The Persecution of Konstantin Kotov

Yan Shenkman
Facebook
August 14, 2019

Today, Kostya Kotov was sent down for two months. It was a temporary remand in custody, but there is a chance he could be charged with the same article in the criminal code as Ildar Dadin, meaning he could be sentenced to prison for up to five years for the sum total of administrative offenses on his record.

Kostya was always sticking up for people. He would go to courthouses and stand holding placards in their defense. If that is a crime, I don’t know what to say.

As Yana Teplitskaya wrote correctly today, the difference between Dadin and Kotov is enormous. Dadin attacked the regime, while Kotov stood up for its victims. Meaning he did what you cannot help doing if you have a shred of conscience left in you.

By coincidence, Dadin was detained today, too.

Kostya is a staunch opponent of violence: I have personally spoken with him about this. He is a calm, intelligent chap and works as a programmer. I cannot even remember him raising his voice to anyone.

And so it transpires he is a criminal and a danger to society.

This is awful, but I wanted to write about something else.

I was at Kotov’s court hearing today. The authorities took a long time getting him to the courthouse. The hearing was slated for ten, but it was around two when he was brought to the courthouse.

I went outside to have a smoke. A film crew from Channel One was hanging out there. Right then, a paddy wagon pulled up and guards led Kostya to the courtroom. I waved at him.

“Konstantin, tell us what you were arrested for?” the female reporter from Channel One yelled from right behind me.

I don’t know what answer she wanted to hear and how she imagined she would hear it. The distance between the vehicle and the entrance to the courthouse was ten meters or so. Kostya was handcuffed and under guard. Did she expect him to stop and explain to her why he had been arrested?

Someone next to me turned to her.

“For nothing,” he said.

Kotov had been taken away. I didn’t manage to finish my cigarette.

kotov-1Konstantin Kotov. Photo by Adik Zubcik. Courtesy of Facebook and Mediazona

“Any Injustice Would Upset the Guy”: The Man Charged under the “Dadin” Article
Anna Kozkina, Dima Shvets, and Elizaveta Pestova
Mediazona
August 13, 2019

On Wednesday, the Presna District Court will decide on custody measures for 34-year-old Konstantin Kotov, a programmer who has been charged under the rarely used Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code, which makes repeated administrative violations at protest rallies a criminal offense. Mediazona tells the story of a man who had the bad luck to get involved in political activism in a period when people who attend any unauthorized public events are rampantly persecuted.

Comrades
It is August 13, the middle of the workday. The weather in Moscow is fine. A fifty-something man stands outside a presidential administration building on Staraya Ploshchad, holding a placard that reads, “Konstantin Kotov is being persecuted under the criminal code for defending political prisoners. Free the defender of freedom.”

The man is Nikolai Rekubratsky, a poet and researcher at the Freshwater Fisheries Institute who lives in Dmitrov. In his spare time, he and several allies run the Facebook Group Sentsov. Exchange. Today and Every Day.

Rekubratsky says members of the group have been holding solo pickets here every weekday since September 6, 2018. Usually, the picketers demand a total exchange of Russian and Ukrainian prisoners of war, but last night their comrade the 34-year-old Moscow programmer Konstantin Kotov was detained and charged with a criminal offense. Kotov was one of the people who came up with the idea for the daily pickets and had been actively involved in them.

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caf20691d9cda5e2f430ad4794b128e3Illustration by Mike Ch. Courtesy of Mediazona

Article 212.1. How Many Times Have We Told You?
Article 212.1 (repeated violation of the rules for holding rallies) was added to the Criminal Code in the summer of 2014. In January 2015, for the first time, the Russian Investigative Committee charged three activists with breaking the new law.

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“We met about a year ago at pickets in support of Oleg Sentsov, who was on hunger strike at the time in support of other political prisoners. It had a big impact on many people who were strangers to political activism. But Kostya had earlier attended protest marches of some sort. I don’t know exactly which ones,” says Nikolai. “He said he had no clue who Sentsov was, but when his hunger strike kicked off and Kostya read about it on the internet, it made a very strong impression on him and so he began supporting Sentsov.”

Other activists walked up to the entrance to the presidential administration. One young man hands Rekrubratsky his written surety for Kotov: tomorrow, a court will decide on custody measures for him. The people going into the building pay no mind to the picketers.

“Life was such that ever more events and injustices happened, and Kostya could not help reacting to them. He took part in pickets and was repeatedly detained,” Rekrubratsky continues.

kotov-2Nikolai Rekubratsky. Photo by Dima Shvets. Courtesy of Mediazona

Judging by his Facebook page and the accounts of friends, Kotov supported arrested Open Russia activist Anastasia Shevchenko and Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. He ran the Telegram channel #StopFSB, which is dedicated to the defendants in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and the New Greatness case. He tried to help Moscow State University graduate student Azat Miftakhov. That is, he empathized with the defendants in nearly all the current criminal cases with political overtones.

Kotov’s allies recall other stories as well, for example, how Kotov bought medicine for New Greatness defendant Anna Pavlikova or assembled care packages for the arrested Ukrainian sailors.

Nevertheless, on Facebook, Kotov listed his place of employment as DSSL, a company that produces video surveillance systems and, in particular, facial recognition software.

“Any injustice would upset the guy. He always reacted, going to rallies and standing in pickets. His stance was always extremely peaceful,” recalls activist Anna Babicheva.

“At the Nemtsov memorial march in February, Kostya for some reason gave me his placard, which is very well designed. There are silhouettes of crosses and bombs drawn on it, and the simple slogan, ‘Say No to War.’ It is a big A1-sized placard, and I really enjoy picketing with it. It’s my favorite placard by Kostya,” says Grigory Simakov, a volunteer at the Nemtsov Bridge memorial, a member of the 14% Movement, and a participant in the total prisoner exchange pickets.

It was Kotov’s protest activism that was the reason for the criminal charges filed against him under Russian Criminal Code Article 212.1 (“repeated violation of the rules for holding rallies, marches, and pickets”).

The Case
According to the written order to institute criminal proceedings, the case is based on three occasions on which Kotov was charged with administrative offenses in the last six months, although the document refers not to three but four violations.

The first administrative case had to with calls to take part in the Moscow City Duma elections protest on July 19 on Trubnaya Square, which Kotov posted on Facebook. The Tverskoi District Court in Moscow found him guilty of organizing a public event without notifying the authorities (Article 20.2.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code) and sentenced him to ten days in jail.

Earlier, on June 12, Kotov took part in a march in defense of journalist Ivan Golunov. The Presna District Court fined him 15,000 rubles after finding Kotov guilty of hindering the movement of vehicles and pedestrians (Article 20.2.6.1 of Administrative Offenses Code).

Kotov was detained during a gathering, outside an FSB building on May 13, in support of defendants in the Network and New Greatness cases. In this instance, the Meshchansky District Court found him guilty of repeated violations of the law on rallies (Article 20.2.8 of the Administrative Offenses Code) and jailed him for five days.

On August 10, Kotov again took part in an “unauthorized” protest near Staraya Ploshchad. According to investigators, he chanted the slogans “Let them run,” “Putin is a thief,” “We are the power here,” “Down with Putin,” “All for one, and one for all,” and “Russia will be free.”

After police dispersed the protest, Kotov spent two days at the Sokolinaya Gora police precinct. On August 12, he was released under an obligation to return to the precinct for a meeting with an Investigative Committee investigator. Several hours later, he was detained again and taken to the Investigative Committee for questioning.

kotov-3

A screenshot from Maria Eismont’s Facebook page showing her and Konstantin Kotov after his release from a Moscow police precinct on August 12 and explaining that Kotov was “grabbed” and delivered to the Investigative Committee two hours after the photo was taken. Courtesy of Mediazona

OVD Info lawyer Maria Eismont described Kotov’s arrest as follows.

“They attacked him from behind. They threw him on the ground and twisted his arms behind his back. Yet, at the same time, they asked, ‘Konstantin, what are your political views?’ When his personal effects were searched at the Investigative Committee, they found a copy of the Criminal Procedures Code, a copy of the Administrative Offenses Code, a booklet entitled Crimea Is Ours, a bag emblazoned with poems by a poet from Lviv, and a placard that read, ‘Let them run.'”

“Then they found his mathematical engineering honors diploma.”

“‘Attaboy!’ said the investigator,” Eismont recounted.

In the late evening, it transpired that charges had been filed against Kotov under the relatively rarely used Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code. After the release of Ildar Dadin, the first person to be charged, convicted, and imprisoned under the new law, it has been used only twice: against Vyacheslav Egorov, leader of the anti-landfill protests in Kolomna, and against Andrei Borovikov, who was involved in the anti-landfill protests in Shies.

Then came a nighttime search of Kotov’s home.

“Morning is arriving, dawn is breaking outside. Investigators put the placard they have found—’Free Ponomaryova,’ ‘Free Nastya Shevchenko,’ ‘Free political prisoners!’—on the living room floor. ‘Kostya, do you have bags to put all of this in?’ ‘I have garbage bags.’ ‘Those will do.’ There is a sewing machine. ‘Is it a Singer?’ ‘No.’ There are more placards. ‘You have a lot of this stuff,’ a field officer notes,” Eismont wrote in her description of the search.

kotov-5

During the search of Konstantin Kotov’s apartment. Courtesy of Maria Eismont

Kotov was formally charged on the morning of August 13.

“Unfortunately, Criminal Code Article 212.1, which had been dubbed a ‘sleeper’ article, has woken up and sprung into action. Moreover, as in the Egorov case, the formal approach to the law has been taken in Kotov’s case, despite the Constitutional Court’s well-known ruling on the matter. This means that if a person has been found by the courts to have violated Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code three times over six months, the fourth violation is treated as a criminal offense,” says Eismont. “The fact that people involved in ‘unauthorized’ protests cross the street at crosswalks doesn’t matter to anyone. The Constitutional Court ruled that only those protesters who did something dangerous were liable to criminal prosecution and punishment. The system has shown that it regards protesting without permission as a danger to itself and, thus, a crime.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Suing the Opposition into Oblivion

The Lash and the Pocketbook: Petersburg Tests New Scheme for Punishing Opposition
Sergei Yeremeyev
Zaks.ru
December 14, 2018

The prosecutor’s office has estimated that two Petersburg parks sustained 10.9 million rubles [approx. 144,000 euros] in damage during the He’s Not Our Tsar protest, which took place on May 5, 2018, in Petersburg [and other Russian cities]. Two people, Denis Mikhailov and Bogdan Livtin, will be held responsible for all the protesters, police officers, and ordinary Petersburgers who walked on the lawns that day in the vicinity of Palace Square. Law enforcement agencies have identified the two men as organizers of the protest rally.

IMG_5092.JPG (349 KB)

Saving the Grass from Provocateurs
Suing for damage to municipal property is the Russian state’s new know-how when it comes to intimidating the opposition. Like certain other innovations, for example, repeated arrests for involvement in the same protest rally, it is being tried out on Alexei Navalny’s supporters.

The authorities decided to start big. The prosecutor’s office has estimated the city suffered nearly 11 million rubles in damage from the He’s Not Our Tsar rally. According to members of the Navalny Team in Petersburg, the 300-page complaint claims opposition protesters damaged the greenery in the Alexander Garden and the garden next to the Winter Palace. Allegedly, they trampled the lawns, flower beds, and roses, and damaged the dogwood and lilac bushes.

The complaint states the cost of restoring the vegetation in the two green spaces, as provided by the city’s municipal amenities committee. According to the committee, it cost 3,651,000 rubles [approx. 48,000 euros] to repair the damage incurred by the May 5 rally.

The prosecutor’s office multiplied this amount by three, citing a municipal regulation on the amount of compensation to be paid when greenery has to be replaced. The regulation states the amount of damage caused to green spaces protected by the city’s Committee on the Use and Preservation of Landmarks (KGIOP) must be multiplied by a factor of three.

DSCN0254.jpg (303 KB)A giant rubber duck emblazoned with the logo of the Vesna (“Spring”) Movement floats in a fountain in the Alexander Garden on May 5, 2018.

Ivan Pavlov, lawyer and head of Team 29, a group of civil rights lawyers, fears the lawsuit against Litvin and Mikhailov is only the first of similar penalties.

“I am concerned by the direction the prosecutor’s office has taken. This would set a very dangerous precedent. Precedents are usually tried out in other regions of the country, but this time they are starting with Petersburg. Fines are one thing, but civil liability is a whole new level of impacting people’s desire to protest,” Pavlov told Zaks.ru.

Leonid Volkov, project manager at the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), argues that if you follow the Petersburg prosecutor’s thinking to its logical conclusion, you could also punish the organizers of authorized rallies.

“If they tell us that the rally organizer should be punished for trampling the law rather than the person who trampled the lawn, it makes no difference whether the rally was authorized or not, right? Let’s imagine we have organized an authorized rally. The prosecutor shows up and tells us organizers he is suing us for a billion rubles. It would sound completely insane,” Volkov said.

Downtown Petersburg is often used as a venue for large-scale events, including official celebrations. For example, this past summer, the Smolny reported that, during the annual Crimson Sails celebration for school leavers, when young Petersburgers and out-of-towners party all night long, approximately 600 cubic meters of rubbish were removed from the downtown area. It is unknown whether the city inspected the condition of its bushes after the school leavers’ party.

The New Governor
Litvin, federal coordinator and press secretary for the Vesna Movement,  actually applied to the Smolny for permission to hold the May 5 rally. He proposed a march down Zagorodny Prospect, following by a rally on Pioneer Square. The city’s law and order committee found a reason to turn down his application, just like the other applications submitted by Navalny supporters. The city told the opposition to hold its rally in Udelny Park, a large green space in the north of the city that looks more like a forest. Insulted by this suggestion, Navalny supporters announced the rally would take place on Palace Square.

Three months later, on August 2, the October District Court fined Litvin 20,000 rubles for organizing the unauthorized He’s Not Our Tsar protest rally per Article 20.2 Part 1 of the Administrative Offense Code. Petersburg City Court subsequently overturned the lower court’s ruling. The case will be reheard in the near future.

Mikhailov, the Navalny Team’s Petersburg coordinator, has already been punished twice for the May protest. First, the Smolny District Court sentenced him to 25 days in jail, and then the October District Court fined him 300,000 rubles [approx. 4,000 euros], a record fine for opposition political activism in Petersburg. The fact that Mikhailov was on the air on the internet channel Navalny Live during the event, answering the questions of his comrades in Moscow, was considered proof he organized the protest.

“I was covering the event, because the major national media were not there. At such a huge event! In Petersburg, 10,000 people marched on the Nevsky,” replied Mikhailov.

He now recalls an interesting conversation he had on the sidelines of one of his court hearings.

“There was a certain law enforcement officer at one of my court hearings. He told me the prosecutor’s office was planning to file suit, because the damages incurred by the city were too large. Nothing came of it. Judging by the complaint, this past summer, they really did carry out inspections and corresponded on the matter, but then it fizzled out. But in November, when Alexander Beglov was appointed acting governor [of Petersburg], the officials involved resumed their correspondence and the lawsuit was drawn up. Putting it simply, Beglov came to power and gave them the green light,” Mikhailov told Zaks.ru.

Maxim Reznik, a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, has also noticed the new governor’s shadow looming over the lawsuit. Reznik argues the Smolny is using such cases to intimidate the opposition in the run-up to the 2019 elections.

“They strike us with the lash, and they hit us in our pocketbooks. It’s directly connected with the new governor. Because he is either involved in what is happening or he has no control of the situation. Why he would want that? The regime is showing us its teeth. It doesn’t want there to be any protests whatsoever. [Beglov] needs things to be quiet so he can bring happiness to the city, while anyone who intends to agitate the people should know their place,” said Reznik.

Supernatural Stupidity
Maybe ten thousand people did not attend the May 5 protest, but there were clearly more than two thousand people on the streets, as was claimed by the Interior Ministry’s local office. Originally, no one had planned to march on Nevsky Prospect. Since a celebration for bikers and rehearsals for the May 9 Victory Day military parade were taking place on Palace Square, the protest rally was hastily moved across the street to the Alexander Garden. When the Alexander Garden was teeming with people who wanted to express their displeasure at the policies of the old-new president, Vladimir Putin, voices in the crowd called for the rally to move to the Nevsky, and people spontaneously rushed into the city’s main street.

The Navalny Team did not immediately join the march. Initially, the rally’s Telegram channel broadcast requests not to heed people urging protesters to leave the Alexander Garden. Volunteers sporting “20!8” pins made the same request in person, until they realized there was no holding people back. The crowd stayed on the sidewalk for awhile, but when it encountered a segment of the Nevsky closed to traffic for repairs, it went onto the roadway. At approximately the same time, Mikhailov, who was in the midst of the crowd, went on the air on Navalny Live.

The first arrests occurred at the corner of Marat Street and Nevsky, where a police barrier awaited the demonstrators. Seeing what happened, the bulk of the crowd turned around and headed in the opposite direction, walking down the Nevsky and parallel streets. In none of the court hearings in the cases of Litvin and Mikhailov was any evidence presented that suggested either of the men had encouraged the demonstrators to return to Palace Square.

Most of the arrests took place outside the Hermitage. Police dressed in riot gear gave chase over the lawns to anyone chanting slogans. They caught some of these people, dragging or escorting them to paddy wagons parked on Palace Passage. The proceedings were videotaped and photographed by bloggers and reporters. No one had the time to look where they were walking.

Two men, however, will be held liable for damaging the lawns and other vegetation. One of them, Litvin, never even made it back to the Winter Garden: he was detained near Gostiny Dvor when the demonstrators headed in the opposite direction.

Attorney Arkady Chaplygin call this method of singling out guilty parties a supernatural stupidity.

“The lawsuit makes no sense whatsoever. The Russian Civil Code prohibits seeking monetary compensation for damage from persons who did not cause the damage. The law requires the individual who caused the damage to be identified. This lawsuit is a PR stunt on the part of Governor Beglov meant to intimidate the opposition. It is a stupidity supernatural in its scope,” argued Chaplygin.

The Frunze District Court will try and make sense of the botany of the city’s parks and the prosecutor’s arithmetic after the New Year’s holidays. A preliminary hearing in the case has been scheduled for January 10.

Photos courtesy of Zaks.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yevgenia Litvinova: October 28, 2018

october 28Petersburg democracy activist Pavel Chuprunov, holding a placard that reads, “‘Yes, we tasered them, but it wasn’t torture. We were doing our jobs!’ Admission by the Soviet NKVD Russian FSB, 1938 2018.” Nevsky Prospect, Petersburg, 28 October 2018. Photo by Yevgenia Litvinova

Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
October 29, 2018

October 28 was the day chosen for publicly supporting people accused of extremism and locked up in jail, i.e., the suspects in the Network and the New Greatness cases. Petersburgers had no choice but to be involved in this international event, since some of the suspects in the Network case are from Petersburg.

The day before, I had listened to Yekaterina Kosarevskaya and Yana Teplitskaya’s brilliant but very heavy report about the use of torture in the FSB’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate. In particular, the report recounts how the young men accused in the Network case were tortured. All we can do is constantly talk about these people publicly, about what happened to them over the last year (they were arrested nearly a year ago), and what is happening to them now.

The rally in support of the young folks locked up in remand prisons on trumped-up charges was not approved by the authorities, although the organizers—Open Russia, Vesna, and Bessrochka (Endless Protest)—suggested a variety of venues in the downtown area. Everywhere was off limits.

You can protest in Udelny Park, in the far north of Petersburg, that is, in the woods. It’s a great place to have a stroll and get some fresh air, but who would be there to see your protest? The squirrels? This proposal is better than the garbage dump in Novosyolki, which the authorities always used to suggest as an alternative venue, but it’s not a suitable place for a political rally.

All that remained was the only form of political protest that doesn’t require prior approval from the authorities: solo pickets.

The protesters had different placards, but all of them were quite persuasive. They got to the heart of these frame-ups, which crush and maim people in order to earn promotions for the policemen and security services officers who dream them up.

Solo pickets had always been safe in Petersburg, unlike in Moscow, Krasnodar, and so on. That was why many people found them monotonous and boring.

“Oh, solo pickets again,” people would complain.

The plan was to take it in turns to stand holding placards on the corner of Nevsky and Malaya Sadovaya. But the folks from NOD (National Liberation Movement) read announcements for the upcoming protests and got there early. We had to move away from Malaya Sadovaya and closer to the pedestrian underpass to the subway. It’s an uncomfortable, narrow spot.

NOD has been a little sluggish lately. What happened to their weekly vigils? When there’s no money, there’s no NOD. But suddenly they had reappeared, which meant they had been asked to take to the streets by people whose offer you can’t refuse.

Recently, solo pickets have ceased to be “boring,” but there’s no reason for rejoicing. Solo pickets started becoming a staple of news reports around a month ago, when Alexander Beglov was appointed Petersburg’s acting governor. Since then, police have made a habit of detaining people at solo pickets. They make up excuses for their actions on the fly.

I knew this, of course, but I naively counted on logic and common sense winning the day. I compiled and printed out a number of laws proving that I and other “favorites” of Lieutenant Ruslan Sentemov, a senior police inspector in the public order enforcement department of Petersburg’s Central District, had to the right to speak out via solo pickets. I was planning to hand these papers to Sentemov on camera. But I didn’t see him at the rally. I thought he hadn’t come at all. Nor did he see me.

I got lucky. Because what logic had I imagined? What common sense? What laws? What right to hold solo pickets?

Sentemov did see another of his “favorites,” Dmitry Gusev. He pointed at him and said, “Detain him.”

Dmitry was not holding anything at all, much less a placard. He had no plans to be involved in the picketing. But that was that, and now he is detained at a police precinct, like dozens of other people. I counted over thirty detainees. But Alexander Shislov, Petersburg’s human rights ombudsman, writes that around fifty people were detained. Around one hundred people were at the protest.

Several detainees were released without charges, while others were charged with violating Article 20.2 Part 5 of the Administrative Offenses Code, but most of the detainees will spend the night in police stations. They have been charged with violating Article 20.2 Part 2, which is punishable by jail time.*

The detainees were dispersed to different police stations, some of them quite far away. They needed food, water, and toiletries. Police stations usually don’t have any of these things, although they are obliged to provide them if they detain someone for more than three hours.

Over ten people who were present with me at the protest traveled the police stations to check on the detainees. The rest came from the Observers HQ at Open Space. We constantly called and wrote each other, makingsure no one had been left without assistance. I hope that was how it worked out. The detainees should have everything they need for this evening, overnight, and tomorrow morning.

Natalia Voznesenskaya and I had planned to go to the 28th Police Precinct, but all the detainees there had been released.

We went instead to the 7th Precinct. The internet told us it was near the Kirovsky Zavod subway station. We wandered for a long time amidst the nice little houses built after the war, supposedly by German POWs. We arrived at the police station only to find that its number had recently changed. It was no longer the 7th Precinct, but the 31st Precinct.

We went to the real 7th Precinct, on Balkanskaya Street. Elena Grigoryeva, Dmitry Dorokhin, and two other men were detained there. (One of the men had been taken away by ambulance.) Unexpectedly, the 7th Precinct was a decent place. It was no comparison with the 76th and 78th Precincts, in the Central District. The police officers on duty there accepted our food packages and spoke politely with us.

We ran into Alexander Khmelyov at the station. Wielding a power of attorney as a social defender, he had come to see what kind of mattresses and linens had been issued to the detainees. There were no bedbugs. What was more, the police officers brought the detainees supper from a nearby cafe. They were obliged to do it, but their colleagues at other precincts never do it, and detainees usually don’t even get breakfast.

So, now the stomachs of the detainees were full, and they could take the food we had brought with them to court. Court hearings can last eight hours or more, although it happens that fifteen minutes is all the time a judge needs. There is usually no difference. The court’s rulings have been written in advance.

Before leaving the house to go the protest in support of the suspects in the New Greatness and Network cases, I listened to a program on Echo of Moscow about the case of Elena Kerenskaya, sister of Alexander Kerensky, chair of the Provisional Government in 1917. Kerenskaya was executed by the NKVD in Orenburg on February 2, 1938.

I don’t want to blow things out of proportion, but it has become easier and easier to under how the trials of the 1930s happened the way they did.

* Article 20.2 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code covers “violation[s] of the established procedure for organizing and holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets.” Part 2 stipulates punishments for people who organize or hold rallies without notifying the authorities in advance. They can be jailed for up to ten days or fined up to 30,000 rubles (400 euros).

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia: Great Cops, Wicked People

police vs youthThe Russian Justice Ministry insists there have been no violations by Russian law enforcers at protest rallies, but that complainants broke the law themselves. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny. Courtesy of Vedomosti 

Russian Authorities See No Laws Broken in Large-Scale Detentions at Protest Rallies: Justice Ministry Explains to Strasbourg That Detainees Broke the Law Themselves
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
October 8, 2018

Last week, the Russian Justice Ministry’s press reported the ministry had sent a legal opinion to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), explaining the position of the Russian authorities on the merits of twenty formal complaints made to the court concerning administrative convictions handed down by Russian courts for alleged violations of the law on protest rallies during public events in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Barnaul in 2016–2017.

The Justice Ministry’s opinion is encapsulated in the following argument: “The termination of public events held by the complainants and their prosecution under the law do not violate international norms and [were] aimed at maintaining public order, security, and the rights of other persons. The corresponding charges of administrative offenses were ajudicated by [Russian] courts in full compliance with the requirements of procedural laws, and in compliance with the adversarial principle and the equality of arms.”

The Russian Justice Ministry insists there have been no violations by Russian law enforcers at protest rallies, but that complainants broke the law themselves.

“Although they had the opportunity to hold their events in compliance with the law, the complainants knowingly neglected their obligation to coordinate them with the proper authorities,” the Justice Ministry argued.

The Justice Ministry reminded the court that, in the past, the ECHR has acknowledged the right of states to establish requirements for the organization and conduct of public events, as well as the right to impose penalties on persons who do not comply with these demands. The Justice Ministry referred to the ECHR’s rulings in Berladir and Others v. Russia (10 July 2012) and Éva Molnár v. Hungary (7 October 2008).

Last year, complaints to the ECHR regarding violations of the freedom of assembly were second in popularity only to complaints about conditions of detention, and they may come in first place this year. Since the beginning of 2018, the ECHR has fast-tracked its consideration of these cases in keeping with established practice.

Alexei Glukhov, head of the legal service Defending Protest (Apologiya protesta), which specializes in helping people detained at public events, says that, despite fast tracking, the Russian authorities respond at length to each complaint. (In the cases that Defending Protest has handled, there have been over fifty official communiqués alone.) The responses are almost always the same, however. There were no violations of constitutional rights, the Russian authorities explain: law enforcement agencies acted according to the letter of the law, while it was the demonstrators themselves who violated it, even if the authorities sent them deep into the woods to hold their protest rally.

Glukhov argues the Justice Ministry’s current legal opinion is intended for internal use. Law enforcers and ordinary Russians alike should understand it is pointless to invoke Article 11 of the European Convention, which protects the right to freedom of assembly and association, including the right to form trade unions.

Actually, the Justice Ministry is in a pickle, argues civil rights attorney Dmitry Agranovsky. It must export the image of a democratic country abroad, but this correlates poorly with de facto feudalism at home, where all efforts have been made to reduce the numbers of protests and protesters, says Agranovsky. According to him, not only administrative but also criminal punishments are clearly out of synch with the violations that occur and are meant to have a chilling effect on the populace.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Varya Mikhaylova: After the Protest Rally

varyaVarya Mikhaylova and her defendants. Photo courtesy of Ms. Mikhaylova’s Facebook page

Varya Mikhaylova
Facebook
September 10, 2018

Yesterday, after the protest rally, for several hours I made the rounds of different police precincts where detainees had been taken: Lenin Square, Prospekt Bolshevikov, Rybatskoye, and General Khrulov Street. It was night when I got home.

Today, I defended people who were involved in the rally and people who weren’t involved in the rally at the Primorsky District Court. I have just left the court building.

Total legal nihilism prevailed in the court. People were tried not individually, but in bunches. The judge said outright to the defendants that if they refrained from making any appeals she would go easier on them. Many defendants were not allowed to go to the bathroom all day. A police officer ate the food intended for the detainees from the 25th Police Precinct. Most of my defendants were convicted and sent off to jail for four to seven days.

But there were a number of important victories.

  1. I managed to get one defendant’s charge changed from Article 20.2 Part 8 of the Administrative Offenses Code (“repeated violation”) to Article 20.2 Part 6.1 (“involvement in an unauthorized assembly, rally, demonstration,  march or picket”). We were able to convinced the judge there were was nothing in the case file proving the repeated violation charge. Instead of fifteen to thirty days in jail or a fine of 150,000 to 300,000 rubles, he was sentenced to five days in jail.
  2. The case of another defendant was completely dismissed. However, since I was removed from the hearing, it was hardly my doing. But the defendant thinks it was crucial I told him to tell the judge about his chronic illness.
  3. The judge wrote in the sentence she handed down to ten guys that the length of their jail terms took effect today, not yesterday, when they were detained, but I convinced her to correct this mistake, and consequently they got back one day of freedom lawfully owed to them.

It went something like that. I wish all of you would go to the court hearings the day after a big protest rally at least once. Your world would never be the same again.

And the detainees are all amazing.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Hot Water

A Female Pensioner in the Nizhny Tagil Area Invited Neighbors to Tell a National TV Channel about Their Village’s Problems: Now She Will Be Tried for Holding an Unauthorized Protest Rally
Mezhdu strok
22 August 2018

A 63-year-old resident of the village of Pokrovskoye in the Gornouralsky Urban District warned neighbors a TV news crew would be coming to cover utilities problems in the village. She now faces a court hearing, charged with holding a public event without the consent of the authorities.

ms-72790-8Irina Kutsenok. Photo courtesy of Mezhdu strok

Due to a hot water outage in the village that had lasted two months, pensioner Irina Kutsenok turned to the news program Vesti Ural for help. When she found out a news crew would be coming to the village on August 1, she posted announcements about their visit in the entryways of residential buildings, asking villagers to come and speak to the news crew. Subsequently, the head of the village council filed a complaint against Kutsenok with the prosecutor’s office, accusing her of “organizing a public event  without filing a notification in the prescribed manner,” a violation of Article 20.2 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code.

“The water was turned off on June 1. The council said it would be off for a mere two weeks, but two months had passed since then. I then contacted Vesti Ural. They had helped us last year with garbage removal. After a segment aired on their program, the council started picking up the garbage. The people at Vesti Ural said they would send a news crew on August 1, and on July 31 I posted flyers in the entryways of residential buildings saying regional reporters were coming to cover the hot water outage so residents would know about it. At the bottom of the flyer, I wrote, ‘Residents should meet outside the club.’ But the editors at Vesti Ural told me the crew would not be coming, because the council had promised them that on August 3 our hot water would be turned on,” Kutsenok told Mezhdu strok.

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Irina Kutsenok’s flyer, announcing an upcoming visit by a news crew from the program Vesti Ural and asking village residents to gather outside the village club at twelve noon on August 1 to speak with the reporters about ongoing problems with the village’s hot water supply. Courtesy of Mezhdu strok

According to Kutsenok, the flyers were taken down almost immediately, on August 1. They were replaced with leaflets claiming water pressure tests would be conducted in the village on August 3.

Nevertheless, Kutsenok went to the village club on August 1 in case residents of Pokrovskoye had questions about the hot water outage. She was met there by Marina Selskaya, head of the Pokrovskoye village council, and Alla Semyonova, a member of the Gornouralsky City Duma.

“They yelled at me, accusing me of holding an unauthorized meeting. Later, it transpired Selskaya had also filed charges against me with the prosecutor’s office, accusing me of organizing and holding  a public event without notifying the council, of organizing protest rallies. Subsequently, the neighborhood beat cop came to my house and informed me I had to go to court. But I hadn’t made any speeches anywhere, nor had the TV reporters shown up. This means I am going to court for turning to the media, to a TV news program for help. What, now we don’t have the right to turn to the media, either, and we should be fined if we do turn to them? I just wanted to give our council a little nudge. I cannot get them to do anything about the water, preventive medical exams or metering devices for utilities. How much can a person take?” asked an outraged Kutsenok.

The magistrate of Sverdlovsk Region’s Suburban District will hear the charges against Kutsenok on August 30. Article 20.2 Part 2 of the Administrative Offenses Codes stipulates a fine of up to 30,000 rubles [approx. 380 euros] or up to fifty hours of community service.

UPDATE. After this article was published, the press service of the Sverdlovsk Region Prosecutor’s Office informed Mezhdu strok the charges against Kutsenok had not been filed with them, but with the police.

Thanks to OVD Info for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

“They Are Trying to Destroy Us for Daring to Speak Up”

“They Are Trying to Destroy Us for Daring to Speak Up”
Rural Pensioners Threatened with Fines for Rally against Police Inaction in Investigating Fatal Road Accident
Nadezhda Andreyeva
Novaya Gazeta
August 4, 2018

Residents of the village of Tersa in Saratov Region’s Volsk District have sent an open letter to the president asking him to take charge of investigating road accident in which 30-year-old Alexander Lopasteysky was killed. According to the letter’s authors, the local police have tried to cover up a crime. A criminal case has not yet been opened, although the fatal accident occurred more than two months ago. Over three hundred people, every tenth resident of the village, signed the letter. The residents then held an assembly where they discussed the inaction of law enforcement agencies. The police immediately sprang into action—but not to investigate the accident. The next night, the police made the rounds of the village, threatening residents with huge fines for attending an unauthorized public event. 

“To: The Kremlin, Moscow. From: Your Voters”
Railroad Street has never been paved or lighted. On the side of the road stands a black metal cross, fenced off with a chain.

“We didn’t bother to attach a plaque. Everyone knows who it’s for anyway.”

In the early hours of May 28, 2018, 30-year-old Tersa resident Alexander Lopasteysky died here while riding a motorcycle. According to his relatives, he was knocked off his bike and run over by Alexander Letov, driving a VAZ 2108 car.

Alexander Lopasteysky. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

An investigation of the fatal road accident was not opened. Villagers claim an investigator from the district Interior Ministry office came to Tersa to question witnesses forty-two days after the accident.

“The police probably thought they could dillydally, and the collective farmers would forget the whole thing,” argues Tersa resident Viktor Konstantinovich.

“I can’t say the police have been paid off. They have just been negligent in this case. A man accidentally fell off a motorcycle and died through his own fault. It’s convenient. They don’t have to make any effort,” says Valentina Vasilyevna, mother of the dead man, shuffling through photos of her son.

Lopasteysky’s relatives wrote to the district council and prosecutor’s office, asking them to take charge of the investigation. They received formal but meaningless replies to their requests. The only thing left to do was write the president.

“To: The Kremlin, Moscow. From: Your voters in the village of Tersa, Volsk District,” reads the opening of their appeal to the president, which was signed by over three hundred residents of the village, whose total population is approximately three thousand.

As the letter’s authors note, “There has been an attempt to cover the crime up, since Letov’s father is an officer in the Volsk District Police.”

Dream’s Backyard
The shop Dream is in the middle of the village, a one-storey brick box crowned with a tall wooden attic. Manufactured goods are through the door on the right, while groceries are through the door on the left.  Dream’s backyard was the site of the “unauthorized public event” at nine in the evening on a Sunday.

“The entire village waited for the investigation to begin. We were patient for two months. We sent letters to all the relevant authorities. What was left for us to do? People said we should raise a ruckus,” says Lyudmila Lopasteyskaya, the dead man’s sister.


Lyudmila Lopasteyskaya, Alexei Lopasteysky’s sister. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

On the social media website Odnoklassniki [“Classmates”], Lyudmila asked everyone concerned about the tragedy to meet by the entrance to the village shop. Around one hundred people came.

Half a dozen police officers from Volsk also came to the meeting, including one armed with a video  camera.

“They said it was forbidden to gather near the porch, that it was a public place. We went into the backyard. We wanted to find out what stage the investigation was at. But the police commander from Volsk turned his back on us and chewed out Lyudmila,” recounts pensioner Lydia Nikolayevna, a former schoolteacher.

“I said to him, ‘You’re treating people with disrespect, turn around and face us. He wouldn’t tell us his name. He only ordered the cameraman to film everyone who opened their mouths and told the other officers to write down people’s license plate numbers,” says pensioner Nadezhda Ivanovna, a former college employee.

People dispersed after village council head Vyacheslav Mokhov promised he would go with the dead man’s relatives to meet with the district police chief.

The next day, five Tersans went to Volsk.

“We were allowed to enter the police building in twos. Alexander’s daughter and the village head went in, then Alexander’s friends. I wanted to go last. But the police said to me, ‘No, that’s enough,'” says Valentina Vasilyevna.


Dream, the village shop. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

“We told them what evidence had been seen at the accident site. But the police weren’t really interested. They kept asking whether the village council had authorized the protest rally, and why the shop owners had agreed to let us in,” Viktor Konstantinovich recounts.

A 20,000 Ruble Fine on an 8,000 Ruble Pension
The police returned to the village a day later.

“They made the rounds of the houses yesterday and the day before yesterday. It was our village beat cop and some officers from Volsk. They knocked on the doors of old women at eleven, eleven-thirty at night. They told people to come outside, shoved papers in their faces, and told them to sign them. They told my wife that by six in the morning they had to get the signatures of the people who had gone to the meeting,” say Viktor Konstantinovich.

He nervously twirls a phone in his hands.

“Dont mention my surname in the newspaper,” he adds.

“He didn’t even get out of the car. I asked where he’d got my name and address. That stopped him short,” recounts Nadezhda Ivanovna.

“He said fines for protest rallies range from 10,000 to 20,000 rubles. My monthly pension is 8,000 rubles. I worked as a lab assistant for thirty-nine years. I spend my entire pension on the gas and light bills, and medicines. We’re frightened.”

“The police are not protecting us. On the contrary, they are destroying us for daring to speak up. Don’t take a picture of me. I have a grandson I’m raising.”

The village beat cop served Lopeystskaya with a notice of initiation of administrative proceedings under Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code (“Violation of the Rules for Holding a Public Event”), as filed “against an unknown person,” along with an official warning from the Interior Ministry’s district office.

The police informed Lopeystskaya that “in case of a public event, planned by you in the village of Tersa, you could face administrative and criminal sanctions.”

The warning was followed by list of six articles from the Administrative Offenses Code and Criminal Code, including the article that stipulates “organization of an extremist community” as a felony.


A box marked “Information about Incidents of Corruption” at the local police department. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

The neighborhood police precinct is in the village council  building. It is quiet and hot in the hallway, and flies are buzzing. The beat cop’s office hours are glued to a window: two hours on Tuesdays and  Saturdays, one hour on Fridays.

I call the mobile phone listed there.

“There was an unauthorized protest rally on my beat, ninety-seven people. I’ve been ordered to gather evidence,” says Lieutenant Alexander Bakanov.

Lieutenant Bakanov does not specify who gave the orders and why. He cuts the conversation short.

The village council head’s office. A United Russia party flag covers the window on the right. Photo by Matvei Flyazhnikov for Novaya Gazeta

The door to the office of village council head Vyacheslav Mokhov is open. A blue United Russia party flag covers a crack in a window. There are framed photos of the president, the region’s governor, and the district head on the wall. The Volsk coat of arms features a sleeping bear.

The ladies in the office next door chime in unison that the boss has left the village.

“He’s gone to Volsk. No, he’s gone to Shikhany.”

Pointing at each other, they argue about who should replace Mokhov when he is out of the office.

Mokhov hangs up on me twice, but then he arrives at the office anyway.

“Don’t you photograph me. I’m scared of everything. This thing can be spun the wrong way,” he says.

“That was the first unauthorized protest rally in the Volsk District ever,” he adds, lowering his voice.

P.S. The press’s attention to this story has been reflected in the surprising speed with which local law enforcement has reacted. While this issue was going to press, a criminal case was opened under Criminal Code Article 264 (“Violation of Traffic Rules”), and the Volsk District Court placed Alexander Letov under house arrest. Volsk District Deputy Prosecutor Andrei Shevchenko refused to comment on the case when asked by Novaya Gazeta.

Meanwhile, the Volsk District Court has begun hearing the matter of Lyudmila Lopasteyskaya’s alleged violation of Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code. The Tersans summoned to testify have told the court that what happened was not a protest rally, but a meeting of villagers concerned about the tragedy. The next court hearing in the case has been scheduled for August 9.

Thanks to Valentin Urusov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader