“Expressive Eyebrows”: Azat Miftakhov Jailed After Secret Witness Testifies

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Anatrr Ra
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February 12, 2019

Azat Miftakhov, a mathematics and mechanics graduate student at Moscow State University,  has been remanded in custody until March 7, 2019

Golovina District Court Judge Sergei Bazarov has remanded Azat Miftakhov in custody for a month, until March 7, at the request of police investigators. The police suspect Miftakhov of involvement in a January 13, 2018, incident in which a window in the Khovrino office of the United Russia party was broken and a smoke bomb was thrown inside.

The only evidence in the case is the testimony of a secret “witness” who emerged three days ago. Allegedly, the witness was near the United Russia office the night of the incident. He saw six young people. Three of the young people smashed the window and threw a smoke bomb in it, while the other three stood off to the side. The so-called witness supposedly recalled Miftakhov as being among the group who stood and watched, yet he was unable to describe neither what Miftakhov was wearing or his facial features, only his “expressive eyebrows.” The witness, however, did not contact the police for an entire year since, he explained, his phone had gone dead at the time and, subsequently, he had been busy with his own affairs.

Miftakhov was detained by law enforcement officers on the morning of February 1 on suspicion of making explosives, a criminal offense as defined by Article 223 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. He was held for twenty-four hours at the Balashikha police station, where law enforcement officers tortured him, demanding he make a full confession. Only on the evening of February 2 was Miftakhov officially detained and sent to the Balashikha Temporary Detention Facility.

On February 4, however, a court refused to remand him in custody due to a lack of evidence. Over the next three days, police investigators were unable to muster any evidence against Miftakhov, and so, on February 6, he was released from the temporary detention facility without charge.

As Miftakhov was leaving the detention facility, he was detained by men in plain clothes and taken to the Interior Ministry’s headquarters for Moscow’s Northern Administrative Division, where he was told he had been detained in another case, an investigation of alleged disorderly conduct outside the United Russia office in Khovrino on January 13, 2018. An investigation into vandalism (Criminal Code Article 214 Part 1) had been opened in January 2018, but Russian law does not stipulate remanding vandalism suspects in custody during investigations.

In an amazing coincidence, just as Miftakhov was detained a second time, the case was reclassified as an investigation of disorderly conduct, as defined by Criminal Code Article 213 Part 2. People suspected of disorderly conduct can be remanded in custody, and Miftakhov suddenly had become the main suspect in the case. On February 10, the Golovina District Court in Moscow refused to remand Miftakhov in custody, postponing the hearing until February 12.

Miftakhov denies the charges against him. He believes he has been framed because of his anarchist views.

Over a thousand lecturers, professors, researchers, and students from leading Russian and international universities have signed a petition in Miftakhov’s defense, include MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky and Viktor Vasilyev, president of the Moscow Mathematics Society. Mikhail Finkelberg, professor at the Higher School of Economics and Skoltech, Boris Kravchenko, president of the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR) and member of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, and Russian MP Oleg Shein have agreed to stand surety for Miftakhov.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader. Please read my earlier posts on the Khovrino vandalism case and the Russian police state’s senseless, relentless persecution of Azat Miftakhov.

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Russia Has Over a Million Slaves

Russia Plans to Fight Slavery: The Country Has More than a Million Slaves
Ivan Ovsyannikov
PROVED.RF
June 26, 2018

The Russian government has tabled a law bill in the State Duma that would ratify the protocol to the convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) outlawing forced labor. Russian officials claim ratifying the protocol is a formality, because there is no slavery in Russia. However, the government itself employs forced labor. PROVED has written about how the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) sells the labor of inmates to commercial companies, although it is forbidden by the convention. The Walk Free Foundation (WFF), an international human rights advocacy group, estimates there are over one million slaves in Russia.

The Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (No. 29) was adopted by the ILO in Geneva in 1930. The Soviet Union signed it only at the dawn of the Khrushchev Thaw in 1956. In 2014, the convention was supplemented with a protocol introducing  new restrictions on the use of forced labor. In particular, the original convention had stipulated people could be forced to work for public purposes. Such voluntary forced labor was widely practiced in the Soviet Union. Blue- and white-collar workers spent their weekends laboring at so-called subbotniks, while university students were sent to the fields of collective farms to harvest potatoes, carrots, and cabbages. The protocol to ILO Convention No. 29 deems this coerced labor a criminal offense.

Post-Soviet Russia has not ratified either the first or second versions of the convention. The Russian Labor Ministry has decided to correct the omission and tabled a law bill in the State Duma approving the statutes in the protocol to the convention.

The protocol requires signatories to take vigorous measures for eliminating slavery. They must pay compensation to victims of compulsory labor, educate law enforcement officers and employers about prohibited labor practices, and develop strategies for combating the slave trade.

The Labor Ministry’s draft bill says slavery has been banned in Russia as it is, and so it does not suggest any special measures for combating compulsory labor nor does it amend existing laws.

Seventh Place in Terms of Slavery
Experts claim, however, that Russian officials are disingenuous. In fact, in its 2016 survey, the WFF estimated there are least one million people in Russia subjected to some form of slavery, i.e., 0.73% of the country’s total population. Russia was thus ranked seventh in the WFF’s 2016 Global Slavery Index of 167 countries in terms of absolute number of people subjected to modern slavery. According to the index, only India (over 18 million), China (approx. 3.4 million), Pakistan (approx. 2.1 million), Bangladesh (approx. 1.5 million), Uzbekistan (approx. 1.2 million), and North Korea (1.1 million) had more slaves than Russia did.

slavery indexAn excerpt from the 2016 Global Slavery Index

Russian officials have not analyzed slave labor in Russia and do not acknowledge the problem. In their way of thinking, the president has not given them any instructions on the matter and nothing needs to be done, explains Yelena Gerasimova, director of the Center for Social and Labor Rights.

“I cannot say the government is a party to the scheme, but it closes its eyes on it. Russian Criminal Code Articles 127.1 (Human Trafficking) and 127.2 (Use of Slave Labor) are vaguely worded. While the ILO has a clear definition of slavery, the Russian police often do not understand what we are talking about. They ask us, ‘What slaves? Where are the shackles?’ But no one has ever kept slaves in shackles, for they have to work,” adds Oleg Melnikov, head of the grassroots organization Alternative.

The Government Protection Racket
Slavery includes forced marriages in which women are used as domestic servants, prostitutes forced to work in brothels, and migrant workers whose passports are confiscated by employers. As Gerasimova notes, however, Russian police, prosecutors, and labor inspectors refuse to acknowledge the problem and do nothing to identify people subjected to slavery.

She cites the example of the slaves of Golyanovo, twelve men and women freed from the basement of a grocery story on the outskirts of Moscow in 2012.

“The police were running protection for the store, which had kept people in bondage for years. They had their papers confiscated and were not paid for their work. Golyanovo is the tip of the iceberg,” argues Gerasimova.

The Russian government is willing to sell the manpower of inmates to commercial clients. For example, as PROVED discovered, Arkhangelsk Commercial Seaport LLC, a subsidiary of Evraz, purchased “workers from the inmate population” at the local penal colony for 860 rubles a day per person [approx. €12 a day]. The contract was posted on the government procurements website, although Arkhangelsk Regional Governor Igor Orlov hotly denied the deal. Now it is clear why. The ILO convention permits courts to impose work as a punishment, but it forbids leasing inmates to private companies.

Russian convicts usually work within the FSIN’s own system. Thus, the FSIN’s Main Industrial and Construction Department used inmates to build an entire residential complex for penitentiary service employees on the outskirts of Krasnoyarsk. Ironically, the complex is located on Work Safety Street.

However, the temptation to pursue public-private partnerships in the field of hard labor is too great. For example, FISN officials in Krasnodar Territory not only make no bones about their cooperation with business, but even brag about it. Inmates there sew uniforms for regular police and the Russian National Guard, cobble shoes, produce construction material, and are employed in woodworking and animal husbandry. Krasnodar Territory subsidizes businessmen who buy the goods produced by convicts. The entire enterprise is part of the territory’s official industrial development program for 2017–2020.

The Slave International
Forced labor is popular not only in the Russian penitentiary system but also in the outside world.

Melnikov describes a typical path to slavery.

“People from the hinterlands who go to Moscow and other major cities to improve their lot can end up as slaves. Someone approaches them on the streets, offering them a job in another region working on a rotational basis. He offers them a drink. Two days later, they wake up as they are arriving in Dagestan, Kalmykia or Stavropol Territory. Usually, the slaves work in cottage industries. The victims are told they have been bought. When they try and escape, they are captured and given a beating in front of everyone,” he says.

Moscow has recently been deluged with young women from Nigeria. Allegedly, they have come to study, but ultimately they are forced into prostitution. The farther workers are from home, the more vulnerable they are, adds Melnikov.

Fly-by-night firms, registered in Russia, recruit laborers in the rural regions of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. So-called foremen act as intermediaries between the firms and the local populace.

“They are often ethnic Russians from Central Asia or elders of the local communities, the mahallahs. They bring young men and women from the villages and hand them over to the managers of the companies that operate as agents. From the viewpoint of the UN and international law, this is human trafficking. But the migrant workers themselves do not see it that way. Many of them regard it as the natural order of things, an act of initiation. If you have not worked as a migrant laborer, you’re not a real man,” notes Andrei Yakimov, an expert on migrant workers.

People who are employed in this manner usually sign no work contracts with their employers. They do not know the names of the companies where they work or the names of their supervisors.

“A female cleaner from Uzbekistan knows only that she works for someone named Feruz. Feruz is her foreman or her foreman’s manager. At most, she will have heard that somewhere at the top of the food chain her work is supervised by someone named Andrei Nikolayevich, say. If I am an unskilled worker named Abdullo who has not been paid his wages, I am going to find it hard to figure where my money is. The foreman, the manager, his managers or contractor could be holding on to it. The chain of command can consist of dozens of links, especially in the construction business,” Yakimov explains.

There is no one to whom the migrant work can complain. If the migrant worker’s ID papers have also been confiscated, his or her enslavement is complete.

Slave labor is employed in different sectors of the economy. In Dagestan, slaves are sent to work at brick factories, while in Moscow they are employed as shop clerks, beggars, and prostitutes. In Novy Urengoy, they work in construction, while in Tver Region they are employed in sawmills.

Employment Off the Books
Yakimov argues that slavery in Russia is one of the shapes taken by undocumented employment. Russian nationals are fine with the fact that foreigners from Central Asia do the dirty, poorly paid jobs. These workers never turn to the authorities for help, fearing they will be punished for not having residency papers and work permits.

Russian nationals sometimes also avoid turning to the authorities, since many of them are employed on the black market and have not signed employment contracts, either. State Duma MP Oleg Shein has calculated that 34 million able-bodied Russians are employed in the illegal labor market, earning 10 trillion rubles [approx. €136 billion] annually. They constitute 40% of Russia’s entire workforce, says Shein. Such workers risk ending up as forced laborers, according to the wording of ILO Convention No. 29.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE (July 24, 2018). The 2018 Global Slavery Index has updated the figures for modern slavery in Russia. It has this to say in particular about slavery in Russia and efforts to combat it. Continue reading “Russia Has Over a Million Slaves”

Raising the Retirement Age in Russia

zenit arenaRussia has the money to build stadiums like Zenit Arena, in Petersburg,  the world’s most expensive football stadium, and stage incredibly expensive mega events like the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, but it cannot afford to pay its workers decent pensions without raising the retirement age beyond the current life expectancy for forty percent of Russian men. Photo by the Russian Reader

Alex Gaskarov
Facebook
June 4, 2018

It is quite likely a draft law on raising the pension age will be tabled in the State Duma in the very near future. The authorities probably want to take advantage of the restrictions on large-scale rallies during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Raising the retirement age is not entirely an economic issue. The Pension Fund has been running a huge deficit because 40% of wages are paid under the table. This is a colossal amount. Even the most incompetent revenue service could easily reduce this figure.

It appears there is an implicit consensus between the regime and a segment of the business world that the latter agrees not to get involved in politics, while the regime agrees not to try very hard at auditing businesses. It is a commonplace that only suckers pay taxes to the current regime. Admittedly, there are grounds for this.

Nevertheless, wage laborers are the clear losers, and it is also obvious why. If the majority of people are so easily gulled during elections, as we saw recently, what reason does the regime have to keep its campaign promises and bother about reducing poverty?

I really hope liberals will also support the campaign against raising the pension age. There are market-based means of fixing the problem, for example, reducing mandatory pension deductions while simultaneously raising the corporate profits tax. When salary deductions come to 43%, while the corporate profits tax is 20%, it makes financial sense to understate salaries even without resorting to illegal gimmicks.

The trade unions have launched the campaign, but everyone is free to join it.

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KTR Launches Campaign against Raising the Retirement Age
Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR)

The Executive Committee of the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR) has issued a statement concerning plans by the Russian federal government to raise the retirement age. […] To sign the statement and join the grassroots campaign in your city, write to  ktr@ktr.su or call +7 495 737-7250 or +7 903 140-9622.

Statement by the Executive Committee of the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR) on Plans by the Russian Federal Government to Raise the Retirement Age 

On May 8, 2018, during a plenary session of the State Duma, Dmitry Medvedev spoke of the need to make a decision about raising the retirement age. Currently, various government proposals for implementing a decision are vigorously being discussed in the media.

The Executive Committee of the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR) argues that plans to raise the retirement age are not based on the available official statistics and do not meet the objectives set by the Russian president for the government. The KTR does not support solutions of this sort and announces the kickoff of a broadly based grassroots campaigns to oppose their implementation.

According to the Russia Federal Statistics Service (Rosstat), the average life expectancy in sixty-two regions of the Russian Federation is less than 65 years for men, while in three regions it is less than 60 years. If overall demographic trends in Russia remain generally the same, 40% of men and 20% of women will not live till the age of 65. Enacting proposals to raise the retirement age mean a considerable number of Russians will not live to enjoy retirement.

For many years, the Russian government has pursued an economic policy that has produced a deficit of 40–45 % in the Pension Fund. The KTR believes the deficit emerged primarily because a huge number of employees work without the benefit of an employment contract. Their wages are paid off the books, and mandatory pension contributions are not deducted from their wages. The Pension Fund’s managers estimate that regular deductions are made for only 43.5 million people out of a total working-age populace of 77 million people.

Rosstat has estimated that 10 trillion rubles in wages are paid under the table annually. This means that, annually, at the current rate of 22%, the Pension Fund does not receive 2.2 trillion rubles in deductions.

So, the current rate of deductions could be maintained and the Pension Fund would not show a deficit if all employment were legal and on the books. Moreover, average pension payments could be increased.

Illegal employment is grounded in the disenfranchisement of workers due to ineffective procedures for protecting their right to employment contracts and collective bargaining. The KTR argues that positive outcomes could be generated by increasing the liability of employers who pay employees off the books and fail to make tax and pension deductions. Overcoming powerlessness, however, necessarily involves changing the laws and restoring real rights to organize and join a trade union, bargain collectively and strike, and protect trade union organizers from summary dismissal.

The fight against informal employment must be the primary solution to the Pension Fund’s deficit.

If plans to raise the retirement age are enacted, the absence of government-funded retraining programs, automation of production, and the bleeding of low-skilled jobs from the labor market will generate a millions-strong army of elderly people who have no jobs and no pensions.

As an association of independent trade unions, the KTR appeals to all forces in society, political parties, and social movements to oppose the increase of the retirement age and get involved in the grassroots protest campaign.

We propose organizing an open headquarters for running the national campaign to protect the rights of workers to pensions.

June 1, 2018, Moscow

Boris Kravchenko, president, KTR
Igor Kovalchuk, chair, KTR Executive Committee
Sergei Kovalyov, secretary general, KTR; president, Russian Federal Flight Controllers Union
Oleg Shein, vice-president, KTR

Translated by the Russian Reader

MP Oleg Shein: Astrakhan Region Headed for Social Catastrophe

Russian MP Oleg Shein. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Russian MP Oleg Shein in 2009. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

MP: Astrakhan Region Headed for Deep Social Catastrophe
Rosbalt
November 18, 2016

Astrakhan is among the regions undergoing a social catastrophe, argues MP Oleg Shein, who sits on the State Duma’s Committee for Labor, Social Policy, and Veterans Affairs. As the MP told our correspondent, both federal and regional authorities are to blame for the situation.

“Astrakhan Region is currently undergoing a fiscal disaster due to the fact the regional budget has collapsed. This year, it has been slashed by 15%, from 38 to 33 billion rubles. Next year, the regional authorities have proposed cutting the budget by another eight billion rubles. Accordingly, the budget will have shrunk by about 40% in two years. Already this year, financial aid to the poor has been completely eliminated, and subsidies for parents paying fees to kindergartens have been canceled, causing kindergarten fees to increase by one and half times. The upper grades have been eliminated in a number of schools. Schools have gone from eleven grades to nine grades, and this has caused overcrowded classes in the remaining schools. Payroll has been reduced by 7% for public sector employees: doctors, teachers, and cultural workers. Actually, 7% is the average figure; large numbers of people have had their salaries cut much more considerably. So the region really is headed downhill, and the regional government sees no ways of heading off the disaster,” said Shein.

 […]

“The regional authorities—and there is some truth to this—explain what is happening by referring to the loss of tax revenues from the oil industry. Several years ago, the State Duma—or rather, the United Russia party—freed Lukoil from paying taxes on its oil rigs in the Caspian Sea. This year as well, United Russia has voted to transfer the profits from oil production in the Caspian, the income tax revenue, from the regional budget to the federal budget. The regional authorities were really counting on the money, but they have ended up with nothing.  But there is a second reason: their completely devil-may-care approach to drafting the regional budget and the loss of the local tax base. Sometimes, the regional government has literally abetted hostile takeovers of local companies, as, for example, happened to the local company Bassol, which supplies 60% of the salt to the Russian market and now pays taxes outside of Astrakhan Region. Paradoxically, the regional government welcomed this,” said Shein.

The MP said that despite its socio-economic difficulties, Astrakhan Region was also marked by high levels of corruption and the waste of money on mega projects like a musical theater and so on.

According to a rating compiled by the sociology department at the Russian Federation Government Financial University, Astrakhan was among the Russian cities with populations of 500,000 or more where the lowest indices for quality of life had been recorded. According to Astrakhanstat, during the period from January 2016 to August 2016, the real disposable income of Astrakhan Region residents was 89.4% of what it had been during the same period last year.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Valentin Urusov for the heads-up