Viktor Filinkov: The Big Picture

Viktor Filinkov, political prisoner: “An idealist who takes on responsibility for the big picture”
People and Nature
July 4, 2020

While Black Lives Matter demonstrators fill the streets of cities around the world, opening a new chapter in the history of anti-racist and anti-fascist struggle, the Russian anti-fascists Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov are starting long jail sentences.

A St Petersburg court sentenced Filinkov to seven years, and Boyarshinov to five-and-a-half, on 22 June, on trumped-up charges of involvement in a “terrorist grouping” – the “Network”. In February, seven other defendants were jailed by a court in Penza for between six and 18 years, and last year another in St Petersburg for three-and-a-half years.

Detailed evidence that the “Network” case defendants were subjected to horrific tortures after their arrest has been published and submitted to state bodies. President Vladimir Putin last year cynically promised to look into it. Nevertheless, the defendants have been railroaded to penal colonies.

This portrait of Viktor Filinkov – who refused to admit guilt and received one of the heaviest sentences – is by Yevgeny Antonov. It was first published in Russian by the Petersburg news outlet Bumaga.

photo-2020-06-22-11-54-45
Viktor Filinkov in court. Photo by David Frenkel, Mediazona

On Monday 22 June, the 2nd Western District Military Court [in St Petersburg] announced the sentences on the Petersburg defendants in the “Network” case, Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov. They were found guilty of involvement in a terrorist grouping (article 205.4, part 2 of the criminal code). Filinkov was sentenced to seven years in a penal colony (standard regime). Boyarshinov got five and a half years (Yuli was also convicted of the illegal possession of explosive materials (article 222.1, part 1)).

Four days before the sentencing, Filinkov addressed the court. The 25-year old computer programmer set out the inconsistencies in the prosecutor’s case, and used diagrams to show why the PGP [Pretty Good Privacy encryption] programme would not be used by a conspiratorial terrorist group, as the prosecution had claimed.

In his closing statement, Filinkov stated that the internal affairs ministry, the prosecutor, the federal prison service, the Investigative Committee, the federal security service [FSB], the court and the legislature had worked in bad faith. He accused them of obeying orders unquestioningly and of being unwilling to investigate the case.

“The nine-year sentence that the prosecutor has asked for seems like some sort of indication of respect for everything that I have done”, Filinkov said. “All of them have disgraced themselves. I don’t know what the solution to this situation is.”

755296506252927Viktor Filinkov at work. Photo courtesy of Rupression

Viktor Filinkov was born in Petropavlovsk, in Kazakhstan. His mother worked in a jeweller’s shop; his father, who worked installing medical equipment, died when Viktor was 11; and his elder sister lived away from home.

“We waited so long for Viktor. And when he was born, he grew up loved and cared for, by grandparents, by his aunts and uncles, and by us”, Natalia Filinkova, Viktor’s mother, told Bumaga. “He hardly knew the word ‘no’. He was a good, kind child, very honest, strong-willed. Right from when he went to nursery, if he didn’t like something, he would say so straight out. He would tell anyone, to their face, what he thought. I used to ask him, ‘why so direct?’ and he would answer ‘because it’s true!’.”

According to Natalia, electronics caught her son’s imagination when he was still a child. At six, he used his sister’s computer to read up about it. At ten, he would put together robots. As a teenager, he learned programming and won computer competitions. In court, Filinkov’s colleagues from the IT company where he worked confirmed his remarkable skills as a programmer.

“He hadn’t yet started going to school, when he told me, when I grow up I’ll be professor, earn lots and lots of money and buy KAMAZ [the truck construction company], so that it can make lots of money too. He obviously thought professors are high earners”, Natalia joked.

After Viktor’s father’s death, the family had to spend less, and moved to a smaller flat, but was still free of serious financial problems. Viktor’s wife, Aleksandra Aksenova, said that he described his childhood as difficult. “He saw how his mum and his sister kept their noses to the grindstone. But still, they had no money for meal time treats. I well remember how Viktor said that, when he was a child, butter was a real treat. It was not starvation, but it was definitely poverty.”

Viktor is described as a sociable person, with dozens of friends, who loves social gatherings. According to his mother, he was a voracious reader as a teenager – of technical books from school in particular. And he would sit on the internet and play computer games.

Aleksandra Aksenova says that Viktor mentioned to her his dislike of the education system in Kazakhstan, and his frequent arguments with his school teachers. “One thing that’s striking about Viktor is that he loves a good argument. Once he has worked out his position, he is very good at defending it. But also, if it turns out he is wrong, he’s not afraid to say so.

“Although he didn’t like the way the school system worked, he was anything but stupid. With STEM subjects he was in his element. And he argued with his teachers, often because he knew more than they did.”

Viktor himself says that, as he got older, he wore his hair long, on account of which the school management “tried to put pressure on him”. Around this time, Filinkov’s anti-fascist and anarchist views took shape.

annotaciya-2020-06-22-111158Viktor Filinkov (third from left) with schoolmates in Kazakhstan. Photo courtesy of Mediazona

“At some point when Vitya was in the 9th year [i.e. at 15], he said that he had become keen on anarchism”, Natalia Filinkova remembers. “Surely he read about it on the internet, there was plenty

Viktor Filinkov (third from left) as a school pupil. Photo: zona.media

written there. This was shortly after [the lawyer, Stanislav] Markelov and [the journalist Anastasia] Baburova were killed [in Moscow]. This had a real effect on Viktor; he wanted justice.”

Viktor’s mother says, however, that they did not talk about politics. In court, she said: “He was a good example to others. At no time did he suggest that he was against the government.”

photo-2018-01-24-22-04-10Viktor Filinkov in happier times. Photo courtesy of Rupression

In 2013 Viktor finished school and moved to Omsk, [in western Siberia, in Russia] where he started studying in the faculty of information and communications technology at Omsk state university.

Viktor never graduated. After two-and-a-half years he abandoned his studies, because his mum became “seriously ill”. (Natalia asked that the diagnosis remain confidential). Filinkov started work, earning 30,000 rubles [400 euros at 2016 exchange rate] per month.

Viktor was happy to quit university, a friend from that time told Bumaga; he complained that classes were boring. This source said that Filinkov soon understood that he had hit the pay ceiling in Omsk, and thought about moving on.

Viktor’s wife recalls that at that time he began to participate in anti-fascist actions and to support human rights campaigns. In 2014-16 he stood on picket lines opposing redundancies among health workers, supported trade unions and attended demonstrations in memory of Markelov and Baburova.

By 2015 Viktor was a committed anti-fascist, an acquaintance from Omsk told Bumaga. According to them, Viktor came to these beliefs himself, without reading “ideological literature” such as the work of [Pyotr] Kropotkin or [Mikhail] Bakunin.

“We first met in 2015, when he was hanging around the university with his friends”, this source recalls. “We had interests in common – in computer technology, and sport – and became friends. There was a small circle there [in Omsk] of people who were anti-authoritarian: a milieu of young leftists, who shared a clear understanding: racism – no way, capitalism – no way.”

This friend of Filinkov’s said they were “not the sort who build communes and prepare revolution”: their main aim was to create horizontal cooperation, within which people could live side-by-side comfortably and help each other. This way of living was seen as an alternative to the state’s.

Aleksandra Aksenova, with whom Filinkov often discussed his time in Omsk, said: “He grew up in conditions of great social injustice. He also saw people’s attitudes to him, due to the fact he was a citizen of another country [Kazakhstan]. How could he not become an anti-fascist?”

Viktor himself has said that in 2016, because of the views he held, he was several times attacked by nationalists.

Both Aksenova and Filinkov’s friend from Omsk said that Viktor had come to know Aleksei Poltavets, who would later confess to the murder of an associate of the “Network” defendants in Penza. Of the other future defendants Viktor knew little, but he had heard their names, says the source in Omsk.

“It wasn’t so much about going to demonstrations or getting together in groups”, Filinkov’s Omsk friend said. “It was that we tried to live by the principles of anti-authoritarianism, anarchism, anti-fascism. And of course we spent time together: cycling, skating, playing around with Linux, trying to write [computer] programmes, listening to music, hanging out, climbing on roofs.”

5-demonstratorsPolice detain a demonstrator outside the courthouse in Petersburg where Filinkov and Boyarshinov were sentenced on June 22, 2020. Photo by David Frenkel, Mediazona

Viktor met his future wife in the summer of 2015 at an anti-fascist concert in Moscow. Aleksandra then lived in Moscow, Filinkov was just visiting. They kept in touch on line, then began talking on the phone and in mid 2016 decided to meet in Penza, midway between Omsk and St Petersburg, where Aleksandra then lived.

Aleksandra had by then got to know many anti-fascists and anarchists, including future defendants in the “network” case: she was friends with Dmitry Pchelintsev, knew Arman Sagynbaev, Igor Shishkin, Andrei Chernov and Yuli Boyarshinov, and had communicated with Ilya Shakursky. Filinkov himself said that, even by the time of the court case, he had only known some of the other defendants indirectly, or met them just once.

“My comrades got to know Vitya”, Aksenova remembers. “They grew pretty fond of him, because he knew so much about so many things. They would endlessly come to see him. ‘Vitek, help with this, help with that, my computer is broken, I need to find something, how can this be done safely?’ And he would sit and explain everything.”

Aksenova says that Filinkov grew to like Dmitry Pchelintsev, the shooting instructor and anti-fascist, who the FSB would later name as the founder of the “network” terrorist organisation. “It’s no secret to anybody that one of most well-read guys in Penza was Dmitry Pchelintsev”, Aksenova says. “He could explain his reasoning, sometimes very romanticised and sometimes loudly, but it was always interesting to talk with him.”

In court, Filinkov’s lawyer, Vitaly Cherkasov, insisted that in Penza Viktor hardly spent time with any of the others, since he was “so enchanted with his lover”.

In September 2016, Filinkov found work at a Petersburg start-up. He and Aleksandra began to live together, and then got married – partly so that Viktor could become a Russian citizen.

At the same time, Filinkov got to know Sagynbaev, and began to attend lectures on first aid. In 2017 Aksenova applied for permission to acquire a firearm: the couple then kept it in a safe in their flat.

In the same year Filinkov, along with other anti-fascists, began to visit a flat at Bogatyrsky Prospekt 22. Aksenova says: “These were meetings of friends. They discussed community projects, and how they could cooperate with each other. As was stated in court, they talked about, among other things, sociological methods of study, and how to develop a culture of discussion.”

When, at the end of 2017, Pchelintsev and other activists in Penza disappeared, Filinkov and Aleksandra tried to find out what had happened to them. Aksenova decided to travel to Kiev, and in January 2018, when it became known that the Petersburg anti-fascist Yuli Boyarshinov had been arrested, Viktor decided to fly out to join her.

Filinkov had a ticket for a Kiev flight two days after Boyarshinov was detained. He told his wife that he was leaving for the airport, but never made it to the Ukrainian capital. Aleksandra searched for her husband for two days. Later on it became clear that he had been detained by FSB officers. Filinkov said that in those days the officers tortured him with an electric shocker, in order to obtain a confession.

6-filinkov-boyarshinovFilinkov and Boyarshinov at a court hearing in 2018

Filinkov spent two-and-a-half years in an Investigative Detention Centre (SIZO). During that time he reported injuries he had sustained as a result of the torture. He was diagnosed with a ruptured spinal disc, and prescribed medicine for psychological problems that he suffered.

According to the FSB, Viktor Filinkov, together with other members of the “Network”, in 2016-18 acquired firearms and learned how to use them, and “acquired the practical means to seize a building”, with the aim of making violent change to the constitutional order. The FSB claimed that the group, in which Filinkov allegedly took part, aimed at the “armed overthrow of the state power”. In the prosecution case, Viktor was named as the signals operative.

The prosecutors argued that Filinkov spoke about being tortured in order to discredit Russia’s law enforcement agencies. As evidence, they adduced the fact that Viktor did not officially inform anyone about the torture before he met with Vitaly Cherkasov, his lawyer, on 26 January [2018]. Cherkasov asserts that his client was in a state of shock, and says that he himself saw the marks [on Filinkov] that resulted from him being beaten.

Members of the Public Monitoring Commission [a civic organisation empowered to monitor conditions in places of detention] also confirmed that there were signs of torture. But no independent medical examination was conducted. Viktor’s mother met with him only several months after his arrest: according to her, it was cold and her son wore a coat: all she saw was a scar on his chin.

When the court hearings began in Petersburg, Filinkov at practically every opportunity spoke of his innocence and rejected the prosecution’s claims. In open court he said: “All that I can say is: no, it’s not true. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution. But for two-and-a-half years, the authorities have shown their bias. They have wagged their fingers at me and said that I have to prove that I am not a camel.”

Filinkov’s work colleagues said in court that he had spoken openly with several of them about his wife’s legal possession of a firearm. He had introduced her to them as “Olga” – which the FSB claimed was a conspiratorial pseudonym. The prosecution also claimed that Filinkov’s “code name” was Gena. Viktor himself insists that people started to call him by that nickname in Omsk, because sometimes he laughed “like a hyena” [“giyena” in Russian].

jenya viktor yuliPublic defender Jenya Kulakova (left) photographs Network Case defendants Viktor Filinkov (center) and Yuli Boyarshinov. Courtesy of Jenya Kulakova

People who know Viktor well have told Bumaga that they understand why he refused to confess, which theoretically could have reduced his sentence. (According to Vitaly Cherkasov, after arrest Filinkov was offered a three-year term [if he confessed].)

“That’s just his character. He won’t confess to something that he didn’t do”, Viktor’s mother Natalia said. “I know what he is thinking: if a person is right, why should he incriminate himself? Knowing him, I wouldn’t even dare to ask if he would think about making a deal. I couldn’t have brought myself to say it to him. Just impossible.”

Aleksandra explains her husband’s decision in terms of the “prisoner’s dilemma” in game theory. There is a choice for two sides: betray each other, or cooperate. Betrayal brings greater gains for each side, and for this reason it is assumed that rational players will choose betrayal. But if both sides turn traitor, the total winnings will be less than if they cooperate.

“When all the defendants in a fabricated trial refuse to admit their guilt, and insist on what they see as the truth, then the mathematical chance that they will all be given the maximum sentence is reduced”, Aleksandra says. “In such a case there’s a possibility that the whole case will just collapse. Because everyone will say what really happened. But in our case, things were complicated because there were only three defendants in Petersburg.”

Officially, the other Petersburg “network” defendants – Igor Shishkin and Yuli Boyarshinov – made no statements that they had been tortured. But after they were first detained, members of the Public Monitoring Commission learned that Shishkin had been diagnosed with a large number of bruises and instances of localised internal bleeding, and that the bone around his eye [the lower orbital wall] had been broken. Boyarshinov stated that FSB officers came to see him in the detention centre, and that other detainees had threatened to rape him.

In his final statement to the court, Filinkov said that he understood both Yuli Boyarshinov, who had confessed to his guilt, and Igor Shishkin, who had cooperated with the investigation (and already in 2019 been sentenced to three-and-a-half years). Viktor considers that they saw no other way out.

Aksenova concludes: “He is an idealist. An idealist who sees the need to take his place in history, who takes upon himself responsibility for the big picture.

“If there were no such idealists, then we would never have an example to follow, of how a person should act in such circumstances. Maybe it will seem to some people that Viktor’s words and actions were rash, and doomed to fail from the outset. I would not argue. But these words and actions are a necessity, for us to stand up for our ideals.” 3 July 2020.

■ Please visit the Rupression web site, to see how you can support the “Network” case prisoners.

■ For more coverage of Filinkov and Boyarshinov’s trial, and of the case, see The Russian Reader, Open Democracy Russia, and Freedom News. People & Nature has written about the case too, e.g. here, and about international solidarity events.

Thanks to People & Nature for permission to reprint this article. \\ TRR

Dear Greta! (Norilsk Oil Spill)

Norilsk: Exposing the Lies and Appealing to Potanin
225,518 views • Jun 18, 2020
Ekologika

There has been an environmental disaster in Norilsk, but another one is about to happen. My measurements show that oil products are moving towards the Kara Sea, and all the “cleanup measures” are nothing more than a profanation, a pretty picture for journalists. This is a crime, and there is a specific criminal behind it.

I have two demands for Mr. Potanin:
1) Stop lying and concealing the real state of affairs from the public.
2) Take urgent measures to prevent the pollution of the Kara Sea.

To give the head of Norilsk Nickel more incentives to act, we will appeal not only to him, but also to the international community! Together, we can prevent a large-scale environmental catastrophe.

Don’t forget to click on the “subscribe” button and share this video! Watch the previous videos on this channel about the environmental disaster in Norilsk.

Contacts for the press:
https://www.instagram.com/gkavanosyan/
https://vk.com/kavanosyan
https://t.me/ecozhora
https://t.me/time11
george@kavanosyan.ru

View this post on Instagram

Dear Greta! My name is George Kavanosyan, I’m a hydrogeologist, an environment and climate activist from Russia. The worst Arctic ecological disaster ever happened in my country at the end of May. More than 20 thousand tons of diesel fuel spilled into the Daldykan River, the Ambarnaya river, Lake Pyasino and the Pyasina river. Now the contaminant is getting closer to the Arctic Ocean or it is already there. Such an enormous amount of fuel contaminating the shore, the sludge and the water can culminate in total elimination of the most sensitive world ecosystem. The situation requires urgent actions of international environmental institutes and extensive media coverage. ⠀ The main problem is that the accident causer Mr Potanin is trying to hide the true scale of the tragedy. The responsible authorities under his control deliberately hush up the fact that the contaminant is moving to the north. The media is trying to downplay the magnitude of the disaster. I personally had to visit the oil spill and to make some analyses confirming the catastrophic state of Arctic rivers and lakes. I published the results on my YouTube channel. I’m taking a big risk proclaiming these problems since it isn’t known how Mr Potanin and his security service will react. ⠀ That’s why I ask you, Greta, to support the dissemination of this information, to show this letter to your colleages, honest reporters you know, environmental activists and organizations. It’s the only way for us to impact on the local oligarchs, it’s the only way to save the most sensitive Arctic region and to preserve it for future generations. ⠀ Yours faithfully George Kavanosyan ⠀ @gretathunberg @leonardodicaprio @fridaysforfuture.russia @fridaysforfuture @greenpeace @wwf #potaninarctickiller #getpotaninpaid

A post shared by George Kavanosyan (@gkavanosyan) on

Thanks to Anastasia Shaboltas and Gabriel Levy for the heads-up. For more mainstream accounts of the environmental disaster in Norilsk, see the accounts published by the Moscow Times and the Norwegian-Russian environmental organization Bellona. YouTube video annotation translated by the Russian Reader

greta

We Can Dance If We Want To

 

dance
Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
June 22, 2020

His hands trembling and sounding breathless, Judge Muranov sentenced Vitya [Viktor Filinkov] to 7 years and Julian [Yuli Boyarshinov] to 5 1/2 years in prison. He read out the date of Vitya’s ACTUAL arrest, that is, a day before his arrest was registered in the case file. (I wonder how this will be substantiated in the published verdict.)

We took a selfie as a keepsake.

As I was leaving the empty courtroom, I shouted, “Guys, we need to dance!” and I danced a little jig. The guys seemed to be smiling, but the bailiff said, “Dance somewhere else, young lady.” Where else should I dance? I think this is the most appropriate place.

#NetworkCase #OperationBarbarossa #Antifa

As my virtual acquaintance Liza Smirnova just reminded her readers, June 22 is not just any day for people in the former Soviet Union. In fact, you could hardly think of a more inappropriate day to sentence two young antifascists to twelve and a half years in prison.

Operation Barbarossa (German: Unternehmen Barbarossa) was the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941, during World War II. The operation put into action Nazi Germany’s ideological goal of conquering the western Soviet Union so as to repopulate it with Germans. The German Generalplan Ost aimed to use some of the conquered as slave labour for the Axis war effort, to acquire the oil reserves of the Caucasus and the agricultural resources of Soviet territories, and eventually through extermination, enslavement, Germanization and mass deportation to Siberia, remove the Slavic peoples and create Lebensraum for Germany.

In the two years leading up to the invasion, Germany and the Soviet Union signed political and economic pacts for strategic purposes. Nevertheless, the German High Command began planning an invasion of the Soviet Union in July 1940 (under the codename Operation Otto), which Adolf Hitler authorized on 18 December 1940. Over the course of the operation, about three million personnel of the Axis powers—the largest invasion force in the history of warfare—invaded the western Soviet Union along a 2,900-kilometer (1,800 mi) front, with 600,000 motor vehicles and over 600,000 horses for non-combat operations. The offensive marked an escalation of World War II, both geographically and in the formation of the Allied coalition including the Soviet Union.

The operation opened up the Eastern Front, in which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in history. The area saw some of the war’s largest battles, most horrific atrocities, and highest casualties (for Soviet and Axis forces alike), all of which influenced the course of World War II and the subsequent history of the 20th century. The German armies eventually captured some five million Soviet Red Army troops, a majority of whom never returned alive. The Nazis deliberately starved to death, or otherwise killed, 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war, and a vast number of civilians, as the “Hunger Plan” worked to solve German food shortages and exterminate the Slavic population through starvation. Mass shootings and gassing operations, carried out by the Nazis or willing collaborators, murdered over a million Soviet Jews as part of the Holocaust.

The failure of Operation Barbarossa reversed the fortunes of the Third Reich. Operationally, German forces achieved significant victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union (mainly in Ukraine) and inflicted, as well as sustained, heavy casualties. Despite these early successes, the German offensive stalled in the Battle of Moscow at the end of 1941, and the subsequent Soviet winter counteroffensive pushed German troops back. The Germans had confidently expected a quick collapse of Soviet resistance as in Poland, but the Red Army absorbed the German Wehrmacht’s strongest blows and bogged it down in a war of attrition for which the Germans were unprepared. The Wehrmacht’s diminished forces could no longer attack along the entire Eastern Front, and subsequent operations to retake the initiative and drive deep into Soviet territory—such as Case Blue in 1942 and Operation Citadel in 1943—eventually failed, which resulted in the Wehrmacht’s retreat and collapse.

Source: Wikipedia

#NetworkCase

claims

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/06/22/russia-jails-e2-anti-fascists-ending-terror-case-plagued-by-torture-claims-a70653

“Plagued by torture claims” is a funny way of putting it. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) is the real plague. It tortured the defendants in the Network Case and concocted their alleged “terrorist community” from whole cloth.

I realize that editors and journalists think they’re being “balanced” when they report the news this way. But in reality they’re lending legitimacy to systematic state terror against dissidents, minorities, and oddballs.

bus

#NetworkCase

Where are these people going? Why are they in a caged bus?

Why are they singing? What are they singing?

They made the “mistake” of being outside the courthouse in Petersburg earlier today to protest the outrageous but predictable verdict in the trial of Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov, who were sentenced by a military court to 7 and 5 1/2 years in prison, respectively, for the awful crime of being antifascists in a country run by a certifiable fascist, Vladimir Putin.

What will happen to the people in this bus? I don’t know for certain, but I would guess they’ll be held at a police precinct overnight and then taken to their own kangaroo court hearings sometime tomorrow, where they will be sentenced to as many as 15 days in jail and stiff fines.

Thanks to Marina Ken for the video and much else.

bbc

#NetworkCase

Earlier today in Petersburg, the final two defendants in the notorious frame-up known, hilariously, as the Network Case, were sentenced to seven and five and a half years in prison, respectively, for “involvement in a terrorist community.”

In reality, anxious to show their paranoid fascist president that he was right to surround himself with one of the largest security and bureaucratic apparatuses in history, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) abducted and tortured a dozen absolutely harmless young men in Penza and Petersburg, and then cooked up a fascist fairy tale about how these young men (many of whom most of us would be happy to have as neighbors) were actually a secret “terrorist community,” code-named “the Network,” who were planning to cause mayhem on the eve of Putin’s triumphant re-election and the soccer World Cup in 2018.

There wasn’t any “Network,” and it had no plans of doing anything of the sort. But it is now over two and a half years since the FSB kicked off its little adventure in Penza (in October 2017). Over the last year, the ten defendants in the case have been sentenced to a total of 110 years in prison due to the FSB’s sick fantasy.

Thanks to the BBC Russian Service for the picture, the news reports and so much else.

video

#NetworkCase

It wasn’t bad enough that Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov were sentenced today in Petersburg to 7 years and 5 1/2 years, respectively, for “involvement” in the nonexistent “terrorist community” “the Network.” No, the Putinist police state had to send a small army of riot police and “Russian National Guardsmen” to the courthouse to settle the hash of the brave people who came out to protest the verdict, which was a foregone conclusion.

If you’re sitting in other parts of the world, especially the US, and having a hard time getting your head around this story, just think about the remarkable “coincidence” that, just before his now infamous conference call with US governors, Trump had been chatting with his mentor and idol Vladimir Putin on the phone.

What is happening in Petersburg today is what happens when “policing” is the end all and be of “government,” when the powers that be have to preserve their supreme power at all costs, even if this means, ultimately, destroying their people and their country.

Thanks to Yevgenia Litvinova, who shared this video (which she found on Telegram), and all the other people who have taught me the lesson of endurance and solidarity in the face of overwhelming odds.

Edited, written and translated by the Russian Reader

Come As You Are

jenya viktor yuliPublic defender Jenya Kulakova (left) photographs Network Case defendants Viktor Filinkov (center) and Yuli Boyarshinov. Courtesy of Jenya Kulakova

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
June 21, 2020

The verdict is tomorrow June 22 at 12:00 p.m.

This is not the end, of course—neither of the struggle nor of this hell. In a sense, it is just the beginning. I really want the guys to feel tomorrow that all of us are behind them and in front of them as they head off on this stage of their lives.

Come to court if you can. The address is Kirochnaya, 35A.

(Of course, come only if your health permits, wear personal protective equipment, try to keep a distance from each other outside and inside the courthouse, and avoid coming into contact with people at risk. Damn covid!)

#NetworkCase

Translated by the Russian Reader. Learn all about the Network Case here.

The Network Trial in Petersburg: Closing Statements by Defendants

ter2-fil-joke

Network Trial defendant Viktor Filinkov tells a joke: “A programmer, a businessman, and an industrial climber planned to overthrow the government.”

The Penza Case in Petersburg: Closing Statements
Mediazona
June 18, 2020

The trial of the “Network terrorist community,” whose alleged members have been charged with violating Article 205.4.2 of the Criminal Code, is winding down in Petersburg. The Second Western Military District Court has heard the case made by the prosecution, who asked the court to sentence Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov to nine and six years in prison, respectively. The court has also heard the cases made by the defense teams for both defendants. Today, Filinkov and Boyarshinov made their closing statements.

10:48 a.m.
At the previous hearing, on June 17, the prosecution and the defense made their closing arguments. Prosecutor Alexander Vasilenko asked the court to sentence Filinkov to nine years in a medium security penal colony, and Boyarshinov to six years.

The defense team of Boyarshinov, who pleaded guilty, asked the court to make note of their client’s “inactive” role in the events described by the prosecution and sentence him to no more than four years and five months in prison and not impose a fine on him.

ter1-boyar lawyersA scene from the courtroom in Petersburg: Yuli Boyarshinov’s lawyers are in the foreground.

In line with their defendant, Filinkov’s defense team insisted that his guilt had not been proven by investigators, and the documents that formed the basis of the indictment against him had been falsified by FSB officers. Defense lawyer Vitaly Cherkasov reminded the court of the circumstances of the arrest of Filinkov, who spoke in detail about being tortured [by FSB officers].

11:20 a.m.
The three-judge panel [troika], led by Roman Muranov, enters the courtroom.

The court allows Filinkov to make a closing argument.

“I apologize in advance to everyone involved in the trial: I will be repeating the arguments of my defense lawyers,” he says.

Filinkov intends to “go through the indictment.” He begins by saying that none of the witnesses identified him as [the alleged Network’s] “signalman.”

“I assume this is yet another fantasy on the part of [Petersburg FSB investigator Gennady] Belyaev or [Petersburg FSB field officer Konstantin] Bondarev [who arrested and tortured Filinkov]. How I am supposed to defend myself from this?” Filinkov asks.

He says that he had not seen some of the documents in the case file before. He is probably referring to the documents identified as “The Network Code” and “Congress 2017.”

“Whom did I provide with means of communication? None of the witnesses said anything about it, and only the defense questioned the witnesses about it,” Filinkov says emotionally.

11:24 a.m.
“I didn’t vet anyone, I didn’t select anyone, I didn’t recruit anyone,” says Filinkov in response to the next charge in the indictment: that he had selected people for the “terrorist community.”

Filinkov quotes the indictment: “Filinkov, Boyarshinov, Pchelintsev, and Shishkin were directly involved in joint training sessions.” Filinkov says that Shishkov was not involved in the training sessions, and Boyarshinov participated in only two events. And in any case, they studied first aid, not capturing other people or storming buildings or shooting firearms.

11:31 a.m.
“‘Clandestine Security’—page 3 of the indictment. What did this ‘elaborate system of security’ consist of? Three methods are mentioned in the seventeen volumes of the criminal case file: aliases, PGP encryption, and Jabber,” says Filinkov.

Filinkov lists the aliases and says they were not means of conspiracy.

“‘Redhead’ [Penza Network defendant Maxim Ivankin]: I saw him, and he’s a redhead—that’s very conspiratorial. ‘Twin’: as far as know, he has a twin brother,” says Filinkov.

Filinkov moves on to PGP encryption. He explains that, in practice, the two or three keys used for such emails consist of a few “very, very large” numbers that cannot be memorized, so they are stored on the computer. Filinkov also notes that the message’s subject, sender and recipient are not encrypted—only the text of the message is encrypted.

ter3-fil-email

Viktor Filinkov gives a short primer on how email works—before the head judge cuts him off.

11:35 a.m.
Judge Muranov interrupts Filinkov.

“We don’t need a lecture about encryption programs,” he says.

The defendant tries to reply.

“The prosecutor doesn’t understand how it works—”

Another judge intervenes.

“Then you get together with him and explain it,” says the judge.

Filinkov continues.

“It provides privacy, but it doesn’t provide secrecy,” he says, now in reference to the Jabber protocol for messengers.

11:41 a.m.
“It’s built on fantasies—that’s exactly how the ‘Network terrorist community’ was created,” Filinkov continues. “And it was badly built to boot. There are incorrect dates [in the case file], and [Penza FSB investigator Vyacheslav] Shepelyov [tampered] with the [text] files.”

Filinkov recalls how he, Igor Shishkin, and Ilya Kapustin were tortured, and mentions the verdict and sentence in the Penza trial.

“I don’t understand the prosecutor’s position. I expected him to drop the charges,” Filinkov says. “He won’t look at me. I can’t expect a response from him, can I?”

11:42 a.m.
“Think a little before you speak,” Judge Muranov tells Filinkov.

“Choose your words carefully,” adds another judge.

“I don’t consider myself guilty, and I ask you to acquit me,” Filinkov concludes.

11:44 a.m.
Boyarshinov’s closing statement:

“I’ve been in jail for two and a half years now. I can’t say that this prison experience has been totally negative. Isolation has taught me to love people and freedom even more, to appreciate even more my loved ones, who have supported me all this time. So, I want to use my closing statement to thank the people who have supported me: my parents, my spouse, and all my close friends.

“I would like to underscore once more that I have never held terrorist views, neither t hen nor now. I am sorry for what I did, and I’m glad that my activities caused no actual harm to other people. I ask the court not to punish me harshly. That is all.”ter4-boyar-closingDefendant Yuli Boyarshinov’s closing statement was so short that artist Anna Tereshkina didn’t have time to finish her sketch.

11:49 a.m.
Filinkov’s closing statement:

“The nine years in prison the prosecutor has requested are probably a token of respect for what I’ve been doing. This is what occurred to me about [Yegor] Zorin’s testimony: five narcotic substances were found in his blood when he was examined, but only two narcotic substances were found on his person—MDMA and marijuana. Neither MDMA or marijuana was found in his blood, however, while the five substances that were found were other synthetic drugs. Due to my circumstances, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to drug lords, and they have told me that synthetic drugs are quickly flushed from the bloodstream, and if [Zorin] had used marijuana, it would have remained in his blood. I would guess that the FSB officers knew that Zorin was a drug user, so they planted MDMA and marijuana on his person, thinking they were popular drugs. But they guessed wrong: he was using neither the one nor the other. It’s hard to believe that he drove around for a year [with these drugs on his person] and didn’t use them, while using everything else in sight. In a situation like that, you have to have courage to turn yourself in.

“As for the other [suspects and defendants in the case] who confessed and testified—Yuli [Boyarshinov] and Igor [Shiskin]—they acted pragmatically. They didn’t believe that any other outcome was possible. I understand them.

ter5-guard

“I would like to mention everyone who has been exposed in this case. First of all were the Petersburg FSB, the Penza FSB, and the Interior Ministry [the regular police], which carried out the orders of FSB officers without hesitation, without asking any questions. Then there was the prosecutor’s office, which has only been good for giving me the runaround and bringing in a colonel [as trial prosecutor] to read aloud from a piece of paper, refuse to respond to me, and ask the court to sentence me to nine years. I don’t understand whether [the prosecutor’s office] is independent or not. What happened to the ten years I was promised? The FSB officers promised to send me down for ten years. It is unclear whose initiative this is [to sentence Filinkov to nine years]. Is the prosecutor’s office or the FSB behind it? It basically doesn’t matter.

“Then there was the Investigative Committee, whose employees sent [Filinkov’s complaints of torture] from one place to the next, losing all the evidence in the process. There were the employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service, who refused to document the injuries [suffered by Filinkov and other defendants when they were tortured by the FSB], who promised that video recordings would not be lost, but then it turned out they had been deleted. There were the courts that remanded us in custody and extended our arrests. There were the legislators who made up such laws. All of them have disgraced themselves. I don’t know what the solution to this situation is. That is all.”

11:50 a.m.
The verdict in the case will be announced at 12:00 p.m. on June 22.

ter6-kulak cherkasViktor Filinkov’s defense team: Yevgenia Kulakov and Vitaly Cherkasov

12:04 p.m.
After the hearing, Filinkov’s defense team, Vitaly Cherkasov and Yevgenia Kulakova, said that, during the closing arguments, the prosecutor cited documents that had not even been read out in court, which is forbidden by the criminal procedure code, and attributed statements to Filinkov that he had never made.

All illustrations by Anna Tereshkina, who writes, “Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov made their closing statements today, and before that Viktor took part in the closing arguments. His eloquent speech, which disarmed all the scoundrels, made an incredible impression. Everyone whom he listed really has disgraced themselves, and they stand before all of us dirty, confused, and unable to do anything about it.” Thanks for Ms. Tereshkina’s kind permission to reprint her drawings here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Free Yulia Tsvetkova!

https://www.freetsvet.net

SPREAD THE WORD. MAKE POSTS, SHARE, PUBLICIZE Yulia’s case. Yulia and her mother believe that publicity about their case will help them. Please share this information far and wide, especially with media outlets. When making posts on social media, use hashtags:

#заЮлю
#ямыЮлияЦветкова
#свободуюлецветковой
#свободуцветковой

Pornography Charges Target Feminist Artist

Yulia Tsvetkova is a 27-year-old artist from the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur (far Eastern Russia). Yulia has been formally charged with illegally producing and distributing pornographic materials on the Internet (Paragraph “b”, Part 3 of Article 242 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, punishable by up to six years of prison). These charges stem from her role as administrator of a feminist body-positive online community through social media. The page is called “The Vagina Monologues,” and features abstract depictions of female sexual organs and educational drawings women’s bodies. Pornography charges also stem from a series of body-positive drawings she made as part of a series entitled “A Woman is not a Doll.” Until recently, she was also the director of the Merak activist youth theater, which produced 9 plays under her direction.

Yulia was arrested on November 20, 2019 after which searches were carried out at home and at work. She was under house arrest from November 23, 2019 until March 16, 2020. She and her mother have been questioned over 30 times. While under house arrest, Yulia was denied access to necessary medical care. She and her mother have experienced months of harassment and death threats.

It is worth noting that the criminal investigation against Yulia was not the result of any complaints from youth or parents in her local community. Rather, she was targeted by St. Petersburg-based homophobic activist Timur Bulatov, who has a past criminal record and in his own words is engaged in a “moral jihad” against LGBT people and their allies by making complaints about them to law enforcement agencies. Bulatov has continued to harass Yulia and her mother, publish their home address, and call on his supporters to kill them.

According the Coalition to Free the Kremlin’s Political Prisoners, “art materials in Tsvetkova’s case cannot be recognized as pornographic. From our point of view and based on expertise of various experts who have examined the works, these materials are no more pornography than images of the genitals in the school anatomy textbook.” International human rights organizations have called for her release, and many individuals around the world are demonstrating on her behalf.

Yulia’s case will be tried in early July 2020. There is an urgent need for publicity of her case. All charges against Yulia Tsvetkova should be dropped and her case dismissed immediately.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up and Nicole Garneau for this fantastic video and act of solidarity. You can read more about Yulia Tsvetkova on this ebsite. \\ TRR

tsvetkova-drawingYulia Tsvetkova, “A Family Is Where There’s Love” (courtesy of artist and RFE/RL)

The Network Case

DSCN5441 “Stay human”

This is a complete list of all the articles on the Network Case (aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case) and related developments that I have published on this website to date. The list will be updated and republished periodically as more articles are added.  [TRR, Updated: 4 July 2020]

#NetworkCase #ДелоСети

 

Svetlana Prokopyeva: My Day in Court

prokopA telegram informing Svetlana Prokopyeva that her criminal trial has been scheduled for one o’clock on June 16 at the Pskov Regional Court and, beneath it, a copy of the criminal indictment against her. Photo courtesy of her Facebook page

Svetlana Prokopyeva
Facebook
June 15, 2020

The trial in my criminal case begins at one o’clock tomorrow afternoon. After eighteen months of endless reminders about freedom of speech and the persecution of journalism as such, everyone is probably sick of my case. (And yet I’ll remind you that I’m being put on trial for voicing an opinion, for my work as as a professional journalist, and for trying to understand something and prevent it.) And then there’s the coronavirus, which is a whole different level of worry.

Yet I would still ask you to follow the trial. I think it’s important, not because it’s my life, but for the following reasons.

In the column “Crackdowns for the State” I argued that a powerful regime was using powerful instruments to restrict civil liberties. Since I wrote that

  • our twenty-year-vintage president has found a way to rule forever;
  • Russian National Guard soldiers have shot a man dead in his own apartment;
  • solo pickets can now get you arrested and thrown in jail on administrative charges;
  • you can be fined simply for leaving your house;
  • you can be handcuffed and taken to a police precinct for not wearing a mask (for the sake of your own health, of course);
  • and there have been innovations to electoral law: soon we will have a referendum in which our votes will decide nothing, even formally—but then you knew that.

In other words, the state has become harsher and more repressive, and criminal cases for “condoning” terrorism have been multiplying and multiplying. The reasons for them are more and more absurd. You now longer have to feel sorry for [suicide bomber Mikhail] Zhlobitsky or analyze the terrorist attack in detail. Nadezhda Belova is being persecuted for commenting on a news report; Lyudmila Stech, for reposting something without a adding a single word of her own commentary. The new Pskov case is really amazing, but I will write about it later. The craziest keeps on getting crazier.

The security forces really did detect a threat in this case, but decided that the threat was me, and that they had to take me on, not abstract “radicalization.”As if they think that if you don’t discuss a problem, it doesn’t exist. But there is a problem, and it won’t work itself out. The stronger and dumber the crackdown, the angrier the protest, especially if it’s driven deep inside. And the coil twists tighter.

Theoretically, it would take only one judge, making a ruling according to common sense and the spirit of the law, to put an end to all this nonsense. It would take only one prosecutor, refusing to pursue such absurd charges. Or even just one police investigator, dropping a case like mine for lack of evidence.

But now we’re talking science fiction, kids.

The reality is that a journalist is going on trial for doing her job. It is much more terrifying, of course, when journalists are killed or maimed. But those are crimes, and criminals are tracked down and punished. In my case, though, it’s all completely legal.

Svetlana Prokopyeva is among a long list of Russians who have been prosecuted for or charged with “exonerating” or “condoning” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. The others are Nadezhda Belova, Lyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan Lyubshin, Anton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. On June 13, Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda) reported that a 47-year-old Pskov man, Alexei Shibanov, had been arrested by the FSB on suspicion of “condemning terrorism” and “publicly calling for terrorism.” The Pskov City Court has remanded Shibanov in custody until August 10. Translated by the Russian Reader

Lugansk Miners Occupy Pit to Protest Wage Arrears and Closures

lugansk-1From Saturday’s motorcade: “Employers, corporations and chain stores: we will not allow you to insult people”

Lugansk miners occupy pit and defy security forces
People and Nature
June 9, 2020

Mineworkers are staging an underground occupation in defiance of the authorities in the Lugansk separatist “republic” in eastern Ukraine, who have responded with a campaign of intimidation and arrests.

There were 123 mineworkers underground at the Komsomolskaya pit, in the mining town of Antratsit, for the third day running on Sunday (7 June), the News.ru site reported yesterday. One who had fallen ill was brought to the surface.

The protesters are demanding that their wages for March and April be paid in full. A similar underground protest on 21 April resulted in some money being handed over by Vostok Ugol, a new company set up in the “republic” and charged with closing pits and cutting the labour force.

lugansk-3

An earlier protest, in Zorinsk in the Lugansk “republic”, on 4 May, against the closure of the local pit. Photo from Dialog.ua

The Lugansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” were set up by separatist military forces, supported by the Russian government, who clashed with the Ukrainian army in the military conflict of 2014.

The militarised regimes have clamped down on labour and social movement activists, and made independent journalism impossible in the “republics”—meaning that protest has been rare, and news of it does not travel easily. But this week mineworkers and their supporters have taken action nonetheless.

On Sunday the Lugansk “republic” police blockaded the Komsomolskaya mine and stopped food and drink being passed in to the occupiers. Galina Dmitrieva, a local trade union activist, received a a message saying that state security ministry (MGB) officials were on their way to the mine.

After that, mobile phone reception was blocked and the popular Vkontakte social media (similar to Facebook) was blocked. News.ru published text exchanges with local residents who said that the internet could only be accessed with Virtual Private Network (encrypted anti-spying) technology.

Transport in Antratsit was shut down, and on Sunday evening the authorities announced that this was because a medical quarantine was in place.

Aleksandr Vaskovsky, co-chairman of the Independent Union of Mineworkers of Donbass, said in a statement to News.ru:

A quarantine was announced in Antratsit on the evening of 7 June and the whole town closed down. The intention was to deprive the striking miners of subsistence. A curfew was declared and a military force assembled. This force was assembled at Rovenki, and they completely surrounded the Frunze pit, where miners had also tried to strike. […]

In Antratsit on 7 June, from the evening, they started arresting people who had given informational and organisational support to the miners, and organised the strike movement at other pits. They sought out activists at other pits and in other towns. There were arrests in Krasnodon, Rovenki, Krasnyi Luch and Belorechensk. State security ministry officials just came and, without any documents, were taking people with all their computers and mobile phones to an unknown destination.

We were able to find out where some of these arrestees were, in the MGB’s buildings. During the course of the day they had been tortured, with the aim of identifying other activists. At 8:00 another seven people were kidnapped, including two women, one of whom is pregnant.

Vaskovsky told News.ru that workers at Belorechenskaya mine tried to stage an occupation on Monday, but were prevented from going underground by managers.

Since the separatist “republic” was established in 2014, out of 32 pits, 10 have been closed. The mines now employ 44,800 people, less than half of the workforce before the military conflict began.

The Eastern Human Rights Group said on its Facebook page yesterday (8 June) that MGB officials had been in the Dubovsky quarter of Antratsit, where the Komsomolskaya pit is, since Friday, “questioning workers about the instigators of the protest”. Two miners had been arrested and sent for questioning to Antratsit; their whereabouts were unknown. The union president at the mine, Georgii Chernetsov, had been questioned but not detained. The statement continued:

Now a road block has been set up in Dubovsky, and MGB officers have gone to the families of the protesting mineworkers, to put pressure on the protesters through their families. Mobile phone signals have been cut off throughout Antratsit district, although WhatsApp and Viber are working.

This activity by the security forces of the Lugansk “republic” is directed at intimidating workers and suppressing the protest movement in the occupied part of Lugansk district.

Pavel Lisyansky of the Eastern Human Rights Group, based nearby in Lisichansk, in territory controlled by the Ukrainian government, wrote in a Facebook post:

The Russian Federation’s occupying administration in [the Lugansk “republic”] is disturbed by the systematic protests by the labour collectives at the mining enterprises, which are related to the restructuring of the industry, in other words the threat of mass closures.

In the course of these protests new leaders of public opinion have emerged, who have the support of the local population and do not fear the repressive actions by the occupying administration’s special forces.

For the last month, the mood of protest has grown stronger in Perevalsky, Antratsit and Lutuginsk districts in the occupied part of Lugansk region. The leaders of the worker protests have the support and solidarity of other labour collectives in the coal mining enterprises.

It is for this reason that the Russian Federation’s occupation administration has decided to take measures to counter the protests.

On the Ukrainian side of the front line, the Eastern Human Rights Group on Saturday staged a motorcade “to draw attention to the problem of the breaches of labour and social-economic rights of workers during the pandemic and quarantine measures”.

lugansk-2The Eastern Human Rights Group’s motorcade

The group said: “We are concerned about the situation in which the state labour inspection does nothing; about the pressure and bribery practiced by criminal groups against trade union leaders, to try to influence workers and employers (there has been a case at Toretsk that we will report on); the unlawful dismissal of workers; and so on.”

Thanks to People and Nature for permission to republish this article here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________

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

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

You later retracted the confession?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________

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

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

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

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

You haven’t missed Usman after moving to Voronezh?

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

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

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

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

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