. When you read their verdicts you find mentions of [Chechen rebel commanders] Maskhadov, Khattab, and Shamil. And when I was transferred to CC 17 in Krasnoyarsk a year ago, I also saw quite a lot of people who had been involved in combat or attacks on security forces in the North Caucasus over the years.

Drawing by Stanislav Tanichev. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You rubbed shoulders in the camps with people of different ethnic groups living in Russia. Have you reconsidered the beliefs that moved you to become a revolutionary at the age of seventeen?

Yes, my views have changed. When I joined DPNI, I saw migrants as the problem, but over time I began to see the state as the problem. Migrants are not to blame for anything: they come here out of desperation, because their home countries are even worse than here, just as many people are leaving Russia for Europe now. In other words, these processes are quite natural. People of different ethnic groups and faiths can easily get along with each other. We just need competent policy to avoid conflicts. All this xenophobia is largely groundless. While I was on the inside, I read Robert Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, which examines why people are often biased against those who belong to a different race or ethnic group. If you get to the root of the problem, there is no reason for it. We need to think about what unites us, not what divides us.

I noticed in your interview with the BBC a reference to Vladimir Sorokin. Did you find something in common in what he describes with what you saw in the camps?

Yes, I love Vladimir Sorokin. One of the things that clicked with me was the idea of the new Middle Ages, as described in his novel Tellurium. I can say for sure that the Russian penitentiary system is the new Middle Ages. Here, in each region, there is a special way of life, which is shaped both by prison officials and prisoners, despite the fact that the law seems to be the same, and the codes prisoners live by is the same everywhere. In some places, prisoners live free and easy, while in others the wardens set up a totalitarian regime in the camps through beatings and torture, as, for example, was the case in Omsk before the riot there in 2018. In yet other places, the wardens and the pseudo-kingpins from among the convicts converge. There are unwritten rules, procedures, and forms of interaction everywhere. It really is the new Middle Ages.

Ivan Astashin with the artist Stanislav Tanichev, who illustrated his articles. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You have now been released, but you remain under probation?

Yes. The law on probation was adopted in 2011. I was arrested in 2010, but in 2017, changes were made to the law such that all those convicted of terrorist charges must be placed on probation until their criminal record is expunged, which in my case is eight years. No one cares about you behaved in prison. Whereas earlier, repeat offenders and those who were deemed repeat violators of prison rules were put on probation, now everyone convicted on terrorist charges is put on probation, too. No one cares that I went to prison long before the law was passed. Logically, according to the Russian Constitution and international norms, the law should not apply to me. However, it applies not only to me, but also to other people in this situation. Restrictions are imposed on us: we have to check in at a police department between one to four times a month. (I’m required to check in twice a month.) You cannot leave your home between ten at night and six in the morning. I have filed an appeal against my probation and plan to bring the case to the European Court of Human Rights, as I believe that this practice violates the European Convention on Human Rights. A complaint on similar grounds, filed by one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case, Sergei Udaltsov, has already been communicated to the European Court of Human Rights.

You don’t want to leave Russia?

I don’t. Everything is bad in Russia nowadays, but there are a lot of areas where you can do something and change things for the better. Nor am I talking about politics in the literal sense. For example, there is human rights advocacy. In any case, no matter what the circumstances, no matter where I am, I will still do something to change society for the better.

• • • • •

This translation is dedicated to Vladimir Akimenkov, a former Russian political prisoner and prisoner rights activist who over the years persuaded me to pay attention to Ivan Astashin’s remarkable story. If you have the means and the opportunity, please consider donating to Vladimir’s fund for Russian political prisoners. You will find the details below. || TRR

Ivan Astashin and Vladimir Akimenkov, October 11, 2020, Moscow. Courtesy of Vladimir Akimenkov’s Facebook page

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
June 7, 2020

My Annual Birthday Fundraising Event for Political Prisoners

On June 10, it will be eight years since I was arrested as part of the Bolotnaya Square Case. Every year on this date I hold a fundraiser in support of the political prisoners with whom I am currently working.

Every year we meet live on my birthday to help political prisoners. This year, for obvious reasons, we will not be able to meet on June 10. We will definitely do this later, when we can get together without the obvious threat of getting sick. (The live fundraising event will be announced later, via a separate post and an update to this post.)

In the meantime, I am launching a remote fundraising event. In recent years, we have managed to find over 16.8 million rubles [approx. 186,000 euros] for people who have been politically repressed. Please chip in. We need to raise a lot of money. I don’t want to be broken record, but such are realities of Russian society.

Bank details:

— Yandex Money: https://money.yandex.ru/to/410012642526680

— Sberbank Visa Card: 4276 3801 0623 4433, Vladimir Georgievich Akimenkov

Bank details for ruble transfer:

Correspondence account 30101810400000000225
Bank BIC 044525225
Recipient’s account 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s Individual Tax Number 7707083893
Recipient’s full name AKIMENKOV VLADIMIR GEORGIEVICH

Bank details for foreign currency transfers:

SWIFT Code SABRRUMM
Recipient’s account 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s full name AKIMENKOV VLADIMIR GEORGIEVICH

You can send funds from one foreign currency account to another via the Western Union website.

If you send me a personal message, I can send you a final report on the funds collected.

Please share information about the fundraiser on different venues.

I’m worried about this fundraiser. But I believe in people.

Thanks.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“The Network Case Is Russia’s Disgrace”

Natalia Sivohina
Facebook
October 18, 2020

“The Network Case is Russia’s disgrace.” Photo of Natalia Sivohina courtesy of her Facebook page

One of the most vile criminal cases in our country turned three years old today. Although it is far from the only such case, it has been very revealing. I remember the desperate social media posts by the young ladies from the [Petersburg] Public Monitoring Commission, Yana Teplitskaya and Katya Kosarevskaya, when the relatives and the lawyers looked for the first people interrogated as part of the case. FSB “investigators” communicated with them using stun guns.

Then there were the mendacious TV broadcasts by propagandists, numerous letters in support of the guys, and the rivers of sleaze in “bespoke” articles and posts. And there were the huge sentences [for all of the defendants] and tuberculosis for two of them—for conversations, for idiotic videos, for confessions obtained under duress, which the young men, yesterday’s children, recanted in the courtroom. The appeals hearing for the Penza defendants is currently underway. Now everybody knows the names and faces of the nighttime torturers and the scum who concocted this case in broad daylight. I really hope to live to see the trial at which those fraudsters will get what they have coming to them. And to see the guys released and testify against them.

Dear universe or whatever your name is, please make it happen sooner rather than later.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the Network Case (see the list, below), and go to Rupression.com to find out how you can show your solidarity with the defendants in the case.

#NetworkCase