Anna Karpova: The Unstable Prisoner, the Exclusion Zone, and Infinity

Alexei Gaskarov and Anna Karpova. Photo courtesy of Anna Karpova and PRI
Alexei Gaskarov and Anna Karpova. Photo courtesy of Anna Karpova and PRI

Anna Karpova
The Unstable Prisoner, the Exclusion Zone, and Infinity
Snob.ru
June 18, 2016

“Gaskarov has had reprimands both at the pretrial detention facility and the penal colony. There have been commendations, too. He works hard, studies well, and runs economics seminars for the inmates. But now he gets reprimands, then he gets commendations He is unstable somehow, unstable.”

Lieutenant Colonel Plaksin (I now always pay attention to such things) stared at the table. He was trying to explain to the judge why the wardens of the penal colony were opposed to paroling my husband.

I remember how I was invited to the studios of TV Rain the day the second wave of Bolotnaya Square defendants was sentenced to talk about we would do next. I put on a brave face and said the heck with the sentence. We would get everyone out on parole. But who knew Plaksin would be staring at the table?

There really is an outstanding reprimand in convict Gaskarov’s personal file: for not greeting an employee of the prison administration. When the judge was reading out the report on this terrible incident, I got goosebumps myself. Was this the man I had married?!

In short, the request for parole was denied.

The handful of people to whom the Bolotnaya Square case still matters send us rays of supports and remind us that, in the worst circumstances, we have a little less than four and a half months to wait.  They assure me the time can be done “standing on one leg.” It is nothing compared to the three years already served.

But that is not how it works.

Maybe I have been playing Fallout 3 (a video game about life on earth after a nuclear war) way too much, but I will say this. The trials and hearings, the pretrial detention facilities, and the penal colonies are like exclusion zones, places with elevated radiation levels that (I will tell you a secret) poison and destroy the individual. The more time you spend there, the worse the consequences are. Everyone involved in the process is irradiated. The prisoner and his family have it the worst of all, of course. Friends, acquaintances, and sympathizers are also affected, albeit on a lesser scale. The impact of the “radiation” does not end when the sentence ends.

The radiation sickness caused by the Russian penitentiary system can manifest itself in very different ways. For example, when it is quite hard to admit your absolute helplessness before court and prison functionaries, you might think there was “that one piece of paper” that could have fixed everything, but you fools did not bother about it. The thought eats into your brains and prevents you from working, sleeping, and communicating with each other. Worst of all, you look for someone to blame. Who messed up? The lawyer? The prisoner? His wife? His parents? The incident then comes up in every stressful situation, most likely, after release as well. The gulf between what prisoners have gone through and what their families went through fighting on the outside can be bridged only by the most patient and wisest. The former will never fully understand what it was like for the latter, and vice versa.

Each week spent there, behind the penal colony’s dilapidated fence, means the risk of sustaining all the major injuries and traumas that will make themselves felt in the most unexpected situations for a long time to come. Not to mention the fact that if you suddenly have the most ordinary appendicitis on the inside, you are probably a goner.

When I am asked whether everything is okay, whether there have been problems at the penal colony, it is enough for everyone to hear that my husband has not been transferred to maxim security, and that neither the wardens nor the inmates have been messing with him, but that amounts to only ten percent of possible problems. The other ninety percent have to do with how inmates and their families digest what has happened to their lives. And it not the done thing to talk about it, but an additional four and a half months feel like an infinity and keep on poisoning the lives of those who wait.

This means there is no “only” when we are talking about the remainder of a prison sentence. And it means we must fight for every month of freedom, even for a single month. By the way, that is how it is going to be with us.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexei Gaskarov Denied Parole

Alexei Gaskarov on Bolotnaya Square, Moscow, May 6, 2012
Alexei Gaskarov on Bolotnaya Square, Moscow, May 6, 2012

Alexei Gaskarov Denied Parole
Grani.ru
June 17, 2016

Novomoskovsk City Court in Tula Region has denied Bolotnaya Square case convict Alexei Gaskarov’s request of parole, Gaskarov’s wife Anna Karpova [sicreported on Snob.ru.

“Novomoskovsk City Court Judge Irina Sapronova turned down the request. The spokesman for the penal colony also testified against the request, because Gaskarov had been reprimanded for not greeting a penal colony employee in March,” wrote Karpova.

According to Karpova, the penal colony gave Gaskarov a negative character report. The report noted that the convict had been issued two disciplinary reprimands in solitary confinement and two in the colony for violating the daily routine and not greeting wardens.

And yet the report states that Gaskarov has not violated the internal code of conduct or the terms of his sentence, has been working at the colony and taking part in social activities, has qualified as an electrician, and has been studying to be a welder. Gaskarov has received two commendations for hard work and good behavior. He is polite with the wardens, neat, has a positive effect on new inmates, attends events, and has no outstanding writs of enforcement, the report states.

Gaskarov was arrested in late April 2013. On August 18, 2014, Judge Natalia Susina of the Zamoskvorechye District Court in Moscow sentenced the activist to three and a half years in a medium-security penitentiary facility under Criminal Code Articles 212 (involvement in rioting) and 318.1 (use of non-threatening violence against a state official).

Gaskarov was found guilty of tugging police officer Pavel Bulychev’s arm and police officer Igor Ibatulin’s leg. Gaskarov claimed he tugged Bulychev’s arm to break a police chain that was causing the crowd to stampede. He attempted to pull Ibatulina away from a detainee lying on the ground.

Gaskarov himself was severely beaten at Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, sustaining lacerations to his head. And yet the Russian Investigative Committee refused to file criminal charges in response to his complaint.

On November 27, 2014, a panel of judges at the Moscow City Court (with Tatyana Dodonova acting as reporting judge) left the antifascist’s verdict unchanged.

On June 24, 2015, Novomoskovsk City Court Judge Elena Gorlatova denied Gaskarov parole, citing an outstanding reprimand he received while still in custody at Pretrial Detention Facility No. 5 in Moscow.

Alexei Gaskarov was born in 1985 in Zhukovsky, Moscow Region. A graduate of the Government Finance Academy, he worked at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 2010, he was arrested and charged during an investigation of the campaign to defend the Khimki Forest but was acquitted the same year.

Translated by the Russian Reader. No thanks to anyone for letting one of Russia’s finest young men rot in prison for the crime of acting like a decent human being in a horrible situation deliberately provoked by the police. Photo courtesy of bolotnoedelo.info. Read my previous reports on Alexei Gaskarov’s case and the futile efforts to free him.

Alexei Gaskarov: The Robin Hood of Zhukovsky

Alexei Gaskarov: The Robin Hood of Zhukovsky

Three years have passed since the opposition March of the Millions on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow ended in a physical confrontation with riot police, hundreds of arrests, and, later, dozens of criminal cases brought against protesters, who had engaged, allegedly, in “rioting” and “violence” against the police.

Although more than thirty defendants have been tried as part of the Bolotnaya Square Case, police investigators and prosecutors continue to unearth new suspects to this day.

This is the story of leftist social activist and antifascist Alexei Gaskarov, a 29-year-old economist from the Moscow suburb of Zhukovsky, as told by his family and close friends. Gaskarov, who is also an elected member of the Opposition Coordinating Council, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on August 18, 2014.

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Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of avtonom.org

Anna Karpova: My Wedding Night

My Wedding Night
Anna Karpova
August 7, 2014
Snob.ru

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“And now, the newlyweds can seal their union with a kiss.”

Lyosha and I had long ago stopped listening to the young woman from the registry office and were already sealing our union.

I reluctantly let go of Lyosha’s hands so he could hug my parents and his parents. Our mothers were hiding faces moist with tears behind bouquets.

“Let’s leave the young people alone for a few minutes.”

Everyone left, closing the transparent door of the room where prisoners meet with lawyers. The guard peeked shyly through the glass, and the smell of fresh bread wafted in from the corridor: there is bakery on the first floor of Butyrka prison.

“You’re so cool when I touch you, so . . . real.”

“I love you very much.”

“I love you more.”

We didn’t talk much. We cuddled each other and winced at every rustle, afraid the guard would come in to take my husband away.

I clung to Lyosha as if it would slow down time.

“What should I do tonight when I leave and you stay here? How should I finish this day?”

I had been tormented by this question since we had set the date for the wedding.

“Go out with someone, but if you’re tired, go home to the cat.”

“And what will you do?”

Lyosha laughed.

“You all ordered me a festive meal, so I’m going to eat.”

There was a guilty knock at the door. A prison officer informed us our time was running out.

“When we get out of prison—I mean, when I get out—I will hold you for days on end.”

I cried and buried my head in Lyosha’s shoulder. My husband had been calm all this time.

“My heart is going to leap from chest now,” he suddenly said.

We embraced our parents and the staff from the Public Oversight Commission who had come to the jail to congratulate us. Thanks to them we have photos of the wedding ceremony. Lyosha was being led away—without handcuffs, but under guard.

Now I was going to leave the place, but Lyosha was staying here. A chill emanated from the walls, and behind me countless doors slammed shut. The sound was like the sound of a guillotine’s blade falling.

Now I was going to get out of there and bawl. I would not go out with anyone. I would not go home to the cat. I would sit down on the steps of the remand prison. Better yet, I would lie down on the steps, and I would wallow there until they let Lyosha go. The leaves would fall from the trees, then it would snow, then it would melt, and the branches on the trees would bud, but I would still be lying there, because my life was over.

Everything turned out exactly the opposite. Rather than lying down and dying, I came to life. Despite the period of mourning I had declared, the people who came were so sincerely happy for me that I started to feel happy for myself. I went out, and then I went home to the cat, and I wasn’t left alone for a minute, because everyone knew and understood I was horrified by the fact I didn’t know to how end this day.

At home, the first thing I did was hug Jean-Paul, the huge teddy bear that Lyosha had given me for my twenty-third birthday. If you pinch his paw, he says clever things. On the day of my wedding, he said, “Love means conceding the person you love is right when he’s wrong.”

I had imagined my wedding night differently. Anya, one of my future bridesmaids at my future, real wedding on the outside, was falling asleep on a nearby couch.

“Hey, what do I do with my ‘wedding’ dress? I was wearing it when the guard led my husband away down the corridors of Butyrka prison.”

“Nothing terrible happened today. I haven’t seen you so happy in a long time. Put that dress on more often.”

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Anna Karpova married antifascist activist Alexei (“Lyosha”) Gaskarov on August 6 in the Butyrka remand prison in Moscow. Tomorrow, August 18, Gaskarov is scheduled to be sentenced with the second group of defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case. Read his closing statement at their trial here. Images courtesy of Snob.ru and Gaskarov.info.

UPDATE. On August 18, Alexei Gaskarov was sentenced to three and half years in prison.

A Fiancee’s Diary: At the Bolotnaya Square Trial

Originally published (in Russian) at:
http://www.snob.ru/profile/27375/blog/64533
http://gaskarov.info/post/59772586016

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Anna Karpova
A Fiancée’s Diary: “The defense’s question is disallowed since it is irrelevant to the case”
August 30, 2013

I already find it trying either to write or read about the Bolotnaya Square case. The trial began in early June. The court hearings are held three times a week, Tuesday through Thursday, from eleven-thirty in the morning to six or seven in the evening, but each new hearing is a repeat of the previous ones, the same combination of utterances by the judge and state prosecutor, except in a different order. “The defense’s question is disallowed a) as stated; b) since it is irrelevant to the case; c) as repetitive.”

I would not be following these events so closely myself did they not concern me personally. But my fiancé, Alexei Gaskarov, is under investigation and in police custody, and I have no choice but to monitor the “Trial of the Twelve” carefully in order to gauge my chances of seeing Alexei freed as soon as possible.

All this time I have deliberately avoided going into the courtroom at the Moscow City Court where the Bolotnaya Square case is being heard, preferring to watch the live broadcast in the court hallway or observe the circus from the press balcony. If I had the chance not to go to the court hearings in Alexei’s case, I would skip those as well. It is one thing to talk with the emotional parents of the prisoners outside the courthouse and see photos of the defendants in the press, but quite another thing to see relatives and loved ones silently communicating through the glass of the “aquarium” in which the defendants are caged during the hearings, and realize they have had no other means of supporting each other for over a year now.

Yesterday, August 29, I went to the trial to keep Tanya Polikhovich company. It was the birthday of her husband, Alexei Polikhovich, one of the twelve defendants. Alexei’s dad, Alexei Polikhovich, Sr., happily greeted us in the hallway of the court.

“Alexei already celebrated his birthday with the guys in the cell as best he could. They drank soda pop from the pretrial detention facility store, and he blew out three lit matches. Why three? Because he has turned twenty-three!”

A bailiff opened the door and ushered relatives into the courtroom. Although Alexei Gaskarov is not among the first twelve defendants, Alexei Polikhovich, Sr., put his arm around my shoulders and led me to the seats near the dock. The guys in the dock pressed themselves against the glass and waved to their loved ones, smiling. Stepan Zimin was particularly glad to see his girlfriend Sasha. She had come to the trial for the first time: she was no longer considered an official witness in the case, something that had prevented her from attending the hearings. Sasha and Stepan made eye contact and kept their eyes on each other until the very end of the hearing, which would be disrupted by people in the gallery. (But more on that later.)

Yaroslav Belousov, Andrei Barabanov and Denis Lutskevich were seated in the dock closest to where I was sitting. Alexei Polikhovich sat in the farthest section of the dock. Tanya attracted his attention by waving to him. Then she unfolded a t-shirt with Dandy the Elephant emblazoned on it. Polikhovich gave a two thumbs-up sign: the t-shirt was a birthday present for him. Lutskevich kept his eyes glued on his lovely mother, Stella. Throughout the hearing they would surprise me with their amazing ability to hold a conversation merely by glancing at each other. Andrei Barabanov was looking at other people in the gallery, because his girlfriend, Katya, is unable to attend the hearings: she is an official witness in the case.

a6f62022c6ef135f3dd63c3831be8f39While I was examining the animated faces of the guys in the dock, Judge Natalya Nikishina entered the courtroom. As always, defendant Sergei Krivov addressed her.

“I have a motion I haven’t been allowed to enter for two days running!”

“Shut up, Krivov,” the judge cut him off.

“No, listen, you have to hear my motion!”

“I am cautioning you for causing a disruption in the courtroom, Krivov!”

“And I’m cautioning you for not hearing my motion!”

Then the testimony of the sixth “victim” in the case, riot police officer Alexander Algunov, began: the case file contains a medical certificate stating that his right hand was injured during the alleged “riots” on May 6, 2012, in Moscow, during a sanctioned opposition march. I stopped listening to Algunov’s monotonous, muddled testimony and looked back to the dock, making eye contact with Lutskevich. Denis smiled broadly, and I wrote the phrase “Gaskarov says hi!” in big, block letters in my notebook. I tried to quietly raise my postcard so the guys would see it, but the bailiffs noticed it as well. “Well, now they’ll kick me out of the courtroom,” I thought, and a bailiff, dressed in black, moved towards me. I put the notebook away and got a warning. The bailiff took up a spot next to the glass cage, blocking my view of the guys, but they leaned forward and, peering from behind him, waved at me and smiled.

While this was going on, the state prosecutor was asking to hold a police lineup right in the courtroom, despite the fact it violated court rules.

“Do you see the person or persons who assaulted police officers among those present in the dock?”

The lawyers jumped up from their seats. Defense attorneys referred to the sections of the law under which the procedure could not be carried out in court. Chin propped on her hand and smiling, Judge Nikishina slowly said, “Algunov, answer the prosecutor’s question.”

Algunov “recognized,” as he put it, “the man in the t-shirt,” nodding towards Krivov, then he also pointed out the two female defendants, Alexandra Naumova (née Dukhanina) and Maria Baronova. After which he told the court how protesters had, allegedly, shouted “Let’s go to Red Square!” and “Let’s take the Kremlin!”

As always, Makarov, who is defending Krivov, was completely prepared to cross-examine the victim, but as the hearing entered its sixth hour, people in the court gallery interrupted his cross-examination. Two young women jumped up on their seats and began singing “Bella Ciao,” the Italian Anti-Fascist Resistance song. But they did not succeed in unfurling a small banner congratulating Alexei Polikhovich on his birthday: six men in plain clothes grabbed them and removed them from the courtroom, along with everyone else in the gallery, including the relatives. Artyom Naumov, husband of Alexandra Naumova, recognized two of the men as people who had carried out a search at Alexandra’s apartment.

Everyone was now standing in the hallway, and the parents were upset. It would have been better to stage the unsuccessful performance after the hearing was over. Alexandra Naumova left the courtroom, and the judge announced a recess until next Tuesday.

Before leaving, Judge Nikishina remarked, disgruntled, that come September, hearings should be held five days a week to get this over quickly.

From left to right: Sasha (Stepan Zimin’s girlfriend), Tanya Polikhovich, Anna Karpova