Network Case Suspects Go on Hunger Strike

Network Case Suspects Go on Hunger Strike
OVD Info
December 2, 2018

andrei chernovAndrei Chernov in court. Photo courtesy of Mediazona and OVD Info

Dmitry Pchelintsev and Andrei Chernov, residents of Penza and suspects in the so-called Network case, have gone on hunger strike, claiming remand prison officials and FSB officers have intimidated them during their review of their criminal case file, something to which they are entitled by Russian law. Several Penza suspects in the case have claimed they have been put in solitary confinement, handcuffed to radiators, and threatened with violance.

Pchelintsev and Chernov went on hunger strike on November 29, as reported by the Parents Network, a support group established by the mothers and fathers of the young men, who have been accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” that, allegedly, was planning an armed uprising during the March 2018 presidential election and 2018 FIFA World Cup, held in Russia this past summer.

It was on November 29 that wardens put Pchelintsev in solitary, demanding he admit to breaking the rules by talking with other inmates during yard time. He responded by going on hunger strike, and Chernov joined him as a token of support and solidarity. On November 30, wardens again tried to bargain with Pchelintsev and threaten him.

The Parents Network notes that the pressure on their sons has increased now that the suspects are officially reviewing the case file.

Lawyer Anatoly Vakhterov told the group that Network case suspect Ilya Shakursky had been been visited by Penza Remand Prison Warden Oleg Iskhanov, who asked him how quickly he was reviewing the file. On November 20, immediately after the incident, Shakursky was reprimanded for greeting other inmates during yard time. The alleged violation was written up, and the same day Shakursky was issued a special uniform for his upcoming stint in solitary confinement. He managed to avoid going there by filing a complaint with Penza Regional Prosecutor Natalya Kantserova.

Earlier, Maxim Ivankin spent five days in solitary. This was proceeded by a visit from Warden Iskhanov, who likewise asked Ivankin how quickly he was reviewing the case file.

As the defense lawyers explained to the Parents Network, the suspects had been reviewing the case file not only at the remand prison but also at the local FSB office. Under Russian law, suspects may review case files for up to eight hours a day. Allegedly, the Network suspects were handcuffed to radiators and stairway railings the entire time. Vasily Kuksov and Arman Sagynbayev were handcuffed to each other. As the Parents Network has noted, the suspects not only experienced physical discomfort but were also unable to examine the case file freely and take notes.

Shakursky and Pchelintsev refused to go through the procedure in such conditions. In turn, they were threatened with violence. According to them, the man who threatened them was a certain A. Pyatachkov, who had been involved in torturing them when they were initially detained in the autumn of 2017.

Mikhail Kulkov said that after handcuffing him to the staircase, FSB officers videotaped him. As they filmed him, they said, “Look at Network terrorists reviewing the case file.”

The suspects requested their lawyers be present during the review. Consequently, the authorities stopped taking them to the FSB office. Currently, all case file materials are brought directly to the remand prison.

kuksov and pchelintsevVasily Kuksov and Dmitry Pchelintsev in court. Photo courtesy of Rupression and OVD Info

“Obviously, all these measures are methods of mental and physical violence,” argues Vakterov. “There are signs that the group of FSB investigators, led by Senior Investigator Valery Tokarev, have been putting pressure on the suspects. Why? To speed up the review process and make it impossible to verify the complaints of torture made by the suspects. They want to intimidate the lads, who are fighting back any way they can under the circumstances.”

These events have spurred the Parents Network to issue a communique, which we publish here in an abridged version.

We, the parents of the suspects in the Penza Case, bear witness to the numerous violations suffered by our children during their review of the case file.

To avoid allowing the time necessary to investigate the claims made by our sons that they were tortured by FSB officers, the group of investigators, led by Valery Tokarev, has done everything possible to speed up the process of reviewing the Network case file. To this end, the investigators have engaged in daily acts of emotional and physical violence against the suspects, to wit:

  1. Our sons have been prevented from reviewing the case file with their lawyers present. When they have attempted to refuse lawfully to review the case file, they have been subjected to physical preventive measures: they have been handcuffed to whatever metal structures came to hand and handcuffed to each other. During the review of the case file, at least one hand of each suspect has been handcuffed. These actions have prevented them from concentrating on reading the file and thoughtfully preparing to defend their rights in court. This testifies to the fact that investigators have doubts about the case, and so they would like to hand it over to the court as quickly as possible. 
  2. FSB field officers who were involved in torturing our sons have been among the people allowed to be present during the investigative case file review. They have been brought to the review to exert pressure on our children. The FSB officers in question have threatened them with physical violence if they refuse to continue with the case file review. The point of their actions is to speed up the review process, intimidate the suspects, and interfere with a potential investigation of the acts of torture they perpetrated. 
  3. Our demands that a lawyer be present during the proceedings and that the act of reviewing the case file not be hindered by handcuffing the hands of the suspects to tables, chairs, radiators, and stairways have led to our children being placed in solitary confinement, where they have once again been visited by FSB officers and investigators, who have tried to speed up the review process by threatening them. 

We speak constantly of incidents of torture. They say there is no smoke without fire. We are unfamiliar with the contents of the criminal investigative case file due to the nondisclosure agreement signed by all the defense lawyers. If our children have violated the law, they will answer to society to the full extent of the law. In the present circumstances, however, they are unable to answer to society. They answer to people who believe that physical violence, beatings, and electric shock torture can be legally used to make other people’s lives conform to the canons and stories that will get them new assignments and promotions.

It is impossible to defend the rights of our sons in the current circumstances. We cannot prove they were tortured. We have exhausted all the legal resources we have in Russia. But we, our sons, the Public Monitoring Commissions, reporters, civil rights activists, and politicians must and will go on fighting for the sake of one big goal: making the Russian legal and justice system more humane.

We call on Russian Federal Human Rights Ombusdman Tatyana Moskalkova, Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human  Rights, and Yevgeny Myslovsky, a member of the council, to visit the Penza Case suspects. You are our last hope for help in combating torture in Russia. This joint task is our primary responsibility to society.

As we face the inevitability of double-digit sentences for our sons, we hope that all of us will have someone whose example will inspire us. It will be not the people who tortured our sons. Then none of this would make any sense at all.

The lawyers of the Penza suspects in the Network case say their clients have reached out to Tatyana Moskalkova and Mikhail Fedotov, asking them to visit and requesting their help in investigating the incidents of torture. Moskalkova and Fedotov have not yet replied to their appeals, although in November a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights did visit the Petersburg suspects in the Network case.

[…]

Translated by the Russian Reader

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What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about the Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find printable posters and flyers you can download. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandise, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You can find the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are examined by actual judges, the Russian government will again be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and disseminate recent articles the Russian Reader has posted on these subjects.

Cossacked

18A so-called Cossack lashes protesters with a plaited whip (nagaika) at the He’s No Tsar to Us opposition protest rally at Pushkin Square in Moscow on May 5, 2018. Photo by Ilya Varlamov

Сossacks Were Not Part of the Plan: Men with Whips Take Offense at the Opposition
Alexander Chernykh
Kommersant
May 8, 2017

The Presidential Human Rights Council (PHRC) plans to find out who the Cossacks were who scuffled with supporters of Alexei Navalny during the unauthorized protest rally on May 5 in Moscow. Meanwhile, the Moscow mayor’s office and the Central Cossack Host claimed they had nothing to do with the Cossacks who attempted to disperse opposition protesters. Kommersant was able to talk with Cossack Vasily Yashchikov, who admitted he was involved in the tussle, but claimed it was provoked by Mr. Navalny’s followers. Human rights defenders reported more than a dozen victims of the Cossacks have filed complaints.

The PHRC plans to ask law enforcement agencies to find out how the massive brawl erupted during the unauthorized protest rally on May 5 in Moscow. PHRC chair Mikhail Fedotov said “circumstances were exacerbated” when Cossacks and activists of the National Liberation Front (NOD) appeared at the opposition rally.

“It led to scenes of violence. We must understand why they were they and who these people were,” said Mr. Fedotov.

“Our main conclusion has not changed: the best means of counteracting unauthorized protest rallies is authorizing them,” he added.

On May 5, unauthorized protest rallies, entitled He’s No Tsar to Us, called for by Alexei Navalny, took place in a number of Russian cities. In Moscow, organizers had applied for a permit to march down Tverskaya Street, but the mayor’s officers suggested moving the march to Sakharov Avenue. Mr. Navalny still called on his supporters to gather at Pushkin Square, where they first engaged in a brawl with NOD activists and persons unknown dressed in Cossack uniforms. Numerous protesters were subsequently detained by regular police. Approximately 700 people were detained in total.

The appearance on Pushkin Square of Cossacks armed with whips has provoked a broad response in Russia and abroad. The Guardian wrote at length about the incident, reminding its readers that Cossacks would be employed as security guards during the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The Bell discovered a Central Cossack Host patch on the uniform of one of the Cossacks photographed during the brawl. According to the Bell, which cites documents from the Moscow mayor’s office, the Central Cossack Host was paid a total of ₽15.9 million for “providing security during large-scale events.”

However, Vladimir Chernikov, head of the Moscow Department of Regional Security, stressed, during an interview with Kommersant FM, that on May 5 “no Cossacks or any other organization were part of the plan and the means of providing security.”

Chernikov said police and the Russian National Guard acted impeccably. Spokesmen for the Central Cossack Host also said they had not dispatched any Cossacks to guard Pushkin Square, and that the Cossacks who, wearing their patches, did go to the square, had “voiced their civic stance.”

Bloggers have published information about the Cossacks they have been able to identify from photos and video footage of the rally. One video depicts a bearded man who grabs a placard, bearing the slogan “Open your eyes, you’re the tsar’s slave!”, from a young oppositionist before arguing with Open Russia coordinator Andrei Pivovarov. The Telegram channel BewareOfThem reported the man was Vasily Yashchikov, member of the Union of Donbass Volunteers. Mr. Yashchikov has confirmed to Kommersant he was, in fact, at the rally and was involved in the brawl with opposition protesters. Yet, he claimed, most of the Cossacks at Pushkin Square had nothing to do with the Central Cossack Host, as claimed by the Bell. According to Mr. Yashchikov, the brawlers mainly consisted of nonregistered (i.e., unaffiliated with the Russian government) Cossacks from two grassroots organizations, the First Hundred and the Crimean Regiment. Moreover, they allegedly showed up at the rally independently of one another.

“The rally was discussed in Cossack groups, and someone suggested we go and talk to people,” Mr. Yashchikov told Kommersant. “We have nearly a hundred people in the  Hundred, but only fifteen decided to go. At the square, we met Cossacks from the Crimean Regiment, which is actually not Crimean, but from the Moscow Region. But our organizations are not friendly, so we were there separately.”

He admitted there were several people from the Central Cossack Host at Pushkin Square, but his group did not interact with them, either.

KMO_165050_00034_1_t218_200833So-called Cossacks at the He’s No Tsar to Us opposition rally at Pushkin Square, Moscow, May 5, 2018. Photo by Alexander Miridonov. Courtesy of Kommersant

According to Mr. Yashchikov, the Cossacks came to Pushkin Square to talk with Mr. Navalny’s supporters, but had no intention of being involved in dispersing the rally.

“There were one and half thousand people there [the Moscow police counted the same number of protesters—Kommersant]. There were thirty-five of us at most, and we had only two whips. You could not have paid us to wade into that crowd,” claimed Mr. Yashchikov.

Mr. Yashchikov claimed he managed to have a friendly chat with Mr. Navalny, but opposition protesters were aggressive, he alleged.

“Someone picked on us, asking why we had come there, that it was their city. Another person tried to knock my cap off, while they swore at other Cossacks and blasphemed the Orthodox faith,” Mr. Yashchikov complained. “Well, we couldn’t take it anymore.”

People who attended the rally have denied his claims.

“The Cossacks acted cohesively, like a single team,” said Darya, who was at the rally [Kommersant has not published her surname, as she is a minor]. “They formed a chain and started pushing us towards the riot police, apparently, to make their job easier. The Cossacks kicked me, while they encircled my boyfriend and beat him. They retreated only when they realized they were being film and photographed.”

Darya planned to file a complaint with the police charging the Cossacks with causing her bodily harm. Currently, human rights defenders from Agora, Zona Prava, and Public Verdict have documented more than fifteen assault complaints filed against the Cossacks.

Oppositionists have claimed the police mainly detained protesters, allegedly paying almost no attention to the Cossacks and NOD activists. Kirill Grigoriev, an Open Russia activist detained at the rally, recounted that, at the police station where he was taken after he was detained, he pretended to be a NOD member, and he was released by police without their filing an incident report.

“When we arrived at the Alexeyevsky Police Precinct, a policeman immediately asked who of us was from NOD. I jokingly pointed at myself. He took me into a hallway and asked me to write down the surnames of other members of the organization,” said Mr. Grigoriev.

He wrote down the surnames of ten people, after which everyone on the list was given back their internal Russian passports and released.

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Cossacks Confront Navalny Supporters for First Time
Regime Prepares for Fresh Protests, Including Non-Political Ones, Analysts Argue 
Yelena Mukhametshina and Alexei Nikolsky
Vedomosti
May 6, 2018

He’s No Tsar to Us, the unauthorized protest rally in Moscow held by Alexei Navalny’s supporters, differed from previous such rallies. On Tverskaya Street, provocateurs demanded journalists surrender their cameras. By 2:00 p.m., the monument to Pushkin was surrounded by activists of the National Liberation Front (NOD). When protesters chanted, “Down with the tsar!” they yelled “Maidan shall not pass!” in reply. Behind the monument were groups of Cossacks, who had never attended such rallies. In addition, for the first time, the police warned people they intended to use riot control weapons and physical force, and indeed the actions of the security forces were unprecedentedly rough. The riot police (OMON) detained protesters by the hundreds, and Cossacks lashed them with plaited whips.

The Moscow police counted 1,500 protesters at the rally, while organizers failed to provide their own count of the number of attendees. Navalny said the nationwide rallies were a success. His close associate Leonid Volkov argued that “in terms of numbers, content, and fighting spirit, records were broken,” also noting the police’s unprecedented brutality. According to OVD Info, around 700 people were detained in Moscow, and nearly 1,600 people in 27 cities nationwide. Citing the PHRC, TASS reported that 658 people were detained in Moscow.

fullscreen-1sdb.png

“He’s No Tsar to Us, May 5: A Map of Arrests. 1,597 people were detained during protest rallies on May 5, 2018, in 27 Russian cities, according to OVD Info. According to human right activists, during nationwide anti-corruption protests on March 26, 2017, more than 1,500 people were detained. Source: OVD Info.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

PHRC member Maxim Shevchenko demanded the council be urgently convoked due to “the regime’s use of Black Hundreds and fascist militants.” According to a police spokesman, the appearance at the rally of “members of different social groups” was not engineered by the police, while the warning that police would use special riot control weapons was, apparently, dictated by the choice of tactics and the desire to avoid the adverse consequences of the use of tear gas.

According to NOD’s leader, MP Yevgeny Fyodorov, 1,000 members of the movement were involved in Saturday’s rally.

“We wanted to meet and discuss the fact the president must be able to implement his reforms. Because we have been talking about de-offshorization and withdrawing from a unipolar world for five years running, but things have not budged an inch,” said Fyodorov.

NOD did not vet their actions with the Kremlin, the leadership of the State Duma or the Moscow mayor’s office, Fyodorov assured reporters.

On Sunday, the Telegram channel Miracles of OSINT reported that, in 2016–2018, the Central Cossack Host, whose members were at the rally, received three contracts worth nearly ₽16 million from the Moscow Department for Ethnic Policy for training in the enforcement of order at public events. As Vedomosti has learned, according to the government procurement website, the Central Cossack Host received eleven contracts, worth nearly ₽38 million, from the Moscow mayor’s office over the same period.

Gleb Kuznetsov, head of the Social Research Expert Institute (EISI), which has ties to the Kremlin, argued there was no brutality at the rally.

“In Paris, the scale of protests is currently an order of magnitude higher, but no one speaks about their particular brutality. In Russia, so far the confrontation has been cute, moderate, and provincial. The only strange thing is that, in Russia, people who are involved in such protests, which are aimed at maximum mutual violence, are regarded as children. But this is not so. Everything conformed to the rules of the game, common to the whole world. If you jump a policeman, don’t be surprised if he responds with his truncheon,” said Kuznetsov.*

The Russian government has allied itself with the Cossacks and NOD, which are essentially illegal armed formations, argued Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Moscow Carnegie Center.

“This does not bode well. Apparently, in the future, such formations will be used to crack down on protests,” said Kolesnikov.

The authorities are preparing for the eventuality there will be more protests. Even now the occasions for them have become more diverse, and they are spreading geographically, noted Kolesnikov.

Grassroots activism has been growing, and the authorities have realized this, political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov concurred. They are always nervous before inaugurations. In 2012, there was fear of a virtual Maidan, while now the example of Armenia is fresh in everyone’s minds, he said.

“The security services had to flex their muscles before the new cabinet was appointed. Although, in view of the upcoming FIFA World Cup, law enforcement hung the regime out to dry contentwise,” said Vinogradov.

* In September 2017, the Bell reported that state corporations Rosatom and RusHydro were financing EISI to the tune of ₽400 million each, and it could not be ruled out that the so-called social research institute was receiving subsidies from other state companies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Yevgeny Vitishko: Freedom or Death

Freedom or Death
Yevgeny Titov
December 12, 2015
Novaya Gazeta

The condition of environmentalist Yevgeny Vitishko, who is on a hunger strike, is critical.

Yevgeny Vitiskho has been on hunger strike for seventeen days in Penal Settlement No. 2 in the Tambov Region’s Kirsanov District. His kidneys hurt and he is suffering from dizziness and low blood pressure. And yet the wardens have not exempted him from hard physical labor. Several hours before he was to be paroled, the prosecutor’s office changed its position, and so the environmentalist launched his protest.

Yevgeny Vitishko. Photo courtesy of Amnesty International
Yevgeny Vitishko. Photo courtesy of Amnesty International

Vitishko was supposed to be released on November 21. The Kirsanov District Court had decided to mitigate his punishment by changing imprisonment to limited freedom. Vitishko was supposed to go home and register with the police. The breakthrough in the case came after Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Russia’s human rights ombudsman Ella Pamfilova had communicated personally to President Putin about Vitishko’s imprisonment.

At the court hearing, a spokesman for the penal settlement where Vitishko has been serving his sentence, and the district prosecutor’s office petitioned the court for the environmentalist’s release. But right before the scheduled release, on the evening of November 20, the very same prosecutor’s office sent the court an appeal asking it to overturn its decision. The alleged reason for the appeal was that prosecutors were unclear as to where Vitishko had to register, in his hometown of Tuapse or in Slavyansk-on-Kuban, where he has not lived for almost twenty years. The court will examine this appeal on December 22.

Kuban environmentalists Yevgeny Vitiskho and Suren Gazaryan were sentenced to three years of probation under Article 167 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“destruction of other people’s property”). Tuapse District Court Judge Galina Avdzhi ruled the men were guilty of ruining the fence around an elite residence in the village of Bzhid on the Black Sea coast. The fence illegally enclosed a considerable section of public forest, but when the environmentalists filed a complaint with law enforcement authorities, the authorities pointedly ignored the violations.

The residence has been linked to Alexander Tkachyov, former governor of Krasnodar Territory and current federal minister of agriculture. Before the Sochi Olympics, Suren Gazaryan was forced to flee to Estonia, where he received political asylum, while Yevgeny Vitishko’s probation sentence was changed to imprisonment.