Reading the Signs (Team 29)

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Hi, this is Natasha Kurchenkova.

This week, everyone was wondering what the text of the new Russian constitution meant and, most importantly, how it would ultimately help one particular person remain in power. And here I had thought we were busy trying to divine such things all the time! When methods for making decisions are almost totally opaque, the art of reading the various signs and signals sent from the top is elevated into a cult. Some pundits show off their familiarity with sacred knowledge, while others hone their interpretive skills on national TV. What makes the process particularly crazy is that there is often no logic whatsoever in the way the system acts.

It is even harder for those whom the system has taken hostage—for example, Konstantin Kotov, sentenced to four years in prison for four peaceful (“unsanctioned”) protests. He was arrested on August 12 of last year. The criminal investigation of his case took a whole three days, while the trial took another two days, and after that Kotov was sent to prison. But this week the Second Court of Appeal overturned the Moscow City Court’s refusal to commute Kotov’s sentence and ordered a new trial in the case. What the hell does it all mean?

Team 29 lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov, a member of Kotov’s defense team, argues it is a good sign, despite the fact that the court could have immediately closed the criminal case, although it declined to do so.

“The court clearly indicated that Kotov would be released, given that the Moscow City Court had reduced his sentence to a year and the fact that, in a month and a half, under the revised rules for time served in custody, he will have been imprisoned for a year,” Smirnov wrote. “All of Konstantin’s defense lawyers insist on his complete innocence and will seek to have the criminal case quashed and their client exonerated. In view of the rulings made by the Russian Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and simple common sense, such a decision is the only possible outcome.”

We have also been picking up signals from the penal colonies, where we have been trying to locate one inmate. Almost nothing is known about his case, and the individual in question simply vanished a few years ago. It turns out that the official replies we have been receiving in response to a completely straightforward question also have to be interpreted. Just get a load of this:

“In accordance with Article 7 of Federal Law No. 152 on personal data, enacted 27 July 2006, persons who have received access to personal data are obliged not to disclose or distribute personal data to third parties without the consent of the person in question, unless otherwise stipulated by federal law. Given that the convicted man is not being held at [this penal colony], and it is not possible to obtain his consent, the information you have requested cannot be disclosed.”

How do you not go crazy when the state speaks to you in this language?

For the time being, trying to decipher the system’s signals is, alas, perhaps the most constructive way of communicating with it.

If you need a sign, this is it.

—Natasha and Team 29

* When I contacted Team 29 today, asking them for more details about the case in question, they replied that they would publish something about it after they had located the inmate in question. \\ TRR

Source: Team 29 weekly email newsletter, dated 7 March 2020. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

The Persecution of Konstantin Kotov

Yan Shenkman
Facebook
August 14, 2019

Today, Kostya Kotov was sent down for two months. It was a temporary remand in custody, but there is a chance he could be charged with the same article in the criminal code as Ildar Dadin, meaning he could be sentenced to prison for up to five years for the sum total of administrative offenses on his record.

Kostya was always sticking up for people. He would go to courthouses and stand holding placards in their defense. If that is a crime, I don’t know what to say.

As Yana Teplitskaya wrote correctly today, the difference between Dadin and Kotov is enormous. Dadin attacked the regime, while Kotov stood up for its victims. Meaning he did what you cannot help doing if you have a shred of conscience left in you.

By coincidence, Dadin was detained today, too.

Kostya is a staunch opponent of violence: I have personally spoken with him about this. He is a calm, intelligent chap and works as a programmer. I cannot even remember him raising his voice to anyone.

And so it transpires he is a criminal and a danger to society.

This is awful, but I wanted to write about something else.

I was at Kotov’s court hearing today. The authorities took a long time getting him to the courthouse. The hearing was slated for ten, but it was around two when he was brought to the courthouse.

I went outside to have a smoke. A film crew from Channel One was hanging out there. Right then, a paddy wagon pulled up and guards led Kostya to the courtroom. I waved at him.

“Konstantin, tell us what you were arrested for?” the female reporter from Channel One yelled from right behind me.

I don’t know what answer she wanted to hear and how she imagined she would hear it. The distance between the vehicle and the entrance to the courthouse was ten meters or so. Kostya was handcuffed and under guard. Did she expect him to stop and explain to her why he had been arrested?

Someone next to me turned to her.

“For nothing,” he said.

Kotov had been taken away. I didn’t manage to finish my cigarette.

kotov-1Konstantin Kotov. Photo by Adik Zubcik. Courtesy of Facebook and Mediazona

“Any Injustice Would Upset the Guy”: The Man Charged under the “Dadin” Article
Anna Kozkina, Dima Shvets, and Elizaveta Pestova
Mediazona
August 13, 2019

On Wednesday, the Presna District Court will decide on custody measures for 34-year-old Konstantin Kotov, a programmer who has been charged under the rarely used Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code, which makes repeated administrative violations at protest rallies a criminal offense. Mediazona tells the story of a man who had the bad luck to get involved in political activism in a period when people who attend any unauthorized public events are rampantly persecuted.

Comrades
It is August 13, the middle of the workday. The weather in Moscow is fine. A fifty-something man stands outside a presidential administration building on Staraya Ploshchad, holding a placard that reads, “Konstantin Kotov is being persecuted under the criminal code for defending political prisoners. Free the defender of freedom.”

The man is Nikolai Rekubratsky, a poet and researcher at the Freshwater Fisheries Institute who lives in Dmitrov. In his spare time, he and several allies run the Facebook Group Sentsov. Exchange. Today and Every Day.

Rekubratsky says members of the group have been holding solo pickets here every weekday since September 6, 2018. Usually, the picketers demand a total exchange of Russian and Ukrainian prisoners of war, but last night their comrade the 34-year-old Moscow programmer Konstantin Kotov was detained and charged with a criminal offense. Kotov was one of the people who came up with the idea for the daily pickets and had been actively involved in them.

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caf20691d9cda5e2f430ad4794b128e3Illustration by Mike Ch. Courtesy of Mediazona

Article 212.1. How Many Times Have We Told You?
Article 212.1 (repeated violation of the rules for holding rallies) was added to the Criminal Code in the summer of 2014. In January 2015, for the first time, the Russian Investigative Committee charged three activists with breaking the new law.

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“We met about a year ago at pickets in support of Oleg Sentsov, who was on hunger strike at the time in support of other political prisoners. It had a big impact on many people who were strangers to political activism. But Kostya had earlier attended protest marches of some sort. I don’t know exactly which ones,” says Nikolai. “He said he had no clue who Sentsov was, but when his hunger strike kicked off and Kostya read about it on the internet, it made a very strong impression on him and so he began supporting Sentsov.”

Other activists walked up to the entrance to the presidential administration. One young man hands Rekrubratsky his written surety for Kotov: tomorrow, a court will decide on custody measures for him. The people going into the building pay no mind to the picketers.

“Life was such that ever more events and injustices happened, and Kostya could not help reacting to them. He took part in pickets and was repeatedly detained,” Rekrubratsky continues.

kotov-2Nikolai Rekubratsky. Photo by Dima Shvets. Courtesy of Mediazona

Judging by his Facebook page and the accounts of friends, Kotov supported arrested Open Russia activist Anastasia Shevchenko and Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. He ran the Telegram channel #StopFSB, which is dedicated to the defendants in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and the New Greatness case. He tried to help Moscow State University graduate student Azat Miftakhov. That is, he empathized with the defendants in nearly all the current criminal cases with political overtones.

Kotov’s allies recall other stories as well, for example, how Kotov bought medicine for New Greatness defendant Anna Pavlikova or assembled care packages for the arrested Ukrainian sailors.

Nevertheless, on Facebook, Kotov listed his place of employment as DSSL, a company that produces video surveillance systems and, in particular, facial recognition software.

“Any injustice would upset the guy. He always reacted, going to rallies and standing in pickets. His stance was always extremely peaceful,” recalls activist Anna Babicheva.

“At the Nemtsov memorial march in February, Kostya for some reason gave me his placard, which is very well designed. There are silhouettes of crosses and bombs drawn on it, and the simple slogan, ‘Say No to War.’ It is a big A1-sized placard, and I really enjoy picketing with it. It’s my favorite placard by Kostya,” says Grigory Simakov, a volunteer at the Nemtsov Bridge memorial, a member of the 14% Movement, and a participant in the total prisoner exchange pickets.

It was Kotov’s protest activism that was the reason for the criminal charges filed against him under Russian Criminal Code Article 212.1 (“repeated violation of the rules for holding rallies, marches, and pickets”).

The Case
According to the written order to institute criminal proceedings, the case is based on three occasions on which Kotov was charged with administrative offenses in the last six months, although the document refers not to three but four violations.

The first administrative case had to with calls to take part in the Moscow City Duma elections protest on July 19 on Trubnaya Square, which Kotov posted on Facebook. The Tverskoi District Court in Moscow found him guilty of organizing a public event without notifying the authorities (Article 20.2.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code) and sentenced him to ten days in jail.

Earlier, on June 12, Kotov took part in a march in defense of journalist Ivan Golunov. The Presna District Court fined him 15,000 rubles after finding Kotov guilty of hindering the movement of vehicles and pedestrians (Article 20.2.6.1 of Administrative Offenses Code).

Kotov was detained during a gathering, outside an FSB building on May 13, in support of defendants in the Network and New Greatness cases. In this instance, the Meshchansky District Court found him guilty of repeated violations of the law on rallies (Article 20.2.8 of the Administrative Offenses Code) and jailed him for five days.

On August 10, Kotov again took part in an “unauthorized” protest near Staraya Ploshchad. According to investigators, he chanted the slogans “Let them run,” “Putin is a thief,” “We are the power here,” “Down with Putin,” “All for one, and one for all,” and “Russia will be free.”

After police dispersed the protest, Kotov spent two days at the Sokolinaya Gora police precinct. On August 12, he was released under an obligation to return to the precinct for a meeting with an Investigative Committee investigator. Several hours later, he was detained again and taken to the Investigative Committee for questioning.

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A screenshot from Maria Eismont’s Facebook page showing her and Konstantin Kotov after his release from a Moscow police precinct on August 12 and explaining that Kotov was “grabbed” and delivered to the Investigative Committee two hours after the photo was taken. Courtesy of Mediazona

OVD Info lawyer Maria Eismont described Kotov’s arrest as follows.

“They attacked him from behind. They threw him on the ground and twisted his arms behind his back. Yet, at the same time, they asked, ‘Konstantin, what are your political views?’ When his personal effects were searched at the Investigative Committee, they found a copy of the Criminal Procedures Code, a copy of the Administrative Offenses Code, a booklet entitled Crimea Is Ours, a bag emblazoned with poems by a poet from Lviv, and a placard that read, ‘Let them run.'”

“Then they found his mathematical engineering honors diploma.”

“‘Attaboy!’ said the investigator,” Eismont recounted.

In the late evening, it transpired that charges had been filed against Kotov under the relatively rarely used Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code. After the release of Ildar Dadin, the first person to be charged, convicted, and imprisoned under the new law, it has been used only twice: against Vyacheslav Egorov, leader of the anti-landfill protests in Kolomna, and against Andrei Borovikov, who was involved in the anti-landfill protests in Shies.

Then came a nighttime search of Kotov’s home.

“Morning is arriving, dawn is breaking outside. Investigators put the placard they have found—’Free Ponomaryova,’ ‘Free Nastya Shevchenko,’ ‘Free political prisoners!’—on the living room floor. ‘Kostya, do you have bags to put all of this in?’ ‘I have garbage bags.’ ‘Those will do.’ There is a sewing machine. ‘Is it a Singer?’ ‘No.’ There are more placards. ‘You have a lot of this stuff,’ a field officer notes,” Eismont wrote in her description of the search.

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During the search of Konstantin Kotov’s apartment. Courtesy of Maria Eismont

Kotov was formally charged on the morning of August 13.

“Unfortunately, Criminal Code Article 212.1, which had been dubbed a ‘sleeper’ article, has woken up and sprung into action. Moreover, as in the Egorov case, the formal approach to the law has been taken in Kotov’s case, despite the Constitutional Court’s well-known ruling on the matter. This means that if a person has been found by the courts to have violated Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code three times over six months, the fourth violation is treated as a criminal offense,” says Eismont. “The fact that people involved in ‘unauthorized’ protests cross the street at crosswalks doesn’t matter to anyone. The Constitutional Court ruled that only those protesters who did something dangerous were liable to criminal prosecution and punishment. The system has shown that it regards protesting without permission as a danger to itself and, thus, a crime.”

Translated by the Russian Reader