Scapegoats

anatrrra-dvornikiCentral Asian yardmen in Moscow taking a break from their work. Photo by and courtesy of Anatrrra

‘People shout “Coronavirus!” at me as if it were my middle name’
Lenta.ru
March 29, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in xenophobic attitudes towards people of Asian background around the world, even though the US has already overtaken China in the number of infected people, as have European countries, if you add up all the cases. However, according to an international survey of several thousand people, it is Russians who are most likely to avoid contact with people of Asian appearance, although one in five residents of Russia is not an ethnic Russian. Our compatriots of Asian appearance have been subjected to increasing attacks, harassment, and discrimination. Lenta.ru recorded their monologues.

“Being Asian now means being a plague rat”
Lisa, Buryat, 27 years old

Sometimes I am mistaken for a Korean, and this is the best option in Russia, when you are mistaken for Chinese, Koreans or Japanese. The disdainful attitude is better than when you are mistaken for a migrant worker from Central Asia, because the attitude towards them is clearly aggressive. At least it was before the coronavirus.

Now, basically, being Asian means being a plague rat.

A couple of days ago, a young woman approached me at work—I’m a university lecturer. The lecture was on fashion, and naturally I had talked about the epidemic’s consequences for the fashion industry. The young woman works in a Chanel boutique. She said right to my face that “only the Chinese have the coronavirus,” and she tries not wait on them at her store, but “everything’s cool” with Europeans.

My mother has to listen to more racist nonsense because she has a more pronounced Asian appearance than I do, because my father is Russian. For example, there are three women named Sveta at her work. Two are called by their last names, but she is called “the non-Russian Sveta,” although she has lived in Petersburg since the nineteen-seventies. And when I enrolled in school, the headmaster asked my father to translate what he said for my mother, although five minutes earlier my mother had been speaking Russian.

In the subway, she can be told that immigrants are not welcome here and asked to stand up. A couple of times, men approached her on the street and asked whether she wasn’t ashamed, as a Muslim woman, to wear tight jeans. She is learning English, and when she watches instructional videos, people in the subway, for example, say, “Oh, can these monkeys speak Russian at all? They’re learning English!” Police are constantly checking her papers to see whether she’s a Russian citizen. When I was little, we were even taken to a police station because the policemen decided she had abducted an ethnic Russian child—I had very light hair as a child.

Recently, she was traveling by train to Arkhangelsk, and children from two different cars came to look at her. At such moments, you feel like a monkey. (By the way, “monkey from a mountain village” is a common insult.)

Everyone used to be afraid of skinheads. Everyone in the noughties had a friend who had been attacked by skinheads. Everyone [in Buryatia] was afraid to send their children to study in Moscow. But being a Russian Asian, you could pretend to be a tourist: my Buryat friend, who knows Japanese, helped us a couple of times make groups of people who had decided we were migrant workers from Central Asia leave us alone. Another time, the son of my mother’s friend, who was studying at Moscow State University, was returning home late at night and ran into a crowd of skinheads. They asked where he was from, and when he said he was from Buryatia, one of them said, “I served in Buryatia! Buryats are our guys, they’re from Russia,” and they let him go.

Now all Asians are objects of fear. People shout “Coronavirus!” at me on the street as if it were my middle name. They get up and move away from me on public transport, and they give me wide berth in queues. A man in a store once asked me not to sneeze on him as soon as I walked in. I constantly hear about people getting beat up, and I’m very worried. My Buryat girlfriends, especially in Moscow, are afraid to travel alone in the evening. People also move away from them on transport and behave aggressively.

You can put it down to human ignorance, but you get tired of living like this. When you talk about everyday racism with someone, they say they worked with an Asian and everything was fine. This constant downplaying is even more annoying. You haven’t insulted Asians—wow, here’s your medal! It doesn’t mean there is no problem with grassroots racism in multi-ethnic Russia.

“When are you all going to die?!”
Zhansaya, Kazakh, 27 years old

On Sunday morning, my boyfriend, who is an ethnic Kazakh like me, and I got on a half-empty car on the subway. We sat down at the end of the car. At the next station, an elderly woman, who was around sixty-five, got on. When she saw us, she walked up to my boyfriend, abruptly poked him with her hand, and said through clenched teeth, “Why are you sitting down? Get up! We didn’t fight in the war for people like you.”

I am a pharmacist by education, and I have seven years of experience working in a pharmacy. The pharmacy is next to a Pyatyorochka discount grocery store. Recently, I was standing at the register when a woman of Slavic appearance, looking a little over fifty, came in. She came over with a smile that quickly faded from her face when she saw me. I only had time to say hello when suddenly she screamed, “When are you all going to die?! We are tired of you all! You all sit in Pyatyorochkas, stealing our money, and then act as if nothing has happened!”

I didn’t hold my tongue, replying abruptly, “Excuse me! Who do you mean by you all?” The woman was taken aback as if something had gone wrong. Then she said something about “CISniks” [people from the Commonwealth of Independent States], ran out of the pharmacy, and never came back.

I had always dreamed about driving a car since I was a kid. At the age of eighteen, I found a driving school, where I successfully passed the classroom training, and after three months of practice I had to pass exams at the traffic police. I got 100% on the written test the first time. But during the behind-the-wheel exam, the examiner began talking crap the minute I got into the car. When I introduced myself by first name, middle name, and last name, he said something I missed since I was nervous. Then he, a rather obese man, hit me on the thighs and screamed, “Do you want me to say that in Uzbek?”

I immediately unbuckled my seat belt and got out of the car. I gave up for good the idea of taking the driving test.

covid-19-coronavirus-actions-ipsos-moriResults of an Ipsos MORI poll published on February 14, 2020

“The chinks piled into our country and brought this plague”
Anna, Buryat, 27 years old

We live in a multi-ethnic country that supposedly defeated fascism, but now every time I go into the subway, the police check my papers as if I were a terrorist. People really have begun to move away from me, give me a wide berth, and throw me contemptuous glances, as if to say “There goes the neighborhood!”

I live near University subway station [in Moscow], and there really are lots of Chinese students there. I feel quite sorry for them: they are constantly stopped by the police in the subway, and people look at them with disgust and demonstratively steer clear of them. If there are Chinese people who have stayed here, they probably didn’t go home for the Chinese New Year. Where would they bring the virus from? If they had gone home for the holidays, they would not have returned to Russia, since the border was already closed by the end of the holidays. Accordingly, the Chinese who are here are not carrying the virus.

Recently, I was going down an escalator. My nose was stuffy from the cold, and so I blew my noise softly. I thought I was going to be murdered right on the escalator: some people bolted straight away from me, while others shouted that I was spreading the contagion.

Recently, in a grocery store, a woman and her teenage daughter were standing behind me. The woman said something to the effect that all sorts of chinks have come to our country and brought the plague. She said it out loud and without any bashfulness, aiming her words at me. She and her daughter were less than a meter away from me, as if I didn’t understand them. My level of indignation was off the charts, but I didn’t say anything.

Another time, I went into my building and approached the elevator. A woman and her children literally recoiled and almost ran out—they didn’t want to ride in the elevator with me! I said I’d wait for the next one. They were not at all perplexed by the fact that I spoke Russian without an accent.

“I will always be second class here”
Malika, Uzbek, 21 years old

Recently, a mother and daughter passed by my house. Tajik yardmen were cleaning the yard. The girl asked the mother why she was rolling her eyes, and the mother explained that the yardmen were probably illegal aliens and terrorists. I walked next to them all the way to the bus stop—it was unpleasant.

During three years of living in Moscow, I very rarely felt like an outsider: the people around me were always sensible, and I was almost never stopped by police in the subway to check my papers. But when I decided to leave the student dorm, I realized that I would always be a second-class person here. It took four months to find an apartment. A girlfriend and I were looking for a two-room flat for the two of us for a reasonable amount of money, but every other ad had phrases like “only for Slavs.” There were jollier phrases like “white Europe” or “Asia need not apply.” But even in cases where there were no such restrictions, we would still be turned down when we went to look at flats.

After a while, I started saying on the phone that I was from Uzbekistan. Some people would hang up, while others would make up ridiculous excuses. In the end, we found a place through friends, but the process was quite unpleasant.

I’m no longer bothered by such everyday questions as “Why is your Russian so good?” I like talking about my own culture if the curiosity is not mean-spirited. But I am terribly disgusted to see how my countrymen are treated on the streets and realize that I’m left alone only because I’m a couple of shades lighter. Because of this, people take me for a Russian and complain about “those wogs” to my face.

“He shouted that I was a yakuza and had come here to kill people”
Vika, Korean, 22 years old

I’m an ethnic Korean. I was born and raised in North Ossetia, and graduated from high school in Rostov-on-Don. I have lived in Moscow since 2015, and I encounter more everyday racism here.

One day a woman on the street started yelling at me to get the hell out of Moscow and go back to my “homeland.” Another time, a madman in the subway sat down next to me and shouted that I was a yakuza and had come here to kill people.

When I was getting a new internal passport at My Documents, the woman clerk asked several times why I was getting a new passport and not applying for citizenship, although I had brought a Russian birth certificate and other papers.

Once my mother was attempting to rent an apartment for us and humiliated herself by persuading the landlords that Koreans were a very good and decent people. I wanted to cry when she said that.

There is a stereotype that Asians are quite smart and study hard, that they have complicated, unemotional parents, and so on. As a teenager, I tried to distance myself as much as possible from stereotypical ideas about Koreans. Now I can afford to listen to K-pop and not feel guilty about being stereotypical.

Generally, we are not beaten or humiliated much, but I don’t feel equal to the dominant ethnic group [i.e., ethnic Russians], especially now, when everyone is so excited about Korean pop culture, generalize everything they see in it to all Koreans and can come up to you out of the blue and say they love doramas. That happened to me once. It is very unpleasant—you feel like a pet of a fashionable breed.

In questionnaires on dating sites you can often find preferences based on ethnicity, and they can take the form of refusals to date people of a certain race, as well as the opposite, the desire to date such people. It is not a sign of tolerance, however, but the flip side of racism—fetishization. It still reduces a person to her ethnic group, suggesting she should be perceived not as an individual, but as a walking stereotype.

“Several times it ended in attempted rape”
Madina, from a mixed family (Tatar/Tajik/Kazakh/Russian), 25 years old

I was born in Moscow. My Russian teacher from the fifth grade on liked to repeat loudly to the entire class, “Can you imagine? Madina is the best Russian and literature student in my class!” By the end of the sixth grade, my classmates were sick and tired of this, but instead of boning up on Russian, they decided to throw me a blanket party. They got together, backed me into a corner, and kicked the hell out of me.

I recently returned from doing a master’s degree abroad and was looking for an apartment to rent in Moscow. Several times, landlords offered to rent an apartment without a contract, explaining that I undoubtedly needed a residence permit. When I showed them my internal passport and Moscow residence permit, they turned me down anyway.

Before moving to the United States, I had to forget about romantic relationships for several years because several times it all ended with attempted rape under the pretext “You’re an Asian woman, and I’ve always dreamed of fucking a woman like you  in the ass.”

Nor was it strangers I’d met on Tinder who told me this, but guys from my circle of friends at school and university. There were three such incidents, and all of them combined racism, objectification, and a lack of understanding of the rules of consent.

“She looked at me like I was death, shoved me, and ran out of the car”
Aisulu, Kazakh, 22 years old

Recently, I was a little ill: I had a runny nose and sneezed once in a while. I wouldn’t even say it was the flu, just the common cold. I decided to attend lectures and put on a mask for decency’s sake.

I went into the subway, where people got up and moved away from me twice. I wasn’t particularly offended, but it was unpleasant when I stood next to a women after moving to another car and sneezed. She looked at like I was death, shoved me, and ran out of the car. That was quite odd.

I told a classmate about the incident, and she asked why I was wearing a mask, because it attracts more attention. I felt even worse, and took it off.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Five More Months in Remand Prison for Mathematician Azat Miftakhov

azatAzat Miftakhov in the cage at his first custody hearing in February 2019. Photo courtesy of BBC Russian Service

Mathematician Azat Miftakhov’s Arrest Extended for Five Months
OVD Info
March 23, 2020

The Golovino District Court in Moscow has extended for five months the remand in custody of Moscow State University mathematics graduate student Azat Miftakhov, accused of disorderly conduct, according to a post on the Telegram channel FreeAzat!

Miftakhov will thus remain under arrest until September 4. A hearing on the merits was postponed due to the absence of counsel for the injured party. The next hearing in the case has been scheduled for April 20.

A mathematics graduate student at Moscow University and an anarchist, Miftakhov was arrested in connection with an alleged case of disorderly conduct by a group of people, punishable under Article 213.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. According to investigators, on January 30, 2018, Miftakhov, Andrei Yeikin, Yelena Gorban, Alexei Kobaidze, and Svyatoslav Rechkalov broke a window at a United Russian party office in Moscow’s Khovrino District and threw a smoke bomb into it.

The mathematician was detained on February 1, 2019. He later told his lawyer he had been tortured with a screwdriver. Over the following eleven days, his term in police custody was extended under various pretexts. OVD Info has written in detail about aspects of Miftakhov’s detention and published a chronicle of developments in the case of the broken window at the United Russia party office. Miftakhov has been in remand prison for over a year.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my earlier posts on the Khovrino vandalism case and the Russian police state’s relentless persecution of Azat Miftakhov.

 

Popular Gay Blogger Attacked and Beaten in Moscow

gay blogger
Andrei Petrov. Photo courtesy of @andrewpetrov1 and Lenta.ru

Popular Gay Blogger Assaulted in Moscow
Lenta.ru
March 1, 2020

Andrei Petrov, an openly gay popular blogger, has been attacked and beaten in Moscow, according to Telegram channel 112.

At the time of the attack, the blogger was with another influencer, Dmitry Gorodetsky.

According to 112, Petrov has been diagnosed with a head injury. Petrov and Gorodetsky are both currently in hospital, where they are being examined by medics.

In February, a 21-year-old local resident, a stylist who goes by the pseudonym Gliese Nana, was beaten and stabbed three times in the neck in the Moscow suburb of Zheleznodorozhny because of his appearance. The young man wears earrings and has blue and purple hair.

In January, Petrov interviewed blogger Vova Goryainov, also known by the nickname Volodya XXL. Their conversation centered on the fact that, in a recent video, Goryainov had expressed a desire to shoot homosexuals.

Thanks to Misha Tumasov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Andrei Petrov interviews blogger Volodya XXL on his YouTube program Pushka (Cannon). Posted on January 12, 2020, the program has been viewed over six and a half million times

Blogger Who Wanted to Shoot Gays Visits Gay and Explains What He Meant
Lenta.ru
January 13, 2020

The openly gay blogger Andrei Petrov has interviewed blogger Vova Goryainov aka Volodya XXL. Their conversation centered on a recent video in which Goryainov said he wanted to shoot homosexuals. The interview is available on YouTube.

Goryainov made the remark when asked by a subscriber about his attitude to gays.

“If I had the opportunity […] I would shoot all those stinking people. I don’t understand why they’re alive at all,” he said.

In his interview with Petrov, the blogger said that it was not the first time he had voiced such an opinion to his subscribers.

Volodya XXL explained that his negative attitude to homosexuals was due to his upbringing.

“I’m not a guy from the capital who is taught that gays are good. I’m a regular guy from Kursk,” he said, adding that he was raised by friends and the streets.

He also noted that if Petrov came to Kursk, he would not be able to go outside at all.

Goryainov stressed that he had not called for gays to be shot, but had only voiced his opinion. He admitted that it was unpleasant for him to sit next to Petrov, and expressed regret that Petrov had been born. Goryainov explained that, in his opinion, guys should be masculine.

The blogger linked the campaign of harassment [sic] against him to the desire of other influencers to attract attention.

“I think all of it was planned. They planned to hype themselves at my expense,” he said.

Goryainov has 300,000 subscribers on Instagram and 700,000 subscribers on TikTok. He also releases his own songs.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Putin submits plans for constitutional ban on same-sex marriage
Draft amendment submitted among raft of conservative constitutional proposals
Andrew Roth
The Guardian
March 2, 2020

Vladimir Putin has submitted a draft amendment to Russia’s constitution that would enshrine marriage as between a man and a woman in a conservative update to the country’s founding document.

The measure was reportedly part of a 24-page document submitted by the president that would also name Russia as the successor to the Soviet Union; explicitly mention Russians’ “faith in God”; and ensure the “defence of historical truth” regarding the Soviet role in the second world war.

The amendments would also proscribe the cession of Russian territory to foreign powers, deepening the conflict over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea.

The draft submissions have not yet been made public but were described to journalists in a series of briefings by high-ranking members of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.

“For me, the most important proposal would fix the status of marriage as a union between a man and a woman,” Pyotr Tolstoy, a vice-speaker in the Duma, told reporters on Monday in remarks carried by Russian state news agencies. “And I am happy that this amendment has appeared under the signature of the head of state.”

Russia is planning to amend its constitution for the first time since 1993. The move, announced by Putin in January, was initially seen as a way for him to hold on to power after 2024, when as things stand he will no longer be able to serve as president because of term limits. After a parliamentary vote, Russia will hold a nationwide referendum in mid-April, when the conservative amendments may help boost turnout.

Putin’s direct support for the amendments makes it likely they will go through. He has taken an increasingly conservative turn in his fourth term as president, and has enjoyed support from both patriotic groups and the Russian Orthodox church.

But plans for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage have come together quickly, appearing to crystallise during a speech to politicians last month. “As far as ‘Parent No 1’ and ‘Parent No 2’ goes, I’ve already spoken publicly about this and I’ll repeat it again: as long as I’m president this will not happen. There will be Dad and Mum,” Putin said, according to Reuters.

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.

“The People’s Crime”: Drug Convictions Are Filling Russia’s Prisons with Nonviolent Offenders

lebedev-dimaDima has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for a minor drugs offense. Photo by Mikhail Lebedev

Mikhail Lebedev
Facebook
February 19, 2020

THIS IS IMPORTANT! LEGAL HELP NEEDED!

It is no secret that I am now shooting a project dealing with the so-called people’s article [Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code, which makes it a felony to possess over seven grams of a controlled substance; see the articles, below—TRR]. Among other things, I have been photographing people who were convicted under this article and interviewing them. Four months ago, I went to Novgorod to shoot Dima, who was on his own recognizance as his trial was underway. [Last] Friday, Dima, who is twenty-two, was sentenced to eleven years in a maximum-security prison.

Dima was not a dealer. He used synthetic drugs and, as often happens, he used them in the company of others. A couple of times he also used his Hydra account to buy stashes of drugs for friends and sent them photos of the stashes. At some point, the “friends” were detained, the photos Dima sent were found on their telephones, and Dima became a “drug dealer.” At most, he should have been charged with aiding and abetting, but the court refused to change the charges.

This is not a matter of right or wrong, but of whether the punishment fits the crime. Dima is guilty of using drugs and “helping” friends in such an irresponsible manner. Nowadays, however, the emergence of the Darknet and Hydra make it akin to a computer game: you can buy anything with a couple of clicks. I remember what my friends and I were like at the age of twenty-two: any of us could have been sent down like Dima. We lucked out, however, and he did not. Eleven years in prison! People get less time for rape and murder, not to mention assault and battery, domestic violence, and robbery.

We walked around Novgorod for five hours, conversing the entire time. Dima already had a different life: he had stopped using, improved his relationship with his girlfriend, and worked as a loader when possible. (Although Dima is a talented programmer, no one will hire you above the table if you are under investigation.) When he gets out of prison, society will punish him again. Among the people I have met, no one convicted under Article 228 who has served time or been put on probation can get a decent job above the table because corporate security services reject such applicants.

If any of my friends on Facebook know good lawyers in this area or foundations that help people convicted under Article 228 or have practical advice, be sure to write me and I will pass on these contacts to Dima’s girlfriend. His family is now preparing an appeal, and they need support and legal assistance.

message from xtc dealerPetersburg and other Russian cities are now chockablock with stencils and placards advertising illegal drugs like this one, which I photographed in March 2018.

The Stash and Its Master: Why Russians Are Becoming Drugs Couriers
Nataliya Zotova
BBC Russian Service
June 10, 2019

With the spread of the internet and smartphones in Russia, a whole new profession for young people has emerged—stashers (zakladchiki) aka stashmen (kladmeny), people who deliver drugs ordered on the internet to buyers. Although it is a fairly easy way for young people to make money, they could face up to twenty years in prison if they are caught.

Young people employed in the business told the BBC why they went into it, what the job involved, and whether they were afraid of getting caught.

[…]

Twenty-year-old Daniil Zhilenkov did his mandatory military service in the Russian National Guard, and when he was demobbed, he wanted to sign up again as a professional soldier. But he changed his mind when he found out that novice guardsmen made only 16,000 rubles [approx. $250] a month. He then left his hometown of Mariinsk, in Kemerovo Region, to live with his girlfriend, a university student in Krasnoyarsk. Kseniya could not contribute to their joint budget because she had to finish her studies.

Daniil found employment at the train depot (he had graduated from the railway college before going to the army), but he left the job after a month, again due to the low salary. He tried working part-time at a car wash.

“The salary was 27,000 rubles [approx. $420] a month. Our rent was 15,000, and then there were the groceries. We didn’t have enough money to cover everything,” he said.

Kseniya recalled that she bought only the cheapest products at the time.

One day, Daniil and a friend were walking down the street and saw an ad on a wall: a store was hiring couriers. Daniil found out what the store sold when came home and googled the name.

“He took the job without my knowledge. When he started going out in the evenings, I realized something was wrong. We sat down and talked. We had a huge row over it,” Kseniya recounted, explaining that she was afraid for her boyfriend.

Daniil was not afraid, however.

“I didn’t think about how to do things more safely. I couldn’t imagine the police were interested in us. It was quite the opposite, as it turned out: it is only people like us who are arrested,” he said.

Daniil and Kseniya agreed that he would not do the work for long, only until he found a better job.

“He said, ‘I’ll save up and leave,'” she recalled.

So four months passed, but one night Daniil was detained on the street by the police. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for distributing drugs.

He spoke to me on a pay phone from the penal colony in Irkutsk: he had served around two years of his seven-year sentence. Daniil wondered how old I was. I told him I was twenty-age. Daniil would be the same age when he was released.

[…]

Translated by the Russian Reader

fullsizeoutput_1ba8“Stashers wanted.” Petrograd Side, Petersburg, March 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

A Change in Russia’s Draconian Drug Laws Could Be on the Horizon
The fiasco surrounding the case of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov is bringing the country’s controversial Article 228 into the spotlight.
Pjotr Sauer
Moscow Times
June 14, 2019

Living in a country where so-called gay propaganda is banned, Denis, 19, was happy to finally meet someone he felt a connection with on the dating app Tinder.

A few weeks after they had started chatting, the guy on the other side of the screen invited him over and asked him to bring “some weed” to relax them during their first encounter. But when Denis arrived at the address his date had given him, he was met by two policeman who began to search him.

“It turned out to be a set up, and the guy I was talking to on Tinder was a cop,” Denis told The Moscow Times.

The police presented him with a choice — pay a bribe or face being charged under the notorious Article 228 for drug-related crimes.

“They told me they would charge me with possession of 7 grams of marijuana and open a criminal case against me, even though I had much less on me. It would have been the end of my university career and possibly my future,” he said.

Possession of up to 6 grams of the drug is an administrative offense, while anything over that is a criminal offense. Denis paid the 70,000 ruble ($1,088) bribe.

Russia has the highest number of people per capita imprisoned for drug crimes in Europe. Most of them were convicted under Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code — nicknamed “narodnaya statya” or “the people’s article” because of the large number of people imprisoned under it. In 2018 alone, around 100,000 people were jailed under the article, and a quarter of all prisoners are in jail on drug-related charges.

According to Maksim Malishev coordinator of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation NGO that aims to change Russia’s drug laws, Denis’s story is far from unique.

“We constantly hear of police either planting drugs on innocent people or increasing the amount of drugs they caught someone with in order to prosecute the person under criminal law,” he said.

Human rights lawyer Arseniy Levinson said that police and other officials fabricate cases for several reasons, including having to reach certain quotas and collecting bribes.

Last week, Russian investigative reporter Ivan Golunov was arrested and charged with drug trafficking under Article 228. The anti-corruption journalist’s detention led to a national outcry among his Russian peers and human rights activists, who said drugs found by police in his backpack and apartment were planted. On Monday, Russia’s Interior Ministry ruled to drop the charges against Golunov, admitting that there was no evidence the drugs belonged to him.

“Not everyone is as famous as Ivan Golunov, and most cases go unnoticed as they aren’t political. We have thousands and thousands of people rotting away in jail because of false charges,” said Vyacheslav Matushin, a colleague of Malishev at the Andrey Rylkov Foundation.

The Golunov case has ignited public debate about Article 228 and how it is being implemented.

“We are feeling the post-Golunov effect, and this could be a turning point in how Russians look at Article 228,” said Ella Paneyakh, a sociologist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.

The problem with current drug legislation is how the system is set up, said Mikhail Golichenko, a human rights lawyer specializing in drug and HIV cases.

He pointed to official state figures showing that over 80 percent of all people charged under Article 228 are convicted for the possession of drugs without the intention of selling them.

“In those cases, police have almost full oversight over the evidence that is presented to the courts and the judges need little else to make their decision.”

Golunov’s high profile case, however, might have triggered a response from the authorities. On Tuesday, the independent television station Dozhd reported that a proposal to cut sentences for drug possession unrelated to attempted sales might be passed by Russia’s State Duma before the end of the spring session.

The first hearing could be on June 20.

“I know they have been working for a while now on softening the legislation, maybe now they think they will have the support of the public to push it through,” Malishev said, adding that “it is only a tiny step in the right direction.”

Several high profile officials have also voiced their support for reform. Alexei Kudrin, the head of the Audit Chamber and a long-standing advisor of Russian President Vladimir Putin said while he “welcomed” the release of Golunov, “many others are still in jail” and called for a reform of Article 228.

Lawyers and human rights activists The Moscow Times spoke to, however, remain skeptical that new legislation will bring genuine change.

“The government might soften the laws a bit, but unless there is a fundamental shift in the way police deal with suspects, this will keep on happening,” Levinson said.

It’s also unclear if drug reform has popular support

Sociological polls indicate little public support for any kind of drug decriminalization in Russia. Levada, the country’s sole independent pollster, in 2014 showed that only 14 percent of the population would like to see soft drugs legalized.

VTsIOM, the state polling agency, showed similar numbers in 2018. But attitudes toward punishment for drug-related offenses were much more lenient among under 24s.

“There is a definite generational shift in attitudes towards drug use, young people are seeing the absurdity of the current legislation and how it is being implemented,” said Malishev, adding that his organization received a “large amount of interest and calls” following Golunov’s arrest.

Other initiatives have also sprung up to bring attention to the issues surrounding current drug legislation, including a range of t-shirts with the slogan “228” from Moscow-based fashion brand Kultrab.

“They have been a massive success, we completely sold out and had to order a new batch, people have been proud to wear them on the streets and are posting about them on social media, so the stigma seems to be going away,” said Kultrab’s founder Yegor Yeremeev.

“We have the momentum with us, suddenly everyone is talking about 228. People have realized that they too could be Golunov,” he added.

This sentiment was echoed by the editors of Russia’s three most influential newspapers — Vedomosti, Kommersant and RBC — who on Monday made history by printing identical front pages with the headline “I/We are Ivan Golunov” in support of the journalist.

RBC’s editor-in-chief, Igor Trosnikov, told The Moscow Times that Golunov being charged under Article 228 played a big role in the decision.

For Denis, change can’t come soon enough, as he said he and his friends often feel “hunted by police” in Moscow under the current laws.

“This has to end, I am sick of being scared.”

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

86 Years in Prison for 7 Defendants in Network Case

Defendants in Network Case Receive Up to 18 Years in Prison
Bumaga
February 10, 2020

The Volga District Military Court, [sitting in Penza], has [convicted and] sentenced seven defendants in the Network Case.

Dmitry Pchelintsev was sentenced to 18 years in a maximum-security penal colony. Ilya Shakursky was sentenced to 16 years in a penal colony and fined 50,000 rubles. Investigators claimed they were organizers of a “terrorist community.” Both men alleged that FSB officers had electrocuted them in order to obtain confessions.

Maxim Ivankin was given 13 years in a maximum-security penal colony, while Andrei Chernov was sentenced to 14 years, and Mikhail Kulkov, to 10 years. They were found guilty of involvement in a “terrorist community” and attempting to sell drugs.

Vasily Kuksov was sentenced to 9 years in a penal colony. He was accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” and illegal possession of a weapon. Another defendant, Arman Sagynbayev, received 6 years in prison.

The verdict handed down by the court in Penza suggests that the acquittal of the Petersburg defendants in the case is less likely, Viktor Cherkasov, the lawyer for Viktor Filinkov, a defendant in the Network Case, told Bumaga.

“It sends a message,” said Cherkasov. “It is difficult to hope [for a positive outcome], but we are still determined to protect Filinkov’s interests.”

Cherkasov said that he planned in court to point to the faked evidence in the case. He also that he would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if Filinkov were found guilty. The next hearing in the Network Case in Petersburg should take place between February 25 and February 28.

[In October 2017 and January 2018], antifascists and anarchists were detained in Penza and Petersburg. They were accused of organizing a “terrorist community,” allegedly called “the Network.” Its alleged purpose was to “sway the popular masses for further destabilization of the political situation” in Russia.

The defendants in the case said investigators had tortured them as a way of forcing them to confess and weapons had been planted on their persons and property to further implicate them. [Some of] the arrested men had played airsoft together: this, investigators, said was proof they were planning terrorist attacks.

Investigators claim that the Petersburg defendants in the case, Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinkov, acted as the group’s sapper and signalman, respectively. Their trial is scheduled to resume in late February.

Translated by the Russian Reader

This verdict doesn’t leave me at a loss for words. I’m just convinced there is no point in using them when everyone who could listen has made a point of tuning out people like me. If someone invited me to appear on their aptly named alternative radio program or their globe-spanning Qatar-based international TV network (as nearly happened in the past), I could talk for hours about the Network Case. But that’s not going to happen. Although if I were a betting man, I would wager that our tiresome planet’s obnoxious pillars of liberal truth—the New York Times, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and Al Jazeera, among others—will suddenly weigh in on the case after blithely ignoring it for two years, as will many if not all of the crypto-Putinist “Russia watchers” in our midst, eerily silent until now. Barring a sudden revolution, don’t imagine this is the last such case in Russia, a country that has worried so many people around the world for the last several years that they’re determined not to know anything particular about it except “Putin” and “troll factories.” And don’t imagine that a show trial just as juicy and unjust won’t be coming to a theater near you. Please don’t reprint, repost or otherwise reference this article without prefacing it with my remarks. I’d like to preempt “spontaneous” shows of “solidarity” by people who couldn’t be bothered to do anything when it would have made a difference. Despite the well-known saying, it IS a popularity contest, and seven innocent young men in Penza have lost it. [TRR]