“I Examined You from a Distance”: Journalist and Human Rights Lawyer Attacked in Grozny

84412382_3207050759323702_7873276774191202304_n“My poor head.” This was the photo that reporter Elena Milashina posted on her Facebook page after being attacked in Grozny earlier today.

Novaya Gazeta Journalist Elena Milashina and Human Rights Lawyer Marina Dubrovina Assaulted in Grozny
Mediazona
February 6, 2020

Novaya Gazeta has reported that persons unknown assaulted its correspondent Elena Milashina and human rights lawyer Marina Dubrovina in Grozny.

Milashina and Dubrovina had arrived in Grozny for the trial of blogger Islam Nukhanov, who shot a video entitled How Kadyrov and His Associates Live, Part 1. After the video was posted, Nukhanov was charged with illegal possession of weapons, punishable under Article 222 Part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Novaya Gazeta writes that the assault took place in the lobby of the Continent Hotel and near the building’s entrance. Unidentified men and women beat up lawyer Marina Dubrovina.

“It was mostly women who assaulted her, punching and kicking her,” the newspaper said.

The newspaper noted that the assailants videotaped the incident.

Milashina and Dubrovina are now having their injuries documented by physicians and plan to file charges with Chechen law enforcement authorities.

84105461_3207145192647592_8637423701794488320_nHuman rights lawyer Marina Dubrovina. “We are being driven to the crime scene in a police van with its lights flashing,” writes Elena Milashina.

Milashina has just written that Musa Bekov, a neurosurgeon at the Grozny hospital [where they went], refused to examine Dubrovina carefully.

“I examined you from a distance. Everything is fine, everything will heal. Have a nice day,” Milashina quoted the doctor as saying.

______________________

Yegor Skovoroda
Facebook
February 6, 2020

It so happened that four years ago, when Kadyrov’s men attacked our van in Ingushetia, lawyer Marina Dubrovina was the first person I called and told about it —while lying on the floor of the van, its windows broken. I was beaten with sticks, first in the van, and then in a roadside ditch. Several young women next to me were beaten in the same way.

Today in Grozny, Marina Dubrovina and Elena Milashina, from Novaya Gazeta, were attacked near a hotel. I would not be surprised if the perpetrators were the same, but the man who commissions all crimes in Chechnya is Ramzan Kadyrov. Novaya writes that Marina was beaten up.

______________________

Chechen Man Who Shot Video “How Kadyrov and His Associates Live” Charged with Crime
Mediazona
December 9, 2019

Novaya Gazeta reports that Islam Nukhanov, a Chechen man who shot a video entitled How Kadyrov and His Associates Live, has been charged with a criminal offense.

According to the newspaper, Nukhanov spent most of his time outside Chechnya, but in the spring he came to the republic to apply for a free operation. It writes that Nukhanov often watched the videos of opposition blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov.

“He frequently raised in conversation the question of how people were so filthy rich and lived in such palaces in a subsidized republic with very high unemployment,” Novaya Gazeta writes.

On October 31, Nukhanov posted a video, entitled How Kadyrov and His Associates Live, on YouTube. Shot from a car, the video features houses in a Grozny neighborhood that Novaya Gazeta calls the “Chechen Rublyovka.”

The newspaper describes the video’s contents: “The dashcam blankly records the houses on either side of the road. The driver does not utter a single word.”

According to Novaya Gazeta, the next day men in camouflage uniforms burst into Nukhanov’s house and took the young man away. It writes that the men confiscated all of his telephones, his computer and CPU, and the “ill-fated” Ford Focus whose dashcam Nukhanov used to shoot his video.

Novaya Gazeta writes that a day after the arrest Nukhanov’s father saw his son at the police station. He had been beaten up, his hand was bandaged, and his clothes were bloody and nearly torn to shreds.

Nukhanov was charged with illegal possession of weapons, as punishable under Article 222.1 of the Criminal Code. According to investigators, the young man was summoned to the police station to “verify intelligence.” Once at the station, Nukhanov allegedly behaved suspiciously, and so it was decided to search him. Police allegedly found two gun cartridges in his pocket, and when they searched his car, they also found a pistol. The young man pleaded guilty on the advice of his state-appointed lawyer.

The newspaper writes that Nukhanov spent nearly a month in the basement of the Grozny central police station. The court remanded him in custody only on November 27. After his wife hired Nukhanov a “proper” lawyer, he withdrew his confession.

Thanks to Yegor Skovoroda for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Blood on the Tracks

nachinkin-3.jpgPetersburg activist Dmitry Nachinkin after he was assaulted by thugs. Photo courtesy of Activatica.org

Activist Who Sought Audit of Budget Beaten in Petersburg Suburb
Activatica.org
November 19, 2018

Persons unknown have assaulted and severely beaten activist Dmitry Nachinkin in the village of Pesochny in Petersburg’s Resort District.

Nachinkin closely monitored public procurements by the local council, often questioning their legality. In particular, his interest was provoked by the question of why most contracts were awarded to the same company.

The day before the assault, Nachinkin had been collecting signatures on a petition calling for mandatory public hearings on Pesochny’s budget.

The assault took place at six in the evening on November 18 in the activist’s yard. The assailants beat Nachinkin over the head with rebars, and then punctured the tires on his car. Despite his serious injuries, Nachinkin managed to get to a police station, where he was given first aid before being sent to hospital.

Nachinkin sent his own photos of the aftermath, writing, “Thanks, friends! It’s not as bad as it looks. My eyes and teeth were unharmed. Only my maxillary arch was fractured.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Yevgenia Litvinova for the heads-up.

ЗОЖ (“Civic Activists” Assault and Detain Theater.Doc Members in Moscow)

zozh-1-sairon-ruThe newfangled promotion of ЗОЖ (a Russian acronym for “a healthy lifestyle”) has clear neofascist overtones in post-communist Russia. Image courtesy of Sairon.ru

Ten Theater.Doc Company Member Detained in Moscow
Anastasia Torop
Novaya Gazeta
July 5, 2018

Ten Theater.Doc employees have been detained on Chistoprudny Boulevard, actress Maria Chuprinskaya has informed our newspaper.

She said that, after a performance of the production Adults on the Outside, the actors had set off for the Chistye Prudy subway station and had stopped on the boulevard, when they were approached by a police officer and five men in plain clothes who introduced themselves as “civic activists.” They claimed the theater troupe was drinking alcoholic beverages.

“They said they were in favor of HLS [ЗОЖ, in Russian, an acronym for “a healthy lifestyle” promoted as a crypto-fascist post-Soviet cult] and were ready to testify to any of our crimes. Then they showed me, Lena Nosova, and Alisa Safina photos, from our Facebook pages, relating to Oleg Sentsov on their telephones. They knew our names and surnames, although we had not show them any IDs,” said Chuprinskya.

She added that when actress Tatyana Demidova was detained, one of the men punched her in the stomach.

Then a paddy wagon arrived, and ten members of the company were taken to the Basmanny District Police Station. According to Chuprinskya, Demidova stayed behind on the boulevard with three of the so-called civic activists.

On June 18, Chuprinskaya, Theater.Doc actor Grigory Gandlevsky, artist Alisa Safina, and activist Natalya Savoskina were detained in downtown Moscow for handing out leaflets, printed in English and Spanish, supporting Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.

[…]

UPDATE
OVD Info reports the Theater.Doc employees have begun to be released from the Basmanny District Police Station. Theater member Irina Vekshina writes that actress Tatyana Demidova, who was punched in the stomach, has made her way home.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Askold Kurov for the heads-up.

Given that Putin’s machinery of repression has literally not let up for a second while the World Cup has been on, I would like to voice my personal shame that I know people who have not heeded the numerous calls by me and other, smarter people with a clearer, longer view of the Putinist police state to avoid the World Cup like the plague. This would have meant not writing about it on Facebook, not watching it on TV, having nothing to do with it whatsoever. I imagined this was not such a huge thing to ask of people who preach progressive politics and claim to practice international solidarity. I was completely wrong. Instead, foreign fans and reporters alike have been fooled by the unsurprising fact that the Russian police state has not targeted them during the World Cup, and that businesses that stand to make money off their presence in the country have welcomed them with open arms. As if any reasonable person would have expected anything else on this minor score, which means nothing in terms of the bigger picture: i.e., what is life in Russia like for Russians themselves, especially Russians not approved by the Putin regime—gays and lesbians, migrant workers, grassroots activists, religious minorities, ethnic minorities, independent trade unionists, independent activist truckers, small activist farmers from Krasnodar Territory, environmentalists, antifascists, anarchists, dissident bloggers, “foreign agents” (i.e., NGOs not approved by the Kremlin), Ukrainian political prisoners, torture victims, alternative theater directors and actors, and on and on and on. By plugging into World Cup “madness,” you have given the Putin regime a massive shot of self-confidence and swagger. You have sent a loud message to all the groups of “bad” Russians I have listed here that they can take a long walk off a short pier as far as the wider world is concerned. After the World Cup has ended in ten days, things will continue to degenerate under Putin’s misrule. But you will have missed your chance to put a sizable, palpable roadblock in front of an extraordinarily aggressive, mean-spirited, thuggish regime that cannot abide opposition of any kind. // TRR

Petersburg Court Bailiffs Attack Reporter at Network Case Hearing

Mediazona’s Petersburg Correspondent Accused of Disobeying Court Bailiffs
Mediazona
June 19, 2018

David Frenkel, a Mediazona correspondent, has informed us that bailiffs at Petersburg’s Dzerzhinsky District Court have cited him for violating Article 17.3 of the Administrative Code (“failure to comply with the orders of a judge or court bailiff”).

Frenkel attended the custody extension hearing of Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case suspect Viktor Filinkov. Journalists and the public were not admitted to the courtroom during the hearing and the judge’s ruling. When the hearing was over, and Filinkov was escorted from the courtroom, the public, around forty people, applauded him.

It was then that court clerk Yelena Krasotkina, outraged the public supported the prisoner, ordered the bailiffs to detain Frenkel, who at the time was standing in the corridor and not applauding.

Yekaterina Kosarevskya, a member of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, said she heard Krasotkina say to the bailiffs, “Write somebody up for something.”

One of the bailiffs suggested detaining Frenkel. Ten minutes later, another bailiff threatened to detain Kosarevskaya.

When the bailiffs detained Frenkel, they broke his glasses. They claimed he screamed.

The bailiffs cited him Frenkel for violating Adminstrative Code Article 17.3 Part 2 (“Failure to obey the lawful request of a court bailiff for establishing order in the court and stopping actions violating court rules”).

Frenkel sent a photo of the citation to his Mediazona colleagues: he was unable to read it, since a bailiff, surnamed Vikulov, had broken his glasses. The citation claimed Frenkel “made noise, clapped, shouted, and urged the crowd to take illegal actions.”

Frenkel was then taken to the 78th Police Precinct. The policemen swore when they found out why Frenkel had been brought to the police station. He was released after approximately fifteen minutes.

Viktor Filinkov’s term in remand prison was extended four months, until October 22, 2018.

When Frenkel was escorted from the corridor, it transpired the bailiffs had run out of blank arrest sheets.

Around forty people had gathered before the hearing in the second-floor corridor of the courthouse. They included the parents of Yuli Boyarshinov, another suspect in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, whose remand to police custody was extended later in the day. No member of the public was able to attend the hearing. Before escorting Filinkov from the holding cell, the guards and bailiffs ordered the public to go down to the first floor. They claimed their request had to do with “safely escorting” their prisoner.

The members of the public were reluctant to leave the second floor. Court clerk Yelena Krasotkina emerged from the office of the Dzerzhinsky District Court’s presiding judge. Krasotkina announced the decision to hold both hearings in closed chambers had been made earlier and ordered the public to leave the courthouse.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterDavid Frenkel (@merr1k): “I get the sense the brass has taken the Dzerzhinsky District Court to task, and so they are avoiding the use of force. They are swearing and getting mad, but they’re putting up with us. 11: 12 a.m., July 19, 2018.”

The bailiffs placed a bench at the entrance of the corridor to courtroom, forbidding members of the public from going around the bench. Krasotkina reprimanded the bailiffs, complaining , “They’re all still here,” meaning the members of the public. Armed guards in masks escorted Filinkov into the courtroom as this was happening.

Inside the Dzerzhinsky District Court, June 19, 2018. Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Mediazona  

Members of the public and the bailiffs argued with each other. A man who was possibly in charge of the armed guard joined them. He warned the public they would not be admitted to the courtroom to hear the judge’s ruling in the cases of Filinkov and Boyarshinov.

“How is that?” asked a member of the public.

“Well, if the judge permits it, the public gets in. If the judge doesn’t, they don’t,” replied the man.

“How do we find that out?” asked perplexed members of the public.

“When the hearing is over, they’ll come out and tell you,” he concluded.

Krasotkina periodically emerged from the presiding judge’s office, taking a photograph of the members of the public on one such occasion.

Filinkov’s defense counsel, Vitaly Cherkasov, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group, then emerged from the courtroom, telling the crowd the defense had asked the judge to transfer Filinkov to house arrest.

Finally, after the court had rendered its ruling, Frenkel was detained by the bailiffs.

Armed guards escort Viktor Filinkov at the Dzerzhinsky District Court. Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Mediazona 

This was not the first time a member of the press has been cited for violating Article 17.3 at the Dzerzhinsky District Court. On March 22, 2018, bailiff Ivan Lozovsky cited journalist Sasha Bogino for violating the administrative law. He ordered her to stop “live streaming,” although the Mediazona correspondent was sitting in the courtroom with her laptop open and not filming anything. In late May, a court ordered Bogino to pay a fine of 500 rubles.

Filinkov and Boyarshinov have been in police custody since January of this year. On June 18, 2018, the Dzherzhinsky District court extended the term in custody of the third Petersburg suspect in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, Igor Shishkin. Another six young men are in police custody in Penza as suspects in the same case.

According to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the members of the alleged “terrorist community” known as “The Network” had planned “to stir up the popular masses in order to destabilize the political circumstances” in Russia on the eve of March’s presidential election and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which is currently underway. In addition, on June 15, 2018, it transpired that three new charges had been added to the case.

Three of the suspects, who have been charged with violating Article 205.4 of the Russian Criminal Code (“involvement in a terrorist community”), Viktor Filinkov, Ilya Shakursky, and Dmitry Pchelintsev, have claimed they were tortured into confessing after they were detained by FSB field officers. In addition, Alexei Poltavets, an acquaintance of the suspects, has claimed he was tortured into testifying against them.

The Russian Investigative Committee has so far refused to refuse to file abuse of authority charges against any FSB officers. In the case of Ilya Kapustin, who was tortured during his interrogation by the FSB as a witness, the Investigative Committee decided Kapustin’s taser burns were “consistent with injuries caused by skin diseases or insect bites.”

The suspects’ loved ones have formed a Parents Network. In April 2018, the group held a press conference in Moscow.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify that your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about The Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find downloadable, printable posters and flyers. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandize, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You canfind the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed out and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are reviewed, the Russian government will be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and repost the recent articles the Russian Reader has translated and published on these subjects.

Torture as an Everyday Practice

They Were Suffocated with a Plastic Bag Doused with Ammonia and Punched in the Kidneys: How a Navalny Team Volunteer and His Friends Were Tortured by Police
Alexander Skrylnikov
MBK Media
May 31, 2018

Максим Гребенюк. Фото: личная страница ВКонтактеMaxim Grebenyuk. Photo from personal VK page

Maxim Grebenyuk, a volunteer with the Navalny Team in Voronezh, and his friends were tortured by police at a police station who were trying to force them to confess to stealing a mobile phone. Voronezh police offices handcuffed the young men and suffocated them with a plastic bag doused with ammonia so they would not faint from the lack of oxygen.

On the night of May 18, Mr. Grebnyuk and his friends Sergei Troyansky, Ilya Podgorny, and Andrei Biryukov were visiting an acquaintance of one of the young men, Yelizaveta Kurlyantseva. Two men named Roman and Vadim, whom Mr. Grebnyuk did not know, were also at Ms. Kurlyantseva’s flat. Mr. Grebnyuk spent no more than an hour at the flat, but a week later he found out that he and his friends had been summoned to Voronezh Police Precinct No. 4 as witnesses in the case of Ms. Kurlyansteva’s stolen phone. At the police station, it transpired the police did not want testimony, but confessions, and police officers employed torture to obtain them.

MBK Media asked Mr. Grebnyuk what methods of torture the Voronezh police used.

*****

When we went into the precinct, they immediately confiscated our telephones and internal passports. They took us in for questioning one at a time. Andrei was the first to go into Office No. 26. He was in there ten minutes. They let him go. Nothing happened to him.

Then I went in. There were two men in plain clothes in the room.

“Everything is fucked,” they said.

They made no attempt to find out what had happened and how. They said right out I had stolen the telephone.

I replied I hadn’t stolen it.

“Either you stole it or you tell us who did.”

I repeated it wasn’t me who stole it, and one of them slapped me. I tried to invoke my right not to speak to them without an attorney present, and they hit me again.

They kept asking me about the phone, but I said I’d hear it about only the day before. They warned me they were going to use “other methods.”

When I asked them why they were hitting me instead of figuring things out, they said, “We’re not hitting you now. We have other methods.”

What methods did they have in mind?

They put a plastic bag over my head twice, once without any ammonia in it, once with a minimal amount. I was running out of air. I was choking. When they saw it wasn’t having the desired effect, they doused the bag with lots of ammonia and put it over my head. It was unbearable. They did the trick with the plastic bag twice while simultaneously keeping me handcuffed with my hands behind the back of the chair. One of them held the chain on the handcuffs with his foot so I was unable to move.

Then they let me go and called Sergei into the room. The same thing happened to him. Later, the two guys I hadn’t met before, Roman and Vadim, were brought to the station. They said they were tortured in the same way, and one of them was punched in the kidneys.

After the police were done with me, it was my turn again. There were five men in the room. They did the trick with the plastic bag again. I screamed so loud the whole station would have heard it. One of the officers must have heard me, but there was no reaction. I was asked whether I could take much more of thatand, naturally, I said I couldn’t. I cannot stand torture.

They promised would get us dead to rights in several days if no one confessed and to torture us the whole time. They gave us ten minutes to decide who would take the rap. Otherwise, they promised to torture me again.

That didn’t happen, thank God. They forced us to give our written consent to a lie detector test and make statements that none of us had seen the telephone before letting us go.

How long did the torture last?

It was really hard to keep track of time due to my emotional state. It was something like half an hour.

What things did the police say?

They only insisted I confess and chatted among themselves. They didn’t try and figure out what had happened to the phone. They only insisted I confess.

How did you feel when they put the plastic bag doused with ammonia over your head?

It was awful. The bag is over your head, and you have to breathe. When you inhale, there is a really sharp pain and burning sensation in your lungs and nasal cavities. Your eyes tear up. You have to breathe, but you inhale two or three times, and the air runs out. When the air ran out, I wanted to faint so I wouldn’t have to go on feeling it, but the ammonia made that impossible.

Did you think about confessing at some point?

I felt like saying I stole the phone. Those thoughts came and went, although I hadn’t stolen the phone. I just wanted it to stop. When they threaten to keep doing this to you for two days, then anyone would say he stole the phone if the alternative was that the torture continued. The same thing happened to Sergei, and the others said the same thing happened to them. I don’t know how to describe it.

Do you see any link between what happened and the fact you’re a Navalny Team volunteer?

It’s entirely possible. The police focused on me, and they confiscated my internal passport, which I keep in a protective cover that has the phrase “Opposition Member’s Passport” emblazoned on it. The other guys don’t have anything to do with the opposition movement. The focus was on me. They interrogated me longer and more often.

Were you able to learn the names of the torturers?

Yes, I think so. One was named Oleg Sokolovsky, and another guy was named Sergei, but that was it.

Were you able to medically certify your injuries?

Yes, we were at a forensic medical exam yesterday on the orders of the investigator, and everything was certified there. The gouges made by the handcuffs have gone away, but there are still bruises on our wrists and forearms. Sergei and I have them in the exact same places.

Does the young woman who filed the theft complaint know you were tortured?

When she found out she was shocked. She had no idea stuff like that happened. She offered to withdraw her complaint, but I talked her out of it. Someone did steal the phone, so the complaint should be on file. And the guilty party should be punished, only not using such methods.

Will the policemen be punished for their actions? What do you predict will happen? What do you hope will happen?

I don’t know. I hope there will be publicity, and the case won’t be brushed under the rug. When we were signing the consent forms for the lie detector test, Sergei was told directly, “You can file a complain or not. Nothing will happen to us anyway.”

What has to be done to stop police officers in Russia from regarding torture as the norm?

As you well know, we have to change the system from the top down. Firing a few police officers won’t change anything.

*****

Navalny Team lawyer Danil Novikkov told us they filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee the next day. He also told us that one of the lie detector tests to which Mr. Grebnyuk and his friends consented had been postponed indefinitely after one of the police officers involved had been questioned at the Investigative Committee.

Novikov told us a little about Maxim Grebnyuk.

“He’s one of our oldest volunteers. He was expelled from the LDPR [the so-called Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, chaired since its founding in the 1990s by the nationalist clown Vladimir Zhirinovsky] when they found out he supported Navalny’s views. He has been a co-sponsor of public events and campaign booths on many occasions, and he always attends protest rallies,” said Mr. Novikov.

The lawyer, nevertheless, saw no connection between the police’s torture of Mr. Grebnyuk and his opposition work.

“The police just turn a blind eye to tortue,” he said.

Police Precinct No. 4 in Voronezh declined to comment on the incident.

Thanks to Evgeny Shtorn for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Journalist Vladislav Ryazantsev Assaulted in Rostov-on-Don

Vladislav Ryazantsev

Anton Naumlyuk
January 10, 2016
Facebook

Vladislav Ryazantsev has been assaulted in Rostov-on-Don. Vlad and I covered the entire Sentsov-Kolchenko trial and Nadiya Savchenko’s Donetsk saga together. I arrived in Rostov the first time a couple of days before the Sentsov trial to get my bearings. The next day, I was joined by cameraman Nikita Tatarsky, and we shot a short report about how even the local opposition knew nothing about the trial that was going to take place in their city. Amongst the people we interviewed was Vlad.

Later on, he, a journalist from Mediazona, and I were often the only reporters at the hearings in Donetsk City Court. When people say that Ukrainian media did a great job of covering the Savchenko trial, I recall Vlad sitting alone in the courtroom with his laptop. Mediazona’s correspondent and I would be sitting just as alone in the room where the trial was broadcast. It wasn’t always like this, of course, but it happened.

I would be remiss not to mention the fact that the attack was literally preceded by threats from Chechnya made to the editor-in-chief of Caucasian Knot, for which Vlad wrote. Another Knot correspondent, Zhalaudi Geriev was sentenced in Chechnya to three years in prison for narcotics possession a day before he was scheduled to attend a conference in Moscow entitled “The Media and the Constitutional Court.” You get my drift? It’s not a fact that the attack was connected with the threats. Maybe the local Center “E” guys did their best: they are active in Rostov. Maybe it was pro-Russian militants and mercenaries, who have flooded through Rostov on their way to Donbass. Vlad had publicly taken a pro-Ukrainian stance, and he had a falling out with Sergei Udaltsov‘s leftists and his wife over this point. Maybe it was these leftists who got to him. Whatever the case, threats and aggression towards journalists, made by people who enjoy a special extrajudicial status, open the way to unchallenged violence by anyone whomsoever.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Read more about the attack (in Russian): “Caucasian Knot Journalist Attacked by Unknown Assailants in Rostov,” Radio Svoboda, January 10, 2017

A Little Lapta, Anyone?

The Moscow Times buys the “Cossack” myth hook, line and sinker:

“The Cossacks are an ethnic group within Russia with a strong military tradition. They often take on roles as police or security guards to maintain peace in Russia’s streets.”

In this frame from video provided by Anapa Today, Cossacks throw milk at opposition leader Alexei Navally, center right, at the Anapa airport, southern Russia, Tuesday, May 17, 2016. A group of Cossacks attacked Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his associates outside an airport in southern Russia Tuesday, injuring Navalny and six others, his spokeswoman said. (Dmitry Slaboda/Anapa Today via AP)
In this still from video provided by Anapa Today, “Cossacks” throw milk at opposition leader Alexei Navalny, center right, at the Anapa Airport in southern Russia, Tuesday, May 17, 2016. A group of “Cossacks” attacked Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his associates outside the airport, injuring Navalny and six others, his spokeswoman said. Courtesy of Dmitry Slaboda and Anapa Today via AP. (The quotation marks are mine – TRR.)

Maybe there are real cowboys left in the US, but wearing a cowboy hat does not make a you a cowboy, even though lots of Americans do just that: put on a cowboy hat and imagine they are “cowboys.” The same thing goes for the “Cossacks” flooding and terrorizing Russian public space the past several years.

Meaning, it has recently became fashionable for violent pro-regime thugs or recovering alcoholics or just plain old security guards to dress up as “Cossacks” and behave dreadfully or just gad about looking anachronistic and as if they are in charge, although no one put them in charge of anything, and if the police had any moxie they would haul them away to the hoosegow on sight.

I’ve seen such “Cossack” security guards with my own eyes slouching around Our Lady of Vladimir Church, in my hometown of Petersburg, the achingly lovely church where Dostoevsky was a parishioner in the later years of his life.

Another thing I have been told at least three dozen times by various folk in the Motherland over the years is that lapta—an alleged Russian bat-and-ball game not played by anyone for at least two centuries and that no one (least of all, the folks telling me about it) has ever seen played by anyone—is the “Russian equivalent of baseball.” Some even claim it inspired the invention of baseball in the US.

Young people pretending to play lapta so there would be a picture of people playing it for the relevant Wikipedia article
Modern young people pretending to play lapta so there would be a photograph of modern young people playing it to put in the Wikipedia article on lapta. Courtesy of Wikipedia

I think an actual nationwide lapta fad would be a great way of diverting the aggressive energies of all the thugs, alcoholics, and security guards currently pretending to be “Cossacks.” We should see if we can make it happen.

Of course then maybe the ex-“Cossacks” would start running around whacking Navalny & Co. with their new lapta bats. It’s a risk we’ll have to take.

Sources: Moscow Times, Wikipedia

Igor Kalyapin: “Kadyrov Said He Would Not Let Us Work in Chechnya”

Igor Kalyapin, after he was assaulted by a mob on March 16
Igor Kalyapin, after he was assaulted by a mob in the Hotel Grozny City on March 16, 2016

“Kadyrov said he would not let us work in Chechnya”
Irina Tumakova
Fontanka.ru
March 18, 2016

The Committee for Prevention of Torture has been forced to withdraw from the Republic of Chechnya. Its chair, Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, was the latest victim of physical assault there. Kalyapin had long had a troubled relationship with Chechen headman Ramzan Kadyrov.

Kalyapin was assaulted on the evening of Wednesday, March 16. Three days earlier, persons unknown had broken into the offices of the Committee for Prevention of Torture in Grozny. Three day before that, several journalists and human rights activists had been attacked while en route to Grozny. In an interview with Fontanka.ru, Kalyapin talked about the committee’s plans for defending torture victims in Chechnya.

“Igor Kalyapin was just assaulted outside the entrance to the Hotel Grozny City. He was beaten and pelted with eggs,” Dmitry Utukin, an attorney for the organization wrote on Twitter on Wednesday evening.

Later, Kalyapin recounted what had happened to him.

“Around 6 p.m., I checked into Room 2401 in the Hotel Grozny City,” he wrote on Facebook. “About forty minutes later, two reporters and a cameraman came to my room. While I was still in Ingushetia I had promised to give them an interview as soon as I arrived in Grozny. We had begun recording the interview when there was a knock on the door. A man of about sixty years of age, who introduced himself as the hotel’s general manager, a security guard in a black uniform, and another middle-aged man entered. The manager told me that since I had criticized the head of Chechnya and the Chechen police, while he himself was very fond of Ramzan Kadyrov, I had to leave the hotel. […] After that, I was escorted downstairs, where I was detained by a mob of around thirty women, who had apparently been hastily assembled from hotel staff and the employees of the boutiques located on the first floor. They screamed in unison: how dare you speak ill of Ramzan. When I tried to respond, they screamed loudly: we do not want to listen to you. Nevertheless, I was not allowed to leave the hotel. I realized they were purposely delaying me until a team of assailants arrived. I had let my staff go home in a car before dark, and it would have been wrong for them to come after me at such a time in the evening in Grozny. It was apparent I would not be allowed to check into any hotel in Grozny. Any of my Chechen friends living in Grozny would have been exposed to mortal danger [if I had tried to stay with them]. So basically I was in no big hurry nor could I expect anyone to help me. I tried calling Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council. I did not manage to get through to him in time [.]”

Ramzan Kadyrov and Jean-Claude Van Damme at the opening of the Hotel Grozny City, October 16, 2012
Ramzan Kadyrov and Jean-Claude Van Damme at the opening of the Hotel Grozny City, October 16, 2012

In an interview with Kavpolit, Kalyapin said of his attackers, “I believe the men who attacked me were neither Chechens nor Muslims. People who have done such a thing cannot be called Chechens or Muslims.”

Who, then, were the assailants? What had the anti-torture campaigner done to enrage them? Fontanka.ru posed these questions to Igor Kalyapin.

Igor, how do you explain yesterday’s attack on you?

There is no cause to guess here, it is all fairly simple. Over the past two years, Ramzan Kadyrov has personally, frequently, and quite emotionally accused me of various horrible crimes in the Chechen media. He has said I have defended terrorists and financed terrorism in the Chechen Republic, and that our committee are agents of western intelligence agencies who earn money on the blood of the Chechen people. That is a literal quotation. For example, in December 2014, there was a terrorist attack in Grozny in which a dozen Chechen policemen, young guys, were killed.

Yes, that is a well-known story. Kadyrov blamed you personally for the attack.

He addressed people, including the relatives of the dead, and he did this in the first twenty-four hours after the attack, when people were blinded by grief and pain. And he said to them: I know that a certain Kalyapin transferred money from abroad to the organizers of the attack.

Let us also recall he was not angry with you for no reason. You had tried to prevent him from burning down without trial the houses of people suspected of being relatives of the terrorists.

Of course. But he has said it more than once; he has systematically repeated the charges. Only last month on Chechen TV there were two films about Kalyapin: montages of photographs, videos, and screenshots of our website, and all the charges against me read out against this visual backdrop.

So what is the reason? What has your committee done to Kadyrov?

Many of the kidnappings we have tried to investigate have led us to Kadyrov’s confidants. And he knows it quite well: I once personally told him about it. We constantly pressure the Investigative Committee, which deals with these matters, to perform certain investigative actions. They have tried to stop or suspend criminal proceedings, but we have constantly appealed their actions in the courts.

Well, we understand how our courts and investigators work. Could Kadyrov, for example, just not pay attention to your work?

We publicly talk about all of it. We point out that the Investigative Committee in the Chechen Republic has not been investigating such-and-such a case, although the evidence is there: for example, the case of Murad Amriyev, the case of Islam Umarpashayev, and other matters. We point out that a certain person has not been questioned only because he serves in the Akhmad Kadyrov Regiment, and the investigator is afraid to summon him. We have made such things public on many occasions. We have sent white papers on these cases to all the factions in the State Duma. We have periodically appealed to Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee. Moreover, we have done it openly, by publishing reports, and we have talked about cases not being investigated. I have also spoken about this at the Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. There has been a lot of press about our work. Naturally, it infuriates Kadyrov.

Does it merely infuriate him? Or does he see your work as a serious threat?

Apparently, he does in fact see it as a threat. I think that from time to time he get signals he should stop illegally prosecuting people he does not like. I imagine the powers that be wag their finger at him. Until you stop, they say, your republic will be written about as a lawless land.

Why has everything intensified in recent days? The incidents involving your committee in a single region have been in the headlines for a week running. Whose toes have you stepped on lately?

No, there were incidents before this, too. It was just that nobody wrote about them. If it were not for the March 9 attack on the journalists, which made such a big splash, then no one much would have written about my getting pelted with eggs, probably. The two incidents just happened to coincide. In fact, we have been under intense pressure for at least the last two years. Many things have happened. I cannot detail all of them right now.

For example, three days ago, there was an incident at your committee’s office in Grozny.

Yes, three nights ago, people broke into an apartment in Grozny we use as an office. They tried to turn off the security camera. They thought they had succeeded, but the camera kept on working. So on the recording you can see Emergency Situations Ministry officers and police officers breaking open the door and entering. Then, apparently, they got to the router, and the signal went dead. Basically, one of the reasons I came to Grozny was to get to the bottom of what was going on with the apartment: inspect it, file a complaint with the police, and so on.

Your colleagues at the committee told Fontanka.ru that security officials also went into your office in Ingushetia on March 9.

It was not an office in Ingushetia, but an apartment where we kept documents. And that is important, because we have not done any work in Ingushetia. We do not have a single case in Ingushetia. We do not annoy the security officials in Ingushetia in any way. Moreover, I have had a great relationship with Yunus-bek Yevkurov, head of Ingushetia, and he has had generally good relations with human rights activists, even with the ones who annoy him. So Yevkurov was not behind it, of course. I cannot tell you who these people were. But people at the level of the North Caucasian Federal District have got involved, and I imagine the Interior Ministry could easily establish whether it was policemen or someone else.

Meaning, you are confident they have decided to figure it out?

No, I’m not confident, not confident at all. But if anyone can figure it out, it has to be federal district officials. But if it was security officials who were involved, they were not from Ingushetia.

Why could your committee’s employees not work in Chechnya quietly, without advertising themselves?

That is the specific nature of our work. We are not gathering information, after all; we are lawyers. We are constantly involved in public legal proceedings. Once or twice a week, for example, we are involved in court hearings dealing with the Investigative Committee’s unlawful actions or their inaction. The court sessions are open to the public. Information about them is posted at the entrance to the courthouse or on the court’s website. We are simply legally bound to operate publicly. That is, we have three areas of work: we do paperwork and file documents in court, we are involved in court hearings, and we take part in police investigations. It is quite easy to identify us. And there is nothing to be done about it.

You work to prevent torture, which is a crime. Theoretically, the state should have a stake in the success of your work. How does it help you? Perhaps by physically protecting you?

You know yourself how it “helps” us.

What if I didn’t know?

The work of the Committee against Torture, which is purely juridical and wholly confined to criminal proceedings, was deemed work aimed at changing state policy, and as such the committee was placed on the register of foreign agents. Honestly, I still have not recovered from the shock. We never denied we received foreign funding, but to say that the Committee against Torture had been trying to change state policy is—

A full confession?

In my opinion, it is self-incrimination. When a person says such things, it is called self-incrimination. But here it was the state saying this. Nevertheless, our organization was deemed a foreign agent. So now we have another organization: the Committee for Prevention of Torture does not receive foreign funding. True, they are trying once again to register us as foreign agents. Because they feel like it.

Okay, money from foreign organizations is a very bad thing. But has the Russian government subsidized the prevention of torture?

In 2013–2014, we got our first state subsidy, a so-called presidential grant. Then the organization was declared a foreign agent, and we announced we did not intend to go on working with this status. We discontinued operations and registered the new organization, which for the time being has not received anything from anyone.

How do you survive, then? Legal aid, trips to the regions (you operate in more than just Chechnya), and collecting information are probably all expensive things, no?

Legal aid is not the most expensive thing. And what information collecting do we need to do if people come to us themselves? We need money for other things—for collecting evidence and conducting forensic examinations, and for ensuring people’s safety. We very often send victims to a sanatorium, not only so they get medical treatment there but also to spare them from the intrusiveness of the law enforcement agency whose officers we suspect of having committed the crime. This is what we need money for. For example, last year a man sought our help. He told us a deputy minister of the Chechen Republic had tortured him: the minister had attached electric wires to his body and so on. The victim was in hospital. Moreover, he was disabled: he had only one leg. And he showed us so-called electrode traces, claiming they were evidence of torture. We had this conversation approximately a week after he had been tortured. To force the Investigative Committee to accept this as evidence, you need to carry out a quite complicated forensic examination. So we sent this man with a chaperon (since he was disabled) off to Moscow. In Moscow, we contracted with a licensed, state-accredited forensics bureau, which offers paid services among other things. They did the examination. When we did the numbers, it turned out the examination alone cost us over 100,000 rubles [approx. 1,300 euros at current exchange rates]. They are not always so expensive, but such forensic examinations are required in each case.

So maybe the examinations should be conducted at government expense as part of the investigation.

The Investigative Committee is not going to conduct them, and not only because it is expensive but also because they are afraid of finding out the results. When it does not want to deal with a criminal case, the Investigative Committee’s primary tool is delaying the forensic examination so it is impossible to establish either the nature of the physical injuries or the circumstances in which they were received. So in each case we have to carry out the forensic examinations ourselves.

But someone does pay for it, don’t they? Who are they? Charities, private sponsors?

Our work is divided. There is the Committee for Prevention of Torture. It employs lawyers who go to court, file appeals, and so on. It is a public organization that has no foreign funding. But there is another organization, also noncommercial, which works on the forensic examinations, collects evidence, and so on, that is, on things where money is absolutely necessary, including international protection. It receives foreign funding.

Have I understood you correctly that the fight against torture in Russia is subsidized by foreign organizations?

Yes, that is correct.

You want to return to Chechnya. I gather that the challenges you went there to solve have not been addressed.

The task I have already told you about has lost its relevance. I wanted to inspect our apartment in Grozny, but it is clear I am not going to be allowed to do that. So we will have to solve the problem differently. For example, attorneys can inspect the apartment along with police officers. But I had another objective: to try and organize a press conference in Grozny. Now I would not even risk inviting anyone to go there. In Chechnya, there are reporters who write good things about Kadyrov, and they are not in any danger. But those who have at one time or another permitted themselves even a bit of criticism had better not go there.

What will happen now to the cases your committee has been handling in Chechnya? Will you abandon them?

No, we do not abandon cases. We simply do not have the right, either the moral or the legal right. We will continue to be involved in them. For the time being, I cannot say how we will set up the work and where our lawyers will do the paperwork. It is obvious we will not be allowed to work in the Chechen Republic. Kadyrov himself has said so many times. But we will continue the work itself.

Your staff will still have to travel to Chechnya, won’t they?

Yes, they will. But we are officially involved in criminal cases as counsel for the victims. The investigative authorities are obliged to ensure our safety. They had better do it.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Images courtesy of Hotel Grozny City and Novaya Gazeta