The Alexander Merkulov Test

“I am/we are Alexander Merkulov”

Alexei Sergeyev
Facebook
September 8, 2020

The Alexander Merkukov Test

An abyss of silence. You shout at the top of your lungs, but there’s no response, only silence. It’s like in a dream when you need to shout, but you have no voice at all. It’s gone. In a dream, however, you can wake up, while in this case…

On the placard, I had tied a bell to a symbolic spool of the white thread that was used to sew the shaky case against Alexander shut. It trembles in the wind, and passersby hear its “ding-ding.” For whom does the bell toll? Don’t walk on by, don’t look away…

Why did I get involved in the case of Alexander Merkulov (aka Aleksandr Peĵiĉ)? We weren’t friends, just acquaintances. Why, even though I hate court hearings, did I attend three court hearings last week?

The bell has a tongue. Many people in prison don’t have a tongue. The Russian Themis does not hear them. Not only has she blindfolded her eyes, but she has also put earplugs in her ears and plugged them tight. Whether you yell or not, you will be sentenced The judicial ear is sensitive only to the sovereign’s oprichniks. Gulag-minded, the courts presume that you are guilty, nor are their verdicts subject to review or appeal.

So it turns out that the only voice prisoners have is their circle of support on the outside. These groups are different for everyone. The famous blogger has hundreds of thousands of subscribers. The arrested journalist enjoys the corporate solidarity of the media: the major newspapers publish editorials about him, while his colleagues devote columns and radio and TV broadcasts to him.

A prominent public figure is supported by ordinary Russians, his fellow activists, and human rights defenders. And doctors, actors, truckers, feminists, LGBT activists, etc., have the support of their own communities. But Merkulov’s case has nothing to do with LGBT issues, so LGBT organizations can’t give it the proper attention and resources.

Sometimes, it is possible to raise a regional case to a national and even international level of publicity, as many people have managed to do in the case of Yulia Tsvetkova by pooling their efforts. While it is no guarantee of victory, it increases the chances.

But most cases in Russian courts are heard in complete silence. People are sentenced, transported to prison, and serve their sentences or die trying, and yet nobody says a word. Of the five cases that were heard in Petersburg City Court on Wednesday morning in the same courtroom as Alexander’s case, only his hearing featured a few members of the public in the gallery. The other defendants faced indifferent silence before hearing the judge say, “The appeal is denied, the defendant will remain in custody.”

Recently, the Perm human rights activist Igor Averkiev wrote an excellent post entitled “The Personal Usefulness of Crowds.” It’s not about people, it’s about animals—about the chances a hypothetical “introverted reindeer named Sergei,” a “social reindeer named Kostya,” or a “young musk ox named Proshka” would have against a pack of predators, a pack of “Lake Taimyr wolves.” I will quote a couple of passages from it.

“I’m a reindeer named Sergei. But I’m a very introverted, nearly autistic reindeer, and I only really feel good when I’m alone. And so, being the only other reindeer for many miles around, I come across a pack of hungry wolves. My chances are almost zero: I run faster, but they are more resilient. Moreover, when I’m alone, it’s easier for the wolves to work together smoothly as a group. Basically, I’m no longer here… Natural selection is why we don’t see ‘nearly autistic introverts’ among reindeer.”

“Any danger forces people (and not only people) to band together in a group, in a crowd. This happens instinctively. The import of this instinct is obvious: it depersonalizes the threat. When I am in a crowd, the danger is not focused on me personally, but rather is distributed over a large number of people, which increases my own chances of survival. But you can not only hide in a crowd, the crowd can also protect you. When it comes to self-defense, the size of the crowd matters.”

Any metaphor has its limits, of course. So, returning to Alexander, I want to talk about more than just him. We know that he is one of Averkiev’s “autistic introverts.” Not only does he lack media fame, but he also lacks a large number of what are called “stable social connections.”

(The topic of how the system cracks down on people with psychiatric or mental peculiarities deserves a separate post).

And this was where I said to myself: Stop, Alexei. There is no retreating. If it weren’t for you and the few colleagues who have got involved in this ‘hopeless case,’ and for Alexander’s mother, Alexander would be a goner.

I think this was what Olga Masina, who is seriously ill and undergoing medical treatment, and yet still works, said to herself. She stubbornly spends the few free hours and energy she has covering Alexander’s case. And then, like ripples on water, other people plug into the campaign. Svetlana Prokopyeva, who was convicted of the same “crime,” wrote an article about Alexander between her trial and her appeal. And Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko has got involved, too.

This story is not so much about Alexander, it’s about all of us. This is a test of our personal commitment, of our capacity for overcoming ourselves and our circumstances. Do we do something, however small, or do we just turn away and make excuses?

Of course, even a serious public response does not guarantee a 100% positive outcome. But the lack of support almost guarantees a negative outcome. And, at least, our involvement is felt by Alexander, and it is important for him, he writes about it in his letters.

I will end this post with two actual quotations.

“We’re not going to Merkulov’s court hearings. He’s not as cute as Yegor Zhukov,” writes a gay man.

No comment.

“I’m not ready to picket yet. The case itself is quite murky.”

Of course, I respect the right to choose.

But let me remind you that Alexander, a pacifist and anti-fascist, is accused of “condoning terrorism” on the internet for three reposts and a four-word post about 17-year-old [Mikhail] Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up in the FSB building in Arkhangelsk.

Does this warrant up to 7 years in prison? Do we need to keep Alexander in jail for three months running as if he were a particularly dangerous criminal? For me, the answer is obvious, and the point is clear in this sense: there were no calls for violence in Alexander posted. On the contrary, when reposting, he wrote that he did not approve of violence.

There is no counting the streets in our country that still bear the names of terrorists, but our valiant security forces could not care less. We LGBT activists send notarized bundles of the threats we receive to the police, but they don’t open criminal investigations because, they say, “the threats are not real.” Assaults, domestic violence, and poisoning are “not grounds for criminal prosecution.”

But Alexander’s actions are a “threat to national security”? The criminal case against him is a joke. The article in the criminal code under which he has been charged [Article 205.2] a mockery of the law. In my opinion, if it is left on the law books, then at most it should be an administrative offense.

Read the Wikipedia article about the bombing in Arkhangelsk: more and more people have been getting prison sentences for its “long echo.”

We’re talking about people’s lives here. We’re talking about Alexander’s life. Will his fate be decided in silence, or will we pass this test of caring? We don’t have horns and hooves like musk oxen and deer, the only things we have are our voices and our conscience.

At 12:30 p.m. on September 10, the appeals hearing on Alexander’s remand in police custody will take place at Petersburg City Court.

Follow Alexander’s case on Telegram: https://t.me/save_merkulov

#FreeMerkulov

Save Alexander Merkulov (Peĵiĉ)
Telegram
September 10, 2020

The Petersburg City Court upheld the original decision to remand Alexander Merkulov in custody. In the photo, you see the face of this “justice”: Judge Tatyana Matveyeva Tatyana , hiding behind the monitor.

Prosecutor Minina didn’t even stay for the announcement of the court’s decision. Apparently, she already knew it in advance.

Alexander was present via video link and was very happy to see us in the camera🙂

Alexander Merkulov is among a long list of Russians who have been prosecuted for or charged with “exonerating” or “condoning” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. The others are Alexei Shibanov, Svetlana Prokopyeva, Nadezhda BelovaLyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

The 15th

number15

Man Suspected of “Condoning Terrorism” Remanded in Custody by Pskov City Court
Lyudmila Savitskaya
Sever.Realii
June 13, 2020

Pskov City Court has remanded in custody for two months 47-year-old Alexei Shibanov, whom the regional FSB office suspects of “condoning terrorism” and publicly calling for extremism in sixteen entries on his personal page on the social network VK (Vkontakte), lawyer Tatyana Martynova has reported to us.

Shibanov will be jailed until August 10.

On VK, Shibanov had commented on the suicide bombing of the Arkhangelsk FSB office in 2018, the criminal case against journalist Svetlana Prokopieva (who has also been charged with “condoning terrorism),” the protests against plans to build a church in a park in Yekaterinburg, the suicide of a Russian National Guard deputy commander in Moscow, and the incident in Smolensk Region in which an armored vehicle hit two Russian National Guardsman. The suspect expressed his agreement with Georgian TV presenter Giorgi Gabunia’s televised tirade against Vladimir Putin, and he criticized the actions of the Moscow police during the summer 2019 protests in the city.

At his court hearing, Shibanov said that he made all the entries himself. An FSB investigator testified that more than two persons had read them. Experts at the Moscow State Linguistic University had found in the texts linguistic and psychological cues “to commit violent actions,” “incitement and veiled calls to commit destructive acts,” and “evidence of the condoning of terrorist activity.”

According to Martynova, Shibanov was detained on June 11. He was sitting on a bench when a busload of Russian National Guardsman drove up to his house. They put him on the ground, and one of the officers stepped on him with a boot. After that, Shibanov’s house was searched and his computer and laptop were seized.

After the bombing in Arkhangelsk, the FSB opened several criminal investigations into “condoning terrorism” over comments published on social networks and in the media. Yekaterina Muranova, a resident of Karelia, was 350,000 rubles for a comment on a social network. A resident of Kaluga, Ivan Lyubshin, was sentenced to five years in prison. Vyacheslav Lukichev, a 24-year-old anarchist, anti-fascist and environmental activist from Kaliningrad, was sentenced to a fine of 300,000 rubles for posting an article about the Arkhangelsk bomber [Mikhail] Zhlobitsky on Telegram. Criminal charges have been filed against Pskov journalist Svetlana Prokopieva.

Alexei Shibanov is the fifteen person in Russia who has been prosecuted for, charged with, or accused of “exonerating” or “condoning” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky since October 31, 2018. The others are Nadezhda BelovaLyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan Lyubshin, Svetlana Prokopieva, Anton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader. The number 15 courtesy of Kids Math Games

Reviewed, it seemed
5 As if someone were watching over it
Before it was
As if response were based on fact
Providing, deciding, it was soon there
Squared to it, faced to it, it was not there
Renewed, it fought
As if it had a cause to live for
Denied, it learned
As if it had sooner been destroyed
Providing, deciding, it was soon there
Squared to it, faced to it, it was not there
Reviewed, it fought
As if someone were watching over it
Before it had sooner been denied
Renewed, it seemed
As if it had a cause to live for
Destroyed, it was later based on fact

Svetlana Prokopyeva: My Day in Court

prokopA telegram informing Svetlana Prokopyeva that her criminal trial has been scheduled for one o’clock on June 16 at the Pskov Regional Court and, beneath it, a copy of the criminal indictment against her. Photo courtesy of her Facebook page

Svetlana Prokopyeva
Facebook
June 15, 2020

The trial in my criminal case begins at one o’clock tomorrow afternoon. After eighteen months of endless reminders about freedom of speech and the persecution of journalism as such, everyone is probably sick of my case. (And yet I’ll remind you that I’m being put on trial for voicing an opinion, for my work as as a professional journalist, and for trying to understand something and prevent it.) And then there’s the coronavirus, which is a whole different level of worry.

Yet I would still ask you to follow the trial. I think it’s important, not because it’s my life, but for the following reasons.

In the column “Crackdowns for the State” I argued that a powerful regime was using powerful instruments to restrict civil liberties. Since I wrote that

  • our twenty-year-vintage president has found a way to rule forever;
  • Russian National Guard soldiers have shot a man dead in his own apartment;
  • solo pickets can now get you arrested and thrown in jail on administrative charges;
  • you can be fined simply for leaving your house;
  • you can be handcuffed and taken to a police precinct for not wearing a mask (for the sake of your own health, of course);
  • and there have been innovations to electoral law: soon we will have a referendum in which our votes will decide nothing, even formally—but then you knew that.

In other words, the state has become harsher and more repressive, and criminal cases for “condoning” terrorism have been multiplying and multiplying. The reasons for them are more and more absurd. You now longer have to feel sorry for [suicide bomber Mikhail] Zhlobitsky or analyze the terrorist attack in detail. Nadezhda Belova is being persecuted for commenting on a news report; Lyudmila Stech, for reposting something without a adding a single word of her own commentary. The new Pskov case is really amazing, but I will write about it later. The craziest keeps on getting crazier.

The security forces really did detect a threat in this case, but decided that the threat was me, and that they had to take me on, not abstract “radicalization.”As if they think that if you don’t discuss a problem, it doesn’t exist. But there is a problem, and it won’t work itself out. The stronger and dumber the crackdown, the angrier the protest, especially if it’s driven deep inside. And the coil twists tighter.

Theoretically, it would take only one judge, making a ruling according to common sense and the spirit of the law, to put an end to all this nonsense. It would take only one prosecutor, refusing to pursue such absurd charges. Or even just one police investigator, dropping a case like mine for lack of evidence.

But now we’re talking science fiction, kids.

The reality is that a journalist is going on trial for doing her job. It is much more terrifying, of course, when journalists are killed or maimed. But those are crimes, and criminals are tracked down and punished. In my case, though, it’s all completely legal.

Svetlana Prokopyeva is among a long list of Russians who have been prosecuted for or charged with “exonerating” or “condoning” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. The others are Nadezhda Belova, Lyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan Lyubshin, Anton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. On June 13, Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda) reported that a 47-year-old Pskov man, Alexei Shibanov, had been arrested by the FSB on suspicion of “condemning terrorism” and “publicly calling for terrorism.” The Pskov City Court has remanded Shibanov in custody until August 10. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Take Off Your Underpants and Squat Five Times”: Nadezhda Belova’s Journey from Grassroots Activism to “Exonerating Terrorism”

nb-1Nadezhda Belova. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

“Take Off Your Underpants and Squat Five Times”: A New “Terrorism Exoneration” Case
Svetlana Prokopieva
Radio Svoboda
June 2, 2020

Two years after the bombing in the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk, law enforcement agencies continue to launch criminal cases against people who comment on the case on social media, claiming they have violated the law against “exonerating terrorism.” The story of Nadezhda Belova is more proof that the bombing carried out by 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky, resulting only in his own death, has been turned into a tool for persecuting undesirable activists.

Nadezhda Belova is 36 years old. She was born and lived her whole life in Novaya Usman, the largest village in Russia, near Voronezh. She had never been involved in politics or protest movements. She first came to the attention of the authorities in 2019, when she organized and brought to a victorious conclusion two protest actions defending the interests of her fellow villagers. In 2020, a criminal case was opened against her for “exonerating terrorism.”

“You’re in Big Trouble”
Criminal Code Article 205.2 came into Nadezhda Belova’s life on March 31—”probably at around nine in the morning, under the guise of a search for coronavirus-infected Asians,” Belova says.

“First my husband opened the door. They told him they were doing a search. Naturally, they weren’t wearing masks. First, they asked who lived there. (We rent a flat in Voronezh.) My husband told them that no one lived there but us, the two of us and our son. I came out and asked them why they weren’t wearing masks. When they saw me, they said, ‘Nadezhda Belova, you’re coming with us for questioning.'”

Nadezhda, her 15-year-old son, and her husband were taken to the police station and questioned. On the advice of a lawyer friend, she invoked Article 51 [of the Russian Constitution, which gives people the right not to incriminate themselves].

“I expected to be punished for all my campaigns in Usman,” Belova says, but investigators showed her a comment she had posted on the VK community page Lentach under one of the very first reports about the bombing in Arkhangelsk. Nadezhda had forgotten all about it.​

“This circus lasted for an hour and a half,” she says of the first interrogation. “‘You’re in big trouble,’ they said. Of course, they threatened me—with five years in prison, and with sending my son to an orphanage if I didn’t confess. I asked them what I should confess to and told them I didn’t know what they were talking about. ‘Here,’ they asked, ‘did you write this comment in 2018?’ ‘Can you hear yourselves?’ I asked them, ‘A comment in 2018!’ The investigator says, ‘If I had written this, I would have remembered.’ I wouldn’t have remembered the comment even if they had tortured me, although the investigator said, ‘If we want you to confess to the Kennedy assassination, we have ways of making you talk.'”

Leaving her family at the police station, the investigators took Nadezhda with them to search the rented flat in Voronezh and her home in Novaya Usman. They confiscated all the gadgets they found, including four phones, a laptop, two hard drives, and a flash drive. They released Nadezhda only late in the evening, dumping her in the middle of the city without a phone and without a single kopeck.

“I walked three kilometers at night, bawling my eyes out and hungry,” she says.

The next day, Belova filed complaints with the prosecutor’s office, the Interior Ministry, and the Investigative Committee. (They, of course, would respond to the complaints by claiming that everything that had happened to her was “legal.”) At first, Belova was named as a witness in the “exonerating terrorism” case, but in May she was named a suspect.

“On May 13, they came up to me on the street, shoved a piece of paper in my face, and said, ‘If you don’t show up now, police will arrest you and bring you there,'” Belova says. “I told them I was going to hire a lawyer, that I wouldn’t come without a lawyer. But things turned out badly with the lawyer, too.”

Nadezhda had bad luck with her lawyer. The person she hired on a friend’s recommendation “turned out to be either a pro-Putinist from the get-go, or he changed his stripes along the way,” she says.

He tried to persuade Nadezhda to “tell the truth” and had no objections when the investigator decided to arrest his suspect right in the middle of questioning.

“You wouldn’t confess. Now you’re going to sit in jail, think things over, and see what lies in store for you,” Nadezhda recalls him saying. She spent twenty-four hours in a temporary detention facility.

“They were not locking me up just to teach me a lesson. They put me in a cold, smoky kennel crawling with bedbugs. There were streaks of blood on the walls: apparently, the people before had been crushing the bedbugs. I was given tea and a piece of dry bread in a metal bowl and a mug, like a dog. I called an ambulance. They just give me a shot of painkiller, that was it. I hung in there till morning. In the morning, they put an actress in my cell who immediately started chewing me out. Her performance lasted fifteen minutes. ‘What’s your name? What you in for? If you’re in here, there must be a reason. Clear the dishes. Act normal. I’m going to smoke, you mind?’ I told her I did, because I was a non-smoker. ‘I’ll do as I like.’ She stood next to the bed and lit up a cigarette. I turned toward the wall and thought, ‘If only she doesn’t strangle me.’ But I knew she was an actress, so she stopped talking, too. She had played her role. Then a policeman came in: ‘Hands behind your back. Against the wall.’ They took me to another room and did a complete body search. They told me to strip naked, and patted down all my things. I was told to take off my underpants and squat five times: the idea was that I had drugs stuffed in there,” Belova recounts.

“It’s going to be like this from now on. You’re suspected of committing a really terrible crime,” she was told.

When she left the detention center, the investigator met her, promising to send her back to her cell if she didn’t immediately sign a confession stating when, where, in whose presence, and on what brand of telephone she had posted the comment.

“I said, ‘You do understand that this is really a lie? It’s nonsense.’ Well, then the three of us—the lawyer, the investigator, and I—wrote an essay entitled ‘What I Wrote on October 31,'” Belova recounts. “‘You do understand that you could go to prison for forcing a confession and lying?’ But the investigator said, ‘In 1937, we would have tortured you for an hour, and you’d have confessed right away. We wouldn’t have had to drive you here and there, we wouldn’t have wasted time: we would have needed only an hour.’ They all laughed.”

__________________

[Prokopieva:] They have blood ties with 1937 . . .

[Belova:] I’ll say even more—they’re waiting for the go-ahead. Once they get permission, I don’t think they’ll even need to be persuaded. They’re too lazy to drive me here and there and waste time. They want to turn torture me quickly and get on with their lives. I said to them, “If you were ordered to shoot at children right now, you would shoot without flinching.” 

You later retracted the confession?

Yes, of course! On May 13, I was put in the lockup. On the 14th, I confessed to everything. On the 15th, I got a new lawyer and completely recanted my testimony. I wanted them to write that I had been coerced with the threat of prison, but the investigator categorically refused to do it. “Do you think I’m going to denounce myself?” he asked.

nb-2Screenshot of the social media post, dated October 31, 2018, under which Belova posted the comment that prompted the criminal case against her. The post reads, “There has been an explosion at the FSB building in Arkhangelsk. One person has been killed. The cause of the blast is under investigation.” Courtesy of RFE/RL

Belova was unable to recall the comment for which she was being prosecuted. But she did find the post on the social media community page and reread it. She called the slain man a “martyr” and wrote that he would “go to heaven.” Nadezhda now suggests that when she wrote it, she thought that an FSB employee was the victim since, at the time, there was no information about the identity and fate of the terrorist. Her comment also included the word “pushback.”

“Yeah, and there was also the phrase ‘Putin’s devils,'” Belova recalls.

Although her comment has been deleted, the responses to it are still there, including this one: “Nadezhda, they’re already coming to get you. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.”

“Many times I’d seen comments to many people on VK like ‘They’re coming to get you’ and ‘You’ve been reported to the FSB,’ but I’d always thought they were jokes. I’d been threatened many times in my life, after the campaigns for the parking lot and the jitneys, and people had filed ‘rioting’ complaints against me when I still lived in Usman. So I would have only laughed at such comments. I didn’t really believe people were jailed for the things they said. I didn’t realize that crackdowns like that were happening in Russia,” Belova says.

“There Was No Time to Choose Who to Be the Hero”
Belova has now been charged with violating Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code and released on her own recognizance. Her new lawyer, in whom she has confidence, is being paid by OVD Info.

The answer to the question of why it took the security forces almost two years to charge her with a “really terrible crime” is incredibly simple. In 2018, Nadezhda Belova was still of no interest to the regime’s watchdogs.

“I was born in Usman and had lived there all my life. My mother worked as a commercial freight forwarder, and my father was a mechanical engineer. I graduated from high school with a silver medal. I was a goody two-shoes, even a little bit of an outcast, you could say. I spent summers in the countryside reading books—Natasha Rostova, Chekhov, and Bunin,” Nadezhda says about herself.

nb-3Nadezhda Belova’s native village. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

She graduated from the Voronezh Technological Academy in 2005, giving birth to a child in her fifth year there.

“After that, as it happens, nobody hired me because I had a child and later nobody hired me because I had no experience,” Belova says.

An economics and information specialist by education, Belova worked at the post office, then as a clerk “punching out invoices.” She had a failed marriage, which she describes as “useless and unnecessary.” Finally, five years ago, she met Sergei, with whom she has started a real family and a family business. Sergei was teaching robotics and programming to children, their son had gradually begun helping out, and Nadezhda handled advertising and moderating group pages on social media. This year, to be closer to work, they moved to Voronezh.

“By the way, we had wanted to register as self-employed, but the coronavirus and the arrest have blindsided us,” Belova says.

Even before moving to Voronezh, Nadezhda had been in the public eye as a grassroots activist. She was motivated not by power, money or popularity, but by the sense that her “shoulders were pressed to the mat.”

“They have started taking away the last things we have. As it is, they haven’t been doing anything [for us], just skinning our hides,” she says by way of explaining the reasons for her activism. “That’s how I look at it. I took it as an occupation, a war, an attack by fascists. There was no time to choose who to be the hero, so I decided, ‘Who would do it if not me?'”

Belova was annoyed by the decision of the local authorities to let a parking lot next to the ospital be redeveloped as a store. She wrote posts on local community social media pages, invited journalists to Novaya Usman, and appeared on television herself. The protest campaign was successful: the construction site was moved, and a new “huge paved parking lot, four times larger” was built in place of the old one.

nb-4The parking lot that Nadezhda Belova and other people in Novaya Usman stopped from being redeveloped as a store. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Six months later, in June, Novaya Usman faced a more serious problem: the governor of Voronezh Region, Alexander Gusev, announced that the area’s public transport routes would be optimized. Jitneys from Usman would be forbidden from entering Voronezh. People would have to transfer to Voronezh municipal transport routes on the outskirts of the city.

“We realized it would be a disaster for us,” Belova says. “I told people we shouldn’t wait for them to cut us off. We just needed to make ourselves heard: we’d make a video and circulate a petition, letting them see we were opposed. Naturally, people said yes, that nothing good could come of [the governor’s plans]. I wrote a post on a community page, asking people to meet at the shopping center to collect signatures on a petition. All that was written there was that we opposed the cancellation of suburban transport routes and banning jitneys from entering the city. That was it! No posters, no rallies against Putin.”

Belova again wrote social media posts, made media appearances, and met personally with various officials. She and her fellow campaigners successfully defended the right of rural public transport to make stops in Voronezh. Her fellow villagers thanked Belova in the comments to reports on the campaign’s progress: “Such a fragile young woman has been dealing with three big, experienced men trying to defend the rights of all the inhabitants of New Usman! And she’s not afraid to tell the whole truth to their faces! Thank you, Nadezhda! You’re a smart cookie!”

“Everyone supported me at that moment. When I wrote on the community page that someone was denouncing me to the authorities, they told me not to fear, that they would defend me, that I was doing a great job, that I should run to become village head, that they supported me,” Nadezhda recalls. “A year goes by, and people have forgotten. Not only did they not support me, but some of them suggested I should think hard about what I’d said. Back then they told me I should run for head of the village, but now they’re telling me to think about what I’ve done. People have forgotten.”

__________________

2019 was much quieter in terms of public politics, unlike 2017–18, when there was Navaly’s presidential campaign and then the elections. Where were you during this time?

I have never voted for Putin. I realized back in 1999 that our country was coming to a gradual end. I was only 16 years old—my brother, who is four years older, said, “That’s it, this country is over. The monster has come!” His phrase summed it up for me. Then there was the Nord-Ost siege, the Beslan school siege, and the annexation of Crimea. I already looked at our country with sadness and pain. When would the people wake up? I asked myself. I realized it would never happen! Where was I? We have no elections in Usman. There are some local clowns who either shuffle papers around or aid and abet corrpution. Usman is the total pits in this regard. We have no politics: there is no opposition in Usman, just bottomless corruption, theft and nepotism.

So you weren’t involved in politics or activism of any kind?

Absolutely not! By the way, I once went to meet with officials about the jitneys. One of Gusev’s people asked me, “You probably want something for yourself, right? To be a village head or a council member? What do you want? Money? power?” I told him, “No matter how poor I am, I will never join your party or knuckle under.” No, I live a dignified life, and I won’t be ashamed to look my grandchildren in the eyes in the future. I’m not a vegetable. That matters most of all. In fact, that’s what I have been punished for.

You haven’t missed Usman after moving to Voronezh?

I loved that village and am still happy when something happens there. I don’t regret speaking out, I don’t regret being arrested, because I am a human being. I always wondered who I was. For example, I could say that I was a mother, that I was a daughter. I realized in 2019 that I was a human being and a citizen. I’m not a punching bag, I’m not a pushover—I’m a citizen. I can say this with absolute certainty, and it gives me strength and confidence. Even if I were alone, I would be a citizen. That is the highest calling I could have.

nb-5Nadezhda Belova on the limits of Novaya Usman. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You’re not resentful that your home village has turned its back on you at a difficult moment?

In the house where I lived, a neighbor lady has knocked together a playground—there are some benches and chintzy swings. I recently went there to paint pictures on the walls. I paid for the paint with my own money. I breathed this paint and cleaned up dog poo and empty bottles. As a child, I saw puddles of sewage, drunks and drug addicts. Books were my only salvation, as I lived in utter poverty and was hungry all the time. May their children grow up amidst beauty. If at least one child doesn’t become a drug addict or go to prison thanks to this beauty, I will feel that I haven’t lived my life in vain. These are children, these are our children! After all, someone did not provide warmth, kindness and morality to the people who detained me and undressed me. They grew up to be monsters. This is a universal problem. It is sad that children escape into drug addiction, that they blow themselves up. I have tried to change this little world as much as I can. Everything I could do, I have done and will do. I won’t be made into a monster. I won’t retaliate, I won’t hate, and I’m not going to kill myself.

Nadezhda Belova is the latest in a growing list of Russians who have been prosecuted for allegedly publicly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Belova has joined the ranks of Lyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinSvetlana ProkopievaAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

Case Closed?

Zhlobitsky

Investigation of Bomb at Arkhangelsk FSB Office Discontinued Due to Suspect’s Death
Kommersant
May 24, 2020

FSB (Federal Security Service) investigators have dropped the criminal prosecution of the teenager who in October 2018 brought a explosive device into the FSB’s Arkhangelsk Regional offices and perished in the resulting blast, TASS reports, citing a source. The case has been discontinued on non-exoneratory grounds.

“FSB investigators conducted a thorough investigation into the allegations of terrorism made against the Arkhangelsk teenager. Investigators obtained the findings of previous forensic examinations and questioned witnesses before deciding to terminate the case on non-exoneratory grounds in connection with the suspect’s death,” the source said.

All legal proceedings in the case have been completed, but the case will not be referred to the court. Once the criminal investigation into the terrorist attack is discontinued, the process of establishing the deceased man’s guilt has been completed, but the charges are not considered withdrawn.

The explosion in the entryway of the Arkhangelsk regional offices of the FSB occurred on October 31, 2018. A homemade bomb was detonated by 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Three FSB employees were injured, and the young man himself was killed on the spot. Before his death, [Zhlobitsky] posted an explanation for what he was about to do in an anarchist chat room on Telegram. He had decided to protest the “fabrication of cases and torture of people” [by the FSB] by setting off a bomb.

Several people have since been convicted of exonerating [sic] the attack. In February 2019, a criminal investigation was opened into the actions of Pskov journalist Svetlana Prokopieva, who had voiced an opinion about the teenager’s motives for detonating the bomb. For approving [sic] the bombing in Arkhangelsk, a resident of Sochi was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. For the same reason, Kaliningrad activist Vyacheslav Lukichev was fined 300,000 rubles. Ivan Lyubshin, a resident of Kaluga, was sentenced to five years and two months in a penal colony for exonerating terrorism over a comment he had posted on Vkontakte (VK). In Voronezh Region, a criminal investigation of exonerating terrorism was recently launched over a series of social media comments made by a local resident, Nadezhda Belova.

A growing number of Russians have been prosecuted or are currently facing prosecution for allegedly “exonerating” publicly the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. They include Nadezhda Belova, Lyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinSvetlana ProkopievaAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Photo courtesy of Anarchist Fighter. Translated by the Russian Reader

Don’t Mention Mikhail Zhlobitsky! (The Case of Nadezhda Belova)

belovaNadezhda Belova. Photo from the VK group page Free People of Voronezh. Courtesy of OVD Info

Voronezh Activist Released After Day in Jail for Comment on Bombing at FSB Office
OVD Info
May 14, 2020

Voronezh grassroots activist Nadezhda Belova has been released after spending twenty-fours in a temporary detention center in connection with a criminal investigation into alleged “exoneration of terrorism.” It was Belova herself who reported the news to OVD Info.

The woman was released on her own recognizance. At the moment, she is suspected of having “exonerated terrorism” (punishable under Article 205.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) by commenting online about [the October 2018 suicide bombing of the Arkhangelsk offices of the FSB]. Belova had been a witness in the case for the last month. In late March, her home was searched by police, and she and members of her family were interrogated.

In recent days, a police investigator had visited Belova at home and summoned her to an interrogation on May 13, which she went to accompanied by OVD Info attorney Sergei Garin. After Belova was questioned, she was jailed for the night in the temporary detention center, and then interrogated again the next morning. According to Belova, she was pressured into saying it was she who had posted the commentary, although she denied any wrongdoing.

According to her, a women was purposely placed in her cell who intimidated her, smoked cigarettes, used profane language, and forced her to clean up the dishes in the cell.

“Yesterday and the day before yesterday, I was a free person, but today, I’m sorry to say, they have been trying to turn me into an out-and-out convict—they have humiliated me. First they handcuffed me, then they said I could go to the toilet only in handcuffs and escorted by a wardress. I want women to know what can happen [to them], what a performance can take place. I have been humiliated to such an extent, dragged through the mud, and I don’t know why. Even if I wrote those thirty words, why such degradation?” Belova said.

During the morning interrogation, according to Belova, the investigator threatened to arrest and jail her for the next two months.

“Today, [the investigator] said to me, ‘Either you wrote this or you’re going to spend another twenty-four hours in the detention center and tomorrow, at my request, you’ll either be put under house arrest or remanded in custody for two months. Or they’ll let you go—but I can’t say what will happen,'” said Belova. “The argument was that I could tamper with witnesses who had allegedly testified that the comment was written in my style, and that I could pose a danger to them.”

The activist has been summoned to another interrogation the following day, supposedly to verify whether she had deleted the comment or not. According to Belova, the investigator has a folder containing her various social media comments and personal messages, and he threatened her that if she continued to engage in activism, there would be other criminal cases.

UPDATE: May 15, 2020. Ekaterina Seleznyova, OVD Info’s legal aid coordinator, has informed us that Belova has been pressured by investigators into confessing not only to posting the comment but also to wrongdoing.

A local grassroots activist, Belova campaigned against the cancellation of direct bus service from Voronezh to Novaya Usman [in the summer of 2019], collecting signatures at people’s gatherings. In this regard, complaints were filed against her, alleging that she was organizing riots. Belova was also actively involved in protests against fare increases.

On October 31, 2018, 17-year-old local resident Mikhail Zhlobitsky detonated a bomb in the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk. Three FSB employees were injured, and the young man himself was killed. Several minutes before the blast, a message about the attack was posted on Telegram in the open chat channel Rebel Talk [Rech’ buntovshchika]. The authorities investigated the incident as a terrorist attack.

In Russia, at least ten criminal cases of “exonerating terrorism” have been opened in connection with the October 2018 bombing in Arkhangelsk. In March, a resident of Kaluga, Ivan Lyubshin, was sentenced to five years and two months in prison for commenting on the topic on the internet.

Nadezhda Belova is the latest in a growing list of Russians who have been prosecuted or are facing prosecution for allegedly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky on social media or in the traditional media. Belova has joined the ranks of Lyudmila Stech, Oleg Nemtsev, Ivan Lyubshin, Svetlana Prokopieva, Anton Ammosov, Pavel Zlomnov, Nadezhda Romasenko, Alexander Dovydenko, Galina Gorina, Alexander Sokolov, Yekaterina Muranova, 15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

Masked Men Invade and Search Kaliningrad Woman’s Apartment over Social Network Repost

нарсамо

A screenshot of the Popular Self-Defense movement’s page on the VK social network. If you’re in Russia, you should think twice about reposting anything the PSD posts about suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Otherwise, masked men might break down your door, as just happened to Lyudmila Stech in Kaliningrad.

Masked Men Invade and Search Kaliningrad Woman’s Apartment Over Social Network Repost
Novyi Kaliningrad
May 8, 2020

In Kaliningrad, masked security forces officers broke into the apartment of a local resident, Lyudmila Stech, and conducted a search. As transpired, she is suspected of publicly exonerating terrorism because of a post on a social network. The incident was reported to Novyi Kaliningrad by a friend of the Kaliningrad woman.

“They broke into her apartment at 6 a.m. today. First they knocked on the door and said they were from Rospotrebnadzor [the Russian federal consumer watchdog]. When Lyudmila didn’t open it, they broke the window,” our source said.

According to the source, the search of Lyudmila Stech’s apartment lasted about four hours. Stech’s router and mobile phone were confiscated, and then Sech herself was taken away for questioning. By evening, she had been released on her own recognizance. She was informed that she was suspected of committing a crime under Article 205.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (public calls to carry out terrorist activities; public exoneration or promotion of terrorism) due to a post on the Russian social network Vkontakte (VK).

“No copies of the documents that she was forced to sign were given to her. She received only a certificate for work, ” says the suspect’s friend.

Novyi Kaliningrad has learned that the Kaliningrad women has been charged over an incident in October 2019 in which she allegedly reposted a post, published on the group page of the Popular Self-Defense (Narodnaya Samooborona) dealing with 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who in 2018 set off a bomb in the building of the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk, killing himself and [injuring] three FSB employees.

Kaliningrad has already seen a similar case. In the fall of 2018, FSB officers detained Kaliningrad resident Vyacheslav Lukichev. According to investigators, the antifascist had posted a text on the Telegram channel Prometheus that called anarcho-communist Zhlobitsky’s deed “heroic.” Lukichev admitted during the investigation and during the trial that it was he who had published the post on the Telegram channel, but he argued that the content of the text had been incorrectly interpreted. In March 2019, Lukichev was found guilty of vindicating terrorism, under Article 205.2.2 of the criminal code, and fined 300,000 rubles [approx. 4,066 euros at the then-current exchange rate].

Thanks to Novaya Gazeta for the heads-up. Lyudmila Stech is the latest in a growing list of Russians prosecuted or facing prosecution for allegedly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky on social media or in the traditional media. Stech has joined the ranks of Ivan Lyubshin, Svetlana Prokopieva, Anton Ammosov, Pavel Zlomnov, Nadezhda Romasenko, Alexander Dovydenko, Galina Gorina, Alexander Sokolov, Yekaterina Muranova, 15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. On March 5, OVD Info reported that Oleg Nemtsev, a trucker in Arkhangelsk Region, had been charged with the same “crime.” Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Lyubshin: Five Years in Prison for a Social Media Comment

 

lyubshinIvan Lyubshin at the Kaluga city limits on the eve of his trial. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

Court Sentences Kaluga Resident to Five Years and Two Months in Prison for Comment on Bombing at FSB Office
OVD Info
March 5, 2020

The Second Military District Court, sitting in Kaluga, has sentenced Kaluga resident Ivan Lyubshin to five years and two months in a medium security penal colony for violating Article 205.2.2 of the Russian Criminal Code, which criminalizes “exoneration of terrorism,” for posting a comment on the VK social network about the 2018 suicide bombing at the Arkhangelsk office of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Pavel Chikov, head of the human rights group Agora, reported the verdict on his Telegram channel.

The prosecutor had asked the court to sentence Lyubshin to six years and one month in prison. According to Chikov, Lyubshin and his defense lawyer, Tatyana Molokanova, had insisted on an acquittal. It took the judge two hours to return the verdict.

“I called [Arkhangelsk teenage suicide bomber Mikhail] Zhlobitsky ‘hero of the week, at least,” meaning that he was the hero of the news. This was stretched to make it seems I’d meant he was a hero in general,” the accused said in January of this year.

Lyubshin later deleted the social media comment.

The court examined all witnesses and evidence in the case over a single day, March 4, without Lyubshin present. He told OVD Info that he was on sick leave, and had a doctor’s appointment that day, so he was forced to miss the court hearing.

The prosecution asked that the hearing be postponed until March 14 and Lyubshin’s attendance be assured through compulsory delivery of his person to the court. The defense asked for the same postponement, but objected to the prosecution’s motion for compulsory delivery.

Presiding Judge Alexei Grinev asked for a note from Lyubshin’s doctors to the effect that the defendant was physically unable to attend the court hearing. The doctors refused to give Lyubshin such a note, explaining that such notes were issued only at the court’s request.

The court ruled that the defendant has thus failed to appeared and postponed the hearing of the case until March 5. Lyubshin reported that the court also ruled that he be forcibly delivered to the hearing.

Lyubshin also reported that the FSB officers who were witnesses in his case left in the same car as the prosecutor after the hearing. In addition, one FSB officer, another witness in the case, tried to ask the doctors for details about Lyubshin’s illness. However, they only confirmed that Lyubshin was under their care.

In October 2019, Lyubshin was placed under house arrest on charges of “exonerating terrorism.” He claimed then that FSB officers who interrogated him had tortured him, but the Russian Investigative Committee declined to launch a criminal case against the security service officers in question. In late December 2019, Lyubshin was released on his own recognizance. In March 2019, after the partial decriminalization of Article 282 of the Criminal Code, the court dismissed incitement of hatred charges against Lyubshin for posts on VK.  In November 2017, he was found guilty of inciting hatred (Article 282.1) and “exonerating Nazism” (Article 354.1.2) for posts on VK. He was sentenced to pay a fine of 400,000 rubles.  Lyubshin was also accused of distributing pornography, but the court acquitted him.

Ivan Lyubshin is the latest in a growing list of Russians prosecuted or facing prosecution for allegedly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky on social media or in the traditional media. Lyubshin has joined the ranks of Svetlana Prokopieva, Anton Ammosov, Pavel Zlomnov, Nadezhda Romasenko, Alexander Dovydenko, Galina Gorina, Alexander Sokolov, Yekaterina Muranova, 15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. On March 5, OVD Info reported that Oleg Nemtsev, a trucker in Arkhangelsk Region, had been charged with the same “crime.” Translated by the Russian Reader

The Network Case in Context

Scenes from the reading of the verdict in the Network trial in Penza on February 10, 2020. Filmed by Vlad Dokshin, edited by Alexander Lavrenov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
February 10, 2020

Today’s verdict in Penza was terribly inhumane, exorbitantly vicious, and so on, of course. The Putin regime handed out humongous sentences to members of the anti-authoritarian scene, punishing them for exercising their right to be themselves. Anarchists and non-official antifascists were severely and cruelly punished by the dictatorial regime—acting through the FSB and a kangaroo court—for their DIY activities, for making connections outside the official, formalized world, for dissenting, for rejecting all hierarchies. These political prisoners have been sent to the camps for many years, and it will take an enormous effort to keep them alive, if they are sent to the north, to keep them healthy and sane, and to get them released early. I wish them and their relatives and friends all the strength in the world.

Unfortunately, many people have reacted to the verdict in the Network Case as if it were utterly unprecedented, as if the bloodbath in Chechnya, and the torture and savage sentences meted out to defendants in other “terrorist” cases had never happened. It as if, even recently, their own government had not committed numerous crimes against the people of Ukraine and Syria, against prisoners in camps and other “others,” against National Bolshevik party activists and a range of other movements, against young radicals and people who professed the “wrong” religion, and on and on and on.  People, including political activists, have been surprised by the torture of the defendants, the rigged trial, and the harsh sentences in Penza, as if they lived in a happy, prosperous society, not a totally toxic, brazen empire whose security forces are the heirs of a centuries-long tradition of butchery and fanatical cruelty.

You are not supposed to say out loud what I am about to write, but if the young men had attacked government offices, there would probably have been no national and international solidarity campaign on behalf of these political prisoners. Or they would simply have been tortured to death or subjected to extrajudicial executions. If the Networkers had gone to jail for direct actions, a good number of Russian “anarchists” and “antifascists” would have disowned them, stigmatized them, urged others not to help them, and denounced them to western socialists. This was what really happened to the Underground Anarchists a hundred years ago: they were condemned by their “allies,” who wanted to go legal and curried favor with the Red despots.  The same thing has happened in our time: there were anarchists who hated on the young Belarusians sentenced to seven years in prison for setting fire to the KGB office in Bobruisk, the political refugees in the Khimki Forest case, the persecuted activists of the Popular Self-Defense, and Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Or, for example, some of the people in the ABTO (Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization) case, who were sent down for many years for arson attacks: they were tortured and accused of “terrorism,” and we had to work hard to scrape away the mud tossed at them by the state and “progressive” society. Oddly enough, the attitude of “thinking people” to “incorrect” political prisoners is matched by the Russian government’s refusal to exonerate Fanny Kaplan or the revolutionaries who blew up the Bolshevik Party city committee office on Leontievsky Lane in Moscow on September 25, 1919. (After the bloodshed in Moscow in 1993, however, Yeltsin made the populist move of exonerating the people involved in the Kronstadt Rebellion.)

One of the places we should look for the roots of the savage trial of the Penza prisoners is the disgusting newspeak that people in the RF have been taught—”the president’s orders have not been implemented,” “the government has sent a signal,” “the annexation of Crimea,” “the conflict in Donbass,” “the clash in the Kerch Strait,” “s/he claims s/he was tortured,” “s/he claims the evidence was planted,” “the terrorists of the People’s Will,” “Chechen terrorists,” “the Russophobe Stomakhin,” “the neo-Nazi Astashin,” “the guerrilla band in the Maritime Territory,” “the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk,” and so on.

Various people, including people from the anarchist scene, have written that the Network Case has shattered them and the people they know. If this is so, it is even worse than the outrageous criminal case itself. Yes, I am a living person, too, and yes, I find it very hard myself. But we cannot let the circumstances bend and break us: this is exactly what they want. This is especially the case if you are a consistent foe of systematic oppression, if you are an anarchist. Really, people, what would you do if the regime launched a truly massive crackdown on dissenters of the kind we have seen in the past, from tsarist Russia to Erdogan’s Turkey, from America at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the Iran of the ayatollahs? However, a massive crackdown would entail having a mass liberation movement, something that does not exist in today’s Russia. By the way, it would appear that our half-strangled semi-free media have been doing an excellent job of spreading fear among the atomized masses by regaling them with stories of the state’s repressive policies, of its crimes and nefarious undertakings, instead of using the news to instill people with righteous anger.

We can assume that the brutal verdict in the Network Case and other instances of rough justice on the part of the state will have direct consequences for the Kremlin both at home and abroad. Generally speaking, evil is not eternal. Over time, people will be able to overcome their disunity, believe in themselves, and finally destroy the thousand-year-old kingdom of oppression. “The jailed will sprout up as bayonets.”

politzeki1“Russia’s political prisoners: the jailed will sprout up as bayonets.” A banner hung over Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg by the Pyotr Alexeyev Resistance Movement (DSPA) in August 2012. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Elena Zaharova
Facebook
February 10, 2020

I don’t understand.

You can throw a brick at me, you can ban me, you can do what you like, but I don’t get you. Why this sudden mass fainting spell? When the authorities started abducting, murdering, and imprisoning the Crimean Tatars in 2014, you didn’t notice. Okay, you couldn’t care less about Crimea and Ukraine. The authorities have long been imprisoning members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazan and Bashkortostan, but there’s the rub—we defend Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Hizbites. And the authorities have been sentencing the Crimean Tatars and the Hizbites to ten years, twenty years, twenty-two years in prison. But you haven’t heard about that. And suddenly today you say, “Oh the horror!!! It’s fascism!!!”

It’s the same with the Constitution. The authorities long ago trampled it into the dust, killing it off with Federal Law No. 54 [on “authorization” for  demonstrations and public rallies] and giving us the heave-ho. No one noticed. For the last couple of weeks, however, everyone has been calling on people to defend the Constitution—that is, to defend what it is written in a booklet that everyone was too lazy to read before.

Need I mention the wars no one has noticed yet?

Only don’t remind me about the dozens of people who have been picketing outside the presidential administration building in Moscow for two years running. I have nothing but praise for them, but they are the exception.

Vladimir Akimenkov was one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case and currently raises money for Russian political prisoners and their families. Elena Zaharova is an anti-war and civil rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Seven Years in Prison for Two Pages”: An Open Letter by Journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva

“Seven Years in Prison for Two Pages”: An Open Letter by Journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva
Republic
October 1, 2019

Pskov journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva faces up to seven years in prison for her published comments. In November of last year—first, in a broadcast on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov, then on the website Pskov Newswire—she discussed the reasons why a 17-year-old man blew himself up at the FSB office in Arkhangelsk. She has now been charged with publicly “condoning” terrorism, as punishable under Article 205.2.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

On October 1, Echo Moscow, Mediazona, Novaya Gazeta, TV Rain, Takie Dela, Snob, MBKh Media, 7×7, Pskovskaya Guberniya, MOKH, Wonderzine, and Meduza published an open letter by Prokopieva. We have joined them in this act of solidarity.

***********

My name (our name?) is Svetlana Prokopyeva. I am a journalist, and I could be sent to prison for seven years for “condoning” terrorism.

Nearly a year ago, there was a bomb blast in Arkhangelsk. It was unexpected and stunning: 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky blew himself up in the entrance to the FSB office there. Before he did this, he wrote he was blowing himself up because the FSB had become “brazen,” framing and torturing people.

The suicide bombing was the subject of my regular commentary on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov. “Acting intentionally,” I wrote a text entitled “Crackdowns for the State.” My commentary was aired on November 7 and then was published on the website Pskov Newswire.

Nearly a month passed before Pskov Newswire and Echo of Moscow received warnings from Roskomnadzor: Russia’s quasi-censor saw evidence I had “condoned” terrorism in my comments. In early December, administrative charges were filed against the two media outlets, costing them 350,000 rubles in fines when a justice of the peace found them guilty of the charges. Simultaneously, the Pskov office of the Russian Investigative Committee launched an inquiry into whether I had personally violated Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. Criminal prosecution loomed as a distinct possibility, but we laughed, thinking they must be crazy. What could they mean by “condoning” terrorism? In its warnings, Roskomnadzor failed to point to a single phrase or even word that would qualify as evidence that I had condoned terrorism. Nor could it point them out because they were not there. As it soon transpired, however, that did not matter.

On February 6, my doorbell rang. When I opened it, a dozen armed, helmeted men rushed in, pinning me to the wall in the far room with their shields. This was how I found out the authorities had, in fact, decided to file charges against me.

A police search is a disgusting, humiliating procedure. One group of strangers roots through your things while another group of strangers looks on indifferently. Old notes, receipts, and letters sent from other countries take on a suspicious, criminal tinge, demanding an explanation. The things you need the most, including your laptop and telephone, are turned into “physical evidence.” Your colleagues and family members are now liable to becoming “accomplices” without even trying.

I was robbed that day: the authorities confiscated three laptops, two telephones, a dictaphone, and flash drives. When they blocked my bank accounts six months later, they robbed me again: I was only a “suspect” when I was placed on Rosfinmonitoring’s list of “extremists” and “terrorists.” I am now unable to get a bank card in my own name, open a savings account or apply for a mortgage. The Russian state has made it impossible for me to exist financially.

All that remained for the authorities was to rob me of the last thing I had: my freedom. On September 20, I was officially charged with violating Article 205.2.2 of the criminal code: condoning terrorism via the mass media. If convicted, I could be fined up to one million rubles or sent to prison for up to seven years.

I deny any wrongdoing. I consider the charges against me petty revenge on the part of security services officers offended by my remarks. I claimed they were responsible for the blast in Arkhangelsk. I wrote that the state’s crackdowns had generated a backlash: brutal law enforcement policies had embittered people. Since legal means of protesting had been blocked, the desire to protest had been pushed into such socially dangerous channels.

Publish this quotation from my text if you are not afraid.

“A strong state. A strong president, a strong governor. A country in which power belongs to strongmen.

“The Arkhangelsk suicide bomber’s generation has grown up in this atmosphere. They know it is forbidden to attend protest rallies: police can break up rallies or, worse, they can beat up protesters and then convict them of crimes. This generation knows that solo pickets are a punishable offense. They see that you can belong only to certain political parties without suffering for it and that you can voice only a certain range of opinions without fearing for your safety. This generation has been taught that you cannot find justice in court: judges will return the verdicts the law enforcement agencies and prosecutors want them to return.

“The long-term restriction of political and civic freedoms has given rise in Russia to a state that is not only devoid of liberty but oppressive, a state with which it is unsafe and scary to deal.”

This is what I still think. Moreover, in my opinion, the Russian state has only confirmed my arguments by charging me with a crime.

“Their only task is to punish, to prove someone’s guilt and convict them. The merest formal excuse is enough to drag someone into the grindstone of the legal system,” I wrote.

I did not condone terrorism. I analyzed the causes of the attack. I tried to understand why a young man who had his whole life ahead of him decided to commit a crime and kill himself. Perhaps my reconstruction of his motives was mistaken. I would be glad to be mistaken, but no one has proven I was. It is rather primitive and crude to charge someone with a crime rather than engaging in a discussion. It is like punching someone in the face for something theyon said.

It is a punch in the face of every journalist in our country.

It is impossible to know in advance what words in what order will tick off the strongmen. They have labeled the opinion I voiced a crime. They have turned someone who was just doing her job into a criminal.

Using the same rationale, you can cook up a criminal case based on any more or less critical text. You merely need to find so-called experts who will sign an “expert opinion” for police investigators. If you know this can happen, will you tackle thorny subjects as a journalist? Will you ask questions that are certain to irritate the authorities? Will you accuse high-ranking officials of crimes?

The criminal case against me is an attempt to murder free speech. Remembering how the authorities made an example of me, dozens and hundreds of other journalists will not dare tell the truth when it needs to be told.

Post updated on July 3, 2020.; Translated by the Russian Reader

330ade17-0507-47f8-9211-3ab9b96f7809_w1023_r1_s.jpgSvetlana Prokopyeva outside the Pskov Regional Court in July 2020 by Ludmila Savitskaya (RFE/RL)