Alexei Gaskarov Released from Prison

Alexei Gaskarov and his wife Anna Gaskarov. Photo by Anatrrra
Alexei Gaskarov and his wife Anna Gaskarova, October 27, 2016. Photo by Anatrrra

Bolotnaya Square Defendant Alexei Gaskarov Released from Prison
Ekaterina Fomina
Novaya Gazeta
October 27, 2016

Alexei Gaskarov was released from Penal Colony No. 6 in Novomoskovsk today. He had served his entire sentence: three and a half years in a medium-security penal colony. Gaskarov was twice denied parole.

“I don’t think it was possible to change anything under these circumstances. I said at the trial that if our way runs through prison, we have to go.  Personally, everyone who went to prison lost a lot. But if you compare that with the public interest, someone had to go through it, someone had to have this piece of ‘good’ luck,” Gaskarov said after his release.

Alexei Gaskarov (left). Photo courtesy Ekaterina Fomina/Novaya Gazeta

“The risks are clear, but I don’t think there is an alternative. I don’t think that the path, the values that were professed on Bolotnaya Square can be put on the back burner. Yes, these are complicated times, and we have to wait them out somewhere, but I don’t think you can impact this vector by intimidating people. When I was in prison I read about a hundred history books. Everyone had to go through this. We are just at this stage,” he added.

Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy Ekaterina Fomina/Novaya Gazeta

“The point of my attitude is this: don’t be afraid, guys. Our little undertakings will merge into a river that will lead us to the right path. Prison is not the end of life,” Gaskarov concluded.

Prisoners of Bolotnaya: Alexander Margolin, Vladimir Akimenkov, Alexei Gaskarov, Alexei Polikhovich, and Ilya Gushchin. Photo courtesy of Ekaterina Fomina/Novaya Gazeta

Gaskarov was accused of involvement in “rioting” and being violent towards police officers. However, Gaskarov  claimed he had himself been assaulted on Bolotnaya Square. During the mass arrests, an unidentified policeman pushed him to the ground, beat him with his truncheon, and kicked him.

Gaskarov is a graduate of the Russian Federation Government Financial University and has worked at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Dmitry Ishevsky and Ivan Nepomnyashchikh are currently serving prison terms after being convicted in the Bolotnaya Square case. The latter has lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. He has complained that Russian authorities have violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In October, citing a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the arrest and imprisonment of Bolotnaya Square defendants Ilya Gushchin and Artyom Savyolov had been illegal. Earlier, in June, after a complaint had been filed with the European Court of Human Rights, the Supreme Court declared the arrest of Leonid Kovyazin, a defendant in the same case, illegal.

Anarchist Dmitry Buchenkov awaits trial in a pre-trial detention facility. According to police investigators, he was violient toward lawful authorities and “tried to destroy a portapotty.” Buchenkov himself claims he was not in Moscow during the so-called March of the Millions.

Maxim Panfilov is also awaiting trial. He was charged four years after the opposition rally on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow—in April 2016. He is the thirty-sixth defendant in the Bolotnaya Square case. In October, Panfilov was declared mentally incompetent.

Translated by the Russian Reader. You can read more about Alexei Gaskarov and the other prisoners in the Bolotnaya Square case on this website.

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Alexei Gaskarov: “If the Way to Freedom in This Country Runs through Prison, We Are Ready to Go”

The verdicts on the second group of defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case will be announced in Zamoskvoretsky Court in Moscow on August 18. The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Alexander Margolin and Alexei Gaskarov to four years in prison; Ilya Gushchin, to three years and three months in prison; and Elena Kokhtareva, to three years and three months suspended, with four years of probation. All four defendants have been accused under Article 212 Part 2 (involvement in rioting) and Article 318 Part 1 (use of non-threatening violence against a public official) of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

On August 4, 28-year-old antifascist Alexei Gaskarov made his closing statement in court. This is the complete text of his speech.

gaskarov-Feldman-3-600x400Alexei Gaskarov

The so-called Bolotnaya Square case has been symbolic in the sense that through it the public sees how the authorities interact with the opposition, with those people whose viewpoint differs from the general line.

The first thing I wanted to talk about is something that was not addressed in the trial, but which I think is important: why on May 6, [2012,] despite everything, so many people decided to be involved in certain events, rather than simply stand another two or three hours in queues, and ultimately did not permit themselves to be beaten with impunity.

The May 6 demonstration was the seventh major event staged by the opposition [during the 2011–2012 fair elections protest movement]. Whereas earlier, before December 2011, a few thousand people attended protest rallies I had witnessed, when you-know-who said the idea of rotating governments was not the best thing for Russia, the core group of protesters increased significantly. And these people did not go organize riots, but went to observe elections in order to understand and record the way the political processes that occur in our country are legitimated.

kohtareva-11-600x400Elena Kohtareva

Everything fell into place on December 4[, 2011, when parliamentary elections were held in Russia]. Despite the fact that the institution of elections had been destroyed much earlier, the large group of people who went to the polls as observers saw how the legitimacy of the current government was shaped. I myself was an observer at those elections, and what we saw was quite straightforward. Indeed, it is a strange situation when you are trying to find at least one person among your acquaintances who would say they voted for United Russia. In fact, such people did not exist: there was no mass support for the government. When they tried to counter the Bolotnaya Square protests with an event on Poklonnaya Hill in support of the current government, they could not gather more than a thousand people.

This subject itself was extremely important, but unfortunately it was not sufficiently popular with the authorities. Fair elections are still the only legal way of changing the political system, and once it has been changed, you can solve social and economic problems. A huge number of people took to the streets. There was almost no reaction on the part of the authorities. The protests were peaceful, the protesters were numerous, and it was obvious the demands they made and the problems they talked about were real, but instead we saw only a reluctance to engage in dialogue and, at some point, flagrant mockery.

A lot of people now do not like what thuggish characters in Ukraine are calling people from Southeast Ukraine. But here in Russia the same thing happened: when people came out on Bolotnaya Square, the country’s president called them Bandar-log and made many other unflattering comparisons. We were told we amounted to only one percent, that only one hundred thousand people in a city of ten million came out to protest, that it meant nothing at all. But later, when they actually allowed a fair poll, as happened during the [September 2013] mayoral election in Moscow, it turned out it was not one percent, but forty percent, a significant segment of society. And I would like to say that we should be glad on the whole that the events on Bolotnaya Square happened as they did.

In all developed democratic countries, protest rallies, the opportunity to express points of view that differ from that of the authorities, generate political competition, which enables countries to find the best way of developing. By the way, certain problems in the Russian economy began precisely in the third quarter of 2012, because it is impossible to build a stable economic and social system when you completely demotivate and exclude such an essential part of society. And it was obvious that this part of society was essential.

The first signal that comes from our case: does the right to protest, which exists in all developed countries, exist at all in Russia? As we see now, Russia has been deprived of this right.

And the second signal, which it is impossible to ignore: has the rule of law survived in Russia? Individuals must be protected from the actions of the authorities not only by a system of checks and balances but also by the possibility of appealing directly to the law in the way in which it is worded. I think this can be seen in our case. There is Article 212 of the Criminal Code: it may be poorly worded, but it is worded the way it is. And it is wrong, I think, to raise such obvious questions at the trial stage, because the law is worded quite clearly. We read a lot of commentaries to the Criminal Code and nowhere did we find that the corpus delicti of “rioting” could be defined alternatively, based on the evidence listed in the charges. Nevertheless, this has been consistently ignored. Even in those decisions entered into the case file, this subject was roundly rejected.

In and of itself, the rule of law is the most important of the institutions that protect the rights of individuals from the state. And, of course, we cannot ignore the selective application of the law to citizens. I realize that Russian law is not based on precedent, but it is impossible not to notice that if, for example, you are a nationalist, block roads, and set fire to shops, but refrain from speaking out against the actions of the authorities, you are only guilty of disorderly conduct. If you go to protest rallies where people shout, “Putin is a thief!” you are, accordingly, liable to serious criminal charges.

guschin-Feldman-3-600x400Ilya Gushchin

There is one last point following from our case to which I would also like to draw attention. I think a signal is being sent: if you are loyal to the authorities, you will enjoy the most favorable conditions; if you are disloyal, you will go to jail. This concerns the evaluation of the actions of demonstrators and the actions of police. It is too obvious that not all the police behaved as they should have behaved. I understand this was not specifically the matter in dispute in our case, but not a single criminal case has been opened against the police. Practically speaking, they have tried to turn the police into a caste of untouchables as part of our case. When there was a public debate on the Bolotnaya Square case, the same phrase always came up: “You cannot hit police.” Even in our group of thirty people charged in the Bolotnaya Square case, only three people actually struck police officers. And yet the whole complexity of this situation was primitivized through a single phrase: “You cannot hit police.”

margolin-svoboda.org-3-600x400Alexander Margolin

But it seems to me this way of posing the question dismisses and completely destroys any criticism of the government. We cannot forget that many terrible things have happened in our country (for example, during the Great Terror [under Stalin in 1937-38]), that people in uniform committed all these crimes, and everything they did was legal for all intents and purposes. But now they tell us there should be no critical rethinking of this situation, that it is necessary to stupidly obey the thesis that was endlessly repeated during discussion of our case.

The main thing I would like say, your honor, is that I really would not want it to happen that, after our trial, speaking of the law as an expression of the principle of justice became a sign of bad taste. I would hope that our trial did not pursue any other political objectives that have been imposed on it, that have been set for it—and all that is in the case files—but that we be judged for the things we really did. But if, in this country, the way to freedom runs through prison, we are ready to go. That is all.

Originally published, in Russian, at Grani.ruPhotos courtesy of Bolotnoedelo.info.

Afterword (copied from People and Nature‘s first publication of this translation)

On July 24, two other defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case, the left-wing activists Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev, were each sentenced to four and a half years in prison on charges arising from the May 6 demonstration. Supporters of Alexei Gaskarov and the other three defendants being sentenced this month fear similarly harsh penalties on August 18.

Solidarity makes a difference in such cases. While the Russian government claims to be championing “antifascism” in Ukraine, it is sending antifascists and other oppositionists in Russia to jail for long periods. The more support for these activists from antifascists internationally, the better.

Please copy and republish this article; demonstrate or protest however you can; write to the Russian embassy; and look on the Free Alexei Gaskarov site and the May 6 Committee site.

Update. On August 18, Alexei Gaskarov and Alexander Margolin were sentenced to three and half years in prison; Ilya Gushchin, to two and a half years; and Elena Kokhtareva, to a suspended sentence of three years and three months including three years’ probation.

Relatives of the Bolotnaya Square Prisoners: Letter to Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin

grani.ru
Relatives of the Bolotnaya Square Prisoners Write to Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin
May 6 Committee
October 1, 2013

sobyanin-tabakov2

Dear Sergey Semyonovich:

We are friends and relatives of the defendants in the so-called case of the riots of May 6, 2012, currently being tried in the capital’s Zamoskvoretsky District Court.

Nearly all of us are Muscovites, and many of us received a personally addressed election campaign letter from you containing many warm words. “Moscow is the city to which you’ve given your strength, talent and soul,” you wrote. And it is true: we have years of work on behalf of our city’s and our country’s welfare, safety and defense under our belts.

And we really would like, as you rightly noted, “to feel secure in Moscow and confident in the future.” Unfortunately, however, no one can feel “safe and confident in the future” in Moscow nowadays. No matter how Moscow is modernized and prettified, this has no effect on the security of Muscovites if civil rights are not respected.

It has become apparent to us during the court hearings that the main cause of the events of May 6, 2012, on Bolotnaya Square was the Moscow police’s sudden alteration of the arrangements [for the planned opposition march and rally], which had earlier been approved at a meeting with the Moscow Department of Regional Security. This change provoked confusion among the crowd and led to riot police pushing people back, thus exacerbating an already unbearable crush. Police brutally beat protesters in an attempt to clear the streets. But no criminal proceedings were instituted in connection with these incidents. Our relatives ended up in police custody instead of the real culprits of the clash. The trial against most of them began in June 2013 and is likely to take a very long time.

On trial days, our relatives get up early (at five or six in the morning), return to their cells late (around midnight or later), spend long hours waiting in a cramped holding cell, eat poorly soluble dry rations for lunch and endure lengthy court proceedings. These conditions would cause even healthy people to experience a significant deterioration of health. Among the defendants, however, is the Class 2 disabled person Mikhail Kosenko (whose mother recently died, although he was not informed about her illness or death, and was not released to attend her funeral) and Vladimir Akimenkov, who is threatened with blindness.

Sergey Semyonovich, we hope that we, Muscovites, are not a faceless mass to you, but individuals with their own lives and needs. And we want an answer: why, for over a year, have our relatives suffered without any proof of their guilt, while police officers who beat people are at large and serving as complainants in the case, although they often do not remember the accused and have no relation to them? Some of these police officers had a finger cut by persons unknown, making them “experience severe physical suffering,” while others had their clothes pulled or were bruised.

There were no riots—meaning massive destruction, arson and use of weapons—on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012. The matter could simply be put to a rest right there, but the “riots” are, in fact, the cause of the whole trial. It is clear that the level of such legal proceedings does not stand up to scrutiny.

In your letter, you invited us to vote in the [mayoral] election, implying, of course, that it should be an honest election. It was fair elections that our children, brothers and husbands demanded: that is why they are in custody, and why they face hefty prison sentences. Judging by your letter, you want to make our city a better place, and Muscovites happier. But what can be said if here, in Moscow, in plain view, innocent people—young people, academics, and journalists—are on trial, if the country’s future is on trial?

If you are really worried about Moscow’s image, then you will certainly pay attention to the ugly spectacle being played out in the Moscow City Court, which is a disgrace to the city and the country. We appeal to you to come to the trial, which convenes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the Appeals Wing of the Moscow City Court, Room 635. (As of October 1, the trial will be held at the Nikulinsky District Court, Room 303 – Editors.) You yourself will be convinced that the judge is working with the prosecution, that the evidence presented by the prosecution does not withstand scrutiny, and that the prosecution witnesses—police officers—are forced to lie under oath. Come and see for yourself that the presumption of innocence does not apply at this trial and that to impartial observers the court looks like a total circus. Or rather, it would look that way to us if our children were not behind the glass cage in this court.

We ask you to get to the bottom of this “court case” and help to ensure that in the future not a single Muscovite or visitor to the capital will be beaten with police batons at a peaceful, sanctioned rally, charged with “rioting” and thrown into prison.

We ask you, Sergey Semyonovich, to do everything to save our relatives.

We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Natalya Kavkazkaya (mother of Nikolai Kavkazsky)
Yuri Kavkazsky (father of Nikolai Kavkazsky)
Viktor Savyolov (father of Artyom Savyolov)
Alexei Polikhovich (father of Alexei Polikhovich)
Tamara Likhanova (wife of Yaroslav Belousov)
Stella Anton (mother of Denis Lutskevich)
Artyom Naumov (husband of Alexandra Dukhanina-Naumova)
Ekaterina Tarasova (mother-in-law of Leonid Kovyazin)
Vasily Kovyazin (brother of Leonid Kovyazin)
Olga Ignatovich (mother of Ilya Gushchin)
Ksenia Kosenko (sister of Mikhail Kosenko)
Maria Baronova (defendant)
Tatyana Barabanova (mother of Andrei Barabanov)
Alexandra Kunko (fiancée of Stepan Zimin)