Russia Year Zero

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Lev Ponomaryov took part in the protest outside the FSB building. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service

Dozens of Activists Detained at Pickets Outside FSB Building on Lubyanka Square; Human Rights Activist Lev Ponomaryov Injured
BBC Russian Service
March 14, 2020

Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the movement For Human Rights, was taken to hospital from a police station after being detained during a protest outside the FSB building on Lubyanka Square in Moscow.

According to the 78-year-old Ponomaryov, police officers did not beat him, but treated him quite harshly.

“It would be more correct to say they roughed me up. I don’t remember the actual blow, but I do have a cut on my face. They grabbed me hard and dragged me,” he told the BBC Russian Service.

Earlier, news agency Interfax reported that, according to Ponomaryov, a detained activist who was next to him was beaten at the Tagansky police station.

“Me and another young me were dragged from the cell. I lost my hearing aid along the way. The kid got it worse, he was young. Maybe they were bashful about beating me,” the news agency quoted Ponomaryov as saying.

According to Ponomaryov, the police officers began acting roughly when all of the eleven detained activists, delivered to the Tagansky police station in the same paddy wagon, refused to enter the station one by one.

The activists joined hands. It was then, according to Ponomaryov, that the police began dragging the detainees forcibly into the station.

pono-2Police detained over forty activists during the protest on Lubyanka Square. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service

According to the human rights activist, the station commander watched it happened.

Ponomaryov said that he would probably petition the court to redress the needlessly harsh actions of the police and the beating of detainees.

A spokesperson for the Tagansky police station told the BBC Russian Service that they did not wish to comment on the situation with Lev Ponomaryov, since they had nothing to do with “what happened on the street.”

According to Ponomaryov, despite the fact that he demanded to see his lawyer, Vasily Kushnir, he was allowed to see him only an hour after arriving at the police department.

After the lawyer arrived, an ambulance was called for the human rights activist. The attending physicians decided to take him to hospital.

Later on Saturday, Ponomaryov told Interfax that he was not found to have a concussion.

“I was checked out at First City Hospital. They did a CT scan and said that everything was more or less normal, no brain damage occurred,” said Ponomaryov.

The human rights defender plans to document his injuries and file a lawsuit in connection with the beating, Interfax reports.

Marina Litvinovich, a member of the Public Monitoring Commission, told Interfax that police officers had violated the rights of both detained activists and public figures.

“Everything is bad here [at the Tagansky police department]. The police don’t let the laywers in, and they even used force, including against Ponomaryov, ” she told Interfax .

pono-3According to Lev Ponomaryov, police roughed up protesters when detaining them. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service

Alexei Melnikov, executive secretary of the Public Monitoring Commission, told Interfax that police at the Tverskoy District precinct also took a long time in allowing both lawyers and commission members to see detainees.

According to Melnikov, police officers refused to allow commission members to enter the building because, allegedly, they were not holding any detainees.

Ponomaryov was detained during solo pickets against political crackdowns. The protest took place outside the FSB building on Lubyanka Square. Police detained over forty protesters.

Among those detained were opposition activists Leonid Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov. According to OVD Info, a minor who had been filming the proceedings was also detained. Police did not specify the reason for the minor’s arrest. According to OVD Info, he suffered an asthma attack in the paddy wagon.

According to Telegram channel Avtozak-LIVE, police broke journalist Fyodor Khudokormov’s equipment while detaining him.

Moscow city hall had refused to sanction a rally in the city center against political crackdowns. Instead, they suggested to rally organizers that they hold the rally in the Lyublino District, in the city’s far southeast, but the activists turned the offer down.

 

89358473_3562858360397706_4381898323129270272_oA photo of Lev Ponomaryov after his “rough handling” by police in Moscow on March 14, 2020. The photo was widely disseminated on Russian social media. Courtesy of Julia Aug

Yan Shenkman
Facebook
March 14, 2020

I was at Lubyanka today during the rout of the pickets—pickets that hadn’t really started yet. First, police grabbed the people holding placards, but they quickly ran out, so then they grabbed people who were just standing there.

Everyone has been writing that it was a protest against “political crackdowns.” This is not quite true. I want to remind you that people came out under the slogan “We Are All in the Net(work).” The root cause and the reason people came was the Network Case in Penza and Petersburg. This is what causes such a brutal reaction among people in uniform. This was the reason why they got tough with Ponomaryov, nor was it the first time. When you sympathize with Ponomaryov, but say “there must be something” to the latest dirt about the Network, just put two and two together.

But the Network get clobbered every day. With the back of the hand. In the same way that people are beaten up in paddy wagons.

A month ago, I noticed this sneering expression on the faces of Russian National Guardsmen. It seemed to say, “You won’t do anything to us. Things will be our way. We do what we like.” The dogs have been given the command to attack.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Making Women Visible: Russian Language Classes for Immigrants and Refugees in Petersburg

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Darya Apahonchich with students during class. Photo by Anna Shevardina. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda

“Making Women Visible”: Why Female Immigrants Stay at Home for Seven Years
Karina Merkurieva
Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
March 7, 2020

“My husband and children and I came to Russia from Afghanistan over eight years ago. At first, I had no time to learn the language: I had to help the children and work at home, and then I was unable to find suitable courses. So this is only my second year studying Russian,” says Suraya.

Since she is shy about speaking Russian, she agrees only to a written interview. She has been studying Russian for a second year at courses for female immigrants and refugees in Petersburg. Classes are held at Open Space, a co-working space for social activists, and at two libraries. Groups are divided into several levels according to how well the students speak Russian.

In February, project organizer Darya Apahonchich announced the launch of a new group for beginners. According to her, she saw the need for such courses in 2018, when she worked for a similar project run by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“There were classes for children and adults. I taught Russian as a foreign language. The only problem was that only those who had official immigrant or refugee status could attend. In Russia, not everyone obtains this status. Another thing was that the course was limited in time. Not everyone was able to get the necessary minimum of Russian under their belt in this time,” Apahonchich says.

The group she led mostly consisted of women over the age of thirty.

“Young women who come to Russia at an earlier age and go to university have one set of opportunities. As soon as a woman becomes a mother, her set of opportunities decreases dramatically,” Apahonchich adds.

At one of the classes, a new student from Syria decided to join the group. In order for the students to get acquainted, Apahonchich suggested that everyone introduce themselves by telling what country they had come from, how long they had lived in Russia, and how long they had been studying Russian. It transpired that nearly all the women in the class had lived in Russia around seven years, but had only begun to study the language. According to them, they had no opportunity to study Russian before: they had to raise children. Working outside the home was not the custom in their native countries, so their husbands had not allowed them to take language classes.

apa-2A lesson in Darya Apahonchich’s group. Photo by Anna Shevardina. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda

“I was very shocked at the time. These women’s children have basically grown up in Russia: they know Russia on the level of native speakers, and make jokes more easily in Russian than in their native languages. The women have found themselves linguistically and culturally isolated, however. They stayed at home all those years. They didn’t even have a place to learn the language,” says Apahonchich.

When the Red Cross courses were coming to an end, Apahonchich suggested to the women that they should not quit their studies, but continue studying Russian elsewhere. They leapt at the suggestion.

“I realized that those woman would go back to their families, and that would be the end of their introduction to the Russian language. I didn’t want to let that happen,” she recalls.

Other groups and new teachers have subsequently emerged. The project currently encompasses four groups at different levels of proficiency. Classes are taught by eight volunteer teachers. Some of them, like Apahonchich, majored in Russian language pedagogy at university, while others are native Russian speakers with humanities backgrounds and experience teaching history or Spanish, for example.

“I wanted to create a horizontal structure in which each teacher could organize their own groups and take responsibility for the learning process,” says Apahonchich.

As a result, the teachers work autonomously: they find venues for holding classes on their own, and decide with their groups what topics would be interesting to discuss in class.

In her group, for example, Apahonchich focuses not only on teaching the Russian language, but also on the legal aspects of life as an immigrant in Russia. During classes, her students read brochures on how to behave if you are faced with aggression from the police, how to get a job, and how to rent an apartment without falling victim to fraud.

“Our all-female collective discusses issues related to health and doctor visits,” says Apahonchich.

According to Suraya from Afghanistan, this is one of her favorite topics.

“I also like to read texts about Russia and Petersburg, and discuss the weather and family. I really need this vocabulary when I pick up my daughter from kindergarten or go to the clinic. In the clinic, however, I often encounter aggression. The people at reception shout at me if I don’t immediately know what to say,” Suraya explains.

While the courses are more aimed at teaching Russian, the instructors sometimes also talk to the female immigrants about women’s rights.

“Right now, the easiest way, I think, to get women out of linguistic and cultural isolation is to get them into the world of work. That way they could learn Russian more quickly, adapt socially, and make new friends. At the same time, we have before our very eyes the example of women from Central Asia who come to Russia to work and eventually find themselves separated from their families. That is the other extreme. For the time being, I just want these women to stop being invisible. Currently, the majority of the Russian populace doesn’t even suspect how many female immigrants live in cultural isolation in their country,” says Apahonchich.

According to the UNHCR, about 220,000 refugees and persons with temporary asylum status were registered in Russia in 2019. Most of those people came from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, and Yemen.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Pornofilmy, “This Will Pass”

After a hearing in the so-called Network trial in Petersburg this past Thursday, supporters of Russian political prisoners Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov chanted the lyrics of the song “This Will Pass,” by Russian rock group Pornofilmy, as the young men were led out of the courthouse and put in a paddy wagon for transport back to the remand prison where they have been jailed for the last two years. Since the song mentions the Network Case defendants and their torture at the hands of the FSB, and contains a brief but telling catalogue of the current Russian regime’s crimes, I made this hyperlink-annotated translation of the lyrics for you.

Pornofilmy: This Will Pass

Аll of it will pass, like thunderstorms in May
Someone’s tears, a V sign on the mouth
Like a United Russia MP’s mandate
Like an interrogation, like a cop’s sneer
Like the corridors at Lefortovo Prison
Like Beslan, like the poison gas at Nord-Ost
Like the federal pack of soulless majors
Sevastopol, Donetsk and Luhansk
This will definitely pass . . .

This will definitely pass!
A wet plastic bag on its head
Electric shock marks on its hands
My Russia is behind bars
But trust me
It will pass!
What black times we live in
But in the distance I seem to see
The forgotten light of living hope, so trust me
This will definitely pass

Like the swastika of the Russian world
Like the fires in Siberia’s forests
Prison sentences for honest guys from Penza and Petersburg
Paddy wagons packed with children
Or the lying scum on the telly
Article 228 and shakedowns at five in the morning
Like riot crops bravely maiming women
Like December, January and February
This will definitely pass…

putin enemy of people“Putin is an enemy of the people.” March 1, 2020, Petersburg. Photo by and courtesy of VA

This will definitely pass!
A wet plastic bag on its head
Electric shock marks on its hands
My Russia is behind bars
But trust me
It will pass!
What black times we live in
But in the distance I seem to see
The forgotten light of living hope, so trust me
This will definitely pass

All of it will pass, everything passes sometime
In a year, in a day, in an instant
Yesterday’s dictator will lie alone in the morgue
Now just a dead old man
And the doors at Lefortovo will be cut from their hinges
And Russia will rise from its slumber
Like the battered and blown-up Malaysian airplane
Spring will burst into your icy hut

This will definitely pass!
A wet plastic bag on its head
Electric shock marks on its hands
My Russia is behind bars
But trust me
It will pass!
What black times we live in
But in the distance I seem to see
The forgotten light of living hope, so trust me
This will definitely pass

Translated by the Russian Reader

At the Network Trial in Petersburg

Jenya Kulakova writes: “The peculiarities of a small military garrison court and a high-profile political trial. A troika of military judges, flushed with irritation. They are three hours late for the hearing. Trying not to blow its cover, an FSB van transports them: three times it squeezes through a crowd of people shouting, ‘Freedom to political prisoners!’ and ‘Shame on the court!’ They peer fearfully from the courtroom, closing the door. On their second try, they are escorted by the bailiffs. We are like the buzzing of annoying mosquito to them. It will only make them angry, not appeal to their absent conscience. But what else can we do? Should we silently see off the people who in a few days will send our friends down for ten years or so? Yegor Ostapushchenko’s photo captures the moment when the judges peer from the courtroom, not daring to leave.

87514148_10216306409718439_2273106240202604544_o

Vlad Gagin writes: “Today I went to the trial of the Petersburg defendants in the Network Case, Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov. I stood outside for five hours and almost froze, because I had dressed so unforgivably lightly, but the important thing was that I felt part of a network, so to speak. It is a network of those whose texts I once read, those I loved, those whose activist projects I was interested in, those with whom I quarreled over ideological differences and everyday troubles, old friends and wonderful strangers, the red and black flag, and police officers who do not look you in the eyes. The city seemed like a city. The meaning of strange rituals like the secret removal of the defendants from the courtroom (as happened, I think, at the previous event in Penza) became clear: the space of struggle is quite small, but it is there. It is important to show the defendants that many people have come to support them. Bureaucracy (for example, the constant postponement of the start of the court hearing) is weaponized here. In fact, everything is weaponized. The next hearing is tomorrow morning at eleven o’clock at Ploshchad Truda, 1. Come if you can.”

Thanks to George Losev for the second link. Photo by Yegor Ostapushchenko; courtesy of Jenya Kulakova. Translated by the Russian Reader

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

Jenya Kulakova: A Letter from Dilmurod

dilmurod-2Dilmurod Muidinov. Photo courtesy of Regnum and Jenya Kulakova

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
February 24, 2020

I received a Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS) Letter Service letter from Dilmurod Muidinov. (He is 22 years old, and he was sentenced to nearly the same number of years—20—for the bombing in the Petersburg subway, something he obviously had nothing to do with.) He wrote super-small on the reply form to make as much fit as possible , while the resolution of scan was very low, and so I wound up with a bunch of pixels. (Update: Lyova helped me with the image, so I’ll be able to read it, yay!)

Dilmurod is a gnarly letter writer and an interesting correspondent who has a sense of humor and a fascinating story. He has permitted me to publish his letters, so I’m going to post here his previous letter, in which he writes about how he came up with a cake recipe called “Gentle Morozov” (named after the judge who sentenced him to 20 years in maximum security), and about how he, an ethnic Uzbek, witnessed the ethnic riots in Osh in 2010, when he was 13 years old.

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A scan of Dilmurod Muidinov’s letter to Jenya Kulakova. Courtesy of Jenya Kulakova

“I made a cake the other day. I turned on my imagination and made it following my own recipe, which I gave the name “Gentle Morozov.” :) Maybe I can treat you to it someday, and if I am somehow able to sell the recipe to a pastry shop, I will ask that they not change the name.”

“When I was 13 years old, we had a genocide in our city. I witnessed women, old people, and children being killed and burned only because they were from a different ethnic group, and at the age of 22 I witnessed everything that has happened to me now.”

Read his letter and write to Dilmurod or anyone else from the group of eleven people convicted for the bombing in the Petersburg subway. You can read about the case and the defendants on this website: http://3apr2017.tilda.ws. And here is information you need to send letters via the FPS Letter Service.

Remand Prison No. 5 (Arsenalka):
Кarimova, Shohista Sodikovna, born 1971 (sentenced to 20 years in prison)
Remand Prison No. 6 (Gorelovo):
Azimov, Abror Ahralovich, born 1990 (sentenced to life in prison)
Remand Prison No. 1 (Kresty):
Azimov, Akram Ahralovich, born 1998 (28 years in maximum security)
Ortikov, Sodik Zokirovich, born 1979 (22 years in maximum security)
Ermatov, Muhamadusup Bahodirovich, born 1991 (28 years in maximum security)
Ermatov, Ibrahimjon Bahodirovich, born 1993 (27 years in maximum security)
Mirzaalimov, Mahamadusuf Dilshadovich, born 1995 (20 years in maximum security)
Mahmudov, Azamjon Asadovich, born 1994 (20 years in maximum security)
Hakimov, Seifulla Vahitovich, born 1978 (19 years in maximum security)
Ergashev, Bahrom Hasilovich, born 1978 (19 years in maximum security)
Muidinov, Dilmurod Furkatovich, born 1997 (20 years in maximum security)

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the presumed terrorist attack, the case against its alleged “financers and planners,” its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the eleven defendants in the case:

Yevgenia Litvinova: Stop the Crackdown in Crimea!

litvinova placard“Stalinist prison sentences. Crimean Tatars: 7, 8, 12, 12, 18, 19 years. Network Case: 6, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 18 years. Coming soon to a location near you!” Photo by Yevgenia Litvinova

Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
February 18, 2020

#StopCrackdownInCrimea #FreeCrimeanTatars

Strategy 18

Today I will go to Nevsky Prospect and do a solo picket as part of Strategy 18’s indefinite protest campaign in support of the Crimean Tatars.

My placard addresses the huge sentences handed out to people convicted of far-fetched “crimes.”

My family went through all of this once upon a time. My grandfather was arrested in 1934 and shot in 1937, while my grandmother was imprisoned for nearly 20 years in the Gulag. It is a good thing there is a moratorium on the death penalty, and the arrests have not yet become widespread. But otherwise, the same thing is happening.

In November 2019, the following Crimean Tatars—ordinary people, ordinary believers—were sentenced to monstrous terms of imprisonment:

  • Arsen Dzhepparov, 7 years in prison
  • Refat Alimov, 8 years in prison
  • Vadim Siruk, 8 years in prison
  • Emir-Usein Kuku, 12 years in prison
  • Enver Bekirov, 18 years in prison
  • Muslim Aliyev, 19 years in prison

In February 2020, the defendants in the Network Case—ordinary young men, anarchists—were sentenced to the following monstrous terms of imprisonment:

  • Arman Sagynbayev, 6 years in prison
  • Vasily Kuksov, 9 years in prison
  • Mikhail Kulkov, 10 years in prison
  • Maxim Ivankin, 13 years in prison
  • Andrei Chernov, 14 years in prison
  • Ilya Shakursky, 16 years in prison
  • Dmitry Pchelintsev, 18 years in prison

I will remind you of the famous quote: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.” And so on.

What is happening now with the Crimean Tatars—86 of them have been arrested for being from the “wrong” ethnicity and having the “wrong” faith—tomorrow could happen to anyone.

What is happening now with the lads from the Network Case—they were convicted based on testimony obtained under torture—tomorrow could happen to anyone.

Let’s show solidarity with those who have been marked out as sacrificial victims today.

Let’s try and pull these people out of the dragon’s mouth.

When we are together, we have a chance.

Today’s Strategy 18 protest in support of the Crimean Tatars will take place on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Sadovaya at 7 p.m.

Join us!

Translated by the Russian Reader

Trump’s Christmas Gift to Putin: The Case of Nikita Semyonov and Georgy Chernyshov

20191230143413-img-3898Georgy Chernyshov. Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Bumaga

Kira Dolinina
Facebook
February 12, 2020

After the verdicts in the Network Case, I would imagine I don’t have to explain anything about our justice system and how it is consuming our children. So I  simply ask you to recall that we have been raising money to pay the lawyers defending 23-year-old Nikita Semyonov, who has been framed on “terrorism” charges. Thanks to you, we raised the first installment, 200,000 rubles. Thank you very much!

But the case is still ongoing. The investigators are investigating, Nikita is in remand prison, and only the lawyers can stand up for him. Prison officials wouldn’t give him a pen for several weeks so that he could write a complaint. I won’t even mention their failure to document his injuries from the beating investigators gave him.

Let’s not surrender this boy to them, okay?

Here is the number of the Sberbank account for paying Nikita Semyonov’s lawyers: 5336 6902 4491 0313.

The money is really needed. Please re-post this message.

 

“The Nikita Semyonov Case: The FSB Pins Failed Terrorist Attack on Orphan.” ROMB, February 6, 2020

Before the new year, Putin thanked Trump for helping prevent a terrorist attack, and the FSB demonstratively arrested two young men in Petersburg, Nikita Semyonov and [Georgy] Chernyshov. They said on TV that the young men were going to blow up Kazan Cathedral and the shopping center near Moscow Railway Station, although the only evidence in the case is a photo of the cathedral, download from the internet, and memes that the young men exchanged in a chat room.

Semyonov talked to his lawyer on January 25. On January 30, the investigator made both of his lawyers sign an agreement not to disclose evidence in the preliminary investigation, so they are unable to comment on the specifics of the case.

Suspects in Terrorist Attack Case Deny Wrongdoing
Marina Tsareva
Kommersant
February 4, 2020

Saint Petersburg City Court has left Georgy Chernyshov in police custody. He and Nikita Semyonov were detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) before the New Year’s holidays for, allegely, planning terrorist attacks. The men allegedly planned to set  off explosions in Kazan Cathedral and the Galereya Shopping Center. Both suspects have denied any wrongdoing, although the FSB reported they had confessed to the crimes after they where detained. Semyonov’s lawyers claim their defendant never made any such confession, although he was interrogated three times without defense counsel present and was subjected to coercion by FSB officers.

Nikita Semyonov, 22, and Georgy Chernyshov, 23, were detained on December 27 of last year at around nine in the evening on Gagarin Prospect. After the Kremlin’s press service reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin had thanked US President Donald Trump for information about the planned attack, as communicated via the special services, the FSB’s public relations center issued a press release about the arrests of two persons who had been planning to commit terrorist attacks in crowded places in Petersburg during the New Year’s holidays.

The same day, media outlets, citing sources in the FSB, reported that a criminal case involving violations of Russian Federal Criminal Code Articles 30 and 205 had been opened, although the first article was not mentioned during the subsequent remand hearing, held three days after the arrests. Investigators alleged that both suspects had communicated with adherents of the banned terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) via messenger services.

Chernyshov and Semyonov allegedly informed an IS member about their plan to engage in terrorist activities and recorded a video showing them swearing allegiance to the group. After that, according to investigators, the men began selecting places to carry out terrorist attacks, settling on two sites in downtown Petersburg, the Galereya Shopping Center and Kazan Cathedral. They allegedly photographed both buildings, sending the images to IS.

According to the Petersburg judicial press service, Chernyshov has denied any wrongdoing. Earlier, Leonid Krikun and Andrei Fedorkov, Semyonov’s attorneys, told Kommersant that their client had denied involvement in the terrorist organization’s activities and told them he had never been interested in the ideas of Islam in any way, nor did he speak Arabic. (The conversation took place on January; on January 30, the investigator made both lawyers sign an agreement not to disclose evidence in the preliminary investigation, so they are currently unable to comment on the specifics of the case.) According to them, Semyonov had not confessed either to involvement with IS or planning to commit terrorist attacks. On the contrary, on December 30, the FSB reported that both suspects had confessed, and the agency had “seized [physical] evidence confirming they were planning terrorist attacks.”

The lawyers told Kommersant that Semyonov was interrogated three times without a lawyer present, including at night, and the FSB “pressured”* him during the interrogations.

A video released by the FSB on December 30 focused on the knives and ammunition found in Semyonov’s apartment. His lawyers noted that the ammunition was for a hunting rifle that had been legally owned by his father, who died in 2017. Neither the knives nor the ammunition were ultimately confiscated by the FSB.

 

Vyacheslav Falkov, Chernyshov’s attorney, reported that he had also been forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement and thus would no longer be able to comment on the case.

*Meaning that the FSB tortured Semyonov. Thanks to Kira Dolinina for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader