A Letter to the International Congress of Mathematicians on the Azat Miftakhov Case

January 4, 2021

To the members of the Executive Organizing Committee and Local Organizing Committee of the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM):

Dear ICM Organizers,

The international mathematical community is deeply concerned about the situation of Azat Miftakhov, the graduate student from Moscow State University who has been detained by Russian state authorities for nearly two years.

Azat is a talented young mathematician who comes from the Tatarstan region in the Russian Federation. Already in school he won prizes in several math competitions and received support given to talented young people by the Ministry of Education and Science. As a student in Moscow he became involved with the anarchist movement. In February 2019, right after his return from a conference in Nizhni Novgorod where Azat gave his first talk in English, he was detained by the police and accused of manufacturing explosives. He was tortured at the police station. After three days Azat was released, since the court found no evidence to justify his detention. Less than two days later, on February 9, 2019, he was again arrested and accused of destruction of an office window of the United Russia political party, an act which had taken place more than a year earlier. He has been kept in jail since then. The lack of evidence in Azat’s case is disturbing, as is the fact that, for most of the time since his arrest, he has remained in pre-trial detention.

Azat pleads not guilty. During his detention he has managed to publish two mathematical preprints on arxiv.

Azat Miftakhov has been recognized as a political prisoner by the Russian human rights organization Memorial. The American Mathematical Society and Société Mathématique de France have issued statements of concern. A recent petition in support of Azat has been signed by more than 2000 mathematicians from more than 15 countries.

On December 23, 2020 it was announced that Azat faces six years of prison if convicted.

While Russia is going to host the ICM in less than two years, Miftakhov’s trial reminds us of the host country’s frequent violations of human rights and repression of freedoms, which are regularly condemned by human rights organizations. Let us recall that in 1982 the International Congress in Warsaw was postponed by one year, during which various actions were taken by the international mathematical community to free political prisoners in Poland.

Freedom is one of the highest values for us as scientists. Attending the congress while our colleague Azat Miftakhov is arbitrarily detained will pose a serious dilemma for us and for the entire mathematical community. We kindly ask you to take an active position on this case and to communicate with the state authorities to free Azat.

[Signatories]

Ahmed Abbes, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Paris

Zofia Adamowicz, Professor, Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Fabrizio Andreatta, Professor of mathematics, Università Statale di Milano

Michèle Audin, mathematician and writer

Viviane Baladi, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Paris

Arnaud Beauville, Professor emeritus of mathematics, Université Côte d’Azur

Michel Broué, Professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Paris

Antoine Chambert-Loir, Professor of mathematics, Université de Paris

Bruno Chiarellotto, Professor of mathematics, Università degli studi di Padova

Henri Darmon, Professor of mathematics, McGill University

Chandler Davis, Professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Toronto

Adrien Deloro, Associate professor of mathematics at Sorbonne Université

Fabien Durand, Président de la Société Mathématique de France, Professor of mathematics, Université de Picardie Jules Verne

Ivar Ekeland, FRSC, Professor emeritus of mathematics and former President, University of Paris-Dauphine

Pavel Etingof, Department of Mathematics, MIT

Javier Fresán, Professor, École polytechnique

Dennis Gaitsgory, Professor of mathematics, Harvard University

Paul Garrett, Professor of mathematics, University of Minnesota

Damien Gayet, Professor of mathematics at Institut Fourier and Editor-in-chief of the Gazette des mathématiciens

Catherine Goldstein, Director of research at CNRS, Institut de mathématiques de Jussieu-Paris Gauche, Paris

Timothy Gowers, Professor of combinatorics, Collège de France

Michael Harris, Professor of mathematics, Columbia University

Frédéric Hélein, Professor, Université de Paris

Ilya Kapovich, Professor of mathematics, Hunter College of CUNY, Chair, Committee on the Human Rights of Mathematicians, American Mathematical Society

Vincent Lafforgue, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Grenoble

François Loeser, Professor of mathematics, Sorbonne University

Wiesława Nizioł, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, IMJ-PRG, Sorbonne University

Joseph Oesterlé, Professor emeritus of mathematics at Sorbonne University, Paris

Arthur Ogus, Professor emeritus of mathematics, University of California at Berkeley

Fabrice Planchon, Professor of mathematics, Sorbonne University

Bjorn Poonen, Distinguished professor in science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Raphaël Rouquier, Professor of mathematics at the University of California at Los Angeles

Claude Sabbah, Director of research at CNRS, Université de Paris-Saclay

Takeshi Saito, Professor of mathematics at the University of Tokyo

Peter Sarnak, Professor of mathematics, Princeton

Pierre Schapira, Professor emeritus of mathematics, Sorbonne Université

Peter Scholze, Professor of mathematics at the University of Bonn and Director of Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn

Adam Skalski, Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Stephen Smale, Professor emeritus of mathematics, University of California at Berkeley

Christophe Soulé, mathematician, member of the French Academy of Science

Bernard Teissier, mathematician, Director of research emeritus at CNRS, Paris

Dylan Thurston, Professor of mathematics, Indiana University, Bloomington

Claude Viterbo, Professor of mathematics at the University of Paris-Saclay and at the École normale supérieure de Paris

Masha Vlasenko, Professor, Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences

David A. Vogan, Jr., Professor emeritus of mathematics, MIT

Jarosław A. Wiśniewski, Professor of mathematics at the University of Warsaw and corresponding Member of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Hatem Zaag, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Paris

Thanks to the authors of this letter for sending it to me. Photo courtesy of MSU Pressure Group and Radio Svoboda

Shohista Karimova: Convicted of Someone Else’s Crime

Shohista Karimova. Photo courtesy of RFE/RL

Shohista Karimova: Convicted of Someone Else’s Crime
Natalia Sivohina
Zanovo
Decemrber 6, 2020

Tomorrow, December 7, a court hearing will be held in the Moscow suburb of Vlasikha on the appeal of the verdict against of Shohista Karimova. The name of this middle-aged woman from Uzbekistan, who worked as a food prep worker in the Moscow Region, surfaced in the media in connection with the criminal case into the 3 April 2017 terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway—and, most likely, it was immediately forgotten. Journalist Natalia Sivohina recalls Karimova’s story.

On 3 April 2017, an explosion occurred in the Petersburg subway on a train traveling between the stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut, killing 16 passengers and injuring about a hundred.

The security forces voiced several conflicting explanations of the tragedy, but soon reported that the perpetrators had been found.

In the dock were eleven people, migrant workers from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. According to investigators, they were members of an Islamist organization.

On 5 April 2017, relatives of one of the future defendants in the case of the Petersburg Eleven, Muhamadusup Ermatov, reported him missing. As he later told human rights activists and journalists, he had been kidnapped. The kidnappers (presumably FSB officers) put a plastic bag over Ermatov’s head, beat him up, intimidated him verbally, tasered him, and demanded that he give the testimony they wanted to hear.

Other defendants in the subway bombing case also claimed they had been subjected to the same “investigative methods.” The evidence obtained under torture was the basis of the sentences the defendants received on charges of terrorism. Karimova, the only woman among the defendants, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Karimova worked as a food prep worker in a café near Moscow. According to the case file, she “provided the [terrorist group] with means of communication.” As she said later, she lent a phone to her coworker and, later, co-defendant Abror Azimov. That was the extent of her alleged involvement in the bombing.

When FSB officers came to her house, the Uzbek national meekly complied with all their demands: she held the detonator in her hands, leaving her fingerprints on it, and let them take DNA swabs of her mouth and scalp.

Karimova trusted the authorities and hoped to the last that the truth would out. In the end, however, she was found guilty of possessing a bomb on Tovarishchesky Lane in Petersburg, a city to which she had never been before she was arrested.

Karimova had come to Russia to help her daughter. She worked for 25 thousand rubles a month [approx. 400 euros a month in 2017] and sent money home to her family. The verdict sent her into shock: her terrible screaming during the reading of the verdict was included in journalistic accounts of that day. But few journalists wrote anything about Karimova’s own story.

Screenshot of a letter, quoted below, sent by Shohista Karimova from prison, dated 18 May 2020

“When a guard at Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 2 asked why I didn’t go out for a walk, my cellmate replied that I was afraid. I was so afraid that a man in the uniform might hurt me—I was scared and cried constantly. My brain was just turned off. After a year, I started to recover from the stress and the extreme emotional state. And I was very afraid for my loved ones: they could have been framed as well,” Karimova wrote in a letter to a friend, adding, “I now believe that any innocent person can be charged [with a crime they did not commit].”

What the Defense Says
I spoke with Karimova’s lawyer, Viktor Drozdov.

How did you end up taking Shohista’s case? How did it all begin?

I received a call from a person who had previously been in prison and knew the law enforcement system firsthand, and then from other human rights defenders. They asked me to work pro bono on the case, whose defendants were initially represented by court-appointed lawyers. We met and talked, and I agreed to serve as Shohista’s defense counsel.

The tragedy in April 2017 and the media coverage that followed it had attracted my attention. I followed the case quite closely, comparing various reports. It raised a lot of questions, and I decided to find answers to them. I found them.

You have appealed the apparently wrongful verdict. Why do you think it is important to go all the way in this trial?

The defense lawyer’s job is to debunk the prosecution (during trial) and the illegality of the sentence (as now, on appeal), and always be ready to defend their client in subsequent phases in the process. What does “going all the way” mean? The real end came long ago: the justice system was completely “bankrupted” by this trial. It has neither been willing nor able to respond to any of the defense’s arguments.

Does Shohista believe in the possibility of getting justice? What does she think about the upcoming appeal?

Until recently, she had great faith in Putin. She wrote him letters to which she received no response. I don’t ask her that question now. Shohista is painfully aware of the circumstances that caused her to end up in prison completely unexpectedly and absurdly. She knows perfectly well and shares my position on her defense, which is that by defending her, I am defending the Russian justice system, first of all, and her future  depends on it.

Shohista is a hostage to the political interests of people who are now quite powerful.

I have started naming these people on my little Telegram channel. They all were involved or somehow complicit in the #Metro17 case.

After the verdict, Shokhista wrote a letter to Judge Andrei Morozov, congratulating him on finally pacifying Russian society by “finding the terrorists” and wishing him health and happiness.

How many lawyers are currently defending Karimova?

Two: the lawyer Sergei Shostak, who joined the defense at my request, also pro bono, and fully shares my position, and me.

Despite the obvious inconsistencies in the trial of the Petersburg Eleven and the defendants’ complaints of torture, the case did not fall apart in court, and the defendants received huge sentences. Why do you think this happened?

The answer, perhaps, can be found in the verdict itself and in the way the trial was run. The text of the verdict does not cite any of the arguments the defense made, nor does it analyze the events of 3 April 2017 themselves. The court point-blank refused (sic!) to examine the [bombed] subway car as material evidence or the improvised explosive devices, entered into evidence by the prosecution, nor did it uphold any significant defense motion on the merits of the charge. And it allowed the illegal presence of unidentified and unmarked masked persons armed with firearms in the courtroom.

The court was neither independent nor fair. I personally feel very sorry for the judges. They did something vile.

Can ordinary people help defendants in political cases?

“Ordinary people” cannot do anything. But I believe in the capabilities of my fellow citizens—caring, thoughtful, and ready to tell the truth. The internet, petitions, collective appeals, and publicity can help—especially publicity.

* * *

The obvious inconsistencies in the case and testimony by the defendants that they had been subjected to hours of torture during the investigation did not prevent the trial court from finding them guilty and sentencing them to long terms in prison.

So far, there has been no massive grassroots campaign demanding a normal investigation of the case of the Petersburg Eleven. The medieval division into “friends” and “foes” has been firmly established in Russian society. Actually, this is nothing new: this is what usually happens amidst the wreckage of social institutions that have become obsolete.

First, people are evaluated by skin color, then people from the “wrong” ethnic groups are imprisoned: all this happened relatively recently by the standards of history. The country that conquered fascism interrogates hundred-year-old veterans who sacrificed their health and strength in that long-ago war with fascism. The so-called prosecution throws random people behind bars—disempowered construction workers, maintenance men, and kitchen workers from the former fraternal republics. So-called public opinion equates the concepts of “immigrant” and “terrorist.” The so-called state turns into a madman fleeing from its own shadow.

Zanovo Media will keep you updated about the plight of Shohista Karimova and the other defendants in the trial of the Petersburg Eleven.

_____________________

Earlier today, Natalia Sivohina posted the following on her Facebook page by way of prefacing her article: “Recently, I posted a link to the website Zanovo, and today I published my first article there. The article is about Shohista Karimova, who worked as kitchen prep in the Moscow Region and was a defendant in the case of the terrorist attack in Petersburg. This ordinary, very nice woman visited our city for the first time after her arrest. No one knows the current whereabouts of the people actually involved in the crime committed in April 2017. But it is now quite clear to me that the defendants in the case of the Petersburg Eleven are random people who incriminated themselves under torture. Alas, this is the case in today’s Russia, which likes to rant about the ‘fight against fascism.’ Knowing about this case makes me uneasy. I felt quite scared when I wrote this article and talked to Shohista’s lawyer. But, you know, there are things that you can’t keep quiet about, because they concern everyone. Please, if you haven’t heard anything about  Karimova, read this article about her. The hearing of the appeal against her verdict is scheduled for tomorrow. I really want to hope for the best.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the presumed terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, the case against its alleged “financers and planners,” its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the eleven Central Asian migrant workers scapegoated and convicted in the case:

The Arrest and Framing of Mikola Dziadok

Tatsiana Chulitskaya
Facebook
November 12, 2020

My good friend and former student, the very honest person and true patriot Mikola Dziadok has been detained and beaten in Belarus. The video shows that he was severely beaten. There is no point in commenting on the fact that bundles of money were found in Mikola’s flat. Anyone who knows him at all understands what nonsense this is. And I’m even afraid to imagine what these inhumans did to make Mikola talk about “love for the Motherland” in such interiors. We can only hope that we will see Mikola released very soon.🤍❤️🤍

Belarusian Interior Ministry, “A Leader of the Country’s Anarchist Movement Has Been Detained”

Belarus on the Brain
Telegram
November 12, 2020

Reports of Blogger Mikola Dziadok’s Arrest Confirmed

Dziadok ran the increasingly popular Telegram channel Mikola, where he published political analyses of the situation in Belarus and gave his opinion on what should be done to security victory for the peaceful revolution. Now his channel has obviously been hacked and is in the hands of the security forces.

The purge of the Belarusian political blogosphere began in the summer with the arrest of bloggers Sergei Tikhanovsky (A Country for Living), Vladimir Tsyganovich (MozgON), Igor Losik (Belarus on the Brain), Brest blogger Alexander Kabanov, and others.

Dziadok was one of the few Belarusian political bloggers who did not leave the country. Now he is suspect of violating Article 342* of the criminal code of the Republic of Belarus.

* “The organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them, is punishable by a fine, or arrest, or restriction of liberty for up to three years, or imprisonment for the same term.”

________________

Thanks to Tatsiana Chulitskaya for permission to translate and post her message here, and to Sasha Razor for the heads-up and introductions. As soon as I have information about how you can show your support to Mikola  Dziadok, I will publish it here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Mikola Dziadok in happier times. Courtesy of his Facebook page

Three Years of Revenge (A Chronicle of the Network Case)

The Three-Year Revenge
The appeals hearing in the Network Case is over. The sentences are the same: from six to eighteen years in prison
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
October 20, 2020

The Network Case […] has been going on for exactly three years. Today, we can say that the case has come to an end: an appeals court has upheld the convictions of all the defendants [in the Penza portion of the case, not the Petersburg portion], who face six to eighteen years in prison. In the coming days and weeks, they will be transported to penal colonies to serve their sentences, while their lawyers file complaints with the Russian Court of Cassation and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Novaya Gazeta recalls how one of the most dramatic and unjust cases of the 2010s unfolded.

2017

October

The Maltsev/Artpodgotovka Case […] had just exploded on the front pages, and the World Cup and the presidential election were on the horizon. The circumstances were perfect for the special services to uncover a “terrorist plot” and impress their superiors. A year and and a half earlier, an ambitious FSB colonel, Sergei Sizov, took charge of the agency’s Penza office: it is believed that he launched the Network Case. Now a lieutenant-general, Sizov currently heads the agency’s Chelyabinsk regional office. Soon after he was assigned to Chelyabinsk, news broke of the so-called Chelyabinsk Case, which is quite reminiscent of the Network Case.

The arrests in Penza began on October 18, 2017. Yegor Zorin was the first to be taken. He had drugs on him, allegedly, but now that we know how investigators handled the evidence in the case, this circumstance is in doubt. Zorin was pressured into cooperating with the authorities, giving evidence about a certain organization, to which he and his friend Ilya Shakursky belonged, allegedly. Shakursky is a well-known anti-fascist activist, organizer of charitable and environmental campaigns, and musician. The authorities had long had their eyes on him and were so interested that they sicked a provocateur on him. This provocateur, Vladislav Gresko-Dobrovolsky, would later be a secret witness for the prosecution at the trial.

Dmitry Pchelintsev, Andrei Chernov, Vasily Kuksov and, a bit later, Arman Sagynbayev are arrested. The young men are beaten and threatened during their arrests. Although weapons were found, allegedly, on Kuksov, Shakursky, and Pchelintsev, no traces of the accused or their body tissues are detected on the weapons.

Everything is held against them: the books they read (including Tolstoy), a staged airsoft video, shot two years earlier; their correspondence on messengers; and hikes in the forest that involved practicing survival skills and first aid. But what matters most is their own testimony, obtained under torture, something that no one except the prosecutor’s office doubts anymore. The conclusion: the accused are a “terrorist community” that was planning to seize power and enact regime change.

November

Rumors reach Moscow that anarchists and antifascists have been disappearing in Penza. Their arrests are really like abductions: a person disappears, and that is it. Alexei Polikhovich, a correspondent with OVD Info and an anarchist who recently served time in the Bolotnaya Square Case, travels to Penza. He learns about what has happened, including the torture, but the relatives of the detainees ask him not to publish the information. The general sentiment at the time was not to make a fuss: things would only get worse, and most importantly, the torture would resume. Consequently, the information is published only in January, after the arrests in Petersburg of Viktor Filinkov, Igor Shishkin, and Yuli Boyarshinov as part of the same case.

2018

January

Yana Teplitskaya and Katya Kosarevskaya, members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, find Filinkov in the Crosses Prison, recording “numerous traces of burns from a stun gun on the entire surface of [his] right thigh, a hematoma on [his] right ankle, [and] burns from a stun gun in [his] chest area.” There were more than thirty such signs of injury. Filinkov claims he was tortured. Slightly later, Pchelintsev and Shakursky would claim they were tortured. Doctors confirm that Shishkin suffered a fracture in the lower wall of his eye socket, as well as numerous bruises and abrasions.

Pchelintsev: “When I was tortured with electrical shocks, my mouth was full of ‘crushed teeth’ due to the fact I gritted my teeth since the pain was strong, and I tore the frenulum of my tongue. My mouth was full of blood, and at some point one of my torturers stuck my sock in my mouth.”

The case attracts attention.

February 14

A banner bearing the inscription “The FSB is the main terrorist” is hung on the fence of the FSB building in Chelyabinsk “in solidarity with repressed anarchists all over the country.” The people who hung the banner are detained and, according to them, tortured. They are charged with disorderly conduct. Six months later, the charges are dropped due to lack of evidence. It is in Chelyabinsk that investigators use the phrase “damage to the FSB’s reputation” for the first time. The phrase is the key to the entire process. Subsequently, the security forces would take revenge against those who publicized instances of torture and procedural violations. People who supported the accused would sometimes be punished: they would face criminal charges and threats to their lives. The motive of revenge is clearly legible in all the actions taken by investigators, in the stance adopted by the prosecutors and the judges, and in the verdict itself.

Spring

Gradually, information about the Network Case is published in the media, first as brief news items, then as full-fledged articles in independent publications. By the end of April, everyone is writing about the case. The solidarity campaign becomes massive, and the case gains notoriety. At the same time, the NTV propaganda film Dangerous Network is broadcast: in terms of genre, it  resembles other such film, including Anatomy of a Protest and 13 Friends of the Junta. It attacks not only the accused, making them look like bin Laden-scale terrorists , but also the human rights defenders and activists who support them and thus, allegedly, betray Russian interests. Dangerous Network was the first of many similar “documentaries” and articles on the case.

The first solidarity rallies and concerts are held in May. The parents of the defendants create the Parents Network, an association aimed at protecting their children, and ask for help from federal human rights ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova. Consequently, the torture stops, but no one thinks to close the case.

In July, there are new arrests in the case: Penza residents Mikhail Kulkov and Maxim Ivankin are arrested. At the same time, in July, during a session of the UN Committee Against Torture, the Russian delegation is asked about the Network Case. The delegation ignores the question.

October 28

An unauthorized “people’s meeting” in support of the defendants in the Network and New Greatness cases takes place outside FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square in Moscow. Similar protests are held in Petersburg, Penza, Novosibirsk, Rostov-on-Don, and Irkutsk. Among those detained after the protest in Moscow is activist Konstantin Kotov. A week later, 77-year-old human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov is fined and sentenced to 25 days of administrative arrest for calling for the meeting. Ponomaryov comments, “This is the FSB’s revenge.” The gatherings on Lubyanka against torture and crackdowns would continue in 2019.

October 31

In Arkhangelsk, 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky blows himself up at the local offices of the FSB. Shortly before the blast, a message appears on the Telegram channel Rebel Talk [Rech’ buntovshchika]: “Since the FSB fabricates cases and tortures people, I decided to go for it.” There is no indication of a specific case, but the phrase “fabricates cases and tortures” suggests the Network Case.

December

At a meeting of the Human Rights Council, journalist Nikolai Svanidze and council chair Mikhail Fedotov tell Putin about the provocations in the New Greatness Case and the torture in the Network Case. “This is the first time I’ve heard about it,” Putin says, promising to “sort it out.” Fedotov also appealed to FSB director Nikolai Bortnikov, but none of the internal investigations into the Network Case revealed any wrongdoing by law enforcement officers. The reason is simple: law enforcement agencies investigate themselves, and complaints of torture and other wrongdoing are sent down the chain of command to the local level—to those guilty of torture and other crimes.

2019

February

Moscow State University graduate student Azat Miftakhov is detained by police. At the police department, he slashes his wrists—to avoid torture, as he explains to his lawyer. According to one theory, Miftakhov has been detained in an attempt to “uncover” the Network’s “Moscow cell.”

Azat Miftakhov. Photo: Victoria Odissonova/Novaya Gazeta

April 

A petition is posted on Change.org demanding that the Network Case be dropped and that the allegations of torture be investigated. It is signed by rock musician Andrey Makarevich, actress Liya Akhedzhakova, writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, actress Natalya Fateyeva, animator Garri Bardin, and many others.

On April 8, by decision of the Moscow District Military Court, the FSB places the Network on its list of “terrorist” organizations. It bothers no one that the guilt of the defendants in the case has not yet been proven in court.

May

The case is brought to trial: the [Penza] trial will last until February 10, 2020. At the trial, the prosecution’s witnesses will recant their earlier statements, which they claim were given either under duress or misrepresented. The prosecution still has confessions made under torture, the testimony of secret witnesses, and physical evidence, including internet correspondence and computer files that were altered after they were confiscated, weapons of unknown origin, and a conclusion by FSB experts that the defendants constituted a group, and Pchelintsev was their leader.  This is enough to persuade the court to sentence the seven Penza defendants to 86 years in prison in total: Pchelintsev is sentenced to 18 years; Shakursky, to 16; Chernov, to 14; Ivankin, to 13; Kulkov, to 10; Kuksov, to 9; and Sagynbayev, to 6.

Penza Network defendants during the reading of the verdict. Photo: Victoria Odissonova/Novaya Gazeta

2020

February

There is unprecedented public outrage at the verdict and the prison sentences requested by the prosecutor. Hundreds of open letters and appeals—from musicians, poets, cinematographers, book publishers, artists, teachers, and municipal councilors—are published. For the first time in Russia, the practice of torture by the special services is openly and massively condemned. The verdict is called an attempt to intimidate the Russian people. The public demands a review of the Network Case and an investigation of the claims of torture. People stand in a huge queue on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square to take turns doing solo pickets.

Journalist Nikolai Solodnikov, holding a placard that reads, “I demand an investigation of the torture in the Network Case.” Photo: Svetlana Vidanova/Novaya Gazeta

But a week later, the wave of indignation is shot down. Meduza publishes a controversial article, “Four Went In, Only Two Returned,” in which a certain Alexei Poltavets confesses to a double murder that he committed, allegedly, with defendants in the Network Case. There had long been rumors about the so-called Ryazan Case—the murders of Artyom Dorofeyev and Ekaterina Levchenko in the woods near Ryazan—within the activist community, but the story had never surfaced, because there was no evidence. There is no evidence now, either: the Network’s involvement in the murder is not corroborated by anything other than the claims made by Poltavets. Poltavets himself is in Kiev, and no formal murder charges are made against the Network. But it is enough to discredit the solidarity campaign. Now, in the eyes of society, those who take the side of the Network Case defendants are defending murderers. Public outrage fades, and the verdict remains the same.

June

In Petersburg, Filinkov and Boyarshinov are sentenced to seven years and five and a half years in prison, respectively. Shishkin made a deal with the investigation and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in 2019.

Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov. Photo: David Frenkel/Mediazona

Putin signs a decree awarding Sergei Sizov the rank of lieutenant general. Other Russia activists are arrested in Chelyabinsk. The so-called Chelyabinsk Case begins.

September

The appeals hearing in the Network Case has begun. It is held in the closed city of Vlasikha near Moscow, with a video link from Penza. The issue now is not torture, but the lack of evidence for the verdict. And indeed, from the point of view of any lawyer, the verdict look quite odd. It is not the verdict of an independent court, but a rewrite of excerpts from the case file and the indictment, a sloppy collection of unconfirmed facts and unreliable expertise. The verdict is reminiscent of the famous line from the 1979 Soviet TV miniseries The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed: “He’s going to prison! I said so.”

October 20
The appeal hearing ends and the verdict is upheld. The authorities have enacted their revenge. The defense concludes that there is no more justice in Russia.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the Network Case, and go to Rupression.com to find out how you can show your solidarity with the defendants in the case.

Come As You Are

jenya viktor yuliPublic defender Jenya Kulakova (left) photographs Network Case defendants Viktor Filinkov (center) and Yuli Boyarshinov. Courtesy of Jenya Kulakova

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
June 21, 2020

The verdict is tomorrow June 22 at 12:00 p.m.

This is not the end, of course—neither of the struggle nor of this hell. In a sense, it is just the beginning. I really want the guys to feel tomorrow that all of us are behind them and in front of them as they head off on this stage of their lives.

Come to court if you can. The address is Kirochnaya, 35A.

(Of course, come only if your health permits, wear personal protective equipment, try to keep a distance from each other outside and inside the courthouse, and avoid coming into contact with people at risk. Damn covid!)

#NetworkCase

Translated by the Russian Reader. Learn all about the Network Case here.

The Network Trial in Petersburg: Closing Statements by Defendants

ter2-fil-joke

Network Trial defendant Viktor Filinkov tells a joke: “A programmer, a businessman, and an industrial climber planned to overthrow the government.”

The Penza Case in Petersburg: Closing Statements
Mediazona
June 18, 2020

The trial of the “Network terrorist community,” whose alleged members have been charged with violating Article 205.4.2 of the Criminal Code, is winding down in Petersburg. The Second Western Military District Court has heard the case made by the prosecution, who asked the court to sentence Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov to nine and six years in prison, respectively. The court has also heard the cases made by the defense teams for both defendants. Today, Filinkov and Boyarshinov made their closing statements.

10:48 a.m.
At the previous hearing, on June 17, the prosecution and the defense made their closing arguments. Prosecutor Alexander Vasilenko asked the court to sentence Filinkov to nine years in a medium security penal colony, and Boyarshinov to six years.

The defense team of Boyarshinov, who pleaded guilty, asked the court to make note of their client’s “inactive” role in the events described by the prosecution and sentence him to no more than four years and five months in prison and not impose a fine on him.

ter1-boyar lawyersA scene from the courtroom in Petersburg: Yuli Boyarshinov’s lawyers are in the foreground.

In line with their defendant, Filinkov’s defense team insisted that his guilt had not been proven by investigators, and the documents that formed the basis of the indictment against him had been falsified by FSB officers. Defense lawyer Vitaly Cherkasov reminded the court of the circumstances of the arrest of Filinkov, who spoke in detail about being tortured [by FSB officers].

11:20 a.m.
The three-judge panel [troika], led by Roman Muranov, enters the courtroom.

The court allows Filinkov to make a closing argument.

“I apologize in advance to everyone involved in the trial: I will be repeating the arguments of my defense lawyers,” he says.

Filinkov intends to “go through the indictment.” He begins by saying that none of the witnesses identified him as [the alleged Network’s] “signalman.”

“I assume this is yet another fantasy on the part of [Petersburg FSB investigator Gennady] Belyaev or [Petersburg FSB field officer Konstantin] Bondarev [who arrested and tortured Filinkov]. How I am supposed to defend myself from this?” Filinkov asks.

He says that he had not seen some of the documents in the case file before. He is probably referring to the documents identified as “The Network Code” and “Congress 2017.”

“Whom did I provide with means of communication? None of the witnesses said anything about it, and only the defense questioned the witnesses about it,” Filinkov says emotionally.

11:24 a.m.
“I didn’t vet anyone, I didn’t select anyone, I didn’t recruit anyone,” says Filinkov in response to the next charge in the indictment: that he had selected people for the “terrorist community.”

Filinkov quotes the indictment: “Filinkov, Boyarshinov, Pchelintsev, and Shishkin were directly involved in joint training sessions.” Filinkov says that Shishkov was not involved in the training sessions, and Boyarshinov participated in only two events. And in any case, they studied first aid, not capturing other people or storming buildings or shooting firearms.

11:31 a.m.
“‘Clandestine Security’—page 3 of the indictment. What did this ‘elaborate system of security’ consist of? Three methods are mentioned in the seventeen volumes of the criminal case file: aliases, PGP encryption, and Jabber,” says Filinkov.

Filinkov lists the aliases and says they were not means of conspiracy.

“‘Redhead’ [Penza Network defendant Maxim Ivankin]: I saw him, and he’s a redhead—that’s very conspiratorial. ‘Twin’: as far as know, he has a twin brother,” says Filinkov.

Filinkov moves on to PGP encryption. He explains that, in practice, the two or three keys used for such emails consist of a few “very, very large” numbers that cannot be memorized, so they are stored on the computer. Filinkov also notes that the message’s subject, sender and recipient are not encrypted—only the text of the message is encrypted.

ter3-fil-email

Viktor Filinkov gives a short primer on how email works—before the head judge cuts him off.

11:35 a.m.
Judge Muranov interrupts Filinkov.

“We don’t need a lecture about encryption programs,” he says.

The defendant tries to reply.

“The prosecutor doesn’t understand how it works—”

Another judge intervenes.

“Then you get together with him and explain it,” says the judge.

Filinkov continues.

“It provides privacy, but it doesn’t provide secrecy,” he says, now in reference to the Jabber protocol for messengers.

11:41 a.m.
“It’s built on fantasies—that’s exactly how the ‘Network terrorist community’ was created,” Filinkov continues. “And it was badly built to boot. There are incorrect dates [in the case file], and [Penza FSB investigator Vyacheslav] Shepelyov [tampered] with the [text] files.”

Filinkov recalls how he, Igor Shishkin, and Ilya Kapustin were tortured, and mentions the verdict and sentence in the Penza trial.

“I don’t understand the prosecutor’s position. I expected him to drop the charges,” Filinkov says. “He won’t look at me. I can’t expect a response from him, can I?”

11:42 a.m.
“Think a little before you speak,” Judge Muranov tells Filinkov.

“Choose your words carefully,” adds another judge.

“I don’t consider myself guilty, and I ask you to acquit me,” Filinkov concludes.

11:44 a.m.
Boyarshinov’s closing statement:

“I’ve been in jail for two and a half years now. I can’t say that this prison experience has been totally negative. Isolation has taught me to love people and freedom even more, to appreciate even more my loved ones, who have supported me all this time. So, I want to use my closing statement to thank the people who have supported me: my parents, my spouse, and all my close friends.

“I would like to underscore once more that I have never held terrorist views, neither t hen nor now. I am sorry for what I did, and I’m glad that my activities caused no actual harm to other people. I ask the court not to punish me harshly. That is all.”ter4-boyar-closingDefendant Yuli Boyarshinov’s closing statement was so short that artist Anna Tereshkina didn’t have time to finish her sketch.

11:49 a.m.
Filinkov’s closing statement:

“The nine years in prison the prosecutor has requested are probably a token of respect for what I’ve been doing. This is what occurred to me about [Yegor] Zorin’s testimony: five narcotic substances were found in his blood when he was examined, but only two narcotic substances were found on his person—MDMA and marijuana. Neither MDMA or marijuana was found in his blood, however, while the five substances that were found were other synthetic drugs. Due to my circumstances, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to drug lords, and they have told me that synthetic drugs are quickly flushed from the bloodstream, and if [Zorin] had used marijuana, it would have remained in his blood. I would guess that the FSB officers knew that Zorin was a drug user, so they planted MDMA and marijuana on his person, thinking they were popular drugs. But they guessed wrong: he was using neither the one nor the other. It’s hard to believe that he drove around for a year [with these drugs on his person] and didn’t use them, while using everything else in sight. In a situation like that, you have to have courage to turn yourself in.

“As for the other [suspects and defendants in the case] who confessed and testified—Yuli [Boyarshinov] and Igor [Shiskin]—they acted pragmatically. They didn’t believe that any other outcome was possible. I understand them.

ter5-guard

“I would like to mention everyone who has been exposed in this case. First of all were the Petersburg FSB, the Penza FSB, and the Interior Ministry [the regular police], which carried out the orders of FSB officers without hesitation, without asking any questions. Then there was the prosecutor’s office, which has only been good for giving me the runaround and bringing in a colonel [as trial prosecutor] to read aloud from a piece of paper, refuse to respond to me, and ask the court to sentence me to nine years. I don’t understand whether [the prosecutor’s office] is independent or not. What happened to the ten years I was promised? The FSB officers promised to send me down for ten years. It is unclear whose initiative this is [to sentence Filinkov to nine years]. Is the prosecutor’s office or the FSB behind it? It basically doesn’t matter.

“Then there was the Investigative Committee, whose employees sent [Filinkov’s complaints of torture] from one place to the next, losing all the evidence in the process. There were the employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service, who refused to document the injuries [suffered by Filinkov and other defendants when they were tortured by the FSB], who promised that video recordings would not be lost, but then it turned out they had been deleted. There were the courts that remanded us in custody and extended our arrests. There were the legislators who made up such laws. All of them have disgraced themselves. I don’t know what the solution to this situation is. That is all.”

11:50 a.m.
The verdict in the case will be announced at 12:00 p.m. on June 22.

ter6-kulak cherkasViktor Filinkov’s defense team: Yevgenia Kulakov and Vitaly Cherkasov

12:04 p.m.
After the hearing, Filinkov’s defense team, Vitaly Cherkasov and Yevgenia Kulakova, said that, during the closing arguments, the prosecutor cited documents that had not even been read out in court, which is forbidden by the criminal procedure code, and attributed statements to Filinkov that he had never made.

All illustrations by Anna Tereshkina, who writes, “Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov made their closing statements today, and before that Viktor took part in the closing arguments. His eloquent speech, which disarmed all the scoundrels, made an incredible impression. Everyone whom he listed really has disgraced themselves, and they stand before all of us dirty, confused, and unable to do anything about it.” Thanks for Ms. Tereshkina’s kind permission to reprint her drawings here. Translated by the Russian Reader

A Death Sentence for Yuri Dmitriev?

dmitriev
Yuri Dmitriev. Archive photo courtesy of 7X7

Karelian Supreme Court Refuses to Release Historian Yuri Dmitriev from Remand Prison Where Coronavirus Has Been Discovered
Denis Strelkov and Sergei Markelov
7X7
May 7, 2020

The Supreme Court of Karelia has turned down an appeal by the defense to not extend local historian and head of the Karelian branch of Memorial Yuri Dmitriev’s arrest in police custody, 7X7 has been informed by Dmitriev’s lawyer Viktor Anunfriev.

The defense had asked the court to change the pretrial restraints imposed on the 64-year-old Dmitriev because the local historian was at risk for the coronavirus infection since a couple of months ago he had suffered a severe cold. On April 30, Artur Parfenchikov, head of the Republic of Karelia, wrote on his social media page that two prisoners in Petrozavodsk Remand Prison No. 1 had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

More than 150 people, including famous actors and musicians, scientists and teachers, had signed an open letter expressing concern for the health and well-being of Dmitriev, who in the late 1990s uncovered at Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor the mass graves of Soviet citizens executed during the Great Terror of the 1930s.

In April 2018, the Petrozavodsk City Court acquitted Dmitriev on charges of producing child pornography. The charges were made after nude photos of his foster daughter were found during a police search of his house. Dmitriev claimed that he had taken the snapshots at the request of social and health services to keep track of the girl’s health. Expert witnesses at the trial testified that they did not consider the pictures pornographic. Two months later, the acquittal was overturned by the Karelian Supreme Court, and Dmitriev was charged, in addition to making the pictures, with sexual assault.

Translated by the Russian Reader

BARS: Pro-EU Monarchist Stencilers

Court Hands Down Sentences in BARS Trial: From Three to Eight Years in Prison
OVD Info
April 17, 2020

In a circuit session at the Baltic Fleet Court, the Second Western Military District Court has sentenced the defendants in the trial of the Baltic Vanguard of the Russian Resistance (BARS) to up to eight years in prison, reports Mediazona, citing attorney Mikhail Uvarov from the Agora human rights group.

barsNikolai Sentsov and Alexander Orshulevich. Photo by Oleg Zurman. Courtesy of Mediazona and OVD Info

Alexander Orshulevich was sentenced to eight years in a medium-security penal colony, while Alexander Mamayev and Igor Ivanov were sentenced to six years. Although Nikolai Sentsov was sentenced to three years in a work-release colony, he was freed in the courtroom for time served in remand prison.

Orshulevich, Mamayev, and Ivanov were found guilty of making public calls to engage in terrorist and extremist activity, punishable under Articles 205.2 and 280.1, respectively, of the Russian Criminal Code. Orshulevich was also found guilty of creating an extremist community (Article 282.1.1), and Mamayev and Ivanov were found guilty of involvement in a terrorist community (Article 282.1.2). Sentsov was charged only with possession of firearms and explosives, punishable under Articles 222.1 and 222.1.1, respectively.

The prosecutor’s office had asked for sentences between six and ten years in prison for the accused men, who denied all wrongdoing.

abars-2Alexander Mamayev and Igor Ivanov. Photo by Oleg Zurman. Courtesy of Mediazona and OVD Info

According to investigators, the members of BARS, a monarchist organization, were planning to forcibly annex Kaliningrad Region to the European Union .  To achieve their goals, according to investigators, the accused were planning to use stencils to paint extremist inscriptions on walls. The defense claimed that these stencils were planted by law enforcement officers during searches.

Initially, all four men were charged with “extremism,” but then the indictment was changed to more serious charges—organizing and being involved in a “terrorist community.”  Orshulevich was then indicted on five charges. In early April, the court reclassified the charges: three of the defendants now faced “extremist community” charges, while Sentsov faced only the possession charge.

Orshulevich, who is accused of organizing BARS, said that during the search of his flat, police put a plastic bag over his head and roughed him up.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Jenya Kulakova: A Letter from Dilmurod

dilmurod-2Dilmurod Muidinov. Photo courtesy of Regnum and Jenya Kulakova

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
February 24, 2020

I received a Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS) Letter Service letter from Dilmurod Muidinov. (He is 22 years old, and he was sentenced to nearly the same number of years—20—for the bombing in the Petersburg subway, something he obviously had nothing to do with.) He wrote super-small on the reply form to make as much fit as possible , while the resolution of scan was very low, and so I wound up with a bunch of pixels. (Update: Lyova helped me with the image, so I’ll be able to read it, yay!)

Dilmurod is a gnarly letter writer and an interesting correspondent who has a sense of humor and a fascinating story. He has permitted me to publish his letters, so I’m going to post here his previous letter, in which he writes about how he came up with a cake recipe called “Gentle Morozov” (named after the judge who sentenced him to 20 years in maximum security), and about how he, an ethnic Uzbek, witnessed the ethnic riots in Osh in 2010, when he was 13 years old.

dilmurod-1

A scan of Dilmurod Muidinov’s letter to Jenya Kulakova. Courtesy of Jenya Kulakova

“I made a cake the other day. I turned on my imagination and made it following my own recipe, which I gave the name “Gentle Morozov.” :) Maybe I can treat you to it someday, and if I am somehow able to sell the recipe to a pastry shop, I will ask that they not change the name.”

“When I was 13 years old, we had a genocide in our city. I witnessed women, old people, and children being killed and burned only because they were from a different ethnic group, and at the age of 22 I witnessed everything that has happened to me now.”

Read his letter and write to Dilmurod or anyone else from the group of eleven people convicted for the bombing in the Petersburg subway. You can read about the case and the defendants on this website: http://3apr2017.tilda.ws. And here is information you need to send letters via the FPS Letter Service.

Remand Prison No. 5 (Arsenalka):
Кarimova, Shohista Sodikovna, born 1971 (sentenced to 20 years in prison)
Remand Prison No. 6 (Gorelovo):
Azimov, Abror Ahralovich, born 1990 (sentenced to life in prison)
Remand Prison No. 1 (Kresty):
Azimov, Akram Ahralovich, born 1998 (28 years in maximum security)
Ortikov, Sodik Zokirovich, born 1979 (22 years in maximum security)
Ermatov, Muhamadusup Bahodirovich, born 1991 (28 years in maximum security)
Ermatov, Ibrahimjon Bahodirovich, born 1993 (27 years in maximum security)
Mirzaalimov, Mahamadusuf Dilshadovich, born 1995 (20 years in maximum security)
Mahmudov, Azamjon Asadovich, born 1994 (20 years in maximum security)
Hakimov, Seifulla Vahitovich, born 1978 (19 years in maximum security)
Ergashev, Bahrom Hasilovich, born 1978 (19 years in maximum security)
Muidinov, Dilmurod Furkatovich, born 1997 (20 years in maximum security)

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the presumed terrorist attack, the case against its alleged “financers and planners,” its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the eleven defendants in the case:

Push the Red Button

 

red button-2 “Red Button—human rights protection is always at hand. Red Button protects you from abuses of power by the authorities and quickly informs your friends, relatives, and human rights organizations about what happened. √We automatically locate the police station where you were taken. √We report the incident to the friends and relatives you selected. √We inform human rights organizations about what happened to you.” Screenshot of the Red Button website.

Yekaterinburg Police Suspect Creator of App for Detainees at Protest Rallies of Buying Drugs
Takie Dela
February 23, 2020

Police in Yekaterinburg have detained Alexander Litvreev, an IT specialist, founder of the cyber security firm Vee Security, and creator of an app for people detained at protest rallies. Litvreev’s lawyer Alexei Bushmakov reported the incident to Takie Dela.

According to Bushmakov, his client was detained on February 23 at the entrance to a hotel. Litvreev had come to Yekaterinburg on a visit, but he resides in St. Petersburg, where he was scheduled to speak at a conference in the evening. When police searched Litvreev, they allegedly found less than a gram of ecstasy.

Bushmakov refrained from drawing connections between the arrest and Litvreev’s political activism, but he did stress that the police officers who questioned Litvreev at the police station were aware of his activities and knew who he was.

“Alexander had arrived at the hotel in a car-sharing car. When he and his girlfriend got out, police officers surrounded them. His girlfriend was later questioned as a witness,” Bushmakov said.

Litvreev has been charged with violating Article 228.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (illegal acquisition of drugs) and sent to a temporary detention center until February 24, when his bail hearing will be held. According to Bushmakov, since Litvreev is not registered to live in Yekaterinburg, it is likely that he will be remanded in custody, something the defense attorney would like to avoid.

Thanks to Litvreev’s app Red Button, people detained at protest rallies can inform human rights defenders of their whereabouts.

“Red Button is the first button you’ll want to push when you’ve been illegally thrown into a paddy wagon. Human rights activists will find out immediately and try to help you,” Litvreev told Takie Dela in April 2017.

Vee Security offered users a proxy for bypassing the official blocking of the Telegram messenger service in April 2018. In 2017, Roskomnadzor requested that the Interior Ministry conduct an inquiry into whether Litvreev had organized the “simulated blocking” of websites.

Translated by the Russian Reader