Igor Yakovenko: The Execution of Yuri Dmitriev

The Public Execution of the Historian Dmitriev
Igor Yakovenko’s Blog
September 30, 2020

Three days before the Karelian Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the “case” of the historian Yuri Dmitriev, the program “Vesti” on state TV channel Rossiya 24 ran a segment in which “shocking pictures” of Dmitriev’s foster daughter were aired. The voice of reporter Olga Zhurenkova shook with anger as she said that “hundreds of Internet users were shocked by these terrible pictures that appeared on the Internet on the morning of September 26,” that “the Internet is boiling with indignation” at this monster who “ruined a child’s life.” The security services got into Dmitriev’s computer and pulled out photos of his foster daughter. Then the security services leaked these photos to the Internet for thousands to see. After that, Rossiya 24 showed them on TV to millions. And they also showed a video in which the foster daughter hugs Dmitriev: the girl can clearly be identified in the video, and just to make sure, Rossiya 24’s reporters called her by name.

This goes to the question of who actually ruined the child’s life and why they did it.

Rossiya 24’s handiwork lasts 4 minutes, 48 seconds. The state channel’s reporters managed to pack into this amount of time all the hatred that the ideological heirs of Stalin’s executioners feel towards the man who for many years studied and presented to the public the traces of the latter’s crimes. In all his previous trials, Dmitriev and his defense team managed to fully prove his innocence. And the prosecutors were well aware that he was innocent, so to concoct and pass a monstrous sentence on him, they recreated the ambiance of the show trials during the Great Terror. Back then, the “people’s anger” was fueled by newspaper articles, demonstrations outside the courtroom, and meetings at factories where shockworkers demanded that the Trotskyite-fascist Judases be shot like mad dogs. Now, in the third decade of the 21st century, the Internet and TV organize the “people’s anger.”

The appeals hearing in Dmitriev’s case was orchestrated like a special military operation whose goal was to prevent the human rights defender from getting out of prison alive. To accomplish this, in addition to organizing the “people’s anger,” the authorities virtually deprived Dmitriev of legal counsel. His lead defense attorney, Viktor Anufriev, was quarantined on suspicion of having the coronavirus, while the court-appointed lawyer said that it was a mockery to expect him to review the nineteen volumes of the case file in three days. Despite the fact that Anufriev petitioned to postpone the hearing for a specific period after his release from quarantine, and Dmitriev declined the services of the court-appointed lawyers, the court, contrary to normal practice, refused to postpone the hearing, and so Dmitriev was left virtually with no legal representation.

Yuri Dmitriev’s work touched a very sensitive chord in the collective soul of Russia’s current bosses, who see themselves as the direct heirs of those who organized the Great Terror, which, they are firmly convinced, is a purely internal matter of the “new nobility.” It is virtually a family secret. They believe that Dmitriev—who not only investigated the mass murders at the Sandarmokh killing field, but also invited foreign journalists there and published lists of those who were killed—is a traitor who deserves to die.

Moreover, the Dmitriev case has come to embody one of the most important amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation adopted this past summer. Namely, the new Article 67.1, which establishes a completely monstrous norm: “The Russian Federation honors the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland [and] ensures the protection of historical truth.” In other words, the task of protecting the “historical truth” is assumed not by historians, but by the state, that is, by the apparatus of violence and coercion.

In fact, the Dmitriev case has been a demonstrative act of “historical truth enforcement.”

The fact is that on the eve of Dmitriev’s trial, members of the Russian Military History Society attempted to write a “correct history” of the killing field in Sandarmokh. They dug up mass graves and hauled away bags of the remains for “forensic examination,” subsequently that they were Soviet soldiers who had been shot by the Finnish invaders.

There should be no blank or black spots in the history of the Fatherland: everything should shine with cleanliness, resound with military exploits and feats of labor, and smell of patriotism. To this end, MP Alexei Zhuravlyov—the man who recently told Russian TV viewers that Europe has brothels for zoophiles where you can rape a turtle—introduced a bill under which you could get three years in prison for “distorting history.” To Zhuravlyov’s great disappointment, his legislative initiative was not appreciated.

And really, why send someone down for three years for promoting “incorrect history,” when you can send them to a maximum security penal colony for thirteen years, which for the 64-year-old human rights activist is tantamount to a death sentence. It was this verdict that was issued by the Karelian Supreme Court by order of the heirs of those who organized the Great Terror.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Yuri Dmitriev. Photo by Igor Podgorny/TASS. Courtesy of the Moscow Times

Prominent Gulag Historian’s 3.5-Year Prison Sentence Lengthened to 13 Years
Moscow Times
September 29, 2020

A Russian court has lengthened the term prominent Gulag historian Yuri Dmitriev must serve in prison to 13 years, the Mediazona news website reported Tuesday, a surprise increase of a lenient sentence for charges his allies say were trumped up to silence him.

Dmitriev was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison in July after a city court in northwestern Russia found him guilty of sexually assaulting his adopted [sic] daughter, a ruling his supporters viewed as a victory given the 15 years requested by prosecutors.

The Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia overturned that ruling and sentenced him to 13 years in a maximum-security penal colony, Mediazona reported, citing the lawyer of Dmitriev’s adopted [sic] daughter.

Under his previous sentence, Dmitriev, 64, would have been released in November as his time already served in pre-trial detention counted toward his sentence.

Human rights advocates condemned the Karelia Supreme Court’s ruling, calling it a “shame.”

Dmitriev has vehemently denied the charges against him.

The head of the Memorial human rights group’s Karelia branch, Dmitriev is known for helping open the Sandarmokh memorial to the thousands of victims murdered there during Stalin-era political repressions in 1937 and 1938.

Belarusian Children’s Writers Call for End to Violence

Belarusian Children’s Writers Against Violence
Oleg Grushetsky
Novy Chas
September 27, 2020

Belarusian children’s writers have recorded a video message in which they condemn the violent actions of the authorities, demand an end to the violence, and ask for restoration of the law.

Well-known Belarusian children’s writers, poets and translators, playwrights, publishers and illustrators, winners of numerous literary awards and creative competitions have made a video message demanding that the Belarusian authorities stop violence and restore the law. Anna Yankuta, Vera Burlak, Nadezhda Yasminska, Natalka Kharitonyuk, Nadya Kandrusevich-Shidlovskaya, Diana Balyko, Olga Akulich,  Andrey Zhvalevsky and Evgeniya Pasternak, and Maria Martysevich recorded the video message. The appeal was supported by Andrey Khodanovich, Maria Bershadskaya, Yuri Nesterenko, Anna Zenkova, and Oleg Grushetsky.

The appeal made by the children’s writers differs from a number of others: it was recorded in a way that resembles the manner of story or fairy tale.

We suggest that you read the text of the message.

Anna Yankuta

Writers can’t be outside of politics, because what we write is politics, even if we write for children. If we don’t fight evil and injustice in life, how will we write about it in books?

Vera Burlak

Children believe books. That’s why it’s important for writers to tell children what they themselves believe. I believe that freedom is necessary: freedom of thought, freedom of imagination, freedom from fear.

Nadezhda Yasminska

Children not only believe in fairy tales, but they also call writers wizards. Their faith is touching and quite precious to us. And we are ready to fight evil, violence, and lawlessness, even though in real life we don’t have magic wands.

Natalka Kharitonyuk

I don’t have a magic wand. But I have a way to take revenge on the security forces and falsifiers, and all the forces of darkness that have gone on the rampage in Belarus. The freedom of children will be my revenge—the freedom that children find in stories and fairy tales. Freedom that cannot be shot or sent to the jail on Okrestin Street.

Nadya Kandrusevich-Shidlovskaya

Children’s literature is a real art that does not tolerate censorship and ideology. Only in a free country can authentic children’s books be freely written, illustrated, and translated. We are against violence, deception and captivity.

Diana Balyko

As it is never too late to have a happy childhood, so it is never too late to realize yourself as a person, as a citizen, and start living in a free country of happy people. And we don’t have to leave Belarus to do this. All we need to do is stop the dictatorship.

Olga Akulich

Children know very well that an adult is not the one who is the strongest, the most evil, or the most cunning. Adults are objective, fair and willing to cooperate. Adults, be adults!

Evgeniya Pasternak and Andrey Zhvalevsky

In fairy tales, good always vanquishes evil. It’s the same way in real life. The evil dragon will slink back into its dungeon. Harry Potter will defeat Voldemort. The Belarusian people will find their fern flower. And a good fellow shall break Koschei’s needle. We will win!

Maria Martysevich

Quiet, mice, quiet, quiet:
We’re being held hostage by a psycho.
Don’t wake the cat with a squeak,
Don’t rock the boat with your paw—
The wolves will come out of the dark,
They’ll kick everyone’s tails.
Only our mice are punks,
Lullabies won’t put them to sleep.
Our mice are flower children,
You can’t break their bouquet like that:
Without the cat, we are in charge.
Shame on you, cats. Long live [Belarus]!

Thanks to Yulya Tsimafeyeva for the heads-up. Translated from the Russian and the Belarusian by the Russian Reader with some assistance from Yandex Translate.

Photographer Vadim Zamirovski: Fifty Days of Protests in Belarus

Minsk, August 12, 2020. A young woman talking to a law enforcement officer as he is trying to close the gates of the Okrestin jail. After street protests took place, hundreds of people went to the jail in hopes of finding their relatives who had disappeared. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

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Photographer Vadim Zamirovski: Fifty Days of Protests in Belarus

“I do not know the exact number of news photographers still working on the ground in Belarus right now,” says Vadim Zamirovski, a photo correspondent for TUT.BY, “but you can count them on the fingers of both hands.”

TUT.BY is the leading Belarusian independent news website. It is currently under investigation by the country’s Ministry of Information and thus might lose its accreditation as a mass media outlet.

Since the fraudulent presidential elections took place on August 9, 2020, covering the protests in Belarus has been very much like war journalism. Journalists have been shot at and detained by police, while some have been deported, and Belarusian authorities stopped admitting foreign press shortly after the elections.

Zamirovski has already been detained twice. The first time, he was held for seven hours at a militsiya station. (Belarus has retained the old Soviet name for the police, just as it still has a KGB.) The second time, he was detained for only forty minutes. That time, however, he was beaten in a microbus by police, and his flash drives were confiscated.

Vadim Zamirovski

“But that is nothing,” Vadim adds, “compared to how [my] colleagues Alexander Vasiukovich and Uladz Hridin have recently spent eleven days in jail.”

On September 17, the Belarusian independent media produced editions with no photographs to protest these arrests.

After his second detention, Vadim spent two days off with his family at the man-made lake in Minsk known among Belarusians as the Minsk Sea. On his Facebook page, he wrote:

I took a mini vacation this week. An entire two days without riot police, tikhari (the undercover police), busiki (the civilian minivans used to transport the detainees), and all the other things that have recently become a part of our reality. It felt like an impermissible luxury. But you know, when you take a break, your mind finally catches up and you begin to realize the degree to which things are messed up right now. It’s best, perhaps, to keep going.

During the past fifty days, Zamirovski has, in fact, kept going, delivering the most stunning images. It is through these images that millions of people all over the world have learnt about the plight of the Belarusians. One day, these photographs will be published in the history books of the new, free Belarus. Meanwhile, as the country remains a danger zone for the journalists on the ground, we should keep focused on Zamirovski’s clear-eyed lens and courageous voice.

Sasha Razor

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Minsk, September 1, 2020. An elderly woman kneeling in front of a riot police officer pleading with him to release high school students detained on the first day of school. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, September 23, 2020. A young woman screaming in front of a police cordon on the day of Alexander Lukashenko’s secret inauguration. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 15, 2020. A young woman poses for the camera wearing make-up imitating the aftereffects of police brutality. The inscription on her dress reads, “Not enough for me.” Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, September 19, 2020. A young woman during the Women’s March, surrounded by riot police right before she was detained. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 14, 2020. A young woman hugging a soldier and pleading with him to lower his shield. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 13, 2020. The silhouettes of protesters against the evening sky. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 12, 2020. A young woman crying in front of a memorial to slain protester Alexander Tairakovsky. Her placard reads: “Today is my birthday. My birthday wish was for no one else to be killed. We are peaceful people! Enough violence, I beg you.” Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 10, 2020. Doctors and volunteers helping a wounded protester. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 8, 2020. A protester runs up against a cloud of tear gas. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 13, 2020. An elderly man bowing to participants in the Women’s March. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 23, 2020. More than one hundred thousand people converged on Independence Square in the center of Minsk. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 13, 2020. The shadow of a female protester on the historic Belarusian flag. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 10, 2020. A fire was sparked when several Molotov cocktails were thrown at riot police. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 16, 2020. More than one hundred thousand protesters came to the center of Minsk to voice their disagreement with the fraudulent election results. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

For many years I have said that solidarity is a two-way street. I cannot begin to thank Vadim Zamirovski and Sasha Razor enough for their generosity in sharing Vadim’s photographs and story with me and my readers. Paraphrasing the words of my favorite song, they have come bearing a gift beyond price, almost free. Please return them the favor by sharing this article wherever you can and doing whatever you can wherever you are to support the Belarusian revolution. || TRR

Alexander Brazhko, School Meals Activist, Beaten in Moscow

Alexander Brazhko, Quality School Meals Activist, Beaten in Moscow
Lydia Kadashova
Activatica
September 23, 2020

On the evening of September 22, an unknown person attacked lawyer Alexander Brazhko, coordinator of the Honest Products project. His injuries were very serious, including head trauma, cuts to the face, and severe bleeding.

According to Brazhko, an unknown person, without concealing himself, walked up to him and slashed his face, presumably with brass knuckles worn under a glove. Brazhko was able to get a glimpse of the assailant and gave a description to the police. One explanation for the attack could be Brazkho’s many years of combating counterfeit food products and working to improve school meals in Moscow and other regions of Russia.

Activatica contacted Brazho to find out the particulars of the incident and discuss possible motives for the attack.

Photo of Alexander Brazhko after the attack

Photo of Alexander Brazhko after his wounds were treated in the emergency room

I was returning home and not far from my house when I was attacked by an unknown person, who struck me on the head, on the face. In my opinion, the presence of [other] people probably scared the villain off.

It wasn’t a fight, it was an attack that probably didn’t last more than a minute. And, after I reacted and people took notice, the criminal ran away. I couldn’t quite make out his features, but if I see him, I could identify him. Of course, I needed both too chase down the villain and document my injuries. I think it was brass knuckles. Given the injuries that were inflicted on me, it seems [the assailant was wearing] gloves that were weighted with something.

I have one explanation [for what happened] and it is quite simple. It is no secret that there are a lot of low-quality food products in this country. Along with other social activists, I have been involved in protecting the rights of consumers. It is clear that our interests and the interests of citizens clash with the interests of people with “reduced social accountability,” with those engaged in deception, falsification, and imitation.

I have been working in this area for several years, and I have not received any threats, but I feel that the situation is tense. This incident is an attempt to show civil society that it is defenseless. It is civil society that protects itself, but right here in Russia it is unprotected. Why? This incident occurred in the center of the country, in the capital region, not somewhere in a restricted area, but openly, publicly, in order to provoke a broad public reaction.

Of course, they want to intimidate us, the activists of the region: today they warn us, tomorrow they beat us, and the day after tomorrow they  kill us. But society cannot ignore these threats. At the same time, it must accept the challenge. Unlike market professionals, civil society has no for-profit social institutions. We have the police, the prosecutor’s office, etc., but these are oversight bodies that enforce the law and protect absolutely everyone. And if such things occur, it means that criminals feel they can get away with them. They foster an illusion of impunity when they repeatedly avoid prosecution. Manufacturers of fake products have upped the ante, so they are already beginning to deal with activists in this way.

I have been working on school meals for several years, and my colleagues and I have been raising the issue quite actively. We have helped the authorities, schools, and parent committees to implement the procedure that is prescribed in the law on education and came into force on September 1.

Of course, there are quite a lot of conflicting points on this issue. The schools should be in charge of feeding children. We understand that cooks should be employed by educational institutions themselves. But not every school has its own cooks. Many schools use an outsourcing system and purchase this service. But this is an absolutely opaque procedure for parents. The cooks are not responsible to either the parents or the schools. They are responsible to their employers, and these are mostly commercial organizations. They are interested in making a profit, which does not match up in any way with the interests of parents, who want their children to be fed tasty, high-quality food.

The second question that we have is the timetable. The President spoke clearly about introducing free breakfasts. All children should have full stomachs during their first class of the day. But what has really been happening? The first free breakfast is served after the second or third lesson. Headmasters avert their eyes and say that parents feed their kids at home. If the law [on education] says that grades 1-4 should receive free, hot meals, then breakfast should be served before the start of the school day. This is a serious matter.

The third controversial issue is the operators involved in the school meals market. In my opinion, the efforts stipulated by the law [on education] are powered by parents’ money. If your child did not eat breakfast, then you do not need to pay for it. But what do I hear? “It doesn’t matter whether s/he ate or not. The plate was on the table, so you need to pay.” There is no such model anywhere else in the world. When we come to the store, we don’t have to pay for what is on the shelf, we only pay for what is in our basket.

The fourth question is choice. You can’t plan ahead what you’re going to eat next Tuesday. But parents are told by schools that on a specific Wednesday their children will eat porridge. Why porridge? Why can’t children choose what they want? When school ends, we assume that these people will make their own decisions. There’s a glitch here. I am told that neither children nor parents can make the decision: the schools must set the menu for them and they should eat what they are given. But, my argument is, Why don’t you provide meals on Saturday and Sunday, or during the holidays? These questions remain unanswered.

One of the reasons for the attack may be the active stance taken by me and my colleagues in the regions on restoring order when it comes to school meals. But the specific reason for the attack can only be established by a police investigation. The investigation is underway. In my opinion, the culprit will be identified. It may take more than a week, but we shall learn from the mouths of both the assailant and the people who paid him how I get on their bad side, where I crossed them.

Photos and video courtesy of Activatica. Translated by the Russian Reader

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If you imagine that what happened to grassroots activist Alexander Brazhko has nothing to with the “big” news that “really” matters, think again. The parallels between his story and Alexei Navalny’s much better-known conflict with Yevgeny Prigozhin (aka “Putin’s chef”) are too obvious to ignore. The emphasis in the following article is mine. || TRR

Russia Seizes Kremlin Critic Navalny’s Apartment
Moscow Times
September 24, 2020

Russian authorities have seized Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s apartment days after he was discharged from German hospital where he was being treated for poisoning by Novichok, his spokeswoman said Thursday.

Kira Yarmysh said court marshals came after Navalny’s three-bedroom apartment in southeastern Moscow to enforce a $1-million court ruling in favor of catering magnate Yevgeny Prigozhin. The businessman has earned the nickname “Putin’s chef” from his close ties to President Vladimir Putin.

Prigozhin last year won 88 million rubles ($1.1 million) in damages against Navalny and his close associate, who blamed Prigozhin for a dysentery outbreak among Moscow schoolchildren linked to contaminated lunches.

Prigozhin previously vowed to “ruin” Navalny if he survives the poisoning.

“Instead of siding with the affected children, the court sided with Prigozhin,” Yarmysh said in a video on Twitter.

“As a result, they seized the assets and the apartment of a person who was in a coma,” she said.

Navalny came out of a coma two weeks ago after falling violently ill on a flight in Siberia on Aug. 20. Germany, where the fierce Putin critic was flown two days later, said it had unequivocal proof that he was poisoned with a nerve agent from the Novichok family.

The court marshals’ seizure bans Navalny from selling, renting out or leaving the apartment in a will but does not mean he can no longer live there, Yarmysh said.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is undergoing rehab in Germany after his release from hospital. Yarmysh has said Navalny plans to return to Russia as soon as he recovers from the poisoning.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Federal Security Service (FSB) rejected a request to investigate reports that security agents tailed Navalny throughout his trip to Siberia during which he fell ill.

Russia denies that Navalny was poisoned and complains that Germany is not sharing its findings in order for authorities to launch an investigation at home.

The Action Plan

September 21, 2020

Education Committee
Government of Saint Petersburg
8 Antonenko Lane
190031 Saint Petersburg
Tel.: (812) 417-3454
Email: kobr@gov.spb.ru
www.k-obr.spb.ru

To: Directors of educational organizations under the Committee’s jurisdiction

Re: Action Plan

Dear Directors,

In September 2020, as instructed by the St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office, specialists at Center “E” of the Russian Interior Ministry’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate, together with the Education Committee, developed an “Action Plan for homeroom teachers and school counselors in notifying law enforcement agencies when information is found on the Internet and other sources about the involvement by pupils of educational institutions in informal youth associations and extremist movements” (hereinafter, “Action Plan”).

We are sending the Action Plan, as approved by the St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office, to your address.

We ask you to familiarize homeroom teachers and other interested specialists with this Action Plan in order to organize monitoring of the Internet, including the social networks, of [sic] pupils of educational institutions for possible involvement in informal youth associations and extremist movements.

Enclosure: 4 pages in 1 copy

Yours sincerely,
Deputy Chairman of the Committee
A.A. Borshchevsky

This letter was made public by Maxim Reznik, an independent member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly. Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Ufa Twenty: 329 Years in Prison for Nothing

Alexandra Kalistratova
Facebook
September 21, 2020

⚡️⚡️⚡️Today a panel of judges at the Russian Supreme Court upheld the sentences of eighteen of the defendants in the case of the so-called Ufa Twenty. They reduced the sentence of one defendant from 22 years to 21 years.

Here are the sentences according to the appeals ruling:

Rinat Nurlygayanov — 24 years
Rustem Khamzin — 23 years
Linar Vakhitov — 22 years
Rustem Galyamov — 22 years
Artur Salimov — 22 years
Danis Fayzrakhmanov — 22 years
Rafael Fattakhov — 22 years
Radik Akhmetov — 21 years
Khalil Mustafin — 21 years
Azamat Kayumov — 20 years
Ilgiz Gimaletdinov — 14 years
Irek Tagirov — 14 years
Shamisl Sharipov  — 14 years
Alexander Kornev — 13 years
Ural Yakupov — 13 years
Fanis Akhmetshin — 11 years
Farit Mustafayev — 11 years
Radmir Maksutov — 10 years
Ruslan Fattakhov — 10 years

All the defendants convicted in the case will serve their sentences in high-security penal colonies.

They were given the sentences for suspected involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is officially deemed a “terrorist organization” in Russia.

The ruling was made by a judicial panel consisting of the presiding judge Igor Krupnov and judges Alexander Voronov and Oleg Derbilov.

Translated by the Russian Reader

ufim 20Images from the appeals hearing in late August. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Karinna Moskalenko: Ten Questions about the Ufa Twenty
Rights in Russia
August 25, 2020

Karinna Moskalenko is a lawyer, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and founder of the International Protection Centre

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Эхо Москвы]

The real tragedy-cum-farce of our times are the events unfolding in the Supreme Court of Russia right now. [The Supreme Court’s judicial panel] on cases concerning military service personnel is currently considering the appeal of a group of Muslim activists from Bashkortostan (with no connection at all to the military) in a case best known as case of the Ufa Twenty. In fact, the judicial panel has already commenced the appeal proceedings, and it’s worthwhile attending for anyone who can visit the Supreme Court Building (the address is 12 Maly Kharitonyevsky Pereulok, entrance to the court is free but you should bring your passport).

Recently, there have been several prosecutions related to the Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir that began with ambiguous and ‘murky’ charges and ended with lengthy prison sentences – sometimes exceedingly so. Case in point: one of my clients was sentenced to serve 24 years in a maximum-security penal colony, while some of my other clients were given sentences only slightly shorter in length. Yet despite the already lengthy sentence, the Prosecutor’s Office has submitted an appeal demanding a tougher sentence for this client.

This has forced our international team of lawyers to get involved with the case and attempt to fathom the true nature of what can best be described as a repressive campaign launched by the authorities. If the authorities plan to launch this campaign soon under some sort of official title, we should really establish who the ultimate beneficiaries of such a campaign are.

Without doubt, the law enforcement agencies are one of the biggest beneficiaries. Thanks to this campaign of repression, law enforcement officers can now ‘heroically’ rise in status, adorn themselves with awards, and climb the career ladder, and all by ‘exposing’ so-called ‘criminal groups’ like Hizb ut-Tahrir with little effort. It’s all a rather devious business. Law enforcement officers carry out Operational Investigative Measures (what people often call ‘Special Repressive Measures’ [these have the same initials in Russian – ed.] and infiltrate agents who often act as provocateurs. And instead of combating real crime, blatant banditry, protection rackets, corruption that has paralysed the state, and the many crimes left without investigation, instead, without especial effort or risk, they catch dozens of innocents in their nets who have gone to discussions in search of the meaning of life, religious knowledge, and to read religious literature together – religious literature that includes pamphlets published by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation banned in Russia. It is these people who become the victims of these deviously set out traps.

If you were an unbiased observer, you would immediately see that there is no evidence at all of acts of violence or even preparation to commit such acts, and there is simply no crime at all.

If you were some sort of an incorrigible hardliner, you might say: sure, let them all go to jail anyway as a precaution, as a lesson to everyone else.

We, however, don’t just have purely human sympathy for the people prosecuted in this case, we also have a lively professional interest. We have yet to fully form an in-depth legal opinion, but the court so far has refused to accept even well-founded appeals from the lawyers who have newly taken up the case after reviewing the more than 374 volumes of the case materials.

While this remains the case, here are ten short questions of the kind ‘One curious person can ask enough questions that hundreds of clever people can’t answer.’

1. Why do the authorities drag people into the criminal justice system and sentence them to maximum prison stretches for activities which do not exhibit the slightest trace of terrorist or violent behaviour, and why has the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, banning this movement, not been officially published in order that those whose rights have been impacted by it can at least appeal against it?

2. Why does the military court system become involved with cases of non-military persons and even non-combatants who have never used weapons and are not going to do so? How has such an abnormal practice evolved and how has it been justified?

3. Why did the preliminary court hearing hold the most important part of the trial in closed court, in the absence of any justification on legal grounds?

4. Why were those defendants, who made the slightest attempts to make statements and voice objections, removed from the courtroom ‘until the end of the trial’ in such a rough manner that other defendants were simply afraid to deliver their own statements?

5. It is impossible to establish where, from whom and under what circumstances the prohibited literature was seized. It ‘emerged’ to form the charges and the evidence in this case. Where did the protocols of the searches disappear from the case files? Who failed to keep them secure? Why were the statements of the criminal investigative department destroyed?

6. What happened during the trial at court of first instance with the defence team in this case? Can they be considered as effective and adequate, judging by the position and actions of the defence as reported in the court transcript?

7. What is wrong with the trial transcript if it does not correspond, according to the statements of the defendants, to the progress of the trial or the audio recording of the trial, and if the comments of the defendants themselves on the transcript of the trial are not considered by the court?

8. Can the trial at first instance be considered fair and impartial if its many decisions regarding the pre-trial detention of the defendants over the course of many years has already been recognized by the European Court of Human Rights as violations of human rights?

9. Why did the court of appeal begin to hear the case, despite the fact that those convicted had not been able to read the dozens of volumes of court reports on the case and their new lawyers had not been able to examine all the materials of the case?

10. Why did the judicial panel for cases involving military service personnel, even without waiting for the end of the trial, engage in reprisals against the lawyers, initiating disciplinary cases against them? Was it because they had reacted to particularly intolerable violations of the court with urgent complaints and telegrams to the chair of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation? And should not any lawyer, in the face of arbitrary behaviour by any official, defend the rights of their clients by all means not forbidden by law, instead of passively watching irreversible procedural violations take place?

So this is the case currently being considered by the judicial panel ‘for cases of people with no connection to the military’ involving victims of numerous miscarriages of justice, though this is far from all the violations in the case, but just the most pressing questions… The court must respond to these questions after hearing from the parties during these days of the trial.

Though it is regrettable to note, there is little hope for justice. Suffice to say that the oral hearings began with a scandal, namely with a violation of the adversarial principle. Judge for yourself. The two sides filed their objections to the judgment in an appeal. Who should be the first to speak in this instance? The prosecution, of course, so that the defence may object to the arguments of the prosecution based on the results of the appeal proceedings. But the court gave the prosecution the last word, leaving the defence to speak first(!). The defence objected but were forced to comply. Suddenly, sometime after these protestations, during the statements of the defence, the prosecutor took the floor and, without any introduction or detailed analysis of the evidence, stated that the verdict was lawful and grounded and that he would not uphold the appeal by the Prosecutor’s Office. This was the bizarre way in which the court and the prosecution apparently attempted to justify the violation of the adversarial principle and oral hearing procedures.

Thus, it is the eleventh question that remains the most relevant:

Will the appeal court remedy these violations by overturning the unjust verdict, or will lawlessness prevail?

All concerned citizens attending the trial in the Supreme Court building on Maly Kharitonyevsky Pereulok over the next few days will be able to find the answer to this question.

Translated by Fergus Wright, Graham Jones and Verity Hemp. The translation has been slightly edited to make it more accurate and readable. || TRR

Minsk: The March of Justice

March of Justice in Minsk, September 20, 2020. Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

Yulya Tsimafeyeva
Facebook
September 20, 2020

The March of Justice/Марш справядлівасці
Some photos from the 6th Sunday march. Не ведаю, як апісаць тым, хто ніколі не хадзіў на нашыя маршы, што гэта такое. Я пачала пісаць, што гэта і як, але і праўда не ведаю. :) Нерэальна дзіўныя адчуванні: пачынаючы ад дабірання да хоць нейкага месца збору пры зачыненым метро, адмененым руху транспарту, выключаным інтэрнэце і сканчаючы пошукамі бяспечнага спосабу (закрэслена: адступлення) вяртання назад… (І гэтыя загадкі штонядзелі вырашаюць тысячы дарослых людзей.) Але сарцавіна — гэта любоў, адназначна. :)

[Some photos from the 6th Sunday march. I don’t know how to describe what it is to those who have never attended our marches. I started writing about what it is like, but I really don’t know. :) Unreal strange feelings: starting from making your way to at least some kind of gathering place with the subway closed, traffic blocked, and the internet turned off, and ending with looking for a safe way (crossed out: of retreating) of getting back… (And these puzzles are solved every Sunday by thousands of adults.) But the core is love, definitely. :)]

“Put the Court on Trial.” Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

Tens of Thousands Protest in Belarus Capital Against Lukashenko
Tatiana Kalinovskaya (AFP)
Moscow Times
September 20, 2020

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on Sunday despite authorities deploying a heavy police presence.

The protest came a day after officers detained hundreds of demonstrators at a women’s march in the capital.

The opposition movement has kept up a wave of large-scale demonstrations every Sunday since President Alexander Lukashenko won a disputed victory in August 9 polls.

“Anschluss. The Putin Organized Crime Syndicate Is ‘Novichok” for the Independence of Belarus!” Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

People holding red-and-white protest flags gathered at the “March of Justice” that occupied the whole of a central avenue and walked towards the heavily guarded Palace of Independence, where Lukashenko has his offices.

They held placards with slogans such as “Cowards beat up women” and “Get out!”.

Before the march, police and internal troops had positioned military trucks and armored personnel carriers in the city center and set up barbed wire.

March of Justice in Minsk, September 20, 2020. Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

Riot police in black balaclavas sporadically detained protesters carrying flags and signs at the start, while some people took shelter in a shopping mall and in a fast-food restaurant to escape arrest.

The Viasna rights group said at least 16 had been detained in Minsk as well as eight at protests in other cities.

The government ordered a reduction in mobile internet coverage during the event while central metro stations were closed.

Demonstrator at March of Justice in Minsk, September 20, 2020. Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

The mass protest came after riot police cracked down on peaceful women demonstrators on Saturday who were wearing shiny accessories for their so-called “Sparkly March.”

They dragged protesters into vans, lifted some women off their feet and carrying them.

Belarusian interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova said Sunday that police had detained 415 people on that march in Minsk and 15 in other cities for breaking rules on mass demonstrations. She said 385 had been released.

“Wake up, cities! Our motherland is in distress!” Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

‘Worth fighting for’
The scale of Saturday’s detentions prompted the opposition’s Coordination Council to warn of a “new phase in the escalation of violence against peaceful protesters

Among those detained was one of the most prominent faces of the protest movement, 73-year-old activist Nina Baginskaya, although she was later released.

“From Khabarovsk to Brest There Is No Place for Dictatorship!” Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

The aggressive police tactics prompted an opposition Telegram channel, Nexta, which has more than 2 million subscribers, to publish what it said was a list of the names and ranks of more than 1,000 police.

Protesters have sought to expose the identity of police who appear at demonstrations in plain clothes or in uniforms without insignia or name badges, trying to pull off their masks and balaclavas.

March of Justice in Minsk, September 20, 2020. Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claimed victory over Lukashenko in the polls and has taken shelter in Lithuania, on Saturday said Belarusians were ready to strip police obeying “criminal orders” of anonymity.

Lukashenko has dismissed opposition calls for his resignation and sought help from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who has promised law enforcement backup if needed and a $1.5 billion loan.

“Fear the indifferent! It is with their tacit consent that all evil on earth is committed!” Photo by Yulya Tsimafeyeva

Tikhanovskaya is set to meet European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday as the EU prepares sanctions against those it blames for rigging the election and the regime’s violent crackdown on protesters.

Authorities have jailed many of Tikhanovskaya’s allies who formed the leadership of the Coordination Council or driven them out of the country.

One of her campaign partners, Maria Kolesnikova, has been imprisoned and charged with undermining national security.

She released a message to protesters on Sunday saying: “Freedom is worth fighting for. Don’t be afraid to be free!”

Go to Yulya Tsimafeyeva’s Facebook page to see the rest of her photos from the March of Justice and other dispatches from the events in Belarus. || TRR

The Alexander Merkulov Test

“I am/we are Alexander Merkulov”

Alexei Sergeyev
Facebook
September 8, 2020

The Alexander Merkukov Test

An abyss of silence. You shout at the top of your lungs, but there’s no response, only silence. It’s like in a dream when you need to shout, but you have no voice at all. It’s gone. In a dream, however, you can wake up, while in this case…

On the placard, I had tied a bell to a symbolic spool of the white thread that was used to sew the shaky case against Alexander shut. It trembles in the wind, and passersby hear its “ding-ding.” For whom does the bell toll? Don’t walk on by, don’t look away…

Why did I get involved in the case of Alexander Merkulov (aka Aleksandr Peĵiĉ)? We weren’t friends, just acquaintances. Why, even though I hate court hearings, did I attend three court hearings last week?

The bell has a tongue. Many people in prison don’t have a tongue. The Russian Themis does not hear them. Not only has she blindfolded her eyes, but she has also put earplugs in her ears and plugged them tight. Whether you yell or not, you will be sentenced The judicial ear is sensitive only to the sovereign’s oprichniks. Gulag-minded, the courts presume that you are guilty, nor are their verdicts subject to review or appeal.

So it turns out that the only voice prisoners have is their circle of support on the outside. These groups are different for everyone. The famous blogger has hundreds of thousands of subscribers. The arrested journalist enjoys the corporate solidarity of the media: the major newspapers publish editorials about him, while his colleagues devote columns and radio and TV broadcasts to him.

A prominent public figure is supported by ordinary Russians, his fellow activists, and human rights defenders. And doctors, actors, truckers, feminists, LGBT activists, etc., have the support of their own communities. But Merkulov’s case has nothing to do with LGBT issues, so LGBT organizations can’t give it the proper attention and resources.

Sometimes, it is possible to raise a regional case to a national and even international level of publicity, as many people have managed to do in the case of Yulia Tsvetkova by pooling their efforts. While it is no guarantee of victory, it increases the chances.

But most cases in Russian courts are heard in complete silence. People are sentenced, transported to prison, and serve their sentences or die trying, and yet nobody says a word. Of the five cases that were heard in Petersburg City Court on Wednesday morning in the same courtroom as Alexander’s case, only his hearing featured a few members of the public in the gallery. The other defendants faced indifferent silence before hearing the judge say, “The appeal is denied, the defendant will remain in custody.”

Recently, the Perm human rights activist Igor Averkiev wrote an excellent post entitled “The Personal Usefulness of Crowds.” It’s not about people, it’s about animals—about the chances a hypothetical “introverted reindeer named Sergei,” a “social reindeer named Kostya,” or a “young musk ox named Proshka” would have against a pack of predators, a pack of “Lake Taimyr wolves.” I will quote a couple of passages from it.

“I’m a reindeer named Sergei. But I’m a very introverted, nearly autistic reindeer, and I only really feel good when I’m alone. And so, being the only other reindeer for many miles around, I come across a pack of hungry wolves. My chances are almost zero: I run faster, but they are more resilient. Moreover, when I’m alone, it’s easier for the wolves to work together smoothly as a group. Basically, I’m no longer here… Natural selection is why we don’t see ‘nearly autistic introverts’ among reindeer.”

“Any danger forces people (and not only people) to band together in a group, in a crowd. This happens instinctively. The import of this instinct is obvious: it depersonalizes the threat. When I am in a crowd, the danger is not focused on me personally, but rather is distributed over a large number of people, which increases my own chances of survival. But you can not only hide in a crowd, the crowd can also protect you. When it comes to self-defense, the size of the crowd matters.”

Any metaphor has its limits, of course. So, returning to Alexander, I want to talk about more than just him. We know that he is one of Averkiev’s “autistic introverts.” Not only does he lack media fame, but he also lacks a large number of what are called “stable social connections.”

(The topic of how the system cracks down on people with psychiatric or mental peculiarities deserves a separate post).

And this was where I said to myself: Stop, Alexei. There is no retreating. If it weren’t for you and the few colleagues who have got involved in this ‘hopeless case,’ and for Alexander’s mother, Alexander would be a goner.

I think this was what Olga Masina, who is seriously ill and undergoing medical treatment, and yet still works, said to herself. She stubbornly spends the few free hours and energy she has covering Alexander’s case. And then, like ripples on water, other people plug into the campaign. Svetlana Prokopyeva, who was convicted of the same “crime,” wrote an article about Alexander between her trial and her appeal. And Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko has got involved, too.

This story is not so much about Alexander, it’s about all of us. This is a test of our personal commitment, of our capacity for overcoming ourselves and our circumstances. Do we do something, however small, or do we just turn away and make excuses?

Of course, even a serious public response does not guarantee a 100% positive outcome. But the lack of support almost guarantees a negative outcome. And, at least, our involvement is felt by Alexander, and it is important for him, he writes about it in his letters.

I will end this post with two actual quotations.

“We’re not going to Merkulov’s court hearings. He’s not as cute as Yegor Zhukov,” writes a gay man.

No comment.

“I’m not ready to picket yet. The case itself is quite murky.”

Of course, I respect the right to choose.

But let me remind you that Alexander, a pacifist and anti-fascist, is accused of “condoning terrorism” on the internet for three reposts and a four-word post about 17-year-old [Mikhail] Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up in the FSB building in Arkhangelsk.

Does this warrant up to 7 years in prison? Do we need to keep Alexander in jail for three months running as if he were a particularly dangerous criminal? For me, the answer is obvious, and the point is clear in this sense: there were no calls for violence in Alexander posted. On the contrary, when reposting, he wrote that he did not approve of violence.

There is no counting the streets in our country that still bear the names of terrorists, but our valiant security forces could not care less. We LGBT activists send notarized bundles of the threats we receive to the police, but they don’t open criminal investigations because, they say, “the threats are not real.” Assaults, domestic violence, and poisoning are “not grounds for criminal prosecution.”

But Alexander’s actions are a “threat to national security”? The criminal case against him is a joke. The article in the criminal code under which he has been charged [Article 205.2] a mockery of the law. In my opinion, if it is left on the law books, then at most it should be an administrative offense.

Read the Wikipedia article about the bombing in Arkhangelsk: more and more people have been getting prison sentences for its “long echo.”

We’re talking about people’s lives here. We’re talking about Alexander’s life. Will his fate be decided in silence, or will we pass this test of caring? We don’t have horns and hooves like musk oxen and deer, the only things we have are our voices and our conscience.

At 12:30 p.m. on September 10, the appeals hearing on Alexander’s remand in police custody will take place at Petersburg City Court.

Follow Alexander’s case on Telegram: https://t.me/save_merkulov

#FreeMerkulov

Save Alexander Merkulov (Peĵiĉ)
Telegram
September 10, 2020

The Petersburg City Court upheld the original decision to remand Alexander Merkulov in custody. In the photo, you see the face of this “justice”: Judge Tatyana Matveyeva Tatyana , hiding behind the monitor.

Prosecutor Minina didn’t even stay for the announcement of the court’s decision. Apparently, she already knew it in advance.

Alexander was present via video link and was very happy to see us in the camera🙂

Alexander Merkulov 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 Alexei Shibanov, Svetlana Prokopyeva, Nadezhda BelovaLyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Problem with Adjectives

Guzel Leman

Petersburg Activist Becomes Victim of Online Hate over “Russian” Cinema
Activatica
September 13, 2020

Petersburg activist Guzel Leman has been harassed and sent threatening messages on social networks because she suggested that the Russian film website Kinopoisk rename its russkoe [“ethnic Russian”] cinema section rossiiskoye [pertaining to Russia as a multi-ethnic country], reports Fontanka.ru.

The young woman started corresponding with the website’s admin, and on September 10 received a response that her request had been sent to the relevant specialists. Two days later, however, she began receiving threatening messages on a personal account.

According to Leman, in literally just a few hours on the morning of September 12, while she still “did not understand what was happening,” she received more than 400 angry messages on social networks, in which unknown people threatened her, called her names, and “told [her] where and how to go there.”

The activist wrote about her correspondence with Kinopoisk and the idea of renaming the website’s “Russian” cinema section on a separate Telegram channel, where she published screenshots. According to Leman, her subscribers discovered that her correspondence with Kinopoisk had been leaked to nationalist community pages.

“Guzel Leman. ‘So, yeah: I’ve been ratted out on a chat for racists. They attacked me by writing nasty things in the comments.'”

Leman was accused of racism on one of these pages.

“The racist and Russophobe Guzel Leman, who calls for stopping calling Russian [rossiiskie] films russkie [‘ethnic Russian”] complains in her chat about being bullied by ‘racists.’ In unison, the chat’s multi-ethnic participants brand the victims Russian fascists. What a lark,” someone wrote on the Telegram channel Russkoe budushchee [“The ethnic Russian future”].

The channel published several indecent posts about Leman.

“The Ethnic Russian Future. Reposted from Fantastic Plastic Machine. Here some little lady demands that ‘Kinopoisk’ no longer call ethnic Russian films ethnic Russian. Because that would be discrimination. Moreover, half of her channel is devoted to his, and she also calls on her subscribers to turn up the heat on ‘Kinopoisk’ and force them to rename the relevant section. I don’t even want to mention that the girl is named Guzel. It goes without saying that she’s not named Katya or Masha.”

Leman explained her idea about renaming the section on the Kinopoisk website.

“A few weeks ago I got sick and started looking for something to watch. I hadn’t paid attention to it before, but then I saw that there is a section of movies listed as ‘[Ethnic] Russian’ and ‘Soviet.’ There is no ‘Russian’ [rossiiskii] section. I contacted Kinopoisk, and we started discussing it. I explained that there are notions of belonging to a country and belonging to an ethnic group, and that such things should be kept separate. We talked about paronyms, and what the criterion russkii [“ethnic Russian”] is, and I consulted with linguists,” Guzel told Fontanka.ru.

She added that, as an example, she had cited a film, listed on Kinopoisk, that had been shot in Yakutia at Sakhafilm Studio.

“Everyone in the film crew were from different ethnic groups. It can’t be an ‘[ethnic] Russian’ film,” she said.

Now Leman has closed the messages and her pages on social networks, and yet insults have still managed to pop up in the comments on her Instagram blog. Posts about her have been published on the Telegram channel Karaulny [“Watchman”], which has over 100,000 subscribers, as well as on community pages and in hat rooms that call themselves nationalist and generate content for tens of thousands of followers.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. For contrasting views of the present-day geopolitical implications of the adjectives russkii and rossiiskii, read these recent essays on the subject by Pål Kolstø and Marlene Laruelle.