The Network Case in Context

Scenes from the reading of the verdict in the Network trial in Penza on February 10, 2020. Filmed by Vlad Dokshin, edited by Alexander Lavrenov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
February 10, 2020

Today’s verdict in Penza was terribly inhumane, exorbitantly vicious, and so on, of course. The Putin regime handed out humongous sentences to members of the anti-authoritarian scene, punishing them for exercising their right to be themselves. Anarchists and non-official antifascists were severely and cruelly punished by the dictatorial regime—acting through the FSB and a kangaroo court—for their DIY activities, for making connections outside the official, formalized world, for dissenting, for rejecting all hierarchies. These political prisoners have been sent to the camps for many years, and it will take an enormous effort to keep them alive, if they are sent to the north, to keep them healthy and sane, and to get them released early. I wish them and their relatives and friends all the strength in the world.

Unfortunately, many people have reacted to the verdict in the Network Case as if it were utterly unprecedented, as if the bloodbath in Chechnya, and the torture and savage sentences meted out to defendants in other “terrorist” cases had never happened. It as if, even recently, their own government had not committed numerous crimes against the people of Ukraine and Syria, against prisoners in camps and other “others,” against National Bolshevik party activists and a range of other movements, against young radicals and people who professed the “wrong” religion, and on and on and on.  People, including political activists, have been surprised by the torture of the defendants, the rigged trial, and the harsh sentences in Penza, as if they lived in a happy, prosperous society, not a totally toxic, brazen empire whose security forces are the heirs of a centuries-long tradition of butchery and fanatical cruelty.

You are not supposed to say out loud what I am about to write, but if the young men had attacked government offices, there would probably have been no national and international solidarity campaign on behalf of these political prisoners. Or they would simply have been tortured to death or subjected to extrajudicial executions. If the Networkers had gone to jail for direct actions, a good number of Russian “anarchists” and “antifascists” would have disowned them, stigmatized them, urged others not to help them, and denounced them to western socialists. This was what really happened to the Underground Anarchists a hundred years ago: they were condemned by their “allies,” who wanted to go legal and curried favor with the Red despots.  The same thing has happened in our time: there were anarchists who hated on the young Belarusians sentenced to seven years in prison for setting fire to the KGB office in Bobruisk, the political refugees in the Khimki Forest case, the persecuted activists of the Popular Self-Defense, and Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Or, for example, some of the people in the ABTO (Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization) case, who were sent down for many years for arson attacks: they were tortured and accused of “terrorism,” and we had to work hard to scrape away the mud tossed at them by the state and “progressive” society. Oddly enough, the attitude of “thinking people” to “incorrect” political prisoners is matched by the Russian government’s refusal to exonerate Fanny Kaplan or the revolutionaries who blew up the Bolshevik Party city committee office on Leontievsky Lane in Moscow on September 25, 1919. (After the bloodshed in Moscow in 1993, however, Yeltsin made the populist move of exonerating the people involved in the Kronstadt Rebellion.)

One of the places we should look for the roots of the savage trial of the Penza prisoners is the disgusting newspeak that people in the RF have been taught—”the president’s orders have not been implemented,” “the government has sent a signal,” “the annexation of Crimea,” “the conflict in Donbass,” “the clash in the Kerch Strait,” “s/he claims s/he was tortured,” “s/he claims the evidence was planted,” “the terrorists of the People’s Will,” “Chechen terrorists,” “the Russophobe Stomakhin,” “the neo-Nazi Astashin,” “the guerrilla band in the Maritime Territory,” “the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk,” and so on.

Various people, including people from the anarchist scene, have written that the Network Case has shattered them and the people they know. If this is so, it is even worse than the outrageous criminal case itself. Yes, I am a living person, too, and yes, I find it very hard myself. But we cannot let the circumstances bend and break us: this is exactly what they want. This is especially the case if you are a consistent foe of systematic oppression, if you are an anarchist. Really, people, what would you do if the regime launched a truly massive crackdown on dissenters of the kind we have seen in the past, from tsarist Russia to Erdogan’s Turkey, from America at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the Iran of the ayatollahs? However, a massive crackdown would entail having a mass liberation movement, something that does not exist in today’s Russia. By the way, it would appear that our half-strangled semi-free media have been doing an excellent job of spreading fear among the atomized masses by regaling them with stories of the state’s repressive policies, of its crimes and nefarious undertakings, instead of using the news to instill people with righteous anger.

We can assume that the brutal verdict in the Network Case and other instances of rough justice on the part of the state will have direct consequences for the Kremlin both at home and abroad. Generally speaking, evil is not eternal. Over time, people will be able to overcome their disunity, believe in themselves, and finally destroy the thousand-year-old kingdom of oppression. “The jailed will sprout up as bayonets.”

politzeki1“Russia’s political prisoners: the jailed will sprout up as bayonets.” A banner hung over Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg by the Pyotr Alexeyev Resistance Movement (DSPA) in August 2012. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

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Elena Zaharova
Facebook
February 10, 2020

I don’t understand.

You can throw a brick at me, you can ban me, you can do what you like, but I don’t get you. Why this sudden mass fainting spell? When the authorities started abducting, murdering, and imprisoning the Crimean Tatars in 2014, you didn’t notice. Okay, you couldn’t care less about Crimea and Ukraine. The authorities have long been imprisoning members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazan and Bashkortostan, but there’s the rub—we defend Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Hizbites. And the authorities have been sentencing the Crimean Tatars and the Hizbites to ten years, twenty years, twenty-two years in prison. But you haven’t heard about that. And suddenly today you say, “Oh the horror!!! It’s fascism!!!”

It’s the same with the Constitution. The authorities long ago trampled it into the dust, killing it off with Federal Law No. 54 [on “authorization” for  demonstrations and public rallies] and giving us the heave-ho. No one noticed. For the last couple of weeks, however, everyone has been calling on people to defend the Constitution—that is, to defend what it is written in a booklet that everyone was too lazy to read before.

Need I mention the wars no one has noticed yet?

Only don’t remind me about the dozens of people who have been picketing outside the presidential administration building in Moscow for two years running. I have nothing but praise for them, but they are the exception.

Vladimir Akimenkov was one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case and currently raises money for Russian political prisoners and their families. Elena Zaharova is an anti-war and civil rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Supah Powah

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Chuvash Pensioner Receives Two Years Probation for Repost on VKontakte
Artyom Filipyonok
RBC
October 14, 2016

A court in Chuvashia has sentenced a local pensioner to a two-year suspended sentence for reposting printed matterR earlier ruled extremist. In May of this year, Andrei Bubeyev, a mechanical engineer from Tver, was convicted of reposting an article by Boris Stomakhin.

Tsivilsk District Court in Chuvashia has sentenced 62-year-old pensioner Nikolai Yegorov, who works as a security guard at a cement factory, to a two-year suspended sentence. He was found guilty of inciting ethnic hatred (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 282.1), reports Interfax.

Police investigators claimed that, on May 8, 2014, Yegorov posted an open letter by journalist Boris Stomakhin, which had been ruled extremist, on his page on the VKontakte social network. Lawyer Yevgeny Gubin had previously reported that prosecutors had asked the pensioner be sentenced to 360 hours of compulsory labor.

Yegorov himself claimed he had not posted anything. According to his lawyer, his client’s personal page was accessible to anyone “due to his poor knowledge of the specific features of the Internet.”

Journalist Boris Stomakhin, who supported Chechen separatists, has been convicted of inciting hatred and publicly calling for extremism on three occasions. He is currently serving a sentence for justifying terrorism. In April 2014, he was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.

In May of this year, Andrei Bubeyev, a mechanical engineer from Tver, was convicted for reposting an article by Stomakhin. The sentence was harsher: Bubeyev was sentenced to two years and three months in a work-release prison colony. The Tver man was convicted of publicly calling for extremism (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 280.2) and publicly calling for actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation (Russian Federal Criminal Code 280.1.2).

In 2002, the law “On Combating Extremism” beefed up the definition of extremism. Extremism includes such acts as “violent change of the constitutional system and violation of the Russian Federation’s integrity,” “public justification of terrorism and other terrorist activity,” and “incitement of social, racial, ethnic or religious enmity.” Nikolay Mironov, director of the Center for Economic and Political Reform told RBC that over half of extremism convictions have to do with publications in the Internet and, in particular, on social networks.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Image courtesy of supahpowah.tumbler.com

Be Kind, Don’t Repost

Andrei Bubeyev (right) in the defendant's cage at his trial
Andrei Bubeyev (right) in the defendant’s cage at his trial

Tver Resident Sentenced to Two Years in Work-Release Penal Colony for Two Reposts on VKontakte
Takie Dela
May 5, 2016

The Zavolzhsky District Court in Tver has sentenced mechanical engineer Andrei Bubeyev to two years and three months in a work-release penal colony for extremism and separatism, writes Kommersant.

The defendant’s lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina, said the court delivered its verdict “on all the charges summarily and taking into account the verdict in the first criminal case.” In addition, the time Bubeyev has served in a pre-trial detention facility since May 24, 2015, will count toward completion of his sentence. According to Sidorkina, the verdict will be appealed.

The basis for the charges were two reposts Bubeyev made on the VKontakte social network. He posted the article “Crimea Is Ukraine” by writer and political activist Boris Stomakhin on his personal page and a picture of a tube of toothpaste captioned “Squeeze Russia out of you.”

The prosecution argued this was a violation of Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 280.2 (public calls for extremist activities) and Article 280.1.2 (public calls for actions aimed at violating the Russian Federation’s territorial integrity) and requested that Bubeyev be sentenced to three and a half years in prison. Bubeyev pleaded not guilty.

In August 2015, the blogger was found guilty of extremism and sentenced to nine months in a work-release penal colony for reposting similar matter and pictures.

In February 2016, a court in Yekaterinburg ordered the laptop of single mother Ekaterina Vologzheninova destroyed because she had made certain likes and reposts. Investigators claimed that in 2014 Vologzheninova posted images deemed extremist by FSB officers on a social network. The investigators did not report exactly what was in the images. According to the woman’s attorney, one of the images was a caricature in which a person resembling Vladimir Putin was hunched over a map of Donbass with a knife.

Translated by My Left Foot. Image courtesy of openrussia.org

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Russian Jailed For Reposting ‘Extremist’ Article
RFE/RL
May 6, 2016

A court in the Russian city of Tver has sentenced a man to two years and three months in prison for reposting material about Crimea on a social media network.

The court on May 5 found that engineer Andrei Bubeyev reposted an article by publicist Boris Stomakhin that had earlier been deemed “extremist” and “threatening to Russia’s territorial integrity.”

The piece argued that the Ukrainian Black Sea region of Crimea had been illegally annexed by Russia and should be returned to Ukraine.

In April 2015, a Moscow court sentenced Stomakhin to seven years in prison on charges of promoting terrorism and extremism.

Stomakhin says the charges against him were politically motivated.

In the region of Chuvashia, investigators have accused 62-year-old Nikolai Yegorov of inciting national enmity for reposting the same Stomakhin article.

Yegorov denies the accusation and his trial is pending.