Solidarity? (The Case of the Penza and Petersburg Antifascists)

fil_0Viktor Filinkov, Petersburg antifascist, torture victim and political prisoner

Solidarity? No, They Haven’t Heard about It
The Security Services Are Using the Case of the Antifascists to Test Society: If We Keep Silent, the Torture and Arrests Will Continue
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
March 22, 2018

On Election Day, March 18, which was simultaneously Paris Commune Day and Political Prisoner Day, Theater.Doc in Moscow staged a performance entitled Torture 2018, a reading of the interrogation transcripts and diaries from the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case.

The case has disappeared amid the flood of political and election campaign news, so I should briefly summarize it.

In October 2017, a group of young antifascists was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Penza. They were accused of organizing a terrorist community code-named The Network. They were allegedly tortured. Nearly all of them confessed to the charges, telling the FSB what the FSB wanted them to say.

Recently, for the first time in history, FSB officers admitted they used electric shockers when interrogating Petersburg antifascist Viktor Filinkov. In their telling, however, it was not torture, but a necessity: the detainee allegedly tried to escape.

The arrestees are kindred souls of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, murdered by neo-Nazis in downtown Moscow in January 2009. A march to honor their memory has been held on the Boulevard Ring every year since then.

Less than ten years have passed since their deaths and we are confronted by a relapse, an attack on antifascists by the Russian state.

The harsh language of the interrogation protocol is more expressive than any op-ed column. Dmitry Pchenlintsev was tortured day after day: he was hung upside down and different parts of his body were shocked with electrical current. Vasily Kuksov was badly beaten: his face was a bloody pulp, his clothes torn and blood stained. Doctors in Petersburg discovered a fracture to the lower wall of Igor Shiskin’s eye socket, as well as multiple abrasions and bruises. They noted numerous injuries, including burns from an electric shocker. FSB officers took Ilya Kapustin to the woods, tortured him with an electric shocker, and threatened to break his legs.

We heard similar reports from Chechnya and Donbass, but this is the first time something like this has occurred in the middle of Russia and on such a scale.

The young arrestees in Penza, none of whom is over thirty (the oldest is twenty-nine) played airsoft, listened to independent music, and read anarchist books, like thousands of other young people. Now, given the will, any of them can be arrested on terrorism charges.

Alexei Polikhovich, who spent three years in prison as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, and produced the performance at Theater.Doc, did not have to make up anything, no monologues or dialogues. What has happened in reality is not something you would make up.

“I was panicking,” leftist activist and former political prisoner Alexei Sutuga says, reading Viktor Filinkov’s statement aloud. “I said I didn’t understand anything, and that is when they shocked me the first time. It was unbearably painful. I screamed and my body went straight as a board. The man in the mask ordered me to shut up and stop twitching. He alternated shocks to my leg with shocks to my handcuffs. Sometimes, he shocked me in the back or the nape of the neck. It felt as if I was being slapped upside the head. When I screamed, they would clamp my mouth shut or threaten to gag me. I didn’t want to be gagged, so I tried not to scream, which wasn’t always possible.”

“It’s probably the worst thing happening now in Russia,” Polikhovich told me after the performance. “But we have no means of putting pressure on them. Complaints filed against the FSB are redirected to the FSB, meaning they are supposed to keep tabs on themselves. Naturally, they are not about to do this. The only thing that can save the guys is public pressure.”

“But for several months there were no attempts to pressure the FSB. Why?” I asked.

“Location is vital in this case,” replied Polikhovich. “There are tried and tested support methods in Petersburg and Moscow. There are independent journalists and human rights activists. There is nothing of the sort in Penza. The environment also makes a difference. The Bolotnaya Square case, in which many leftists were sent to prison, meant something to the entire liberal democratic opposition. It was a story the average Moscow reporter could understand.”

“In this case, however,” Polikhovich continued, “the accused have been charged with very serious crimes. They are not liberals. They are not Moscow activists. We have to break through the prejudice towards them.”

While Moscow was silent, brushing the case aside by mentioning it in a few lines of column inches, the case, which originated in Penza, had spread to Petersburg, then to Chelyabinsk, and finally, in March, to the capital itself. Several people were detained after a protest action in support of the Penza antifascists. (OVD Info reports that nine people were detained.)

“They put a bag over my head. Then they shocked me, constantly increasing the intensity and duration of the electric charge, and demanding I make a confession,” Moscow anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, released on his own recognizance, told Novaya Gazeta.

The protests against the FSB’s use of torture in this case have mainly followed ideological lines: anarchists and antifascists have been doing the protesting. Solidarity protests have been held in Copenhagen, Toronto, Berlin, and New York. Finnish anarchists and antifascists held a demo outside the Russian embassy in Helsinki. In Stockholm, the way from the subway to the Russian embassy was hung with Filinkov’s diary and posters bearing the hashtag #stopFSBtorture.

A concert in support of the arrested antifascists was held at a small bar in Petersburg. The organizers were able to collect 42,500 rubles in donations. By way of comparison, a year ago, at a similar concert in support of Ildar Dadin, who was tortured in a Karelian penal colony, organizers collected 29,000 rubles in donations. But there no incidents at that event, while there was an incident at the Petersburg concert. Ultra-rightwing thugs burst into the bar and started a brawl.

In Moscow, the riot police or the security services would have telephoned the club’s owner and insisted he cancel the event, as happened with the anti-war Deserter Fest. In Petersburg, however, the rightists showed up.

“The situation has come to resemble the mid-noughties,” said Maxim Dinkevich, editor of the music website Sadwave, “when every other punk rock show was attacked.”

Pickets in support of the antifascists have been held both in Moscow and Petersburg, and there will probably be more pickets to come. But this story has not yet made a big splash. The public is more interested in discussing the falling out between Sobchak and Navalny, while anarchists draw a blank.

This case is not about anarchism or antifascism, however. It is about the fact that tomorrow they could come for you for any reason. Electric shockers do not discriminate.

The regime has been testing us, probing the limits of what is possible and what is not. If we keep silent now, if we do not stand up for each other, it will mean they can continue in the same vein. It is clear already that the case of the antifascists will expand. The arrests will stop being local, becoming large scale. We have no methods for pressuring law enforcement agencies that torture people, no authorities that could slap them on the wrists. The only methods we have are maximum publicity and public pressure. They are the only ways to deter the security service from making more arrests and keeping up the torture.

There is a group page on Facebook entitled Project No. 117, named for the article in the Russian Criminal Code that outlaws the use of torture. It is a clearinghouse for news about the Penza case and other anti-antifascist cases. It also features six videtaped messages in support of the arrested men, as recorded by the well-known Russian cultural figures Dmitry Bykov, Andrei Makarevich, Dmitry Shagin, Kirill Medvedev, Artyom Loskutov, and Artemy Troitsky.

I would like to believe that, in the very near future, there will be six thousand such messages, not six. Otherwise, we will be crushed one by one.

Dmitry Bykov (writer)

“Absolutely Gulag-like scenes of strangulation, beating, and abduction. Stories like this have become frighteningly more frequent. The return to the practice of torture is a relapse into the roughest, darkest period of Russian history.”

Andrei Makarevich (musician)

“If the authorities are trying to pass young antifascists off as terrorists, it begs the question of who the authorities are themselves. Have you lost your minds, guys?”

Dmitry Shagin (artist)

“I experience this as torture myself. By torturing these young men, they are torturing all of us.”

Kirill Medvedev (poet, political activist, musician)

“The Russian authorities have been posing as the most antifascist regime in the world for several years now, and yet they are cracking down on antifascists. Is this not hypocrisy?”

Artyom Loskutov (artist, political activist)

“If you arrested me and tortured me with an electric shocker, I would confession to terrorism, satansim, and anything whatsoever. And if the FSB officers were tortured, they would also confess to anything. Antifascism is not a crime, nor is anarchism a crime. But torture is a crime, a very serious crime indeed.”

Artemy Troitsky (writer, music critic and promoter)

“Torture is a sure sign the case doesn’t hold water. If they have evidence, they wouldn’t torture the suspects.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Autonomous Action. Videos courtesy of Project No. 117 and Novaya Gazeta. If you have not heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, you can read the following articles and spread the word to friends, comrades, and journalists.

Alexei Gaskarov Released from Prison

Alexei Gaskarov and his wife Anna Gaskarov. Photo by Anatrrra
Alexei Gaskarov and his wife Anna Gaskarova, October 27, 2016. Photo by Anatrrra

Bolotnaya Square Defendant Alexei Gaskarov Released from Prison
Ekaterina Fomina
Novaya Gazeta
October 27, 2016

Alexei Gaskarov was released from Penal Colony No. 6 in Novomoskovsk today. He had served his entire sentence: three and a half years in a medium-security penal colony. Gaskarov was twice denied parole.

“I don’t think it was possible to change anything under these circumstances. I said at the trial that if our way runs through prison, we have to go.  Personally, everyone who went to prison lost a lot. But if you compare that with the public interest, someone had to go through it, someone had to have this piece of ‘good’ luck,” Gaskarov said after his release.

Alexei Gaskarov (left). Photo courtesy Ekaterina Fomina/Novaya Gazeta

“The risks are clear, but I don’t think there is an alternative. I don’t think that the path, the values that were professed on Bolotnaya Square can be put on the back burner. Yes, these are complicated times, and we have to wait them out somewhere, but I don’t think you can impact this vector by intimidating people. When I was in prison I read about a hundred history books. Everyone had to go through this. We are just at this stage,” he added.

Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy Ekaterina Fomina/Novaya Gazeta

“The point of my attitude is this: don’t be afraid, guys. Our little undertakings will merge into a river that will lead us to the right path. Prison is not the end of life,” Gaskarov concluded.

Prisoners of Bolotnaya: Alexander Margolin, Vladimir Akimenkov, Alexei Gaskarov, Alexei Polikhovich, and Ilya Gushchin. Photo courtesy of Ekaterina Fomina/Novaya Gazeta

Gaskarov was accused of involvement in “rioting” and being violent towards police officers. However, Gaskarov  claimed he had himself been assaulted on Bolotnaya Square. During the mass arrests, an unidentified policeman pushed him to the ground, beat him with his truncheon, and kicked him.

Gaskarov is a graduate of the Russian Federation Government Financial University and has worked at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Dmitry Ishevsky and Ivan Nepomnyashchikh are currently serving prison terms after being convicted in the Bolotnaya Square case. The latter has lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. He has complained that Russian authorities have violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In October, citing a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the arrest and imprisonment of Bolotnaya Square defendants Ilya Gushchin and Artyom Savyolov had been illegal. Earlier, in June, after a complaint had been filed with the European Court of Human Rights, the Supreme Court declared the arrest of Leonid Kovyazin, a defendant in the same case, illegal.

Anarchist Dmitry Buchenkov awaits trial in a pre-trial detention facility. According to police investigators, he was violient toward lawful authorities and “tried to destroy a portapotty.” Buchenkov himself claims he was not in Moscow during the so-called March of the Millions.

Maxim Panfilov is also awaiting trial. He was charged four years after the opposition rally on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow—in April 2016. He is the thirty-sixth defendant in the Bolotnaya Square case. In October, Panfilov was declared mentally incompetent.

Translated by the Russian Reader. You can read more about Alexei Gaskarov and the other prisoners in the Bolotnaya Square case on this website.

Ildar Dadin: “When I Get Out, We Will Change the Country for the Better”

The Prison Blog of Ildar Dadin’s Fiancée: First Visit, January 14
Zekovnet.ru

Nastya Zotova and Ildar Dadin had agreed to get married in January 2015, when Ildar was detained. Imprisoned Russia continues its publication of his fiancée’s blog.

nastya & ildar
Nastya Zotova & Ildar Dadin. Photo courtesy of openrussia.org

I got permission to meet with Ildar from Judge Natalya Dudar on December 30, and I went for my first short visit on January 13. A short visit is not like a date at a cafe or the movies. There is no hugging and kissing. You see each other only through the glass, and there is also a metal grille on top of the glass.

Getting a “date” was not as difficult as I thought. I went to the pretrial detention facility at nine in the morning and handed over the authorization from the judge and the application form, which was printed on the same piece of paper. Then I waited until eleven for one of facility’s wardens to come. He collected everyone’s internal passports and took us to the fifth floor, where there were about fifteen cubbyholes with glass in the middle.

The visit lasted two hours. You can discuss a lot in that time, both life in prison and personal affairs. Apart from me, nine other people had come for visits. Most were women, some of them with children in tow.

Before the visit, a little boy showed me a drawing.

“I drew this for Dad. This is me, this is Mom, and this is Dad. And this is our home.”

Ildar was finally led in. The feelings provoked by such visits are mixed. On the one hand, there he was, my beloved one, whom I had not seen for five weeks. He was safe and sound, without a bruise on his face. The first few minutes we stared at each through the glass and smiled like fools. On the other hand, it was hard. I wanted to hug and kiss him. But talking with him through the glass was still better than nothing.

I quizzed him about prison life. It turned out that the inmates were often worried about the simplest problems, which were hard to solve imprison. For example, your socks are torn. If you were at home, you would grab a needle and thread and darn them. But there are needles and thread in the detention facility. You might be able to borrow a needle, but thread is totally inaccessible and is not allowed in care packages.

Or you have run out of toilet paper. You will have to wait until someone buys it in bulk through the Federal Penitentiary Service store. Toilet paper is not allowed in care packages. According to Ildar, the wardens should issue toilet paper to inmates, but in Pretrial Detention Facility No. 4 it is “not done.”

Or you need to write complaints and appeals in triplicate or quintuplicate. There is no printer, so you have to write everything by hand. You could use carbon paper, but for some reason it is also not allowed in care packages.

The inmates entertain themselves in peculiar ways. Whereas Oleg Navalny caught pigeons, Ildar and his cellmates catch mice. They are ordinary gray mice that run under the bunks at night.

To catch a mouse you need an empty milk carton. You cut a little hole and plant the bait inside. When the mouse enters the cartoon, you close the hole with your hand and then transfer the little beast to a plastic ice cream pail.

They managed to catch two mice in this simple way. Ildar’s cellmates decided to put them on trial and “sentenced” them to four days in prison. They were to serve their sentence in the plastic ice cream pail. Afterwards, they planned to “release” the rodents by throwing them out a third-floor window. But the prisoners escaped by gnawing a hole in their cell.

Smoking is another serious issue. There are eleven men in Ildar’s cell. Five of them are smokers, and they smoke right in bed. The others, who are nonsmokers, are not happy, to put it mildly.

There are only eight beds for the eleven inmates. They take turns sleeping. According to Ildar, however, this is even a good thing, because you can borrow a second blanket from someone. Otherwise, it is too cold to sleep. It got cold in the cell on January 1, so the thermal underwear that I bought on the advice of Alexei Polikhovich, who was convicted in the Bolotnaya Square case, was a real godsend. But Ildar is warm in it only if he sleeps under two blankets. And he still has to survive the transfer to the penal colony where he will serve his sentence—in winter in a cold train car!

After sleep, the second most important issue is food. Ildar admits the food is better than at the special detention center. However, the portions per inmate are not very big. It is not that he is completely hungry, but he would like more. He says that some cellmates eschew the prison food, and so the other prisons divvy up their helping among themselves. They can even warm the food up. A boiler is placed in a pot with water, and a plate with the food on it is place over the pot. The food is thus heated over a water bath.

I have been trying to figure how best to fatten up my inmate through care packages. Ildar already rejected hot meals ordered through the FPS website, and then canned buckwheat kasha with meat. I don’t feel like sending him instant mashed potatoes and noodles (which in prison are called “steamers”).

“Maybe you’d like more cheese? More sausage?”

Ildar frowned.

“I look at the prices in the FPS store and feel offended at how these thugs prey on us. I would rather eat the regulation hundred grams of soup, then shop there,” he said.

This is especially because, according to Ildar, all the care packages are put in the “kitty,” to which everyone has access, so Ildar himself does not end up with so much.

Ultimately, we agreed that I would cooperate with the relatives of other inmates, and that together we would buy food in bulk at ordinary stores and then pass it on to the lads in the cell, since there was a common pot there anyway. Regard the FPS store, Ildar nevertheless admitted that sometimes he wanted something sweet: chocolate, sweetened condensed milk or soda. He was very grateful to Olga Romanova for the garlic she sent him. Garlic was the best thing for you, he said, because it was full of vitamins! All his cellmates were ill, but he wasn’t.

There is no shower in the cell. The inmates are taken once a week to the shower room. But there is a sink, so they can wash up and launder their clothes. As Ildar put it, the toilet is “luxurious”: there are walls on two sides, and a door on the third up to the waist.

I asked Ildar how he spent his time at the detention facility, whether he had been writing complaints. Ildar admitted that he had stopped for the time being. The wardens had hinted to him as it were that if he continued, they could take it on his cellmates.

“However, maybe I’ll soon have to make an important decision: to be a living scoundrel or die,” he said.

Ildar did not explain what was the matter: our conversation was bugged. But he did promise in any case to send a letter, written in his own hand, indicating that under no circumstances was he planning to commit suicide. He believed this would protect him from the “accidents” that happen in Pretrial Detention Facility No. 4.

Despite this eerie message, Ildar was more or less optimistic and was planning to read books.

“I have a lot to learn: political science, economics . . . When I get out, we will change the country for the better,” he said hopefully.

Before his arrest, Ildar said he wanted to be a lawyer and specialize in human rights.

UPDATE
On the night of January 14, it transpired that immediately after our visit, Ildar was removed from his cell along with his things. According to the tentative information we have, he has been transferred to another cell in the same pretrial detention facility.

UPDATE: January 15
As it turned out, Ildar has been transferred to a special cellblock in the same facility. (Meaning greater scrutiny from the wardens and better living conditions.) Meanwhile, our marriage application is ready to submit to the registrar.

Ildar Dadin and Nastya Zotova's marriage application. Image courtesy of Imprisoned Russia
Ildar Dadin and Nastya Zotova’s marriage application. Image courtesy of Imprisoned Russia

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Russia: Peaceful activist sentenced under repressive new law must be released
Amnesty International
December 7, 2015

Russia’s jailing of a peaceful opposition activist for violating the country’s new law on public assemblies is a shocking and cynical attack on freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.

Ildar Dadin was sentenced to three years in jail by a Moscow court for repeated anti-government street protests. He is the first person to be jailed using the law, which was introduced in 2014 and punishes repeated breaches of public assembly rules.

“The shocking sentencing of Ildar Dadin shows that the Russian authorities are using the law on public assemblies to fast-track peaceful protesters to prison,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International.

“This cynical move shows that compared to the drawn out criminal proceedings against peaceful protesters in the past, the authorities have now created a shortcut for imprisoning activists. It is more dangerous to be a peaceful activist in Russia than at any time in recent years.”

Alexei Polikhovich: “I had begun to feel I was born in prison”

“I had begun to feel I was born in prison and just had been released for a short time”
Alexei Polikhovich talks about spending three years behind bars for the right to think freely 
Ekaterina Fomina
November 5, 2015
Novaya Gazeta

Alexei Polikhovich after his release from prison. Photo: Ekaterina Fomina/Novaya Gazeta

Alexei Polikhovich, one of the few defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case who had actually been politically active before the ill-fated protest rally of May 6, 2012, has been released from prison. (We now understand this was the reason people were jailed: on suspicion of having vigorous civic stances.) Before Bolotnaya Square, Polikhovich, for example, had defended the Tsagovsky Forest and been involved in the antifascist movement. Some of those now spending their fourth year in prison after being convicted in the case had ended up on Bolotnaya Square by accident, but Polikhovich had chosen this way of life, a life of open struggle, consciously. It is a dangerous way of life to lead in our country, even if the way you fight your cause is ten times within the law. But Polikhovich consciously chose this way of thinking, and marched to Bolotnaya Square in the antifascist column.

However, on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, Polikhovich caught hell just as randomly as other protesters. Police pulled them from the crowd in the heat of the moment without looking .

Polikhovich insisted on his innocence at his court hearings. He knew he was being tried for his convictions.

Three years in prison were supposed to reform what? Polikhovich’s beliefs? He remained, however, true to his beliefs throughout his imprisonment. If reform meant betraying them, then Polikhovich has not been reformed, as he himself says. But he still learned something.

After his release, Polikhovich talked about the lessons he learned in prison.

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I have not seen people in color for three years. I have forgotten what it was like to have women and children around. Simple things seem new right now. After being in the penal colony, I think Moscow is quite beautiful.

When I got to Petrovka [38, Moscow police HQ], I did not understand how serious things were. I took everything as an excursion, a rough excursion, but an excursion nonetheless.

The wording “actively involved in destructive youth organizations” was included in my arrest sheet. The Center “E” officers [“anti-extremist” police] did not have a clear opinion about me, whether I was a rightist or leftist. What group should they assign me to? What mattered was that it should sound terrible.

The police investigators found us interesting. They had been used to dealing with Islamists and neo-Nazis. But leftists, social democrats, and liberals, everyone who had been arrested on trumped-up political charges, were something unfamiliar to them. The investigators enjoyed chatting with us. I remember one such conversation. A crowd of investigators was standing before me, and I was telling them why I was in jail. I explained I had not wanted to hit anyone, that had not been the objective. Well, I expressed it simply.

They immediately tensed.

“What was the objective? Who set the objective?” they asked. They think crudely.

Other inmates knew about our case, and I never encountered flagrantly negative attitudes towards us in this connection. On the contrary, sometimes they would see articles about us and come running with the newspaper: “Oh, it’s about our rock star.” I also encountered not very well-educated people who thought that since I had been jailed for a protest rally that meant I was a nationalist. Several times, I quite seriously cussed people out for saying this: it offended me.

I had expected remand prison would involve total isolation, but it was like a rural village in there: everyone was connected with everyone else. It was its own society. In Butyrka remand prison, they explained to me how to “spur the horses.” In prison, “the horses” is the rope that connects cells and works like an intercom. Books were soaked with narcotics and passed on to those who needed them. Because of this, by the way, the flow of regular books into the prison slowed down. According to the internal code of inmates, formal channels for getting groceries and cigarettes into the prison should not be compromised.

The penal colony, where you are not locked up in eight square meters, seems like the regular world compared to the remand prison. You can see the sky. You can spot newcomers to the colony immediately: we all arrived looking pale. We had almost turned into mushrooms after two years of hearings and trials. I drank up the sunshine with my skin. I got a dark tan right away.

At one point, I even thought I had been born in prison. It was just that I had been let out. I had quickly found myself friends, a wife, and parents. I had screwed up somehow and gone back to prison.

Alexei Polikhovich and his parents. Photo from family archive

In the colony, you can learn to be a tailor, a lathe operator, an electrician or an auto mechanic. The phrase “Labor liberates” is written on the gates of the manufacturing zone. I studied sewing for six months, then I studied to be a lathe operator while also working as a sewing machine operator. Convicts sew sheets, pillowcases, suits, blankets, and bags.  In anticipation of my release, I sewed a rucksack for myself and Tanya, my wife. I had also sent her an apron and some bags.

In prison, people have no way of filtering incoming information. They mainly read bad newspapers. They also would take out the [philosophical and] literary journal Logos, which has no pictures, have a gander at it and be amazed. If you put convicts on a diet of [the national newspapers] Novaya Gazeta, Vedomosti and even Moskovsky Komsomolets for a month, they would catch on to something. But they would watch TV constantly, then would come to me and dump on me about how bad things were in Ukraine and what a trooper Putin was. They particularly liked all the trash on REN TV about reptilians and conspiracy theories.

Few people read good books in prison. They mainly read fluffy stuff, detective novels and bad sci-fi. Books from the outside are rarely “reeled in.” Falanster bookstore and I organized a book fair of sorts: beginning with my time in the remand prison, they sent me an endless stream of books. They sent so many books I would have had to serve another sentence just to finish reading them! When I was released, I took only a single rucksack with me, containing only books and letters. When you leave prison, you have to leave as much behind as possible. Not everyone in there has two pairs of warm socks. I took the books I was certain would interest no one: William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and [Ditmar] Rosenthal’s Russian language textbook. I thought I should finally learn Russian properly, so I would not be ashamed to print what I wrote. I also brought out an anthology of lectures from the Priamukhino Readings.

These three years have happened. I cannot cut them off or cross them out. I probably would not have wanted to spend them in prison, but I spent them there. This foundation, this experience on which I now stand, I cannot push it out from under my own feet. Not because I would fall, but because I just cannot do it physically. It is difficult. It is a rock.

Am I angry at anyone? I did not suffer catastrophically over these three years. I can be angry at the system on behalf of my loved ones. They certainly did not deserve it and are not guilty of anything.

I probably have become angrier over the last three years. And a little weary.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Gabriel Levy for the suggestion

“Decent People Rub Prince Lemon the Wrong Way”: Sasha Dukhanina’s Closing Statement at the Bolotnaya Square Trial

Alexandra Naumova (née Dukhanina, usually referred to as Sasha Dukhanina), born 1993, was the first person to be arrested in the Bolotnaya Square case, launched by the Russian authorities after a sanctioned opposition march in downtown Moscow on May 6, 2012, the day before President Putin’s re-inauguration, ended in clashes with police. Dukhanina-Naumova was detained at the Occupy Arbat protest camp in Moscow in late May 2012 and has been under house arrest since that time.

Dukhanina-Naumova and her co-defendants Sergei Krivov, Alexei Polikhovich, Artyom Savyolov, Denis Lutskevich, Andrei Barabanov, Stepan Zimin and Yaroslav Belousov are charged with involvement in mass riots and assaulting police officers. At the January 22, 2014, hearing in the case, prosecutors asked the presiding judge, Natalya Nikishina, to sentence each of them to between five and six years in prison.

Dukhanina-Naumova is specifically accused of throwing chunks of asphalt, one of which, allegedly, struck a police officer, slightly bruising him, and splashing a soft drink (kvass) from a liter-size bottle.

A photograph of a riot cop dragging Dukhanina-Naumova away by the neck on May 6, 2012, taken by famed opposition blogger and photographer Rustem Adagamov (aka Drugoi), himself now in exile, has become, perhaps, the most famous image of the “riots” that took place in Moscow that day. Many opposition activists and independent observers have claimed that what happened was in fact a provocation on the part of the authorities aimed at demoralizing the opposition and selectively punishing those who had tried to spoil Putin’s repeat “coronation” by publicly protesting.

adagamov-dukhanina drag

Before her arrest, Dukhanina-Naumova was a student at Moscow State University, where she majored in translation and interpretation. An anarchist, she had been involved in such causes as the defense of the Tsagovsky Forest, near Moscow, and Food Not Bombs.

On December 19, 2013, four other defendants in the case, Maria Baronova, Vladimir Akimenkov, Nikolai Kavkazsky and Leonid Kovyazin, were released under an “amnesty” that has been regarded by many as a gesture meant to defuse domestic and foreign criticism of the Putin regime’s concerted attacks on human and civil rights, NGOs, gays and lesbians, migrant workers, and opposition activists.

In any case, this amnesty did not fool the several thousand people who marched in Moscow on February 2, 2014, demanding the release of Dukhanina-Naumova and the other Bolotnaya Square defendants.

 

Dukhanina-Naumova made the closing statement, below, during the final hearing in the trial, on February 5, 2014, in Moscow.

After Dukhanina-Naumova and her co-defendants had finished making their closing statements, Judge Nikishina announced she would read out the verdict in the trial on February 21, 2014. This is two days before the end of the Sochi Olympics, President Putin’s wildly expensive showcase of his personal triumph over man, nature, and budgetary common sense.

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Closing Statement by Alexandra Dukhanina-Naumova at the Bolotnaya Square Trial, Zamoskovoretsky District Court, Moscow, February 5, 2014

At first I thought that this whole trial was a crazy mistake, the result of some mix-up. Now, after hearing the prosecutor’s speeches, and considering the length of the prison terms they are asking for us [Bolotnaya Square defendants], I’m starting to see that what the authorities want is revenge. They want revenge because we were there and saw how things really were. We witnessed who instigated the stampede, how people were beaten, and the unjustified violence. They are getting revenge on us for not bowing down to them and repenting for our nonexistent crimes, neither during interrogations nor here, in the courtroom. They are also avenging me for not helping them further their lies, for refusing to answer their questions.

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These are serious crimes that carry a penalty of six years in a penal colony. There is no one else who has earned such a severe punishment, just us. They’re afraid of the real criminals—they imprison the strangers who get in their way while they wouldn’t lift a finger against their own. It is up to you, Your Honor, to decide whether to pay for furthering their happiness—promotions, stars, and medals—with our lives.

Why six years? What are these “no fewer than eight targeted throws” I supposedly dealt? Where did they come from? Whom was I aiming at and whom did I hit? Eight different police officers? Or did I hit the two men they’ve painted as the victims eight times? If so, how many times did I hit each of them? Where are the answers to these questions? Isn’t it up to them to describe the attack in detail and prove their case before putting me in prison? After all, this isn’t fun and games; it’s six years of my life at stake. Otherwise, it isn’t even lies, but mendacious demagoguery unsupported by facts, a game played with a human life in the balance. And if they had 188 videos and not eight, would they allege that there were 188 throws?

You’ve seen the two riot police officers who were my so-called victims. Each one of them is two or three times my size, and on top of that, they were in body armor. One of them felt nothing, and the second one was not injured by me at all and has no grievances. Is this the “rioting” and “violence” that have earned me six years of incarceration?

I almost forgot about the kvass. The bottle alone gets me five years, and the eight targeted blows get me the last one. At least let them say so, that way at least I’ll know the price of kvass. They should also tell me where my “mass rioting” ends and my “violence toward the authorities” begins. What’s the difference between the two? I still haven’t understood the charges against me: what did I burn? What pogroms? What destruction of public property? What does any of this have to do with me? What did I blow up? What did I set on fire? What did I destroy? Whom did I conspire with? What’s the evidence? Am I getting four years in accordance with Article 212 just for being there? Is my mere presence at what began as a peaceful demonstration the “rioting” that I was involved in? All I did was show up.

Take a look at these people. They’re not murderers, thieves or con artists. Putting us all in prison is not only unjust, it’s criminal.

Many people have given me the opportunity to repent, apologize, say what the investigators want me to say, but you know, I don’t find it necessary to repent, let alone apologize, to these people. In our country, it’s widely accepted that they are absolutely untouchable despite the well-known cases of their involvement in drug trafficking, prostitution, and rape. Just a few days ago, that happened in the Lipetsk Region.

The narrative of the charges pinned on us isn’t just funny; it is absurd and based solely on the testimony of the riot police officers. What does this mean, that if a person has epaulettes they’re a priori honest and holy?

Your Honor, in the course of the past eight months of this trial, you’ve received such substantial evidence of our innocence that if you send us all to the camps, you will be ruining our lives and futures for nothing.

Is the government really so determined to make an example of us that it is willing to take this step? Letting a pencil pusher, rapist or policeman off for [inaudible] is a matter of course: they’re untouchable, one of your own. We, on the other hand, can handle a prison term. Who are we, after all, we’re not even rich? For some reason, I am convinced that even in prison I will still be more free than any of them because my conscience will be clear, while those who remain on the outside continuing their so-called protection of law, order, and freedom will live in an unbreakable cage with their accomplices.

I can admit to making a mistake. If I were truthfully presented with facts and it were demonstrated to me that I had done something illegal, I would confess to it. However, no one has done any such thing: all I’ve witnessed are lies and brute force. You can suffocate someone with force, drag them [inaudible] and all of this has already been done to me. But lies and violence can’t prove anything. Thus, no one has proven my guilt. I am sure that I am right and that I am innocent.

I’d like to close with a quotation from Gianni Rodari’s Cipollino:

 “My poor father! They’ve thrown you in the pen with thieves and bandits.”

“Hey now, son,” his father tenderly interrupted him. “Prison is chock full of honest people!”

“Why are they in prison? What have they done wrong?”

“Absolutely nothing, son. That’s why they’re in here. Decent people rub Prince Lemon the wrong way.”

“So getting in prison is a great honor?” he asked.

“That’s how it seems. Prisons are built for people who steal and kill, but in Prince Lemon’s kingdom, it’s all topsy-turvy. The thieves and murderers are in his palace, while honest citizens fill the prisons.”

Translated by Bela Shayevich. Originally published, in Russian, on Grani.RuPhotograph of Alexandra Dukhanina-Naumova courtesy of Dmitry Bortko

A Muted Joy: Who Got Left Out of Putin’s Amnesty

Lenta.Ru
December 19, 2013
A Muted Joy
Four Defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case Amnestied

The amnesty passed yesterday by the State Duma has enabled charges against four defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case to be dropped. Today, December 19, opposition activist Vladimir Akimenkov and journalist Leonid Kovyazin, who had been held in a remand prison for over a year, were released. Human rights activist Nikolai Kavkazsky was released from house arrest, and charges were likewise dropped against Maria Baronova, who had been under travel restrictions. Our correspondent went to the hearing at the Nikulinsky District Court in Moscow to see how the “prisoners of Bolotnaya” were freed.

Lawyers and journalists waited for the hearing to begin in a small, five-table cafe on the first floor of the Nikulinsky District Court. It had been known since yesterday evening that motions to amnesty four defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case—Maria Baronova, Vladimir Akimenkov, Nikolai Kavkazsky and Leonid Kovyazin—would be filed today. The four had been charged under sections 2 and 3 of Article 212 of the Criminal Code (participating in rioting and incitement to riot). Yesterday, the State Duma amended the president’s amnesty bill, extending it not only those convicted of such crimes but also to suspects and defendants charged under this article. However, the hearing had already been delayed by two hours and the people in the cafe were nervous.

Someone suggested the motions would not be accepted until Vladimir Putin’s press conference was over, because Judge Natalya Nikishina was waiting for a go-ahead from the Kremlin. Someone else claimed that traffic jams were to blame: because of them, the defendants had not been delivered to the court on time.

“In our difficult times, any delay gives rise to conspiracy theories,” lawyer Sergei Badamshin said by way of summing up.

When asked whether the four defendants would be released, lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant answered quite cautiously.

“It often happens that courts like to drag things out until the verdict. In Russia, the authorities don’t like letting people go. Today, I heard that some lady from the Federal Penitentiary Service said that for Nadya [Tolokonnikova] to be amnestied they would need a paper from child protection services saying that Nadya had not been deprived of her parental rights. Can you imagine? What grounds do they have for suspecting her of this? Her daughter has a birth certificate in which Nadya is identified as the mother. But in Russia, if they don’t want to let someone go, they always come up with an excuse.”

Dmitry Agranovsky, Vladimir Akimenkov’s lawyer, was categorical.

“I prepared the draft amendments to the amnesty bill along with MPs from the Communist Party. We ensured that the cases against people eligible for amnesty who have been charged under Article 212 would be dropped not after the verdict, but at the stage where they are currently are. From a legal perspective, Akimenkov should be released today, end of story. Since yesterday, there has no longer been any need for his detention. His complaint has already been filed with the European Court of Human Rights, and if he’s kept in the remand prison even for a day after the amnesty bill is published, that will be tantamount to a real abuse of power, since they are no legal grounds for detaining him. He should be released in the courtroom.”

Agranovsky recited [the final stanza of Pushkin’s poem “Deep in Siberian mines”] with expression.

“The heavy fetters will fall, / The jails will crumble. And freedom / Will joyfully hail you at the entrance, / And brothers will give you back your swords.”

Lawyer Alexei Vetrentsev, who was representing defendant Leonid Kovyazin, did not think his client would be released today.

“I think Leonid will be released from the remand prison only tomorrow. There’ll be paperwork at the prison, and he’ll have to gather his things.”

The expression on Vetrentsev’s face was extremely sad.

“For us, the amnesty is a good decision, but I feel embarrassed before the others. It is inhuman to carry out an amnesty this way, releasing some people while others are left in jail.”

Nine other people were to appear with his client in the cage for defendants at the Nikulinsky District Court. Only two of them, Kovyazin and Akimenkov, were supposed to be released. Baronova, the mother of a young child, had been under travel restrictions, while Kavkazsky had been under house arrest.

“I’m ashamed, but I’m glad, and that’s an objective feeling,” said Baronova. “You can feel as guilty as you like because the others aren’t being let out, but now for the first time in two years I can leave the country for at least a few days. I’m looking here at names of banks that give consumer loans for the New Year holidays, so I can go to Berlin.”

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(Left to right) Sergei Krivov, Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich, Andrei Barabanov and Artyom Savyolov. Photo: Gennady Gulyaev/Kommersant
Anatoly, grandfather of anarchist Alexei Polikhovich, another defendant, sat motionless not far from Baronova. Anatoly’s grandson was first charged under “amnestied” Article 212, for involvement in rioting. But after a press conference last year in which President Vladimir Putin spoke out strongly against people who had [allegedly] assaulted police officers, Article 318 (“use of violence that does not endanger human life or health […] against a representative of the authority”), the standard charge, was added to the charges against Polikhovich. Riot police officer Igor Tarasov had then suddenly remembered that at the May 6, 2012, rally, Polikhovich had “hit him in the wrist, causing severe pain.”
Immediately after the defendants were brought into the courtroom, the four lawyers moved to have their clients released in connection with the amnesty decree published yesterday in [official government newspaper] Rossiiskaya Gazeta. The appeals were wholly supported by the prosecution. Judge Natalya Nikishina then asked whether the appeals were supported by the remaining defendants not covered by the amnesty—that is, Polikhovich, Alexandra Dukhanina, Denis Lutskevich, Stepan Zimin, Sergei Krivov, Andrei Barabanov, Yaroslav Belousov and Artyom Savyolov.

Polikhovich replied by chuckling ironically a few times, but the other defendants unanimously seconded the appeals. Stella Anton, Denis Lutskevich’s mother, wept loudly. Twenty minutes later, Judge Nikishina returned to the courtroom and read out her decision: to grant the motions and dismiss the criminal charges.

The first to exit the courtroom was Leonid Kovyazin. His wife Yevgenia threw her arms around him.

“The guys aren’t getting out, and that’s bad,” said Kovyazin, now free. “My joy is severely muted for this reason.”

When asked what conditions had been like for him in the Butyrka remand prison, Kovyazin answered calmly.

“At first, I had conflicts in the remand prison. Then I got used to it: the only tough thing was the waiting. Other than that, the people in prison, who are mostly there on drugs charges, are often quite outstanding. Incidentally, I was surprised it wasn’t only young people who used drugs: there were fortysomething men in jail with me who told me how they had got hooked on heroin on their birthdays. Basically, I can’t say anything good about jail: any term of imprisonment means stress, unhappiness and a few years deducted from your life. For example, it is physically painful to ride in the paddy wagon: it is very cold in winter, and extremely hot in summer.”

Kovyazin had been accused of overturning portable toilets that had been set up in Bolotnaya Square during last year’s May 6 rally, which ended in massive clashes between protesters and police. Kovyazin was frank about his actions that day.

“I had gone to the square to shoot video for the Vyatsk Observer newspaper, but then I lost my cool. When I saw the case materials, the video shot from above, I noticed that at the moment [when police dispersed the rally] only around fifty people remained in the square, but the police were on both sides. I had shot scenes of people being beaten by the police, but then I had put away the camera and yet was unable to leave. Perhaps that was my mistake: the camera distances you from what’s happening, but when you’re involved in the events, it’s different.”

Kovyazin did not deny that he had pushed the toilet stalls.

“It was an emotional decision. After the fact you can discuss it at length and reflect on it, but when you see [people being beaten] . . . I was caught up in the action. Later, when the task force came to arrest me, I said to my brother, ‘See you in five years.’ Fortunately, that hasn’t come to pass.”

After a pause, Leonid continued.

“If I could play it back, I would do what I did, only I would have gone without the camera. As Vova [Vladimir Akimenkov] joked to me, ‘When you get out, the journalists are going to slap you first, then shake your hand.’ Because that kind of involvement is, of course, a violation of professional journalistic ethics. But I don’t believe I was involved in rioting.”

“There was no rioting in the square,” asserted Nikolai Kavkazsky, one of the amnestied defendants and a lawyer with the human rights organization Civil Assistance. “It is obvious to everyone that on May 6 there was a sanctioned march and rally that the authorities wanted to disrupt. People who went to that rally are now on trial, but not the policemen who actually violated the law, which prohibits dispersing rallies. What happened to me, for example? I saw a police officer hitting some unknown people with a truncheon. He was beating them severely, you might say. I went up to the police officer and wanted to say to him, ‘Why are you violating the law on police conduct? Why are you beating citizens?” But I didn’t manage to say anything. He raised his truncheon. I wanted to cover myself with hands, but the blow landed on my arm, and to protect myself from this police officer, I lifted my leg. That was it.”

Kavkazsky was arrested on July 25, 2012, when he left his home to buy new pants. (He never did buy those pants.) Later, in the remand prison, he found that the hardest thing to endure was being cut off from the familiar, everyday world.

“When you’re cut off from the phone and Internet, from interacting with your usual circle of people, you feel completely isolated. That’s the scariest thing. And there’s not knowing. Conditions in prisons are horrible: they’re not meant to observe human rights but to violate them. Everything is forbidden there. Why do they forbid you from listening to music you want to listen to? Why can’t you put duvets on your blankets? Why can’t you eat the food you like?”

Kavkazsky spent nearly a year in the remand prison. He was switched to house arrest only in August of this year because endocrine disorders he suffers from had flared up while he was in custody.

Vladimir Akimenkov, an activist with the now-routed Left Front, was also released from the remand prison on Thursday. At first, he had wanted to turn down the amnesty.

“It’s a Byzantine decision: they’re planning to release some and not others. I don’t understand how I’m better than the others, why guys who have become real comrades to me, people with serious health problems, including fathers and men separated from their other halves, have to be in prison.”

His lawyer convinced Akimenkov to sign the appeal. He did not consider himself guilty.

“I did none of the things I’ve been charged with. I was not involved in a riot that, incidentally, did not happen.”

Akimenkov looked out the window and rubbed his wrists.

“I find it strange to go outside, strange to feel my hands without handcuffs on them. But after I find a job, I’ll be going to the Bolotnaya Square trial, making care packages, giving money and doing everything possible to ensure there is not a single political prisoner in this country.”

In the very near future, Akimenkov plans to attend another trial, that of Left Front coordinator Sergei Udaltsov, accused of organizing the “riot” in downtown Moscow a year and a half ago. The court has yet to begin examining the charges against him.

Svetlana Reiter

NB. The original article features a four-minute video of the December 19 court hearing and its aftermath.

Relatives of the Bolotnaya Square Prisoners: Letter to Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin

grani.ru
Relatives of the Bolotnaya Square Prisoners Write to Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin
May 6 Committee
October 1, 2013

sobyanin-tabakov2

Dear Sergey Semyonovich:

We are friends and relatives of the defendants in the so-called case of the riots of May 6, 2012, currently being tried in the capital’s Zamoskvoretsky District Court.

Nearly all of us are Muscovites, and many of us received a personally addressed election campaign letter from you containing many warm words. “Moscow is the city to which you’ve given your strength, talent and soul,” you wrote. And it is true: we have years of work on behalf of our city’s and our country’s welfare, safety and defense under our belts.

And we really would like, as you rightly noted, “to feel secure in Moscow and confident in the future.” Unfortunately, however, no one can feel “safe and confident in the future” in Moscow nowadays. No matter how Moscow is modernized and prettified, this has no effect on the security of Muscovites if civil rights are not respected.

It has become apparent to us during the court hearings that the main cause of the events of May 6, 2012, on Bolotnaya Square was the Moscow police’s sudden alteration of the arrangements [for the planned opposition march and rally], which had earlier been approved at a meeting with the Moscow Department of Regional Security. This change provoked confusion among the crowd and led to riot police pushing people back, thus exacerbating an already unbearable crush. Police brutally beat protesters in an attempt to clear the streets. But no criminal proceedings were instituted in connection with these incidents. Our relatives ended up in police custody instead of the real culprits of the clash. The trial against most of them began in June 2013 and is likely to take a very long time.

On trial days, our relatives get up early (at five or six in the morning), return to their cells late (around midnight or later), spend long hours waiting in a cramped holding cell, eat poorly soluble dry rations for lunch and endure lengthy court proceedings. These conditions would cause even healthy people to experience a significant deterioration of health. Among the defendants, however, is the Class 2 disabled person Mikhail Kosenko (whose mother recently died, although he was not informed about her illness or death, and was not released to attend her funeral) and Vladimir Akimenkov, who is threatened with blindness.

Sergey Semyonovich, we hope that we, Muscovites, are not a faceless mass to you, but individuals with their own lives and needs. And we want an answer: why, for over a year, have our relatives suffered without any proof of their guilt, while police officers who beat people are at large and serving as complainants in the case, although they often do not remember the accused and have no relation to them? Some of these police officers had a finger cut by persons unknown, making them “experience severe physical suffering,” while others had their clothes pulled or were bruised.

There were no riots—meaning massive destruction, arson and use of weapons—on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012. The matter could simply be put to a rest right there, but the “riots” are, in fact, the cause of the whole trial. It is clear that the level of such legal proceedings does not stand up to scrutiny.

In your letter, you invited us to vote in the [mayoral] election, implying, of course, that it should be an honest election. It was fair elections that our children, brothers and husbands demanded: that is why they are in custody, and why they face hefty prison sentences. Judging by your letter, you want to make our city a better place, and Muscovites happier. But what can be said if here, in Moscow, in plain view, innocent people—young people, academics, and journalists—are on trial, if the country’s future is on trial?

If you are really worried about Moscow’s image, then you will certainly pay attention to the ugly spectacle being played out in the Moscow City Court, which is a disgrace to the city and the country. We appeal to you to come to the trial, which convenes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the Appeals Wing of the Moscow City Court, Room 635. (As of October 1, the trial will be held at the Nikulinsky District Court, Room 303 – Editors.) You yourself will be convinced that the judge is working with the prosecution, that the evidence presented by the prosecution does not withstand scrutiny, and that the prosecution witnesses—police officers—are forced to lie under oath. Come and see for yourself that the presumption of innocence does not apply at this trial and that to impartial observers the court looks like a total circus. Or rather, it would look that way to us if our children were not behind the glass cage in this court.

We ask you to get to the bottom of this “court case” and help to ensure that in the future not a single Muscovite or visitor to the capital will be beaten with police batons at a peaceful, sanctioned rally, charged with “rioting” and thrown into prison.

We ask you, Sergey Semyonovich, to do everything to save our relatives.

We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Natalya Kavkazkaya (mother of Nikolai Kavkazsky)
Yuri Kavkazsky (father of Nikolai Kavkazsky)
Viktor Savyolov (father of Artyom Savyolov)
Alexei Polikhovich (father of Alexei Polikhovich)
Tamara Likhanova (wife of Yaroslav Belousov)
Stella Anton (mother of Denis Lutskevich)
Artyom Naumov (husband of Alexandra Dukhanina-Naumova)
Ekaterina Tarasova (mother-in-law of Leonid Kovyazin)
Vasily Kovyazin (brother of Leonid Kovyazin)
Olga Ignatovich (mother of Ilya Gushchin)
Ksenia Kosenko (sister of Mikhail Kosenko)
Maria Baronova (defendant)
Tatyana Barabanova (mother of Andrei Barabanov)
Alexandra Kunko (fiancée of Stepan Zimin)