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.

_____________________________

“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.

kotov-3

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.

kotov-5

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

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Ali Feruz, a gay Moscow-based journalist threatened with deportation to Uzbekistan, where he faces possible torture and death. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch 

Memes of Solidarity
Silly and Serious Acts of Civic Solidarity Will Be Needed for a Long Time to Come
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
January 25, 2018

The Satisfaction Challenge, a internet flash mob in support of cadets at the Ulyanovsk Civil Aviation Institute, who filmed and uploaded a parody of Benny Benassi’s music video “Satisfaction,” has entered its second week. The institute’s administrators accused the cadets, who are shown dancing in briefs and pilot caps, of “mocking the sacred” and “humiliating the industry,” declaring they had no place in aviation.

Since then, scores of videos supporting the cadets have been posted daily. The latest was filmed by the Novosibirsk hockey club Sibir. Before an auditorium packed to the gills with fans, the club’s mascot, Snowman, dances to “Satisfaction” along with security guards and cleaners. Before Snowman, there were videos by female pensioners in a Petersburg communal flat, costumed theater students in the Russian Far East, horsemen, swimmers, cadets at the Academy of the Emergency Situations Ministry, construction workers, doctors, students at an agriculture college, schoolchildren, housewives, and the presenters of the TV show Evening Urgant. Consequently, a talk show on the TV channel Rossiya 1 and US magazine The New Yorker have identified the Satisfaction Challenge flash mob as a significant event in Russia public life.

“Welders from the Urals Filmed a Satisfaction Challenge Video.” Published January 24, 2018

Obviously, the flash mob has touched some important strings. It is not so much a matter of discussing the boundaries of free self-expression, the clash of different views on what is permitted and appropriate, which, judging by the varying degrees of frankness on the part of the flash mobbers, are also quite different. The key here is solidarity, which has proven the best weapon against bureaucratic stupidity and official hypocrisy. Solidarity with the persecuted is a vital tool for upholding freedom and withstanding crackdowns, for maintaining and reinforcing social connections in an atomized society.

The flash mob in support of the Ulyanovsk cadets is probably the most vivid and funny solidarity campaign in today’s Russia, but it is hardly the only or most important solidarity campaign. The cadets were threatened with explusion, but Novaya Gazeta journalist Hudoberdi Nurmatov aka Ali Feruz, who has already spent five months in a temporary detention center for foreigners awaiting a review of his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, is threatened with torture and even death in connection with false charges of cooperating with terrorists if he is deported to Uzbekistan, say his relatives, colleagues, and human rights activists.

The solidarity campaign in support of Ali Feruz kicked off this past August, when the Moscow City Court decided to deport him. His colleagues rightly believe that the longer they bring up the case and the more loudly they discuss it, the better are the chances for a positive outcome. So, last week, Theater.doc held another reading of Feruz’s diary, written in the temporary detention center for foreigners. The first reading, entitled “My Friend Ali Feruz,” was held as a sign of solidarity by journalists in late October. During last week’s antifacist march in memory of attorney Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, slain by neo-Nazis nine years ago in downtown Moscow, some of the marchers bore placards demanding Ali Feruz’s release. On Wednesday came the news the Russian Supreme Court had overturned the Moscow City Court’s decision to deport Feruz to Uzbekistan and remanded the matter for a new hearing.

The solidarity campaign in support of Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev, which has ranged from petitions and videos in his defense to organized trips to his trial in Petrozavodsk, has been underway since society learned of his arrest on charges of taking pornographic photographs, charges that carry no weight with anyone who knows him well. If it had not been for the public outcry, there might not have been a second forensic examination, which ruled the photographs in question were not pornographic, nor would there have been a court decision to release Dmitriev from police custody, where he has spent the last year, on his own recognizance.

Currently, Oyub Titiev, head of the Grozny branch of Memorial, is in bad need of solidarity and support. Arrested on drugs possession charges, Titiev managed to warn society any confession he made would only mean he had been tortured into giving it.

“We regard Oyub Titiev’s circumstances as extremely dangerous,” the board of the International Memorial Society said in an appeal to Russian society and the international community. “The only thing we can do under the circumstances is ask Russian society and the international community to monitor Titiev’s case with the same acute interest as has occured in the Dmitriev case.”

Solidarity is one of the few effective tools left in Russian civil society’s arsenal for confronting official coercion. We will have recourse to it again and again for a long time to come. It’s a good thing that sometimes, as in the case of the cadets, it’s also fun.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Maria Eismont: Moscow’s Municipal District Opposition

DSCN0811
Like other municipal district councils in Russia’s major cities, Petersburg’s Vladimirsky Municipal District Council has a meeting space and offices, and enough money to publish a newspaper and fund very minor improvements in the neighborhood, but it has virtually no political power and survives only at the mercy of city hall and the city’s legislative assembly. Photo by the Russian Reader

How Things Are Going for the Municipal District Opposition
New politicians searching for a new agenda
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
November 23, 2017

Sergei Sokolov was the only opposition member in the previous sitting of Moscow’s Konkovo Municipal District Council.

“I could not beat pro-regime council members when things were put to a vote, but I still managed to discourage them from doing things the neighborhood did not need,” says Sokolov, recalling his preceding five-year term on the municipal district council.

In September 2017, a team of Konkovo activists, led by Sokolov, won neighborhood elections, taking eight of the fifteen seats on the municipal district council. Sokolov was named head of the district, since Konkovo’s charter stipulates a simple majority of votes by council members to elect a district head, unlike other municipal districts. In other neighborhoods where the opposition won majorities on councils, their candidates for district heads ran into problems, since they needed the backing of two thirds of council members to win the posts, but they came up short on votes.

For the first time in many years, independent candidates won majorities in several Moscow municipal districts. In several instances, they won overwhelming majorities, but the question of whether grassroots self-government is possible in Moscow remains open.

The fact that Moscow’s municipal council members have scanty means at their disposal and insufficient powers was well known before and during the campaign. Yet now the new democratic politicians, who have taken power at the lowest level of Russia’s political totem pole, must show themselves and their voters that this is, in fact, the beginning of big and important changes in Russia.

Opposition politician Ilya Yashin, now head of the Krasnoselsky Municipal District, has already gone public with the new council’s first legislative undertaking. They have suggested eliminating the current system of so-called golden parachutes for outgoing municipal district council members and municipal district heads.

Konkovo’s independent council members have gone further. Within ten days of taking office, Sokolov sent the Moscow City Duma a request for 19 million rubles [approx. 275,000 euros] in additional funds for Konkovo’s budget, paid for with an increase in the allocation of personal income tax revenues.

“There are no rational explanations for the inexplicably low, discriminatory amount of personal income tax revenues allocated to the Konkovo Municipal District’s budget,” Sokolov wrote.

Council members have proposed spending the money on neighborhood improvements, accessible legal aid for low-income people, and a Southwest Moscow History Museum.

Last week, Konkovo council members came out with a legislative initiative to amend the Moscow City Law “On the Budget’s Structure and the Budgetary Process in the City of Moscow,” proposing to set the amount of allocations to municipal district budgets from personal income tax revenues at five percent. (It is currently set at 0.96%.) Economist Vladimir Milov helped draft the bill.

“I had been thinking about this initiative for a long time, and our team was organized for this purpose,” says Sokolov.

There are traces of picture frames that once held photographs of the president and prime minister on the wall in Sokolov’s office. They have been replaced by a hand-drawn portrait of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

“I have no illusions about the bill. United Russia still has a majority in the Moscow City Duma,” says Sokolov. “I don’t yet know how we are going to lobby the bill, but we will  be employing our usual methods: media outreach, rallies, and similar public things.”

It is difficult to imagine the circumstances in which Moscow city officials would meet the opposition municipal districts halfway, voluntarily giving up some of their money and authority. But it seems extremely important the reform of local self-government continues to be discussed and elaborated.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Maria Eismont: Rules for a Rotten Life

asphalt i'm not match for you“I’m no match for you, pavement. If you ride a bike, wear a helmet.” Public service advertisement in central Petersburg, 13 October 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader 

Rules for a Rotten Life
Any of Us Can Be Detained by the Police and Should Be Prepared for It
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
November 8, 2017

Last weekend, Pavel Yarilin, a member of Moscow’s Airport District Municipal Council, and his colleagues spent several hours at a police station trying to secure the release of young auditors of the Higher School of Economics lecture program. The students had been taken to the police station after exiting their classes and finding themselves in the midst of a massive police crackdown on supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev, fugitive leader of the Artpodgovotka (Artillery Bombardment) movement, banned in Russia by a court order. Police were detaining people who had shown up for the “revolution” Maltsev announced for November 5, 2017. The total number of detainees exceeded 300 people.

Yarilin enunciated the impressions of what he witnessed and his conclusions in a detailed text he posted on the local community’s Facebook page, which he provocatively entitled “Be Ready, or, What It’s Time to Think about If Your Child Is between 13 and 25.”

“This applies to any person walk downing the street. Any person, including your son and you yourself. It is a random inevitability, so you shouldn’t be afraid. You should prepare yourself for the eventuality that, if you are arrested, you must behave the right way,” warns the councilman.

His second conclusion: “You can be named a witness in a criminal case due to an event about which you heard nothing at all.”

His third conclusion follows from the first two. It is addressed to parents of young adults.

“Your child does not necessarily have to be guilty to end up where he or she has ended up,” he writes.

The number of grateful comments under Yarilin’s account and the number of reposts nicely illustrate the relevance of such texts, which explain the unwritten rules of life in Russia to those people who have only just become adults, as well as to those people who for whatever reason have never thought hard about how things really work or were confused about them.

“One is a bit horrified by the fact this affects all of us, and yet there are no absolute rules for defending ourselves from it, nothing that says, ‘Do such and such, and everything will definitely be fine,'” writes Yarilin.

Today there is no simple and clear recipe for counteracting the total vulnerability of individuals before the state. But if we still cannot change the circumstances, we can describe them completely accurately, calling things by their real names and using words in their original sense.

Proceedings for authorizing an illegal, groundless arrest cannot be called a court hearing, just as you cannot call it an illegal event when citizens take to the streets unarmed and peaceably. You cannot speak of defending the country while attacking another country. You cannot call five minutes of hate a lesson in patriotism, and real patriots “foreign agents.” Parliamentary parties from the “systemic opposition” who blindly adopt cannibalistic, absurd laws dropped in their laps by the powers that be cannot be called opposition parties, and the work they do cannot be identified as politics.

The only thing today that could be called an election campaign in the sense that elections involve a real struggle for power, a contest of platforms and ideas, is the campaign Alexei Navalny has been running in the regions. But the authorities have been hassling Navalny’s campaign every which way they can, sometimes using methods that are absolutely unacceptable and illegal: banning peaceable rallies, arresting activists for no reason, firing the relatives of activists from their jobs, and forcing school administrators to threaten schoolchildren. So, the number of people who can benefit from Yarilin’s advice is bound to grow.

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

Maria Eismont: The Dmitriev Case Is the Most Important Thing Happening in Russia Right Now

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Yuri Dmitriev. Photo courtesy of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

The Yuri Dmitriev Case
The Accused Should Be Nominated for a State Prize
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
June 8, 2017

“A person cannot disappear without a trace. People differ from butterflies in the sense that people have memory,” the man with long grey hair and long grey beard said onscreen.

The presentation of books of remembrance for those shot during the Great Terror in Karelia packed the screening room at the Gulag History Museum in Moscow: people even sat on the stairways. The editor of the books, Karelian historian and search specialist Yuri Dmitriev, from Memorial, was the man talking onscreen. He has spent the last six months in a pretrial detention center, absurdly charged with the crime of producing pornography.

Dmitriev sent his greetings and gratitude from prison, not so much for the kind words said about him, as for acknowledgement of his life’s work. Memorial’s historians all concur it is unique. No other region in Russia has such a complete compendium of the names of those who were shot as Karelia does. As his colleagues argue, Dmitriev succeeded in turning the figures of those who perished during the Great Terror into memorial lists complete with names, biographies, and burial sites.

The speakers occasionally slipped into the past tense, but immediately corrected themselves. Dmitriev is still alive, and we must believe he will soon be released, find the execution site of the other two Solovki “quotas” [political prisoners at the Solovki concentration camp who were transported to three different sites outside the camp in 1937–1938 to be shot and buried in secret—TRR], and present the next book of remembrance. This powerlessness, these slips of the tongue, and the trembling voices fully convey the horror of a time when the days when people were shot are long past but people still fall victim to political repression.

The Yuri Dmitriev case is, perhaps, the most important thing happening in Russia right now, first of all, because a patriot who for decades had, bit by bit, resurrected thousands of names of this country’s citizens from official oblivion, citizens murdered cruelly and senselessly in the state’s name, has himself been subjected to persecution. “The introduction to the list of terror victims will be brief: may they live in our memories forever,” writes Dmitriev in the foreword to one of his compendiums, The Motherland Remembers Them, a book in which the names are listed not in alphabetical order, but under the names of the villages where the victims lived before their arrests. “The moral of the story is also brief: remember! As is my advice: take care of each other.” Now there is a Russian national idea for you. The author of these books of remembrance should be nominated for a state prize and a government grant to keep on with his work.

There is another important thing about the Dmitriev case: the charge his persecutors chose for him. He was not charged with “extremism” or “separatism,” which have been commonplace in politically motivated cases, but with child pornography and depraved actions towards a minor. The charges not only guarantee a long sentence and promise the accused problems in prison but also challenge the public to support him. “What if something really did happen?” Dmitriev’s friends and relatives acknowledge that while those who doubt Dmitriev or are willing to countenance the charges are an overwhelming minority, such people do exist, and some of them are “decent” people.

The number of “pedophilia” cases, based on controversial, contradictory, clearly flimsy evidence and flagrantly unprofessional forensic examinations, has been growing for several years. Recently, I attended a similar event in Naro-Fominsk, seventy kilometers southwest of Moscow. It was also a memorial evening for a living person who had been incarcerated on charges of depravity against a child, actions the man could not have committed, according to witnesses who were nearby when the crime was alleged to have occurred. Dozens of people had come to remember what a good male nurse Zhenya had been. Then they corrected themselves: not had been, but is and will continue to be. Then they cried.

“Pedophilia” cases have long been custom-ordered to rid oneself of rivals and used to pad police conviction statistics, but now they have been put to use in political cases.

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

Maria Eismont: The Case of Ildar Dadin

Ildar Dadin, protesting the imprisonment of Ukrainian pilot Nadja Savchenko. Photo courtesy of Russian Avos
Ildar Dadin, protesting the imprisonment of Ukrainian fighter pilot Nadja Savchenko. Photo courtesy of Russian Avos

Maria Eismont
The Case of Ildar Dadin
Why Society Has Not Ignored a Story about Torture in Prison
Vedomosti
November 10, 2016

The controversy provoked by activist Ildar Dadin’s letter about the torture and abuse to which he and other prisoners have been subjected in the Segezha prison colony has been simmering for two weeks. The longer the topic of the inhumane treatment visited on people in penitentiaries occupies the media, including state TV channels, which have been forced to join the discussion of Dadin’s plight, the more likely society will be able to change things. Daily publications containing fresh testimonies about torture in Russian prisons have shown Dadin’s case is not unique. However, no controversies over violence in prisons have yet led to serious reforms of the penitentiary system or even a significant descrease in the number of “torture” colonies.

So what is different about the Dadin case? First, even Dadin’s ideological opponents have recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. Who seriously believes in the necessity of sending somone to prison for a series of peaceful solo pickets? Second, his obvious innocence in the eyes of the rank and filke attracts the attention of people unable to sympathize with criminals to torture in prisons. Third, Dadin has declared he is fighting not just for himself but for all convicts who are beaten and humiliated. He has conveyed via his lawyer that he has no wish to be transferred to another prison.

“He is convinced he has no right to be saved if he doesn’t help those who stay in the colony,” said Ksenia Kostromina, his attorney.

His conviction, bordering on obstinancy, his idealism on the verge of naïveté, and his sincere willingness to sacrifice himself to save others have made Dadin a much greater threat to the system than its consistent and predictable foes.

Dadin and the prison wardens are two different worlds, worlds that do not understand each other. And when Dadin speaks about constitutional rights from a libertarian viewpoint, the prison wardens think they are being mocked in a sophisticated way,” Igor Kalyapin, member of the Human Rights Council, told Vedomosti.

This difference in outlooks manifested itself recently in the trial of Nizhny Novgorod policemen accused of employing violence against detainees. (Ultimately, they got off with probationary sentences.) Their defense attorney assured the court they had in fact been “fulfilling the president’s May decrees,” while the accused themselves claimed they had been “defending the Motherland.”

Yet there are reasons to regard the situation with cautious optimism. One of them is the offer made to Anna Karetnikova, the most active member of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission’s last three rosters, to work in the Federal Penitentiary Service. The second is the unexpected encounter between activists who had gathered outside the Federal Penitentiary Service’s central office, after the publication of Dadin’s letter, with Valery Maximenko, deputy head of the service, and his public promises to meet regularly with the activists to discuss pressing issues. The third is the proposal to hold primaries for the Public Monitoring Commissions, which could result in the return of prominent human rights activists to the commissions. All this will be possible if civil society maintains its interest in the topic.

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

Zarina Yunusova: “I Will Never Forgive What They Did to Me”

Zarina Yunusova: “I Will Never Forgive What They Did to Me”
Anora Sarkorova
BBC Russian Service
November 27, 2015

Зарина Юнусова
Zarina Yunusova: “I still remember holding him in my arms, feeling the warmth of his body, and seeing him smiling at me.”

Zarina Yunusova, the mother of the five-month-old baby who died in Petersburg after he was forcibly removed from his parents by Russian police officers, has called on the Russian authorities and concerned Russian citizens to conduct an objective investigation into the causes of her child’s death and reconsider previous decisions in the case.

In addition, the young woman has appealed to the Tajik authorities, who, according to her, should be bolder in defending the interests of Tajikistani citizens.

After returning home and burying her son, Yunusova has gone back to her parents’ home in the remote mountain village of Kandak, in Obi-Garm, in the east of Tajikistan.

Relatives and friends of the young woman that it will thus be easier to survive the loss of the child and rid herself of the painful memories of what she has experienced over the last month and a half.

“I constantly rewind that accursed day in my mind. I remember how the authorities came to our place at six in the morning, how they took the child from me. I did not want to give him up. I fought back, I screamed, I cried, I begged,  and I dragged me on the floor, but they removed the child anyway. I still remember holding him in my warms, feeling the warmth of his body, and seeing him smile at me. I will never forget it and never forgive those who did this to me,” says Yunusova.

Jail Cell, Fine, Deportation
When I met Yunusova at the gate of her house, I noticed that the quite emaciated young woman was limping a little. Her relatives explained that two of her toes were injured at the Petersburg police station where she and the child were taken.

“It happened when they were taking the child. While she was fighting for little Umarali, Zarina injured two toes. For some reason, the Russian Interior Ministry made public only video footage showing a female officer cradling the child, not the part where the child was removed. They should show the whole world how they did it,” says Nazar Boboyerov, a relative of Yunusova’s.

Five-month-old Umarali Nazarov died under mysterious circumstances in the early hours of October 14 after he was removed from his mother, 21-year-old Zarina Yunusova, detained for immigration violations, at a police station in Petersburg’s Admiralty District.

The woman was placed in a temporary holding cell. The same day, the court fined Yunusova 5,000 rubles and ruled that the Tajik migrant should be expelled from Russia.

According to Yunusova’s relatives, she tried to find her son, but the police did not give her the address of the medical center where the baby had been taken.

A day later, the parents were informed of Umarali Nazarov’s death.

Cause of Death

Могила Умарали Назарова
Umarali Nazarov was buried November 15 in the village of Boboi Vali in the Faizobod District.

According to the Petersburg Bureau of Forensic Medicine (BSME), the cause of five-month-old Umarali’s death was a generalized cytomegalovirus infection.

The child’s relatives categorically disagree with the official finding. The parents have numerous medical documents from the clinic where the infant was periodically examined. They suggest that the boy was perfectly healthy.

Umarali was Rustam Nazarov and Zarina Yunusov’s firstborn child. The young people had not met before their wedding. The bride was found on the advice of relatives.

As is typical in many Tajik families, a few months after the wedding festivities, Nazarov went to Russia to work, and later he was joined by his wife.

“We really wanted children. I joined my husband, got pregnant in Russia, and had the child in Saint Petersburg. I took care of the baby, associated only with members of our family, and almost never left the house. I went to the medical clinic where the baby had his examinations only with my husband. I know nothing about immigration laws, rules, and violations. My husband handled all these problems,” recalls Yunusova.

“There Is No Hate, Only Resentment”
Zarina Yunusova grew up in a large family.  She has nine brothers and a sister. She was unable to finish school. The school is located five kilometers from their house. Children have to spend nearly three hours getting to school on mountain slopes, so many children in the village do not attend school.

The majority of girls who do not attend school live in remote rural regions. While the numbers of girls and boys are approximately even in the lower grades, there are many fewer girls in the upper classes, say local teachers. Often parents decide that after the obligatory ninth grade a daughter should quit school and prepare for an early marriage.

At the same time, illiterate brides are valued in rural areas. They are meek, humble, and completely financially dependent on the husband’s family.

Zarina Yunusov went to Russia to be with her husband without fear. Until she traveled to Russia, she knew very little [about the country], but she could not have guessed that anything bad would happen to her.

“After what happened, I will never go to Russia again. How can I forget what they did to me, how treated me? There is no hatred, but the resentment will last a lifetime,” says Yunusova.

The Authorities Did Not Arrive
The body of five-month-old Umarali Nazarov was flown to Dushanbe on November 15. He was buried the same day in the village of Boboi Vali in the Faizobod District, in the east of the country, where the baby’s father comes from. Only several foreign and independent local journalists were on hand to meet the family.

The baby’s relatives waited several hours for officials from the Tajik Ministry of Health, Interior Ministry, and General Prosecutor’s Office, but none of them arrived to meet the Nazarov family, despite promises from the Tajik Consulate in Saint Petersburg that they would be met at the airport and a forensic medical examination would be performed.

Officials from Dushanbe visited Zarina Yunusova several days after her arrival.

At the request of the Tajik Interior Ministry, Yunusova gave blood for a blood test, whose outcome will be known within a week.

In addition, the Tajik police took a statement from Yunusova in which the young woman asks for a criminal investigation into the death of Umarali Nazarov and that the Russian police officers and doctors at the Tsimbalin Children’s Hospital responsible, in her opinion, for his death be brought to justice.

In her suit, Yunusova also asks for 10 million rubles [approx. 141,00 euros] in financial compensation from the Russian side.

“I want to know the cause of my child’s death. The Tajik Interior Ministry explained to me that I had to give blood so they could put an end to all the rumors and prove that I am healthy and that the baby was healthy. When we asked them why the relevant agencies did not show up the day we flew in and conduct an independent examination,  we were told they had not known about the family’s arrival in Tajikistan,” says Yunusova.

Hush Up the Case, Hide the Perpetrators

Каримджон Еров
Karimjon Yerov says that Dushanbe is attempting to hush up the Umarali Nazarov case.

The major case squad in the investigative department of the Tajik Interior Ministry declined to comment on the particulars of the case to the BBC Russian Service while the investigation was still underway.

According to Karimjon Yerov, president of the Russian non-profit partnership ETMOS (Ethnic Tajiks for Responsible Migration by Compatriots), the results of a forensic examination of Umarali’s death would change nothing.

“Russia has never recognized medical records from Tajikistan. All the certificates that Tajik citizens get at home have not been recognized by the Russian side, despite an agreement to that effect. But in this case Russia will recognize an outcome that the parties could have agreed in advance, an outcome that blames the family and helps save face in the name of the so-called strategic partnership,” argues Yerov.

According to Yerov, Dushanbe is also not interested in getting to the bottom of the case and is now doing everything it can to hush the case up.

“The Tajik Consulate in Petersburg repeatedly stated its intention to conduct an independent forensic medical examination. Later, however, people from the Tajik Embassy claimed that such promises had never been made to the Nazarov family. A few days ago, a man identifying himself as an employee of the Tajik Interior Ministry and declared that he had arrived to detain and send home the Tajik nationals who had organized the protest rally outside the Tajik Consulate in Petersburg. I am not certain that Tajik nationals need a Tajik-Russian partnership based on humiliation, disempowerment and the deaths of Tajik nationals,” says the president of ETMOS.

Karimjon Yerov speaking at a November 14, 2015, protest rally at the Field of Mars in Petersburg, demanding an objective investigation of Umarali Nazarov’s death (in Russian). Around a hundred people attended the rally.

The Prosecutor General’s Office told the BBC that the supervisory authority had not opened a criminal case in the death of the Tajik baby and was not currently involved in any investigation of the matter.

“In terms of government agencies, the Tajik side is quite dependent on the Russian side, so it is hardly worth expecting a conflict between them, even over the mother of the deceased child. As for punishing the guilty in Russia, the course of the investigation clearly displays an unwillingness to do this. The mother’s deportation, for example, speaks volumes. It may well turn out that departmental interests will prevail over the rule of law and basic human values. If we don’t manage to insist on a proper investigation of the Umarali Nazarov case now, then in the future we might see numerous such cases throughout Russia,” stresses political scientist Anton Yevstratov.

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My previous posts on Umarali Nazarov’s death:

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An Example of Senseless Brutality 
Why the Story of the Death of 5-Month-Old Umarali Nazarov Becomes No Less Important over Time 
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
November 26, 2015

I want to tell you how Zarina Yunusova is doing. Yunusov is the mother of the five-month-old boy Umarali Nazarov, who in mid-October suddenly died in a Petersburg hospital after he was taken from his mother at a police station. Yunusova still hardly eats or sleeps, and she cries constantly. Journalists from the Tajik news website Asia-Plus, who visited her at her parents’ home, where she has lived since she was expelled from Russia, describe her as terribly emaciated and depressed. Yunusova has still not met with a psychologist. The trip to the village is long and hard, and she is not permitted to go anywhere alone without her husband. Her husband, meanwhile, has stayed in Petersburg, where he has been trying to gain recognition as an injured party in the case of his son’s death. The independent forensic examination of the body in Tajikistan they were promised was never performed, but Yunusova herself was recently summoned to the Tajik Interior Ministry, where they took a sample of her blood without really explaining why.

Yes, and the current news agenda is completely different. The Russian public has been discussing the Russian bomber downed by the Turkish air force on the Turkish-Syrian border and the response of the Russian side. Before that, there was news of the deaths of Russian civilian pilots at the hands of terrorists in Mali, and a mere three days before the bloodbath in Bamako, the Russian authorities had officially recognized the Kogalymavia plane crash in the Sinai as a terrorist attack. Convoys of angry truckers have been lining the roadsides and threatening to move on Moscow. Crimea has been plunged into darkness due to the explosion of a power line in Ukraine, and the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court upheld the tellingly cruel sentence (twenty years in prison) against Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, accused of terrorism.

So why I am talking today about Yunusova when Umarali Nazarov died a month and a half ago, was buried ten days ago, and the decision to expel his mother was made long ago and has been carried out? Because however long ago it happened, whatever dramatic and frightening events have filled our lives since then, the Tajik baby’s death has shocked a huge part of active society. Nearly 150,000 people have signed a petition demanding a thorough investigation of Umarali’s death, and dozens of people still ask me how they can help the family and what can be done so that something like this never happens again.

Because Umarali’s story is special. It is an example of pure, completely senseless inhumanity manifested publicly by the system towards the most defenseless people in the total absence of extreme necessity and all political expediency. At each stage of this story—from the Federal Migration Service officers who raided the Nazarov apartment and decided not wait until Umarali’s grandmother brought them the family document’s and did not let Yunusova put a cap on the baby, to Judge Elena Shirokova, who made the final decision to deport the dead baby’s mother—one person with a heart might have entered the picture and everything would have been different. But no such person was to be found.

Neither Yunusova nor her husband, with whom no one has been able to get in touch for several days, can fight for their rights in this case. So it is we who have to demand an objective investigation and punishment for the guilty.

Translated by the Russian Reader