Dmitry Lyamin: Hero of the Resistance

Dmitry Lyamin’s headshot from Odnoklassniki.ru (“Classmates.ru”

If there is an actual “Russian anti-war movement,” this is what it looks like: Dmitry Lyamin, accused of torching a military conscription office in Shuya, the third largest town in the Ivanovo Region. Lyamin has been transferred from Ivanovo to the notorious Butyrka remand prison in Moscow, allegedly, so that he can undergo a psychiatric examination at the equally notorious Serbsky Institute. According to former political prisoner Ivan Astashin, who now spends all his waking hours helping the new wave of political prisoners in Russia and publicizing their cases, there are rumors among the legal community that the criminal charge Lyamin faces will be changed from “destruction of property” (Article 167 in the Russian Federal Criminal Code) to “terrorist act” (Article 205), a much more serious charge that carries a penalty of up to twenty years in prison.

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 29 June 2022

Irina Danilovich: A Political Prisoner in Russian-Occupied Crimea

Irina Danilovich. Photo courtesy of Ivan Astashin

Who is Irina Danilovich? Why is she in a remand prison? How can we support her?

The wave of criminal cases directly related to anti-war stances sometimes obscures other politically motivated cases. I want to tell you about one of them.

Irina Danilovich worked as a nurse at Koktebel’s post-stroke rehabilitation center while being heavily involved in civic affairs. Irina can be called a grassroots activist, human rights defender, and journalist. She was, for example, the coordinator of the information campaign Crimean Medicine Without a Cover and in this capacity she harshly criticized the Crimean authorities during the coronavirus pandemic. Danilovich has collaborated with the alternative news website Injir Media and the human rights project Crimean Process. Radio Svoboda reports that Irina defended the interests of medical workers on the peninsula and wrote extensively about violations of their rights. Recently, writes Injir Media, Danilovich had been drawing attention to the war and related problems, including in the healthcare sector.

On April 29, 2022, Irina Danilovich was abducted by the FSB. She was found in the Simferopol pretrial detention center almost two weeks later.

As attorney Aider Azamatov discovered, Irina had been held in the FSB building for eight days, where officers made her take a lie-detector test and threatened to take her into the woods [and shoot her] if she concealed anything from them. She was fed once a day this entire time. After a week of torture, Danilovich was told to sign blank forms in exchange for her release. However, after complying with the demands of the security officers, Danilovich was not released, but sent to the pretrial detention center – allegedly, 200 grams of explosives were unexpectedly found in her eyeglass case.

It is quite obvious to me that the 200 grams of explosives “found” in the eyeglass case of the grassroots activist, journalist, and human rights defender are part of a politically motivated trumped-up criminal case. Especially since this is happening in Crimea. The Memorial Human Rights Center has repeatedly drawn attention to trumped-up criminal cases against Crimeans disloyal to the Russian authorities involving weapons, explosives or ammunition planted during searches.

Now Irina Danilovich is in jail. How can we help her? By doing all the usual things – getting the word about her case out, sending her letters and parcels (there are no restrictions on receiving parcels at the pretrial detention center), and holding solidarity actions.

Crimea became a lawless place after 2014, but public attention to Irina’s case can protect her from further mistreatment and enable her to live to see her release with minimal injuries.

✉️📦 Send letters and parcels to:

295006, Republic of Crimea, Simferopol, Lenin Blvd., 4, SIZО-1,

Danilovich Irina Bronislavovna (born 1979)

Free everyone!

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 25 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Darya Polyudova

Darya Polyudova, holding a placard that reads, “Ukraine, we are with you.”
Image courtesy of Ivan Astashin

A subscriber has reported that he received a letter from political prisoner Darya Polyudova in which she told him about her court hearing in the Moscow City Court on May 12.

Let me remind you that left-wing activist Darya Polyudova is currently doing her second stint in prison on political charges.

In 2015, the activist was sentenced to two years in prison for “calling for extremist activities and separatism”: this was how the authorities viewed her preparations for a March for the Federalization of the Kuban.

After her release, Darya continued to be involved in political activism. But in January 2020 Polyudova was arrested again. In May 2021, she was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of “condoning terrorism” and “calling for terrorism.” The court regarded posts about Shamil Basayev and a phrase about the “Lubyanka shooter” Yevgeny Manyurov, who opened fire on FSB officers near Lubyanka Square in Moscow in December 2019, as evidence of Polyudova’s guilt.

In both cases, the Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Polyudova as a political prisoner.

However, the Russian state’s persecution of Darya Polyudova has not ended there. In late 2021, the FSB opened another case against the activist. Now she stands accused of “organizing an extremist community,” i.e., the so-called Left Resistance movement. Under the new charges, Darya may face another six to ten years in prison.

In this new case, Darya has been remanded in custody. Of course, she is already in custody. Without a new criminal case she would have been in a prison camp a long time ago [serving the sentence for her previous conviction], but the investigation wants her in a pretrial detention center.

Darya is appealing all the court decisions on the extension of her remand in custody. The court will consider her appeal of the latest extension on May 12.

Come and support Darya Polyudova!

11 a.m, 12 May 2022, Moscow City Court, 8 Bogorodsky Val, Room 327

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 7 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Astashin: Violence Is the Norm

I’m not surprised by the violence. I am not surprised because I know about the violence that occurs in Russia every day. Senseless cruelty is seemingly the norm for some Russians. I don’t have a ready answer to why this is the case. It’s worth asking sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists for an explanation.

Those of you who were born in the early 1990s or earlier probably know about the brutal executions, tortures, and rapes of the Chechen population by Russian soldiers. Some of you will say that the Chechen militants were cruel too. Yes, they were. But it is always worth remembering that it was the Russian troops who invaded Chechnya, and not vice versa. Another big question is who was the first to employ torture and execute the so-called enemy using elaborate methods. To refresh your memory of those events, I would remind you of several well-known cases. The bombing of Katyr-Yurt. The murder of six dozen civilians in Novy Aldy by the Petersburg riot police. The abduction, rape, and murder of the 18-year-old Chechen girl Elza Kungayeva by Colonel Yuri Budanov. In addition, human rights defenders, journalists, and the European Court of Human Rights have reliably verified a huge number of abductions and the cruelest tortures of Chechens by Russian forces.

I remember the first time I found out about these tortures at school. A classmate told me that his brother had “fought” in Chechnya and brought back a videotape showing the torture of local residents. I didn’t watch the tape: what my classmate told me sufficed. A few years later, in the ninth grade, I met a Chechen boy my age, who told me about similar tortures to which his relatives had been subjected. I was told the same thing about men who had been involved in the Chechen campaign whom I met in prison. Only Chechens themselves do not like talking about the torture and rapes; therefore, the information found in open sources details only a small portion of the crimes committed by the Russian security forces in Chechnya.

‘Post-Soviet visual. An unknown activist’s protest performance titled “Bucha-Moscow” against the war crimes of the Russian army in Ukraine. Images via Холод.’ Courtesy of Soviet Visuals. Thanks as well to OG for the heads-up.

In addition to war, there is also quite enough cruelty (sadism, I would even say) both in the army and outside it. By the way, it is quite logical that since Russian soldiers bully and actually torture their fellow soldiers, they would not have any moral barriers vis-a-vis the enemy and the “enemy” civilian population. The infamous story of Private Andrei Sychev, who was tortured by his mates on the occasion of the New Year, is an eloquent illustration of relations within the army.

As probably everyone knows now, there are whole torture “conveyor belts” in the Russian penitentiary system. In such places, prisoners are tortured with extreme cruelty. And, it seems, with a particular relish. They are tortured both by Federal Penitentiary Service employees and by other prisoners who have signed contracts with the wardens. They torture and rape prisoners, and sometimes they kill them. Moreover, this goes on in both adult and juvenile penitentiaries.

And the cops? They also enjoy torturing, beating, and, on occasion, raping detainees in police departments.

However, cruelty is found not only among the security forces. Due to the fact that I was reputed to be a “lawyer” in the penal colony, many prisoners brought their verdicts to me to “have a look.” I wish I hadn’t seen them. Out of greed, in a drunken stupor or out of fear, these seemingly utterly ordinary people had done terrible things.

I also remember the stories of some of my inmate friends about how their fathers had “raised” them. “My dad beat me with a stick.” “Mine whacked the fucking hell out of me with a hose.”

As for these last arguments, you might counter me by saying that they are criminals from difficult backgrounds. Perhaps.

What about domestic violence? According to the Consortium of Women’s Non-Governmental Associations, at least five thousand women were killed as a result of domestic violence [in Russia] in 2018 alone.

Once in power (whether as conferred by epaulettes or as the “head of the family”) and believing in their impunity, many, many people in Russia become executioners, sadists, and rapists. And if this is also bolstered by xenophobic propaganda and strong alcohol, the monsters begin doing the unimaginable. Since the regime in Russia gives some people the authority to inflict whatever they want on those in their jurisdictions, and forces others to go along and not to rebel, violence becomes commonplace.

Now it has spilled out of Russia. The whole world has now seen what had been happening on the sly during “counter-terrorist operations,” in police departments, in secret prisons and the Federal Penitentiary Service’s unclassified institutions, and in the army, as well as on the streets and in home. [Bucha] is undoubtedly a terrible tragedy and a huge grief for the victims and all decent people. But I hope that over time it will lead to society’s re-examining the policy of giving people uncontrolled power. Ridding the world of violence seems to be an almost unmanageable task, but I think that when Russia doesn’t have policemen who “Putin told to beat the holy fuck” out of someone, when it doesn’t have military men whose crimes will be “written off by the war,” when it doesn’t have security officers who “defend the motherland,” and when there is no support in society for patriarchy, racism, and xenophobia, there will be much less violence.

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 5 April 2022. Mr. Astashin is a former political prisoner. Translated by the Russian Reader

“This Is Not a Military Operation! This Is War!”

[Top] “This is not a military operation! This is war! Come out and protest for peace before they send you a summons to the front.” [Center left] “27 February at 4 p.m., we’ll say ‘No War!’ together.” [Center right] “No to the military incursion in Ukraine! Peace to peoples, fight the rulers!” [Bottom] “Bring the soldiers back home.”

Ivan Astashin
Facebook
February 26, 2022

Not everyone in Russia supports the war started by Putin. Far from everyone.

This photo was taken in an ordinary Moscow courtyard.

_________

Today, Roskomnadzor ordered Novaya Gazeta, Mediazona, TV Rain, and other media outlets to remove materials in which what is happening in Ukraine is referred to as “war”:

“On these resources, under the guise of reliable messages, unreliable socially significant information has been posted about the shelling of Ukrainian cities by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the death of civilians in Ukraine as a result of the actions of the Russian Army that does not correspond to reality, as well as materials in which the operation is called an attack, invasion, or declaration of war,” the order reads.

Source: Novaya Gazeta, 26 February 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

“And It’s Only the Second Day of the War”

“You will pay for Putin’s war with taxes, closed borders, poverty, blocked services, and an information vacuum. No war!” Photo courtesy of Ivan Astashin

Former Russian political prisoner Ivan Astashin writes:

A conversation at the post office today:
– Give me, please, a blank delivery confirmation slip for a letter going abroad.
– And where are you going to send it?
– To France.
– You can send to France. But you can’t send to Moldova and Ukraine.

* * *

Meanwhile, in Sberbank, there is a crowd of people like I’ve never seen before. There is no money in the ATMs. (Only yesterday, Russians withdrew 111 billion rubles from their accounts.) [This is approximately 1.2 billion euros.] Everyone is waiting for someone to come make a deposit, then they immediately withdraw what was deposited. Some people are quietly panicking.

And this is only the second day of the war.

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 25 February 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader, who needs your donations to keep this website up and running and updated daily. Click on the “Donate” or “Buy me a coffee buttons” in the right sidebar. Thanks!

Smart Voting

Ivan Astashin
Facebook
February 15, 2022

Just an hour ago, the State Duma voted in favor of a bill recognizing the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic — the Kremlin-controlled southeastern regions of Ukraine. Now, if the bill is approved, troops can be sent to the region under the pretext of an appeal to Putin by the leaders of the “independent republics.” However, I am not a military or political analyst, so I will not fantasize overmuch.

But I will note this. The bill was introduced by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation — for which supporters of “Smart Voting” and even some libertarians were so hot to trot [in the autumn 2021 parliamentary elections]. I had written earlier that we are definitely not traveling the same road as the Communist Party, that it is just as much a part of the system as United Russia. Now, it seems, no one should have any doubts that сooperating with the Communist Party in any way is tantamount to cooperating with the regime.

Ivan Astashin is a former Russian political prisoner whose story you can read here. Translated by the Russian Reader

It’s strange how horrified most of my Russian friends and acquaintances are by everything happening in and around Russia even as these same events elicit the opposite reaction from go-to western Putin understanders well out of harm’s way. Source: Responsible Statecraft. Screenshot by the Russian Reader

Russian Parliament Backs Plan to Recognize Breakaway Ukrainian Regions
Felix Light
Moscow Times
February 15, 2022

Russia’s State Duma on Tuesday backed a resolution calling for diplomatic recognition of Eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russian Donbas People’s Republics, raising tensions between Russia and Ukraine another notch, even as Russian troops began a partial withdrawal from the Ukrainian border.

The Russian parliament’s motion calls for President Vladimir Putin to formally recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, both of which declared independence from Ukraine in 2014. No other country currently recognizes the republics as sovereign states.

The motion, initially proposed by the Communist parliamentary opposition, attracted support from across the Duma’s five parties, including from speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.

“Firefights are continuing, people are dying,” Volodin said on the Telegram messenger app in the run-up to the vote.

“We must find a solution.”

The resolution is not binding, and will now be sent to Putin for feedback.

Continue reading “Smart Voting”

“The FSB Are the Main Terrorists”: The Political Biography of Ivan Astashin

Ivan Astashin in prison. Photo by Maxim Pivovarov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

“The FSB Are the Main Terrorists”: The Political Biography of Ivan Astashin
Dmitry Volchek
Radio Svoboda
October 3, 2020

On the night of December 20, 2009, the eve of State Security Officers Day, a group of young people threw a Molotov cocktail into the FSB’s offices in Moscow’s Southwest District. No one was injured, and the room was slightly damaged: a windowsill and several chairs were burned. A video of the protest soon appeared on the internet, entitled “Happy Chekists Day, Bastards!” The author of the video was 17-year-old Ivan Astashin.

The arson sparked a large-scale, trumped-up criminal case against the so-called Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization (ABTO), which was headed, according to investigators, by Astashin. Initially, the alleged members of ABTO were charged with property damage, but soon they were also accused of disorderly conduct. The Investigative Committee later decided that the defendants in the case had wanted to impact state policy, so they should be tried for “terrorism”(as punishable under Article 205 of the criminal code). They were tortured into confessing.

Ten young people were involved in the ABTO Case. In 2012, they were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. Astashin received the longest sentence—13 years in a high-security penal colony, which was later reduced to 9 years and 9 months. Astashin was first sent to Krasnoyarsk Correctional Colony No. 17, but in 2014 he was transferred to Norilsk Correctional Colony No. 15. Lawyers and human rights activists argued that the case was political, pointing out that ABTO did not exist, and the members of the alleged “terrorist organization” did not even know each other.

“In Ivan’s case, the FSB took revenge on teenagers who dared to throw a bottle of petrol through their window. The case was a bellwether. It showed how the security forces had degenerated: why should they stake out real criminals and document their every move, if they could torture children until they lose consciousness, forcing them to sign a horseshit ‘confession’ that will then be called ‘evidence’ in the verdict?” said lawyer Igor Popovsky, who argued Astashin’s case before the Russian Supreme Court.

In recent years, Astashin has become known as an op-ed writer, penning articles about prison mores. On September 1, 2019, Radio Svoboda published his letter “Breaking Convicts Under the Law’s Cover,” which detailed the injustices at Krasnoyarsk CC 17, about the differences among castes of prisoners, their collaboration with wardens, and the psychological coercion employed on prisoners by correctional officers. We soon received a response from the penal colony’s wardens that Astashin had not written the letter and that no violations of the law were permitted in the colony. Although we knew that the letter had been written by Astashin, we took down the article, fearing for his safety.

On September 21, 2020, Astashin completed his sentence and was released. He is currently working on a book about his prison experience. He told Radio Svoboda about what happened to him on the outside and in prison.

Your comrade Alexei Makarov said that he became a revolutionary when he was 15 years old. When did you get interested in politics?

When I was about 14 years old. And it all started with a nationalist agenda. There were violent clashes between [ethnic] Russians and Caucasians in Kondopoga [in 2006]. I looked for information and in early 2007 I joined the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI).

When they called you a nationalist in court, were they right?

At first I was a nationalist, then my views expanded. I left DPNI and in 2009 joined The Other Russia coalition, which at that time was led by Eduard Limonov, Mikhail Kasyanov, and Garry Kasparov, and it included nationalists, liberals, communists, and anyone else you can think of. In the same year, 2009, I visited Ukraine, where I got acquainted with the movement of autonomous nationalists, and I thought that we should do something like it. At that time, there was a split in The Other Russia coalition, everything there came to a grinding halt. My radicalization occurred because there were no people organizing above ground. Then there was the movement of autonomists in Russia, both nationalists and left-wing anarchists. Direct action against the police began: police departments and police cars were torched. I also thought that we should do something like this. At that time, I felt like a revolutionary. I was 17 years old, and we decided to hold a protest action against the FSB.

You made a video of the action. It is still accessible on the internet, and there is a slogan “Russian action.” So, this was a nationalist protest?

Yes.

Do you regret it or recall it with pleasure?

Neither one nor the other. I don’t regret anything: what’s done is done. At the same time, I now believe that it was ineffective: the protest’s efficiency rating was negative. We had wanted to draw attention to the dictatorship of the Chekists, but [the video had] ten thousand views, which is a drop in the ocean. It did not spark a public discussion, it was all a big waste of time. Meanwhile, the people involved in the protest received long prison sentences. Of course, these were ineffective actions.

You were also accused of trying to blow up a Lexus. Whose car was it?

That was a stupid story. As a chemist, I experimented, I was interested in pyrotechnic devices and explosives. I built this thing and decided to test it. I found a Lexus: I thought it was probably insured. That’s another social subtext.

Attack the rich?

Yeah.

The investigators claimed that you were the leader of an organization that consisted of about ten people. Who were these people?

Guys I knew, but not all of them. They also carried out direct actions: seven arson attacks. The only thing we had in common was that we were acquainted. We were tortured into confessing that we had collaborated. If you read the verdict carefully, there are many inconsistencies. They write that the guys saw a police department and decided to torch it. But why do they then write that I was in charge of the action? Nevertheless, we were tried as an organized criminal group: everything those guys did I was charged with as well, and I was convicted as the organizer.

But did you know of ABTO’s existence? And did the organization even exist?

It was during the investigation that I found out that I was the head of the organization. And I saw the videos that they posted on the internet. Neither they nor we had any organization. The person who posted the videos just decided that it would be more interesting if he wrote that it was some kind of organization. It was four people going round setting fires.

Are the Network and New Greatness cases similar to what happened in the ABTO Case, or have the methods of the Chekists changed over the last ten years?

They are very similar, only worse. We were arrested for real actions. There was no terrorism in our case, but there were actions: they can be qualified as property damage or disorderly conduct. In the Network and New Greatness cases, there were no actions at all, that is, they were tried simply for belonging to mythical organizations. The laws that are now used to judge the defendants in those cases simply did not exist in our time. If we were tried now, we would probably be given twenty years in prison. All those articles [in the criminal code] are getting tougher and tougher, and the cases are now tried by special military courts. In addition, now there is the Rosfinmonitoring list [a financial stop list of “extremists” and “terrorists”], plus probation until your conviction has been expunged from your record. It’s easier for [the security services] to work in this way, because they don’t have to wait for someone to set something on fire, they can just take some guys who behave the wrong way, talk about the wrong things, or look the wrong way, and whip up a nice terrorism case, and get awards and promotions.

Ivan Astashin and comrades holding a rally on Chekists Day, on December 20, 2009, on Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow. Their banner reads, “The FSB are enemies of the people.” Courtesy of Ivan Astashin and RFE/RL

I read the article in which you write that the FSB are the only terrorists in Russia.

Yes, I wrote that, because terrorism is defined in the criminal code as various actions (not necessarily explosions and arson) intended to frighten and intimidate the populace. And who is intimidating the populace now, other than the FSB? We have other security services, but they are also dependent on the FSB. You know, when I carried out the action against the FSB, I really didn’t fully understand what kind of an organization it was. I understood that they had a lot of power, that the country was actually a Chekist dictatorship, but I had no idea how big it was. Even ordinary cops shake in their boots when FSBniks show up. The doors to all government institutions are open to the Chekists. All civil servants, judges, and MPs obey them unquestioningly. That’s why I called the FSB the main terrorists.

Did FSB officers visit you in the prison camp and threaten you?

Yes, that was in 2015. As usual, they did not introduce themselves, but only mentioned that they had flow in from Moscow: I was serving my sentence in Norilsk at the time. They were interested in what I was going to do after my release. I said that there were five more years until the end of my sentence, and I didn’t know yet what I would do after my release. They told me something to the effect that I shouldn’t get it into my head to engage in any political activity. Not that they directly threatened me, but they mentioned that even if I went abroad and mad trouble for them there, they would still get to me.

How did ordinary prisoners perceive you? As a hero or as a weirdo whose motives were impossible to understand?

Differently. There really were convicts who would say, Well done, cool, they need to be burned. There were also who thought it was odd: you’ve been sent down for ten years, what was the point?

Drawing by Stanislav Tanichev. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You said in an interview that you saw all of Russia in the Siberian prison camps. What have you learned about Russia? Is it ready for the revolution you dreamed of?

Many people living in Moscow have no idea what is happening beyond the Moscow Ring Road, how people survive on a salary of 5-10 thousand rubles [a month; meaning between 55 and 110 euros, approximately]. They often live on the outside according to the same concepts as they do in prison. As for whether they are ready for revolution, that is a difficult question. Many people just can’t imagine that things could be different. There is the famous question: who [will be president], if not Putin? Indeed, many people have this notion in their heads.

Did you meet Putin fans even in the camps?

Yes.

Were they outliers or were there many of them?

The ardent Putin supporters were outliers, of course, but I would often hear people say that Putin was doing a great job: he’d lifted up the economy, whereas in the nineties there had been nothing to eat at all. But now the situation is moving away from Putin. Meaning that, whereas in 2014 everyone got behind “Crimea is ours” and Novorossiya, and sometimes a couple of prisoners would argue with several dozen [Putin supporters], but now they mostly chew out Putin’s policies.

Even in the Siberian camps in 2014, there was a patriotic upsurge and people were happy about the annexation of the Crimea?

Yes, but then the situation changed, and the whole upsurge fizzled out.

Last year, we published your letter about the situation at the Krasnoyarsk colony, and then the wardens demanded that it be removed: allegedly, you were not the author. We took it down so you wouldn’t get hurt. What happened to you then?

It was unexpected. It is clear that if you are institutionalized and you write something negative about the institution, then, of course, there will be a reaction. I was in Norilsk, describing the general practices that had developed in the prison system, and I mentioned the Krasnoyarsk camp as an example. And they got so upset! They made threats, very clear threats. In Krasnoyarsk Territory, there is Remand Prison No. 1, known for its torture cells. There is a regional tuberculosis hospital where convicts are absolutely illegally injected with the strongest psychotropic drugs. And when I was summoned for a chat about the matter by the head of the prevention and enforcement department [of the penal colony], he made it clear what could happen to me in the future. I know such stories about how a person wrote complaints about the wardens, and then he was taken to these places of torture, and then the person recanted his testimony while being videotaped. I knew that something similar could be done to me. I had to write the document that your editors received. Of course, when I wrote it, I really hoped that they would understand the situation.

Of course, we understood, but we were afraid for your safety and took down the article.

I was hoping they wouldn’t remove it. Both there and through the convicts, they tried to get to me, and for some time the email server was disabled, and the warden, when he went on rounds, made it clear that it was all because of me. Then I found out that I was to be transferred. Initially, there was information that I would be taken to that hospital in Krasnoyarsk. I had already been given to understand via the convicts that they could take me through the torture remand prisons there. Consequently, everything followed a completely different scenario: I was transferred to CC 17, which I had just been writing about. I was transported without any untoward happening to me. I arrived at the transit and transfer prison, and everything was cool: not a word was said about the situation. I was there for four days before arriving at CC 17, where the deputy warden said to me on my first day, “I know why you have been brought here. I don’t care about that article. Let’s put it this way: you are now going to quietly finish out your sentence, and you’re not going to create problems for me, and I’m not going to create problems for you.”

Did your other articles about life in the prison zones go unnoticed?

The others were also noticed, but there was a fairly calm reaction to them. At one time, there was a special field officer in charge of working with “extremists” and “terrorists,” and he sometimes called me in to say he’d read my articles.

I’m sure you met other prisoners convicted on similar charges.

Yes, there a lot of people convicted in high-profile cases in Krasnoyarsk and Norilsk. When I arrived at CC 15 in Norilsk, there were quite a lot of people who had been convicted under Article 205, but mostly they were people who had been involved in the fighting in the North Caucasus. When you read their verdicts you find mentions of [Chechen rebel commanders] Maskhadov, Khattab, and Shamil. And when I was transferred to CC 17 in Krasnoyarsk a year ago, I also saw quite a lot of people who had been involved in combat or attacks on security forces in the North Caucasus over the years.

Drawing by Stanislav Tanichev. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You rubbed shoulders in the camps with people of different ethnic groups living in Russia. Have you reconsidered the beliefs that moved you to become a revolutionary at the age of seventeen?

Yes, my views have changed. When I joined DPNI, I saw migrants as the problem, but over time I began to see the state as the problem. Migrants are not to blame for anything: they come here out of desperation, because their home countries are even worse than here, just as many people are leaving Russia for Europe now. In other words, these processes are quite natural. People of different ethnic groups and faiths can easily get along with each other. We just need competent policy to avoid conflicts. All this xenophobia is largely groundless. While I was on the inside, I read Robert Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, which examines why people are often biased against those who belong to a different race or ethnic group. If you get to the root of the problem, there is no reason for it. We need to think about what unites us, not what divides us.

I noticed in your interview with the BBC a reference to Vladimir Sorokin. Did you find something in common in what he describes with what you saw in the camps?

Yes, I love Vladimir Sorokin. One of the things that clicked with me was the idea of the new Middle Ages, as described in his novel Tellurium. I can say for sure that the Russian penitentiary system is the new Middle Ages. Here, in each region, there is a special way of life, which is shaped both by prison officials and prisoners, despite the fact that the law seems to be the same, and the codes prisoners live by is the same everywhere. In some places, prisoners live free and easy, while in others the wardens set up a totalitarian regime in the camps through beatings and torture, as, for example, was the case in Omsk before the riot there in 2018. In yet other places, the wardens and the pseudo-kingpins from among the convicts converge. There are unwritten rules, procedures, and forms of interaction everywhere. It really is the new Middle Ages.

Ivan Astashin with the artist Stanislav Tanichev, who illustrated his articles. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You have now been released, but you remain under probation?

Yes. The law on probation was adopted in 2011. I was arrested in 2010, but in 2017, changes were made to the law such that all those convicted of terrorist charges must be placed on probation until their criminal record is expunged, which in my case is eight years. No one cares about you behaved in prison. Whereas earlier, repeat offenders and those who were deemed repeat violators of prison rules were put on probation, now everyone convicted on terrorist charges is put on probation, too. No one cares that I went to prison long before the law was passed. Logically, according to the Russian Constitution and international norms, the law should not apply to me. However, it applies not only to me, but also to other people in this situation. Restrictions are imposed on us: we have to check in at a police department between one to four times a month. (I’m required to check in twice a month.) You cannot leave your home between ten at night and six in the morning. I have filed an appeal against my probation and plan to bring the case to the European Court of Human Rights, as I believe that this practice violates the European Convention on Human Rights. A complaint on similar grounds, filed by one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case, Sergei Udaltsov, has already been communicated to the European Court of Human Rights.

You don’t want to leave Russia?

I don’t. Everything is bad in Russia nowadays, but there are a lot of areas where you can do something and change things for the better. Nor am I talking about politics in the literal sense. For example, there is human rights advocacy. In any case, no matter what the circumstances, no matter where I am, I will still do something to change society for the better.

• • • • •

This translation is dedicated to Vladimir Akimenkov, a former Russian political prisoner and prisoner rights activist who over the years persuaded me to pay attention to Ivan Astashin’s remarkable story. If you have the means and the opportunity, please consider donating to Vladimir’s fund for Russian political prisoners. You will find the details below. || TRR

Ivan Astashin and Vladimir Akimenkov, October 11, 2020, Moscow. Courtesy of Vladimir Akimenkov’s Facebook page

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
June 7, 2020

My Annual Birthday Fundraising Event for Political Prisoners

On June 10, it will be eight years since I was arrested as part of the Bolotnaya Square Case. Every year on this date I hold a fundraiser in support of the political prisoners with whom I am currently working.

Every year we meet live on my birthday to help political prisoners. This year, for obvious reasons, we will not be able to meet on June 10. We will definitely do this later, when we can get together without the obvious threat of getting sick. (The live fundraising event will be announced later, via a separate post and an update to this post.)

In the meantime, I am launching a remote fundraising event. In recent years, we have managed to find over 16.8 million rubles [approx. 186,000 euros] for people who have been politically repressed. Please chip in. We need to raise a lot of money. I don’t want to be broken record, but such are realities of Russian society.

Bank details:

— Yandex Money: https://money.yandex.ru/to/410012642526680

— Sberbank Visa Card: 4276 3801 0623 4433, Vladimir Georgievich Akimenkov

Bank details for ruble transfer:

Correspondence account 30101810400000000225
Bank BIC 044525225
Recipient’s account 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s Individual Tax Number 7707083893
Recipient’s full name AKIMENKOV VLADIMIR GEORGIEVICH

Bank details for foreign currency transfers:

SWIFT Code SABRRUMM
Recipient’s account 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s full name AKIMENKOV VLADIMIR GEORGIEVICH

You can send funds from one foreign currency account to another via the Western Union website.

If you send me a personal message, I can send you a final report on the funds collected.

Please share information about the fundraiser on different venues.

I’m worried about this fundraiser. But I believe in people.

Thanks.

Translated by the Russian Reader