Ilya Pershin: The Ice Under the Major’s Feet

Russian political prisoner and artist Ilya Pershin. Photo courtesy of Anton Yupanov, OVID Info, and Kseniia Sonnaya’s Facebook page

The Ice Under the Major’s Feet: A Petersburg Man Has Been in Jail for More Than Six Months Because a Policeman Fell Down
Kseniia Sonnaya
OVD Info
September 2, 2021

Petersburg artist Ilya Pershin has been in jail for more than six months, accused of kicking a riot police officer in the leg and elbowing him in the chest when he tried to detain him at the January 31 protests. Pershin’s girlfriend, who witnessed the incident, claims that the policeman fell and bruised himself. This is our account of the Pershin case, along with excerpts from his prison diary.

On January 31,  2021, 26-year-old artist Ilya Pershin left work at lunchtime to pick up the house keys from his girlfriend Erzheni. She was going to a rally in support of Alexei Navalny and invited Ilya to go with her. They traveled to St. Isaac’s Square together.

“When we were at the parking lot, there was an attack by the so-called titushky. A young man who was most likely a protester was assaulted. It was just that, at some point, a fight started: two men in their forties began beating the young man. At first, I didn’t even understand what was happening,” says Erzheni.

She realized that it was titushky who were beating the young man when the police arrived at the scene of the fight and the instigators showed them their IDs. “The police didn’t even detain them, although they had beaten the young man until he bled,” says Erzheni. After that, according to her, “some kind of commotion began, the law enforcement officers got their act together, and at some point the crowd ran in the direction of St.  Isaac’s.” Ilya ran, too. According to Erzheni, he was afraid that he would be beaten. Erzheni followed him at a brisk pace.

“At that moment, a man in uniform in front of me grabbed [Ilya]. [The officer] was kitted out in in full battle armor: helmet, face mask and shields. He grabbed [Ilya] from behind. Ilya was running away from him, and the man was running right behind him — and grabbed him. By inertia Ilya continued moving, taking literally two steps, with the officer in tow. The monument to Nicholas the First, which is under repair, was nearby, and there was a mound of snow. I didn’t see any struggle. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he slipped, maybe he stumbled, but the officer just fell on his left side, while Ilya kept running. That was it,” recalls Erzheni.

According to police investigators, it was at this moment that Pershin kicked Ivan Alexeyev, an officer in the operational platoon of the riot police’s 5th Operational Battalion, in the left leg with his left foot. Alexeyev claims that he was kicked in his popliteal fossa (the space behind the knee joint). The victim also said that when Pershin was trying to escape, he struck him at least two blows in the chest with his elbow.

According to attorney Alexei Kalugin, who works with OVD Info, a medical examination recorded only a bruise on the riot policeman’s left knee joint. Pershin’s defense team say that there is no evidence of such blows in the case — there is not a single witness or video confirming the riot policeman’s testimony. When questioned by a police investigator, the victim himself said about the alleged blows to his chest that “due to the fact that I was wearing a bulletproof vest, I was not caused any injuries or physical pain.”

Investigative Ballet
The video of the investigative experiment shows that the stand-in for Ilya Pershin was able to touch the leg of the injured riot police officer close to the popliteal fossa area only on the fifth attempt. During the other attempts, despite the victim’s prompting, the stand-in struck the posterior region of the man’s left thigh, located much higher than the popliteal fossa. At the same time, it is noticeable that when trying to kick the victim with his left foot, the stand-in loses his balance and repositions his right leg to achieve aa more stable position. “It was thus established that, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left leg, namely in the area of the knee joint from behind,” a police investigator concluded after the experiment.

When the stand-in tried to perform the same actions while in motion, he again failed to strike the victim’s popliteal fossa, kicking his calf instead. “Thus, when moving in this way, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left knee joint, from which it can be concluded that this area of the left leg is reachable given this height,” the investigator again concluded.

At the request of the defense team, the Independent Expertise Center compared the video of the investigative experiment and the protocol and pointed out the inconsistencies: “The protocol of the investigative experiment contains information that does not correspond to the actions in the supplied video.” Pershin’s lawyer Anton Yupanov, who works with OVD Info, says that an independent examination was ordered because “a blow of the stated trajectory and force was not possible at all.”

There is a video recording in the case file in which the silhouettes of Pershin and the alleged victim, Alexeyev, are visible. When viewed in slow motion, “it is clearly visible that there was no impact,” says Yupanov. However, the investigator has cited the same video as proof that Pershin kicked the riot policeman.

When questioned, the victim’s colleagues said that they had also not seen Pershin kicking the officer. “Some of them heard their colleague cry out in pain, and then they helped him. But no one saw the moment when he fell, except for Ilya’s girlfriend, who said that the riot policeman slipped, ” the lawyer says.

In her dispatch on the court hearing in the Pershin case, Zaks.ru correspondent Sofia Sattarova wrote that Alexeyev testified that he himself did not see the moment of the blow, but “only felt pain that caused his leg to ‘give out’ and make him ‘slide off’ the accused.” In court, Alexeev also said that Pershin had “already served a real sentence in full.” He asked for a lenient sentence and said he would have “ended the whole thing peacefully.”

Pershin denies any wrongdoing. In reply to a letter from OVD Info, he noted, “I think the ‘victim’ just lost his balance and fell. The individual attacked me from behind. I didn’t see anything.” According to Pershin’s defense lawyer, Pershin regrets that the riot police officer was injured, but does not believe that he was to blame for this.

Detention and Arrest
Pershin was detained on the afternoon of February 17, 2021, at the hotel where he worked as a desk clerk. Yupanov surmises that the detention occurred only two weeks after the protest rally because law enforcement officers examined video footage from the rally and identified Pershin before putting him under surveillance. “I was on another case at the police department in Otradnoye, and there was a photo of Ilya hanging on the stand of those wanted by the police. The accompanying text said that they were looking for this person for assaulting a police officer,” the lawyer adds.

Pershin himself says that none of the people who detained him introduced themself nor did they explain the reason for his arrest. “When they were taking me to the GSU [the Main Investigative Department], they did a good cop-bad cop-style interrogation. Now I smile when I remember it, of course, but at the time I was not laughing. In the vehicle, they told me why I had been detained, politely adding, ‘If you so much as budge, we’ll shoot you in the knee.’ As we approached the GSU, they said, ‘It used to be easier. We would just take you into the countryside and beat the shit out of you.’ I don’t think I need to describe my feelings [at that moment],” Pershin wrote.

In the evening of the same day, February 17, the apartment where Erzheni and Ilya lived was searched. Pershin was not taken to the search, only Erzheni was present. According to the search report (OVD Info has a copy of the report), the two Center “E” officers who carried out the search did not confiscate anything from the apartment. On the morning of the following day, a preventive measures hearing was held at the October District Court in Petersburg. Erzheni, as the owner of the apartment, was ready to vouch formally for Pershin so that he could be placed under house arrest in her apartment, but she was not summoned to the hearing.

On its Telegram channel, the Consolidated Press Service of the Courts of St. Petersburg reported the court hearing as follows: “Pershin was detained on 17.02.2021. A native of Magadan, registered in Salsk, he has no registration in St. Petersburg, and works as an on-duty hotel clerk. He said that he has a child, but the father is not named in the [child’s] birth certificate, because he overslept the registration. He requested house arrest at the home of his current live-in girlfriend, but could only remember the girl’s first name.”

Pershin does in fact have a son, who is only two years old. Yupanov, who was with Pershin at the preventive measures hearing, said that the remark that Pershin had overslept the child’s registration is a fantasy on the part of the press secretary. “He merely said that by agreement with the child’s mother, they decided not to record [Pershin as father] in the birth certificate. But he communicates with the child regularly and has provided for him financially,” the lawyer explained. According to Erzheni, the child’s mother, Pershin’s ex-girlfriend, supports Pershin and even has gone to visit him at the pre-trial detention center.

“From the first day [since his arrest], Ilya has been worried about the child. He has been thinking not about himself, but about the child — how his potential criminal record would affect his future. Although they don’t live together, [Ilya and the child’s mother] maintain very warm personal relations, which is quite rare at the present time,” says Yupanov. In his letter, Ilya also told us about his son. He wrote that he first thing he would like to do after his release is to go play with him “to make up for the moments lost during this time in the baby’s growth.”

At first, Erzheni was quite worried about her boyfriend, “because after all, it was me who was initially going [to the protest rally]. He is an adult and makes his own decisions, but still.” In the spring, when the young woman was questioned as a witness in the case, the investigator, after reading their correspondence on Telegram, pressured her into feeling guilty, she says. “He said all sorts of things about how the whole thing was my fault, almost that I should go to jail. He behaved personally in a way that was ugly. I don’t know, maybe that’s how they’re used to doing things. Work is work, but we must remain human beings. I also worked in a government job for a long time,” says Erzheni. Pershin and Erzheni correspond, and the young woman helps his family to deliver care packages to the the pre-trial detention center.

Eight [sic] months have passed since Pershin’s arrest. “They’re pickling [Ilya]. He is already tired of being jailed in the Crosses,” says Yupanov. When asked how Ilya is enduring the arrest, Erzheni answers that it has been difficult. “It has been happening to him in waves: first there was shock and, well, all the stages of acceptance. He has had mood swings and bouts of depression. For him, as an artist, this has not been an inspiring story,” the young woman claims. Pershin himself said that because of his arrest, his “physical and mental state leaves much to be desired.” When asked how his experience of eight [sic] months in jail had changed him, the artist replied that it was not for him to judge, but he hoped that he had “gleaned only the best things.” Pershin wrote about the outcome he expects: “I hope for an acquittal. But I’m preparing for the worst.”

Ilya Pershin’s Diary, 25 March—10 April 2021
In the pre-trial detention center, Pershin has been keeping a diary, in which he writes about his feelings, everyday life and the people he meets. He gave part of his diary to OVD Info through his lawyer. We have published excerpts from it below. Some parts of the diary have been blurred at Pershin’s request. The original spelling and punctuation have been preserved.

25.03.21 There was a cell toss in the second block of the Crosses on all four floors. After the toss, I was moved from the third wing to the second. My cellmates are older, which means they are quieter. Bliss. Oh, I almost forgot: today is Thursday.

26.03.21 Fri. Remember that I said that my new cellmates were calmer? They’re so tactful… For the first time since my arrest, I had a good night’s sleep.

27.03.31 Sat. It was such a sunny morning today that for a second I forgot where I was. Being in prison heightens the senses. The slightest bad joke can lead to dismaying consequences. During internal inspection you leave the cell dressed to the waist (your pants are rolled up). During a cell inspection, you stand “on the galley” (in the corridor) facing the wall. One of the block wardens examined my tattoos and came to a brilliant conclusion: “Soon the theme of tattoos will change. Domes and stars will be the new thing.” That specifically made me lose my cool. So I said, “First I’ll make a picture of you on my pubis.” I almost wound up in the punishment cell.

28.03.21 Sun. I went out for a walk. […] You go to a walking cell about five by two and a half meters. It’s four walls and a cage with a grid that separates you from the clear sky. And the crimson dawn woke me up.

29.03.21 Mon. I didn’t sleep last night. It wasn’t possible to sleep during the day, because of the “bath.” This is bliss. […] Tomorrow I’m expecting visitors: [my] lawyers and the police investigator. I’ll be going for a stroll. I’m going to bed.

30.03.21 Tue. Today I read the case file. Well, it’s all over but the shouting. We are halfway to a verdict. While I was at the investigative department, they conducted another cell toss. They built something like a mountain of junk out of my things and my bunk. It’s good that letters have arrived.

31.03.21 Wed. Tomorrow is the court hearing on extending my arrest. Just the thought of it makes me sweat. The chances of getting the terms of my arrest changed [to house arrest or release on one’s own recognizance, for example] are zero, and I have to get up at five in the morning, otherwise it’s the punishment cell for me. I got a care package from Erzheni. My pussycat xD

1.04.21 Thur. I was woken up at 5:00. At 6:00 they took me out of the cell and took me down to the first floor. After that, all those who are sent to the courts (and there are hundreds of them from all over the prison) are sorted into “glasses” [holding cells]. A “glass” is a room 5 by 2 m., in which people are stuffed chockablock. The air comes through a small crack in the window. Everyone smokes. And they light up at the same time. It is in such an environment that you wait for your last name to be called to be shipped out.

2.04.21 Fri. The morning is repeated, since the hearing was postponed. Why? It’s not clear. After I arrive from the court, they throw me into a “glass” again. In a few hours you go for an inspection. After the inspection, you go to another “glass.” In the “glass” you wait hopefully for your section to be called. The waiting is accompanied by noise and “exhaust” from cigarettes. You have to wait hours for your section to be called.

3.04.21 Sat. — 4.04.21 Sun. After such travels, it takes you at least two days to recover! So, apart from sleeping and eating, nothing happened to me.

5.04.21 Mon. Around lunchtime, I was summoned for a telephone call for the first time during my stay. I had written and submitted the application about 15 days ago. It’s always like this here. Some [inmates] are taken out of their cells every day without applications or permissions, while others have to wait two weeks.

10.04.21 Sat. All of the past five days I carried out “orders” for my cellmates and prisoners from other cells. N. told me a “flat-out fucked” level story. When he was on the outside, he witnessed an accident in which two GAZelles burned to a crisp after a head-on collision, and a minibus was pulled out of a ditch. N. later met the driver of that selfsame minibus in the “glass” here in the Crosses. The driver was in the joint because a woman was killed in that minibus. The people you meet in the “glass”!

You can support Ilya by writing him a letter via FSIN Pismo [the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s electronic messaging system] or by regular mail, to the following address:

Russia 196655 St. Petersburg, Kolpino
Kolpinskaya St., 9, FKU SIZO-1 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region
Pershin Ilya Aleksandrovich, DOB 17.06.1994

You can read our guide to writing letters to political prisoners.

All images courtesy of OVD Info. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Action Plan

September 21, 2020

Education Committee
Government of Saint Petersburg
8 Antonenko Lane
190031 Saint Petersburg
Tel.: (812) 417-3454
Email: kobr@gov.spb.ru
www.k-obr.spb.ru

To: Directors of educational organizations under the Committee’s jurisdiction

Re: Action Plan

Dear Directors,

In September 2020, as instructed by the St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office, specialists at Center “E” of the Russian Interior Ministry’s St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Directorate, together with the Education Committee, developed an “Action Plan for homeroom teachers and school counselors in notifying law enforcement agencies when information is found on the Internet and other sources about the involvement by pupils of educational institutions in informal youth associations and extremist movements” (hereinafter, “Action Plan”).

We are sending the Action Plan, as approved by the St. Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office, to your address.

We ask you to familiarize homeroom teachers and other interested specialists with this Action Plan in order to organize monitoring of the Internet, including the social networks, of [sic] pupils of educational institutions for possible involvement in informal youth associations and extremist movements.

Enclosure: 4 pages in 1 copy

Yours sincerely,
Deputy Chairman of the Committee
A.A. Borshchevsky

This letter was made public by Maxim Reznik, an independent member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly. Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg Police Sabotage Pussy Riot Video Shoot

Police Sabotage Pussy Riot Video Shoot at Lenfilm Studio
Mediazona
February 9, 2020

Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has told Mediazona that police have sabotaged the filming of a video for the Pussy Riot song “Rage” at Lenfilm Studio in Petersburg.

“There are cops and Center ‘E’ officers at the filming of our video at Lenfilm. First, they came and made us sign an obligation not to promote ‘homosexualism’ and ‘extremism,” and then left to talk with Lenfilm management. Half an hour later, the lights were turned off throughout the building. The shoot was scheduled to run from noon to six in the morning. So, the whole thing’s a bust,” Tolokonnikova said.

riotPolice at Lenfilm in Petersburg. Photo by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Courtesy of Mediazona

The producers tried to rent a generator, but they were not permitted to bring it on the premises of the studio.

“Two days before the shoot, plainclothes officers visited Lenfilm and insisted they cancel the shoot. Surprisingly, Lenfilm refused to heed their request, telling them that we had paid and all the paperwork was in order,” the performance artist added.

Tolokonnikova said that feminist activist Nixel Pixel (aka Nika Vodwood), artist Lölja Nordic, and photographer Aleksandr Sofeev were among the people slated to appear in the video.

“There were supposed to be riot cops [OMON] in the video, but a real patrol showed up instead. The song is about resisting the authorities,” Tolokonnikova told Mediazona.

In an interview with Znak.com, Inessa Yurchenko, who was appointed Lenfilm’s new director general two days ago, called Tolokonnikov’s story a provocation.

“The guys were supposed to have actors in police uniforms, so they cannot pass that off as there being police officers there. There are no police officers on the premises of Lenfilm. It’s not nice to show pictures of actors and provoke the public,” she said.

Yurchenko threatened to call the police.

“I won’t be surprised if there are more provocations on their part—then I will be forced to call the police,” she said.

Yurchenko explained that the blackout in the studio had been caused by an accident on the power grid.

“The head of security will now have to follow regulations while the cause of the accident is established, and so he will have to ask [people] to evacuate Lenfilm because it’s a [secure] facility,” she said.

She added that the activists could return to the film studio when the power was restored.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Website Builder Tilda Cracks Down on “Political” Website

tilda

A screenshot of Tilda’s homepage

Website Builder Tilda Blocks Rostov Case Website
Mediazona
January 16, 2020

Website builder Tilda has blocked a website containing information about Vladislav Mordasov and Yan Sidorov, defendants in the so-called Rostov Case, according to a Telegram channel dealing with the criminal case.

The page’s creators received an email from Tilda’s legal service.

“We wish to inform you that your project has been blocked for publishing politically directed information. Tilda is a platform designed for creating business projects,” the letter said.

The legal service stressed that Tilda was not designed for the “posting and publication of information and/or projects involving exposés, scandals, offensive content, and other such things.”

“Personally, we understand you and your position, and would like to help. But we cannot jeopardize the sites of our other users by working with such content, since it is impossible for us to moderate such projects,” the letter said.

The activists said that Tilda had allowed them to download their website in order to publish it on another platform.

In October of last year, the Rostov Regional Court sentenced 24-year-old Vladislav Mordasov and 19-year-old Yan Sidorov to six years and seven months, and six and half years, respectively, in a maximum-security prison. In December, the Third Appellate Court upheld the verdict.

rostov case

“Blocked.” The Rostov Case Telegram channel announces Tilda’s decision to shut down their website.

Mordasov and Sidorov were found guilty of attempting to organize riots (punishable under Articles 30.3 and 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). The young men frequented a chat room for supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev, and on the day of his promised “revolution,”they picketed the Rostov regional government building.

Tilda Publishing is a service that lets users create their own websites using pre-designed blocks. Russian businessman Nikita Obukhov launched the platform in 2014.

Translated by the Russian Reader

__________________

Why is this an important story? Because more Russian grassroots activists than I can count have created websites on the Tilda platform to champion their causes, and that has included publicizing political trials like the one described above. For example, human rights activists in Petersburg have used Tilda to create a website about the frame-up of immigrants from Central Asia, who were charged and, recently, convicted of helping to organize a bombing in the Petersburg subway in April 2017. Thanks to Julia Murashova for the heads-up.

__________________

Manifesto

In 2017, Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov took part in a peaceful picket. They were arrested, accused of involvement in rioting, tortured into confessing, jailed for a few years in a remand prison, and recently sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security prison.

There is no reason to doubt that the case against them was cooked up by the Investigative Committee and Center “E”, if only because there was no rioting. Amnesty International and the Memorial Human Rights Center have recognized the young men as prisoners of conscience.

We demand the immediate release of Sidorov and Mordasov, the reversal of the court rulings in their case, and the prosecution of those in the security forces responsible for fabricating charges against them and torturing them.

Source: rostovcase.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

__________________

Russia: Two youth activists jailed in deplorable act of injustice
Amnesty International
October 4, 2019

Today a court in Rostov-on-Don (southern Russia) sentenced two youth activists, Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov, to six years and six months and six years and seven months in a penal colony respectively and another, Viacheslav Shashmin, to three years on probation on fabricated charges of “attempted organization of mass disturbances” and “attempted participation in mass disturbances”. Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said:

“Yan Sidorov, Vladislav Mordasov and Viacheslav Shashmin are prisoners of conscience detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Throwing these human rights activists behind bars is a deplorable move which serves as an indictment of the state of the Russian justice system.

“These young men organized a peaceful picket with nothing more than a piece of paper and a loudspeaker. In falsely characterizing this protest as a violent ‘mass disturbance’, Russian investigators have fabricated a story designed to destroy the lives of these activists and their families. The charges brought against them contradict most apparent facts and go against international law and standards.

“During a plainly unfair trial the court closed its eyes to the evidence supporting Yan Sidorov, Vladislav Mordasov and Viacheslav Shashmin’s innocence. We call on the Russian authorities to quash the sentences and release these two young men immediately and unconditionally. Peaceful protest is not a crime and the right to peaceful assembly is enshrined in international law.”

Background

On 4 October, the Rostov-on-Don Regional Court found Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov guilty of “attempted organization of mass disturbances” and sentenced them to up to six years and seven months in a penal colony. In the same decision, Viacheslav Shashmin was found guilty of “attempted participation in mass disturbances” and was given three years of probation.

The human rights activists were prosecuted for trying to stage a peaceful protest in November 2017 in support of residents who had lost their houses in mass fires in Rostov-on-Don in August that year. Yan Sidorov and Viacheslav Shashmin were 18 years old when they were arrested in November 2017. Vladislav Mordasov was 21 years old.

Are Homeless People in Moscow “Foreign Agents”?

nochlezhkaNochlezhka staff outside their shelter on Borovaya Street in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Nochlezhka

“It’s Unpleasant, But It Won’t Affect Our Plans”: Nochlezhka on Calls from Begovoy Residents to Declare the Charity a “Foreign Agent”
Lida Timofeyeva
Takie Dela
November 21, 2019

Zoya Andrianova, a member of Begovoy Municipal District Council in Moscow, has requested that authorities check whether the charity Nochlezhka should be declared a “foreign agent.” She pointed out the organization received foreign funding and had “access to a socially vulnerable, dependent and manipulable segment of the population.”

“We must use all methods of fighting the enemy. Nochlezhka should now lose its appetite for Moscow. It will have to spend a long time explaining itself to Center ‘E.’ If it is closed as a result, that will teach it a lesson,” wrote Alexandra Andreyeva, a member of the Lefortovo Municipal District Council.

Takie Dela asked Nochlezhka’s directors to comment on the actions of the activists who oppose the opening of a shelter and a counseling service for homeless people in Begovoy.

______________________________

Grigory Sverdlin, director of the charity organization Nochlezhka

“Nochlezhka has been receiving foreign funding for many years: it makes up around 15% of our overall budget. The aid mainly comes from religious organizations. We appreciate this and have never hidden these donations: people can check the annual reports on our website. Nochlezhka has never been involved in politics, so the ‘foreign agent’ label does not apply to us. We are not afraid of audits: like all other charitable organizations in Russia, Nochlezhka has been audited repeatedly.

“Andrianova and the group of activists recently sent eleven complaints to federal consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, asking them to check a homeless shelter that does not exist yet. Their attempts to kick Nochlezhka out of their neighborhood, as they put it, have continued, although district councilors from Lefortovo and activists from Savelovo are part of the effort for some reason. It’s unpleasant, of course, but it will not affect our plans in any way.”

______________________________

Darya Baybakova, director of Nochlezhka’s Moscow branch

“The opponents [of the future shelter] are few in number, but they are quite active. There are several municipal district councilors in their ranks, in particular, Alexandra Andreyeva and Zoya Andrianova. Andreyeva believes homeless people should not be helped at all, but instead should be transported beyond the 101st kilometer. Andrianova had said the campaign against Nochlezhka’s project is a personal matter for her. In her opinion, such places should not be opened in the Begovoy district.

“Last week, I was at the prosecutor’s office, answering the questions posed by the same municipal district councilors in their complaints. We also received a warning from Rospotrebnadzor [about the inadmissibility of violating health regulations] after they inspected the building where the shelter will be opened. Andrianova has now sent a complaint to the presidential administration. We have not received any letters from them yet, but we are ready to answer any and all questions when they do arrive.”

______________________________

In September, Nochlezhka announced it was planning to open a consulting service and shelter for homeless people in Moscow’s Begovoy district. The charity looked for a space for a year and a half: it needed to be within walking distance of subway and train stations, but at a distance from residential buildings. Nochlezhka conducted a survey of the district’s residents and held a meeting with them. They were unable to stave off a conflict, however: some of the people who came to the meeting refused to listen to Nochlezhka’s arguments and walked out.

In the aftermath of this wave of discontent, Nochlezhka invited the Muscovites to tour its Petersburg facilities. Petersburg officials reported to the Muscovites that no one had ever complained about Nochlezhka’s clients. Nochlezhka launched an online flash mob to support its Moscow branch: people were asked to post messages with the hashtag #ISupportNochlezhkaInMoscow. The Moscow mayor’s office turned down Nochlezhka’s request to provide it with a space for a homeless shelter.

In 2018, Nochlezhka and the Second Breath Foundation announced plans to open a laundry for homeless people in Moscow. They chose a space near the Dynamo subway station in the Savelovo district for the laundry, but were forced to give up the project after local residents protested. The residents threatened to file complaints with all the relevant authorities and set the laundry on fire.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Vladislav Barabanov: Anarchism and Center “E”

e9efc978d793898ae4de6e727570e6caVladislav Barabanov during a rally on September 29, 2019, on Sakharov Avenue in Moscow in support of suspects and defendants in the Moscow case, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) case, and Russia’s political prisoners. Photo by Sergei Bobylev. Courtesy of TASS and Republic

Police Detectives Created YouTube Channel Where They Uploaded Video of “Rioting”: Vladislav Barabanov, Former Suspect in Moscow Case, on Center “E” and Anarchism
Margarita Zhuravlyova
Republic
October 17, 2019

The Russian Investigative Committee has stepped up the investigation of the so-called Moscow case: five people were detained on October 14 and 15 and charged with assaulting police officers. In total, twenty-six people have been investigated as part of the case, which was launched in the wake of protests this past summer in Moscow; only six of them have gone free. One of them is Vladislav Barabanov, an anarchist from Nizhny Novgorod. He made a special trip to Moscow for the July 27 protest rally, was arrested on August 3 and charged with involvement in rioting, and was released from remand prison in early September. In an interview with Republic, he recounted how a video entitled “Our Attempt to Overthrow the Government” found its way into the evidence against him, how his jailers hinted he might be tortured, and what he talked about with Center “E” officers.

Prosecution
The wording of the charges against me was vague: “group of individuals,” “sprayed tear gas,” “destroyed property,” and so on. In my case file, however, there were two screenshots from a video that was uploaded, I am certain, by the very same police detectives who were involved in cooking up the criminal case against me. They created a channel on YouTube, calling it “Yegor Zhukov” [Yegor Zhukov, who has been charged in the Moscow Case and is currently under house arrest, is a student at the Higher School of Economics—Republic] and uploading a video entitled “Our Attempt to Overthrow the Government.” That was how this recording and two screenshots, in which I am seen marching in front of a crowd and waving my hand, were entered into the evidence. But I did not “coordinate” any riots.

The first alarm bell was at the detention center: someone from the Investigative Committee came there, wanting to interrogate me as a witness. Then I was detained as I was leaving the detention center, making it clear they would try to pin criminal charges on me. But I couldn’t imagine what would happen next and that so many people would be charged. I thought I would be the only one to face these charges.

Given the psychological pressure they applied in the investigative department, it was hard at first. There were these guards there, for example, who talked on the phone with someone and asked, “Where do we keep the gas masks?” I understand perfectly well how gas masks are used during interrogations. They are put on people’s heads as a way of forcing them to testify. Cigarette smoke can be blown into them or the air can be turned off so a person loses consciousness.

I had the support of family members and my comrades, who met me at the detention center after I did time there for administrative offenses. When they saw me being put into a police cruiser and driven away, they blocked the road and tried not to let it get through. They formed a human chain, but the police pushed them aside. Right at that moment, an officer from Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention) was sitting next to me in the car and videotaping everything. He wouldn’t let me contact anyone or take out my mobile phone, threatening to confiscate it.

Center “E”
Center “E” was intensely interested me back in Nizhny Novgorod, too. On September 9, 2018, we held an “unauthorized” protest march against the government’s raising the retirement age. Afterward, there was a wave of arrests, with the police detaining some people in their homes, and others at work. I was detained at a presentation of the almanac moloko plus. I think they knew me, because I was politically active in Nizhny Novgorod, doing solo pickets and helping organize events.

I didn’t say anything to Center “E” officers without a lawyer present. I was detained along with a comrade. He was released, but I was charged with involvement in an “unauthorized” event that had caused disruption to public transport and impeded pedestrians. They had a file with my name on it in which they rifled through papers. One of the Center “E” officers was really curious about what anarchists had in common with Navalny’s supporters. They were worried opposition forces were consolidating.

Anarchists
Since I was young, I guess, I have had a yearning for justice. I followed the Bolotnaya Square Case and all the events of 2011–2013. I was between fourteen and sixteen then. The first protest rally I ever attended was in Nizhny Novgorod on March 26, 2017, my birthday. Due to my age, I was not involved in the events of 2011–2013, but comrades say that rally, which took place after Alexei Navalny published his investigation of the corruption schemes in which Dmitry Medvedev was involved, drew a much bigger crowd. It was a really cool, very significant event: there had never been anything like it in Nizhny.

I didn’t go to protest rallies before that, although I was interested in politics. This was due to my personal rethinking of effective methods of struggle. First, there was the ideological aspect: perhaps I didn’t see any points of contact among the opposition. Second, I rejected public activism.

If we talk about the anarchist milieu and why I now call myself a libertarian socialist [libertarian socialism is a political philosophy focused on resisting authoritarian coercion and social hierarchy—Republic] the fact of the matter is that there are lots of stereotypes around the notion of anarchists, who are either imagined as subculture types with as subculture types with mohawk haircuts and the letter A on their backs, screaming “Anarchy is the mother of order,” or people in masks whose only thought is torching, blowing up, smashing, and destroying things, meaning anarchists are equated with terrorists.

As for methods, some anarchists consider it more effective to put up leaflets and stickers, do graffiti, and hang banners on the street—as long as no one sees them. Their public activism begins and ends there. But when they are confronted with crackdowns, they take to the public arena all the same, because only a huge public outcry can defend people from persecution.

I think that, if you want to promote your political ideas you have to be as public about it as possible. This will help you get around the stereotypes attached to the notion of anarchism and recruit people to your side.

I see anarchism as the endpoint in society’s evolution. It is what happens when people realize they are capable of solving their problems without recourse to any representatives whatsoever, when they realize they can organize themselves and their own lives. When the concept of centralization goes away, people won’t need power over each other.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Moscow: Where Waving Your Arms Energetically Is a Felony

barabanov.jpgVladislav Barabanov in the dock at the Presna District Court in Moscow earlier today. Photo by Elizaveta Pestova. Courtesy of Yegor Skovoroda and Mediazona

Yegor Skovoroda
Facebook
August 5, 2019

The Presna District Court has remanded three more people in custody as part of the Moscow “riot” case. It became clear during the hearings how they had warranted being charged with involvement in rioting, punishable by up to eight years in prison under Article 212.2 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Daniil Konon, 22, a student at the Bauman School, waved his arms energetically and showed people on the streets where other protesters had gone. (Ren TV has posted a video denunciation of Konon.) Thus, the Investigative Committee argued in court, Konon “coordinated” the riot, a riot that, in fact, never took place.

67517382_2194384337353952_1659775525830262784_oDaniil Konon in the dock at the Presna District Court today. Photo by Anna Kozkina. Courtesy of Yegor Skovoroda and Mediazona

Vladislav Barabanov, 22, an anarchist from Nizhny Novgorod, also, allegedly, “coordinated” the pogrom that wasn’t. However, field agents from Center “E” cited a video in which Barabanov can be seen merely standing in the midst of other demonstrators. He is not even waving his arms.

Sergei Abanichev, 25, is a manager. His girlfriend says he enjoys helping homeless animals. What was his crime? He tossed an empty paper cup from Burger King towards the cops, who were coming at the protesters from all sides. That was it.

67903104_2194384357353950_7558604397521928192_oSergei Abanichev in the dock at the Presna District Court. Photo by Dmitry Shvets. Courtesy of Yegor Skovoroda and Mediazona

I overheard a conversation in the court building. A case investigator exited the courtroom.

“It’s fine. He’ll have to suffer for a month, that’s all,” he said to the mother of one of the men who had been remanded in custody.

“Aren’t you ashamed?” a young woman from the support group asked him.

“What, me? No. Are you?” he replied.

I really do not like high-sounding words like “captives” and “hostages,” but all these people, seized at random by the police, are, in fact, hostages. The security forces took them captive only to frighten all of us.

Don’t be afraid.

Free all political prisoners!

Today, we again covered the hearings simultaneously online, meaning we had several reporters working in the court building, and several working at the office. Covering events online is a lot of work and only your donations and support make it possible. This is going to be a big case, so do not forget to donate to Mediazona.

Yegor Skovoroda is a journalist at Mediazona. Translated by the Russian Reader

Guided Tour of a Torture Chamber

torture-1Darya Apahonchich, just one big torture chamber, 2019. Photo courtesy of Ms. Apahonchich

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
July 8, 2019

Here’s a little about torture chamber.

My Statement Has Been Recorded Accurately, an art exhibition in solidarity with imprisoned anarchists and antifascists, took place July 5–7, 2019, at Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center in Petersburg.

The show was sad and daring. During the three days it was up, it was visited by both regular cops and the “anti-extremism” police from Center “E” [known in Russia as eshniki or “eeniks”].

Our group {rodina} [“motherland“] did a performance, and there were concerts and discussions as well. I also had a piece in the show, entitled just one big torture chamber.

I really liked how Jenya [Kulakova] talked about it simply and calmly during her guided tours of the show.

“According to the latest surveys by Levada Center, ten percent of Russians have been tortured.”

True, it’s a really simple figure, but when I hear it I want to hear more figures. What percentage of Russians have tortured someone? What percentage of Russians have ordered someone tortured? What percentage of Russians said nothing although they knew someone was being tortured? What percentage of Russians share a home with people who torture other people at work? Do torturers beat their wives, children, and elderly parents?

At first, I wanted to fashion Russia from a single piece of cardboard, but then I realized I had no sense of how I could unify the country except with borders, frontier guards, and barbed wire. I know tons of different Russias. I know academic Russia and literary Russia. I know the Russia of forests and mushrooms. I know the Russia of poor people and factories. I know the elegant Russia of rich people. All of these Russias have one thing in common: the violence of torture and the fear of torture. So, I assembled the map from scraps of cardboard.

torture-2Ms. Apahoncich writing the names of Ukrainian and Crimean political prisoners imprisoned in Russian jails and prisons on the wall below a hand-drawn map of occupied Crimea. Photo courtesy of Ms. Apahonchich

I didn’t know what to do with Crimea. I couldn’t include it since I don’t consider its presence on a map of Russia legal, but I also had no choice but to include it because people are tortured there as well, and the people doing the torturing have Russian passports. So, I drew Crimea on the wall in pencil and wrote a list of Ukrainian political prisoners under it. The list was terrifyingly long.

I spelled the word “torture chamber” as it is pronounced in received Moscow standard [pytoshnaya instead of pytochnaya], although maybe no one speaks that way anymore. I would imagine I don’t need to explain why.

It’s a sad piece. If it were carnival now, I would burn it instead of a straw puppet.

Thanks to Alina for the photographs.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ms. Apahonchich for her permission to translate and publish her post here. Thanks to Nastia Nek for the link to the article on the Levada Center study.

______________________________________________________

[…]

Policemen visited the exhibition at the end of its first day. Witnesses said it was the coolest performance in the show. The soloist was Senior Lieutenant Ruslan Sentemov aka Mister Policeman. According to people who took part in the protest action Immortal Gulag, Sentemov insisted this was how the president obliged them to address him when he was detaining them.

The phrase turned into a meme, and Sentemov became the target of parodies and epigrams. It is rare when people are detained at protest rallies in Petersburg and he is not involved. In 2017, 561 people were detained during a protest against corruption. All of them were charged with disobeying the lawful demands of a police officer, and in all 561 cases, that officer was Lieutenant Sentemov. Petersburg civil rights activist Dinar Idrisov claimed each of the ensuing 561 court case files contained a copy of Sentemov’s police ID and his handwritten, signed testimony.

words-1Ruslan Sentemov (right) and another police officer at My Statement Has Been Recorded Accurately, July 7, 2019, Pushinskaya 10 Art Center, Petersburg. Photo by Elena Murganova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

In interviews with the press and when he is on camera, Sentemov likes to maintain the image of a “good cop.” He was true to this image at Pushkinskaya 10 as well, upsetting activists, who surrounded him and peppered him with questions about why he had come to the exhibition.

“This is Russia’s cultural capital. But you, young lady, have a very nasty habit of interrupting people and horning in on the conversation,” he said to one of them.

Reassuring activists he was in no hurry, Sentemov set about perusing the show. The police officer who was with him photographed each exhibit in turn.

Jenya Kulakova volunteered to give Sentemov a guided tour.

“These are drawings made by Dmitry Pchelintsev in the Penza Remand Prison. He was tortured with electricity. Here is a banner with the slogan ‘The ice under the major’s feet.’ Perhaps you are familiar with the music of Yegor Letov and Civil Defense?”

“Perhaps.”

Yegor Letov and Civil Defense (Grazhdanskaya oborona) performing the song “We Are the Ice under the Major’s Feet” at a concert at the Gorbunov Culture Center in Moscow in November 2004. Courtesy of YouTube

“Here is Viktor Filinkov’s account of being tortured, handwritten by a female artist. This is a postcard made by Yuli Boyarshinov. Did you know that, in prison, defendants are prohibited from using colored pencils and pens?”

“No, I didn’t know that, unfortunately. I will probably have to study up on the topic.”

spinach“We have no money and machine guns, but we do have a herbarium of spinach leaves.” Photo by Jenya Kulakov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

“These are drawings from the trials in the Network case. We have an artist who attends the hearings and draws them. This next piece also draws on the case files.”

“I got it. Let’s speed things up.”

“No, you should read a bit of it. Here’s a passage about how someone was hit on the legs and the back of the head. And this is what the tortures said to Viktor Filinkov as they were torturing him. After that, they gave him a Snickers bar to eat. That was probably humane of them, don’t you think?”

“I’ve already read it.”

After strolling around the room containing works by the [Network defendants], Sentemov admitted what interested him most of all was whether the art had been forensically examined for possible “extremism.”

“Look,” said Ms. Kulakova, “all of this was sent to us from remand prisons. By law, all correspondence going in and going out is vetted by a censor. Do you see this stamp here? Have you ever sent a letter to a remand prison?”

“Unfortunately, I haven’t. Or maybe I should say, fortunately. If you say all of this was vetted by the censor, we will definitely have to verify your claim.”

“You seriously want to verify whether remand prison censors working for the FSB have been doing their jobs?”

“At very least, I’d like to send them an inquiry.”

“Here is an installation entitled just one big torture chamber. You may have heard that Levada Center recently did a survey on torture. One in ten people reported they had experienced torture in their lives.”

jenyaJenya Kulakova (center) gives Lieutenant Sentemov and his colleague a guided tour of My Words Have Been Recorded Correctly, July 7, 2019, Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center, Petersburg. Photo by Elena Murganova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta 

“Have you been tortured by chance?” Sentemov suddenly asked Ms. Kulakova, staring unpleasantly at her.

“My friends have been tortured,” she replied.

“I was asking about you.”

“Why would ask me about that?”

“You just talk about it so enthusiastically.”

Sentemov appreciated the interest among exhibition goers aroused by his appearance and laughed smugly.

“I think I’m getting more attention than all these pictures,” he said.

He brushed aside questions about what had brought the police officers to the exhibition and how they had heard about it.

“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” he said.

“We gave you a whole guided tour, but you’re just one big mystery,” said Ms. Kulakova disappointedly, fishing for an answer.

“Thank you for such a comprehensive tour. I am quite pleased with the attentiveness of you and your gadgets. Nevertheless, I must leave this wonderful event. I am very pleased you welcomed us so warmly,” Sentemov said in conclusion, turning towards the exit.

“See you soon,” he said as he left.

Source: Tatyana Likhanova, “A Guided Tour of a Torture Chamber,” Novaya Gazeta, July 8, 2019. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yulia Tsvetkova: Blues and Pinks

“He Threatened to Kill Us for Perverting Children”
A Feminist Staged a Children’s Play. She Has Been Accused of Extremism and Interrogated by Police
Larisa Zhukova
Lenta.ru
March 15, 2019

The police department in Komsomolsk-on-Amur has been investigating the work of feminist Yulia Tsvetkova, producer of the activist comedy theater Merak. The ostensible cause of the investigation is her production of a children’s play about gender stereotypes, Blues and Pinks, which the people who denounced Tsvetkova to the police regarded as promotion of homosexual relations among minors. The suspicions of the authorities have also been piqued by the anti-militarist dance productions Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition and Prague Spring, and the VK community page Komsomolka. Lenta.ru recorded Tsvetkova’s account of why regional activists have grown accustomed to threats of real violence and how the local extremism prevention center (Center “E”) inspects children’s dances and drawings.

“Are You Against the Soviet Union?”
Everyone who has known us for a long time agrees that something completely insane has been happening. We have pupils who have been working with us for almost sixteen years, starting with my mom’s early development workshop.

Our theater is me, the actors, and my mom, our manager. We are a tiny theater company in a really small city and the only young people’s theater of its kind. We are not a classic theater company, but a horizontal (egalitarian) and activist theater. We highlight societal problems and look for ways of solving them. We established the theater a year ago. We decided to call it Merak, with the stress on the first syllable. In Serbian, mérak means a buzz, a high, life’s little pleasures.

The actors are twenty-one children aged six and up. They write poems, contribute to the scripts, build scenery, and choreograph the dance numbers. As director, I supply the overall outline, but then I leave the creativity to them. How do you feel in this scene? I ask them. What should it be like? How should the dialogue sound? What words would  you use to say that? How would you dance it? Some find it odd I deal with children as equals, but I believe it has to be this way. We use improvisation, forum theater, gags, and free dance.

Everything was fine until February, until we decided to stage four danced-based plays, which we had been rehearsing for six months. Two plays are staged one day, while the other two plays are staged the next day. We came up with the idea of calling them a festival by way of combining them. It would have been the first activist art festival in the region. A week before the first performance we got a phone call from city hall. The next day, the Youth Center, a venue we had already confirmed, told us they were booked up on the dates we needed, and there were no openings for the next six months.

The telephone conversation with city hall lasted over an our. City officials went over our poster point by point. Why was our play called Blues and Pinks? We wrote, “We can do it again”: were we against the Soviet Union or something? We were asked what we meant by the word “individual.” Obviously, there was something about what we were doing they didn’t like. We also suddenly got the cold shoulder at other venues.

pic_08ab34d1a9a5f76eb7ff4c96411bec73Detail of a poster for The Color of Saffron Festival of Activist Art. The inscription reads “We can do it again. We can ban it!” 

After the news that the festival had been shut down was published, city hall called us and said we had misunderstood them. Actually, they supported our undertaking. They invited us to a meeting at which they made it understood that if we denied the news reports, they would help us find a venue. Since I don’t like having my arm twisted, and I didn’t think I had done anything wrong by talking about the connection between their first phone call and the sudden refusals to give us a venue, I was not about to refute any of the reports. That was when they interrogated the kids.

“The Kids Are Feared like Terrible Dissidents”
To be honest, I thought we would be called on the carpet for our anti-militarist production Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. It is a translation of a song by Serj Tankian, lead singer of System of a Down. He often voices his opposition to war and the arms industry. The big dance number in the play is set to his song. It’s an urgent problem for us, because all the boys who attend our workshop, which has been functioning for over twenty years, try to smuggle in toy pistols at first. But we have a ban on weapons, even toy weapons. Why? We are trying to make sense of things. During the big dance number, one dancer acquires a “pistol.” Then another gets one, too, as a means of defense. A third dance gets hold of a machine gun, and the atmosphere heats up. It is satirical and exaggerated, of course, but it is a quite dramatic play as well.

pic_dc844038f81c1c5c70e0d764a49c0a98

Merak Theater’s poster for its four-play, two-day festival, The Color of Saffron. Originally scheduled for March 16 and 17, it was to have featured (in descending order) Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, Spring [sic], Untouchables, and Blues and Pinks

But when we came up with the play, the shooting at the college in Kerch occurred. The kids were scared: the shooting affected them greatly. We talked a lot about what they thought about the incident and how it could have been avoided. No one at school discussed the incident with the children at all, although it should be said adults generally avoid discussing really important things with teenagers. The kids came up with the play’s finale on their own: it showed how the situation could have been avoided.

Prague Spring is a production based on Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. We pay homage to Vaslav Nijinsky’s original choreography and Maurice Béjart’s 1955 choreography, using music by John Cage. Coincidentally, I got the idea during the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops: the two “springs” came together in my mind around the subject of human rights and resisting oppression. It’s a simple, obvious subject, but when you grow up in a small city like Komsomolsk, it can seem quite remote and forbidden. But this is just what I read into it, inner thoughts not meant for viewers. The kids simply dance spring. That’s it. Six-year-olds hop up and down and run around in circles, making up half of it as they go along.

Our fifteen-minute play Untouchables focuses on bullying at school and kindergarten. A lot of what the kids told us themselves about their own experiences went into the play. The more we talk things through, the easier it is for them to deal with them.

pic_eda40eabbbb3ba6a6ff95708693a0148Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

Blues and Pinks is a play that illustrates stereotypes about girls and boys. According to the script, we run through the list of clichés: girls like pink, boys like blue; boys are messy, girls clean up after them; boy are defenders and warriors and shouldn’t cry, while girls are future mothers who dream only of getting married; girls and boys can never understand each other. This is presented on stage as a lighthearted dance. We try and show the notion that if a boy pulls your pigtail, it means he likes you is a step away from the idea that if a man beats a woman he must love her.

We continue by suggesting a solution. One of the boys dances, releasing his pent-up feelings as it were. The other boys follow his example, realizing that, whether they dance or not, it does not make any more or less guys. The girls share their dreams. One of them wants to be a businesswoman, while another wants to be a director. They recite the names of great women: the first woman to climb Everest, the first woman to win an Oscar, and so on.

Sophisticated audiences in the western half of Russia would probably find it quite naive, but in our city it is timely and relevant. For example, the other day, a local radio presenter, Tatyana Zhemerenetskaya, announced she planned to run for mayor. She was fired: her bosses were outraged by her excessively “unfeminine ambitions.” Women are supposed to stay home and make soup. In the final scene of our play, the kids say they are individuals. They have dreams and passions.

The funny thing is I didn’t even think about the connotation of the play’s title, which the police caught. One of our pupils came up with it. I have hung out with female LGBT activists, and none of them ever call themselves “blues” or “pinks.” They are just colors to me. Honestly, if I had had doubts, I would not have bothered using the words in the title.

Our actors are between six and seventeen, but the authorities fear us as if we were terrible dissidents. Miraculously, we found a woman interested in contemporary young people’s theater who was not afraid to provide us with a venue. We intend to hold the festival there as planned, on March 16 and 17. But we have nowhere to seat viewers: we cannot find people who will give us chairs. One person said yes, but later he was scared off, apparently.

“She Drew the Rainbow of Her Own Free Will”
The policewoman who came to my office could not say out loud the reason for the investigation. The complaint read that we were promoting homosexuality among minors. She showed me the complaint and blushed.

During my interrogation, I was told I was at the local department for extremism and terrorism prevention (Center “E”). Three complaints had been filed against me: for promoting homosexual relations among minors, for inciting hatred towards men, and for “extremism,” I think.

The interrogation lasted nearly four hours.

First, the officers gave me screenshots of various posts and photos from my personal social media page and the community page Dandelion Field, where I write about really simple things like contraception, HIV, and condoms, things that, unfortunately, not all teenagers know about. There was also stuff from Komsomolka, which deals with feminism. By the way, there I don’t write at all about men: it’s a community page about women.

One of the screenshots showed a workshop from last year at which a girl had drawn a picture, and there was a rainbow in her picture. I was forced to write two paragraphs explains that my underage female pupil had drawn the rainbow of her own free will. No one had pressured and coerced her to draw it.

Next, we got hung up on the phrase “gender stereotypes.” The police officer thought gender had something to do with transgenders. I explained to him what gender stereotypes were, what I meant by the term, and gave examples of stereotypes, as if I were sitting for an exam at school.

Then I was shown a screenshot of a post in which I had negatively assessed the “gay propaganda law,” and I had described the persecution of the lesbians in Chechnya and the “corrective” rapes to which they had been subjected.

The detective asked whether I engaged in propaganda. He asked was sex education was, and who needed it and why. He asked what feminism was. He asked what intersectional feminism was. Ultimately, I had to describe to him how I imagined traditional family values, what I thought about families. I wrote that I wasn’t against traditional family values like love, acceptance, and warmth. This ridiculous testimony took up four pages.

This was followed by the persecution of our children and personal attacks on them. There is no other way of putting it.

“The Police Have Come for You. Let’s Go”
The police officers running the investigation are clueless about the questions they have been asking, and this incompetence has only exacerbated the circumstances.

On March 10, they came for one of boys and one of our girls. It is not clear why they were chosen. There are seventeen teenagers in our theater, and they attend different schools. The police did not pick on our oldest and youngest pupils.

The 15-year-old girl was summoned after school from her house and grilled for two hours by five adults: two police officers and three female school employees. They put the screws on her and descended into semi-insults. They quizzed her about LGBT. Did she know what it meant? they asked. How had she found out? Was I promoting homosexuality? Did I encourage girls to sleep with girls, and boys with boys? The subjects they discussed were such that they would have earned an 18+ rating, but the interrogation took place without the girl’s parents present.

pic_7bc908930662b55a0cdbabb1976b5037Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

The 13-year-old boy was kept after school. He was summoned to the headmaster’s office. “The police have come for you. Let’s go,” he was told. No one had the presence of mind to call his parents. The police officers showed him the likes I had awarded a post I no longer remembered, but they were showing this to a child! The absurdity was off the charts. They asked the boy and the girl about each other. Maybe they had picked the through the list of  numbers in their telephones.

When, the next day, they came for another of our boys, we warned him to call his parents immediately. He called his dad, who works as a beat cop, so he was not grilled for two hours, but twenty minutes, and the conversation was more polite and less biased.

Everyone is scared. Naturally, it is frightening when you’re interrogated for two hours. For now, no one wants to quit the theater, because everyone is aware of my work. They know I am opposed to violence, and I treat boys and girls equally. But, first of all, the subject itself scares the kids, because they are still kids and not tuned into all these issues. Second, they feel the pressure: they are afraid to say something wrong and inadvertently throw me under the bus.

Their parents and I have now been trying to understand the legal grounds of why we have been persecuted. We have been poring over the laws.

“Rewind to Fifty Years Ago”
Until recently, everyone really loved our theater and told us how cool we were. We did two productions wholly in English about the history of the English language, which were unprecedented in our city. At the Drama Theater, we did a dance performance about the problems of teenagers entitled Evolution. It was about how society puts pressure on carefree kids, but ultimately their friends help them and their problems are solved. This was all performed to poems written by one of the girls involved in the production. The show was a benefit for disabled children and the local organization Lighthouse of Hope. Not a bad track record for a single year!

Children grow up, and the problems they face get more complicated. First of all, they deal with domestic violence. I have had whole black months when it was one story after another, and I cried because I felt so helpless. It’s really scary: dad’s beating mom, dad’s beating me, dad’s beating my brother. Gender stereotypes are also something our kids deal with up close and personal. My fifteen-year-old female pupils are already pestered now with questions of when they are getting married and having kids, and why they should bother with careers. Homophobia is also a force. I know there are LGBT teenagers out there, and I cannot imagine how hard it is for them to cope alone. The streets in Komsomolsk are a really dangerous place, just as in most typical provincial towns, I would guess.

Komsomolsk is one half a factory town, and one half a gangster town. When you hear about us, rewind to fifty years ago. It is not the twenty-first century here, but the twentieth century. I think what really spooked the police was that I had been talking about activism and feminism. These words scare people.

Our local feminist community consists of two volunteers and me. I have an audience of a thousand some subscribers on our community page, but between two and twenty people in Komsomolsk itself. That is the number of people who come to our events. Unfortunately, that is our audience for the time being. It is a infantile scale.

But there have always been plenty of haters. When I decided to do a lecture on abuse, there were threats: we will come and show you what real violence is like, I was warned. Instead, a group of women showed up who sabotaged the lecture by insisting victims had only themselves to blame or something of the sort.

Even our women’s tea party was disrupted. We wanted to make it women-only, without men, so we could talk about our problems. Men wrote to us that they would come and show us what feminism was. There were so many threats that even the young women themselves got scared, along with the venue where we had scheduled the tea party. They asked us not to come.

I have stopped responding to death threats. Now, as we have been chatting, I have received three messages from a young man. The only word in the messages you can print is the word “you.” Yesterday, a man wrote on the community page of our theater workshop threatening to kill us for “perverting children.” This the general background.

After I was interrogated for four hours by the police about feminism and sex education, I felt I had a claim to the hashtag #FeminismIsNotExtremism. Six months ago, I would insert in posts in connection with the case of Lyubov Kalugina, when I was not even remotely in harm’s way. It is one thing to read about persecuted activists, but it is another thing to become one of them. People keep asking why I do it. What is the point?  My run-in with the police makes me think hard about the kind of country we live in. But I can name at least twenty-one people for whom what I do is not pointless. I can name even more people, actually.

pic_55145f4a6ff0238f1689b54bfaa9dccbPhoto from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

What scares me most is the kids think they did something wrong. I ask them, You believe in what we do? Yes, they reply. Do you see anything bad about it? No, they answer. But the whole situation puts them under psychological pressure. It is a really terrible precedent, because the kids have been rapped on the knuckles as it were. They really work their butts off staging our plays. They invest a tremendous amount of energy in them. They are sincerely looking for ways to change the world for the better. These kids are really delicate and sensitive, and they are close to each other as group. They volunteer their time, they visit orphanages, they support other social projects. They are totally maxed out: they try and get straight A’s at school, and they are involved in academic competitions. In the midst of all their activities, they manage to come to four-hour-long, physically draining rehearsals.

But then adults tell them activism is bad, activism is evil, without even fully understand what activism is. And when these adults show up a week before our festival and tell us to get lost, both the kids and I are stressed out. They are really worried.

I have not slept or eaten for three days. I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I have been summoned again to the extremism prevention department. The phone is tapped, and calls with my lawyer are cut off. But I dream of opening a women’s crisis center in our city and an alternative independent school where the children would be not be bullied and hounded, and continuing to move the theater forward. In late spring, we are doing a production based on Svetlana Alexievich’s book Last Witnesses, about children during the Second World War, and in the summer we are staging a new English-language production.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader.

UPDATE. DVHab.ru reports that, despite the fact the local authorities ostensibly canceled Merak Theater’s Color of Saffron Festival, the festival went ahead way anyway at “closed” venues. DVHab.ru included a full video of Merak’s performance of Blues and Pinks in its article. I have reproduced it below.

Moscow Anarchist Azat Miftakhov: Arrested, Tortured and Missing

azatMoscow anarchist Azat Miftakhov at the center of a selfie taken, apparently, by the Center “E” officers who tortured him. Screenshot courtesy of Jenya Kulakova

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
February 2, 2019

For a day and a half, lawyers have been unable to see Azat Miftakhov, an anarchist and Moscow State University graduate student who was detained yesterday. Yesterday evening, Miftakhov was taken from the Balashikha police station as a defense counselor looked on and taken to parts unknown. Miftakhov was bruised and surrounded by eight cop. It has been twenty-four hours since he was last seen. No one knows his whereabouts, his condition, and the charges against him.

On the other hand, Ren TV and Rossiya 24 have broadcast photos and videos from the Miftakhov’s search and interrogation. In one of them, an investigator mocks Miftakhov, who is handcuffed, when he claims he is afraid of being tortured. The Center “E” officers take a selfie with their prisoner. (I was unable to find any other photo, so that’s why it illustrates this post.)

The folks who were detained along with Miftakhov, but released yesterday, report they were beaten and tortured with electric shocks. The torture was so bad that yesterday Miftakhov “didn’t look like a human being.” He attempted to slash his wrists to keep from being tortured again. Today, lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina heard an investigator in court talking to someone about it.

The authorities did not produce Miftakhov in court today for his own custody hearing.

Like a year ago in Petersburg, torture is happening practically in broad daylight, but we don’t know what to do.  Yesterday, when I left a message on the Moscow police’s hotline, the operator almost laughed at me. Just as Putin claimed [at a recent meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights] that FSB officers don’t torture people in vehicles, she doubted what I was saying.

“He’s being tortured right in an Interior Ministry building? Right now? Give me a break,” she said to me.

A missing person report on Miftakhov has been filed, and lawyers have been trying since yesterday to get access to him. But what’s the point?

I hope this hell ends for him as soon as possible.

Here are a few links to articles [in Russian] about what has transpired about the searches and arrests in Moscow since yesterday.

Translated by the Russian Reader