Yulia Botukh: Petersburg’s Kangaroo Courts

yulia and varyaYulia Botukh and Varya Mikhaylova, May 7, 2018. Photo by Ms. Mikhaylova. Courtesy of her Facebook page

Yulia Botukh
VK
September 11, 2018

Twelve hours of court hearings.

Today, the heroic, fearless Varya [Mikhaylova] and I defended the interests of people detained yesterday [at the anti-pension reform rally in Petersburg] in the Primorsky District Court.

I need to get it off my chest.

The judges are such masters of their craft they can hear four cases simultaneously without even feigning that they are observing procedural niceties. They are capable of saying straight to your face that the fewer appeals you file, the better things will go for you.

Is this a way of teaching us to silently put up with every perversion of justice in general and human rights in particular? They could at least put it indirectly, not head on, when they sentence people represented by a social defender to seven days in jail, while sending people with no legal representation to jail for three days. One judge sentences everyone to pay fines, another judge sentences everyone to X number of days in jail, while a third judge divides up the fines and jail time according to gender.

Then there are the police officers who escort the detainees. There are ones who behave properly and humanely. Then there are ones who can say things like, “I decide when they go to the toilet!” or “Why do you have to go one by one? Put a group together!” or “Why the mob? Do you have hold each other’s wee-wees?” or “No, I’m not taking you now. I just arrived. Let me rest. I’m stressed out!” or “Are you fucking kidding?”

I realize all these means of humiliation are meant to compensate for the individual’s inability to manage these aspects of his life on his or her own and that, maybe, it has become so ingrained these things are said automatically, but it doesn’t make it any smoother. You have to argue with certain police officers over taking detainees to the bathroom.

There was the charming female officer who refused to give me her name. It was like at school. She concealed her personal information from me, as recorded in a receipt, by covering it with a piece of paper.

And you have already read the media reports of officers taking food meant for the detainees and eating it themselves.

The detainees are all super cool girls, women, guys, and men. They thank me and hug me, although I realize that, basically, there is little I can do to help them. I can do my best, but the outcome is totally unpredictable. Probably, it helps more emotionally that you are not alone, that someone can explain to you what happens next and tell what things are like in the temporary detention facility on Zakharyevskaya Street. I was glad that no one lost their optimism, sense of humor or ability to make fun of what was happening. It matters.

Some of the detainees said they now had a different perspective on the justice system and protest rallies. Many of them told mew that at the police precincts they were asked how much they had been paid for going to the protest rally. A thousand rubles? Three thousand?

What planet do cops come from?

My defendants were fined ten thousand rubles [approx. 125 euros] or jailed for as many as seven days.

If you like surprise, attend the court hearings held after protest rallies. You won’t be disappointed.

Thanks to the ferocious Varya Mihaylova for Ms. Botuk’s text, as reposted on her own VK page, and the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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The Grateful Dead

stropov-1Max Stropov on his way to September 9, 2018, anti-pension reform demonstration in Petersburg. His placard reads, “Life is hard, but happily it’s short.” Photo courtesy of his Facebook page

Max Stropov
Facebook
September 10, 2018

Today [September 9], I was detained at a protest rally for the first time. I had lucked out at previous demos. The protest rally was against the pension reform, and it took place at Lenin Square [in Petersburg]. The event had been authorized by the authorities, but by a happy coincidence, a pipe near the square had burst a couple of days before the rally. Who knows whether it burst under its own power in such a timely fashion or not.

Whatever the case, it would have been a waste not take advantage of it, and so the entire square was cordoned off. The rally on the square was thus still authorized, but it was now impossible to hold it on the square. Antinomy is the modus operandi of the current Russian regime. What is permitted is impossible, and vice versa.

As I rode the escalator up from the subway, I met a colleague from my previous, academic life, Georgy Chernavin. We stood for a while and had a nice chat.

I was one of the first protesters detained since I was made up like a dead man and holding a placard that read, “Life is hard, but happily it’s short.” That is a title of a song by the band Communism, by the way, but the title is also a quotation, attributed to Varlam Shalamov and Yuri Nikolayev. Basically, the quotation is communist. It belongs to everyone.

Communism, “Life Is Hard, But Happily It’s Short”

I did not see the rest of the rally. There were a total of seventeen people in the first group of detainees, including one dead man (ho-ho-ho). We were put on a large articulated bus. It was spacious inside.

In the paddy wagon, a forgettable looking Center “E” or NKVD officer was in our faces the whole time filming us with a video camera. It was hard to say what secret service he was from. The police could not tell us who he was, and the forgettable looking guy pretended he was not there. When we spoke to him directly, he kept on filming us.

There was also a rather burly major, who never did tell us his name. We later learned from our administrative offense reports that his surname was Golodnyi [“Hungry”].

We cruised around town for a long time. Finally, we were delivered to Dybenko Street. First, the women and children who had been detained were left at one police precinct, and then six of us were taken to another precinct. The rest of the detainees were taken somewhere else, but I don’t know anything about them.

Our group included three young men from the Navalny Team, an older dude carrying a “Putin, resign!” placard, and an elderly man who had lost his telephone and glasses at the rally.

At the police precinct, we hung out in the hallway the whole time. The police told us that we had not been arrested, as it were, but at the same time, they would not let us go.

Antinomy is the modus operandi of the current Russian regime.

Varya Mikhaylova came to the precinct bearing care packages for vegans. At first, the police did not want to take any of the things she had brought for us, arguing we were not locked up in cells. She chewed them out, and they threatened to charge her with disobeying police officers, but finally and suddenly they took all the packages she had brought.

It was a really joyous moment. Everyone wanted to join the Party of the Dead. The old dude drank Agusha fruit puree, saying it was “Agusha from the next life.”

stropov-2Max Stropov and his fellow detainees. The young man on the right holds a placard that reads, “Putin, resign!” Photo courtesy of Max Stropov’s Facebook page

We had hung out in the hallway for around three hours when the police set about writing us up for our alleged offenses. Everyone’s arrest report was worded exactly the same. It was apparently a boilerplate arrest report issued by police brass. In particular, there was a bit claiming the crowd had yelled, “Putin, skis, Magadan,” as if the boilerplate report had been drafted back in 2012.

The police threatened to keep me at the precinct until my court hearing because I would not sign a paper obliging me to appear in court at ten in the morning, but then I signed it, noting in writing I had done it “under threat of continued detention.” In fact, I had read the form is innocuous and does not oblige anyone to do anything.

The court hearing is tomorrow. The Nevsky District Court is located on Olga Bergholz Street.

Translated by the Russian Reader. According to Mediazona, more than five hundred protesters were detained by police at yesterday’s anti-pension reform rally in Petersburg. At the link, above, you will find a stunning photo reportage of the showdown between protesters and police, produced by photographer David Frenkel.

UPDATE. Petersburg news website Fontanka.ru, which can often be believed when it comes to these things because it is published and edited by former cops, reports that 603 protesters were detained by police during an anti-pension reform protest rally in the vicinity of the Finland Station and Lenin Square in Petersburg yesterday afternoon. Today, many or all of these protesters will be tried in the city’s district courts for their alleged administrative offenses. The calls for help coming over social media from members of the Aid to Detainees Group suggest that many of these people will have no legal representation, neither lawyers nor so-called social defenders, so they will have to fend for themselves. In any case, whether they get the book thrown at them or not will most likely have already been decided elsewhere.

A Little Pepper Spray Never Hurt Anyone

33
The sign outside the 33rd Police Precinct in Petersburg’s Moscow District. Courtesy of Google Maps and OVD Info

Petersburg Police Confirm Pepper Spray Used in Precinct
Radio Svoboda
June 19, 2017

The Interior Ministry Directorate for St. Petersburg has confirmed that pepper spray was employed in the 33rd Police Precinct, where detainees from the June 12 anti-corruption protest rally were being held, reports Rosbalt.

As the police’s press service reported, a man was brought to the precinct for minor misconduct. After the man attempted to harm himself, police officers doused his cell with pepper spray. The Interior Ministry claims that after the spray was deployed, the people who had been detained at the protest on the Field of Mars were taken to a meeting room.

Earlier, OVD Info reported that the protest rally detainees complained the pepper spray had spread into neighboring cells. They asked that a doctor be summoned to the precinct, since one of them suffered from bronchial asthma, but police officers did not react. One of the detainees, who had his mobile phone with him in the cell, managed to summon doctors. Subsequently, seventeen people, who had been left to spend the night at the precinct, were transferred to a basement room, where they were held until the evening of the following day. They were not given food, only one bottle of water each.

Alexander Shishlov, Petersburg’s ombudsman for human rights, said he would formally investigate the incident.

More than six hundred people were detained during an unauthorized [sic] protest rally against corruption in Petersburg. The city courts registered 546 cases against the detainees. They were charged with involvement in an unauthorized rally and disobeying the police.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade NS for the heads-up

You’ll Have Your Day in Court, But Keep Your Mouth Shut

dzersud1
Police guarding the entrance to the Dzherzhinsky District Court, in downtown Petersburg, on the morning of June 13, 2017. Many of the people detained during the previous day’s anti-corruption protest rally on the nearby Field of Mars were brought to this courthouse for their administrative (misdemeanor) hearings after spending the night in police custody. According to media reports and eyewitness accounts, most of the six hundred and fifty some detainees, who had in fact merely been exercising their constitutional rights to assembly and free speech on a site deliberately designated by the mayor’s office, several years ago, as the city’s “Hyde Park,” have been sentenced to several days in jail and heavy fines. Photo courtesy of zaks.ru

Supreme Court Rules Courts Have Right to Deprive People of Right to Speak during Administrative Hearings
Echo of Moscow
June 13, 2017

A plenary session of the Russian Supreme Court ruled today that courts have the right to deprive people of the right to speak during administrative [misdemeanor] hearings. As Interfax reported, the move was requested by the Prosecutor General’s Office, which had argued it would speed up administrative proceedings and prevent the misuse of procedural rights. This argument was made in a statement by the Prosecutor General’s Office issued after the plenary session, at which Deputy Prosecutor General Leonid Korzhinyok was present. In an interview with Echo, Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer and head of the Team 29 association of lawyers and journalists, said the Prosecutor General’s Office’s motives were clear.  According to Pavlov, the office, headed by Yuri Chaika, realizes the judicial system simply cannot cope with the number of detainees under the standard procedure, as stipulated by law. Pavlov added that, unlike laws, rulings by plenary sessions of the Supreme Court take effect immediately, so today’s ruling can be applied from now on. The Supreme Court’s plenary ruling “On the Use of Procedural Coercive Measures during Administrative Hearings” renders the court system meaningless. Such was the opinion voiced to Echo by Elena Lukyanova, professor of constitutional and municipal law at the Higher School of Economics. She added that a broad public discussion of the issue would be needed to force an overturning of the ruling.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Alexei Kouprianov for the heads-up

Their Day in Court

photo_2017-06-13_18-21-56
Detained protesters at a police precinct in Petersburg. Photo copyright Andrey Kalikh and courtesy of the Aid to Detainees Group in Petersburg and Fontanka.ru

This is not the first time (nor probably the last time) that activist Varya Mikkhaylova has been featured on this website.  Below, she and Andrey Kalikh describe their experiences in police custody and court after being detained by riot police along with 656 other protesters during an anti-corruption rally held on the Field of Mars in Petersburg on June 12, Russia Day. TRR

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Varya Mikhaylova
Facebook
June 14, 2017

Almost everyone in our precinct has had their court hearing and been convicted. Nearly everyone who tried to file appeals and not plead guilty was given the maximum sentence: up to fourteen days in jail + fines of 10,000 rubles and greater. Those who plead guilty and make no attempt to defend themselves get off easier: one of them got three days in jail. The only person in our precinct who got off without a jail term was the husband of a pregnant woman.

In this regard, everyone’s mood is dominated by legal nihilism. They have been chewing out the human rights activists, who they say have only made things worse. Apparently, that is the real objective of all these hearings.

By the by, there are truly random people among the detainees in our precinct, but they are more aggressive towards people like me than to the authorities. They give the protesters and human rights activists hell, and ask why we’re dissatisfied. (After thirty hours in police custody, there in other word for this than Stockholm syndrome.) [One person who commented on the original post, in Russian, suggested that these “random people” were, in fact, police provocateurs and spies. Planting them in the cells of political prisoners and dissidents had been a common practice under the Soviets—TRR.]

One of these random detainees is a lawyer. He came down on everyone harder than anyone else, saying we should withdraw our appeals and refuse legal assistance. What irony: he has a master’s degree in law.

Before they are sent to the detention center, the police forcibly take everyone’s fingerprints, although this is against the law.

We are in a decent precinct. The conditions are terribly unsanitary and crowded, but the staff treat us like human beings. They let us charge our telephones, let us have smoke breakes, and sometimes even take us to the can, where there is an actual toilet, not a stinky hole in the floor. On the other hand, among themselves they talk about how everyone who protested on the Field of Mars did it because they had been promised 5,000 rubles.

Yesterday, we spent the night in the cells. There were sixteen bodies and six beds, but we had mattresses, pillows, and bed linens even. Today, non-political prisoners were brought to the cells. (When one of them refused to remove his crucifix, four officers threw him on the floor, cuffed him, and forcibly removed the crucifix. Another of these prisoners is obviously in a bad way. He beats the walls, scratches the window until he bleeds, and screams. He wet himself in his cell, but no one has any intention of taking him to hospital.) So we spend the night sitting in the corridor.

Me and one other young man have still not been taken to court for our hearings.

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Andrey Kalikh
Facebook
Saint Petersburg, Russia
June 14, 2017

St. Petersburg’s Frunzensky District Court is the apotheosis of evil. The hearings began at eleven p.m. One, apparently very angry judge is handling the cases. Everyone is being sentenced to ten to fifteen days in jail, plus they are fined ten thousand to fifteen thousand rubles. We fearfully await the sentence he will give our friend the father with four children.

People are kept on the bus before the hearings. They are exhausted, the conditions are tortuous, and something has to be done about this court. It is monstrous.

UPDATE. Our dad with four children emerged from the courthouse at two in the morning. He had been fined 10,700 rubles [approx. 167 euros]. He said that of the 106 people who had been sentenced at that point, only six had got off with fines. Everyone else had been sentenced to five to fifteen days in jail, plus had been fined ten thousand to fifteen thousand rubles.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade SK and Andrey Kalikh for the heads-up