Search and Intimidate

“Court approval of search warrant requests, 2007–first quarter of 2017. Red=number of warrant requests; gray=warrants issues. || In the past 11 years, Russian courts have approved, on average, 96.3% of search warrant requests. 67% of the requests concerned searches of private premises as part of surveillance operations, while 33% of searches were part of specific criminal investigations. ||Numbers and kinds of intimidation during so-called political searches (based on an analysis of 600 searches conducted in the homes of grassroots activists and members of persecuted organizations): violence, threats – 97; breaking down doors, forced entry through windows – 70; search performed at early hour of the day – 63; search conducted at homes of relatives – 47. Sources: International Agora and Russian Supreme Court Judicial Department.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

How Police Searches Have Become Tools of Political Intimidation
Agora International Says Privacy in Russia Has Nearly Vanished
Anastasiya Kornya
Vedomosti
March 29, 2018

Over the past ten and a half years, Russia courts have issued law enforcement agencies 1,976,201 warrants to search or investigate private premises. This number constitutes 96.32% of all such requests, according to calculations made by analysts at the Agora International Human Rights Group, which on Thursday will release a report entitled “Politically Motivated Police Searches: The Specter of Inviolability.” Often police investigators manage to obtain search warrants after the fact. During the period, the number of requests for search warrants has increased by nearly fifty percent. With respect to Russia’s 54 million households, this means that, over the last ten years, every twenty-seventh home in Russia has been searched.

The report’s authors note this is only the tip of the iceberg. Searches and inspections of non-residential premises, such as offices, warehouses, etc., do not require court warrants, and data on the number of such incursions has not been published by anyone.

The exception to this rule are law offices. Since April 2017, they have enjoyed greater formal protection than the residences of ordinary citizens. Law offices cannot be searched without a court order, and a representative of the regional bar association must be present during the search. Andrei Suchkov, vice-president of the Federal Bar Association, says they have not specially kept track of the statistics, but his sense is the number of searches in law offices has decreased during this time. There have been cases when police investigators tried to carry out searches without permission, but the courts have nevertheless mainly sided with lawyers, he notes.

Agora’s report reminds its readers that, in the early 1990s, the term “mask show,” meaning a police search carried out with backup from masked and armed special forces soldiers, came into common usage. Such searches were an effective means of coercing business partners and business rivals alike. Subsequently, the tool came to be used against the regime’s political opponents.

Recently, the practice of “serial” searches has been widespread. Thus, according to Leonid Volkov, head of Alexei Navalny’s presidential election campaign, police have raided the offices of the Anti-Corruption Foundation and Navalny’s regional campaign offices no less than 150 times. Police have raided the offices of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia around fifty times over three years. Agrora’s analysts note the most frequent targets of large-scale, systematic searches have been members of opposition organizations and Crimean Tatars.

Another goal of police searches is the confiscation of electronic devices and subsequent unauthorized access to personal data, correspondence, and social media accounts. For example, during a June 2012 search of Alexei Navalny’s home, police seized a laptop, tablet computers, and mobile phone. Two weeks later, Navalny’s email and Twitter account were hacked.

In recent years, as Agora’s report underscores, police searches have been a vital element of campaigns against not only political opponents but also government officials. State-controlled national TV channels extensively covered searches in the homes of ex-regional governors Alexander Khoroshavin and Vyacheslav Gayzer, Federal Customs Service chief Andrei Belyaninov, and members of the Dagestani government.

Pavel Chikov, head of Agora, says they took an interest in the numbers of police searches after analyzing the state of privacy of correspondence and telephone conversations. If we recall that, on average, the courts have approved 98.35% of wiretapping warrants, we must admit judicial oversight in this area is illusory, and there is no privacy in Russia, claims Chikov.

Expanding the remit of law enforcement agencies to ever broader areas of daily life has transformed searches from investigative tools to signals broadcast by the regime and received by everyone involved in politics, government, and business, concurs political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov.

“What matters nowadays is not the outcome, but the search per se. We have been seeing an increased number of searches whose point is just that,” says Vinogradov.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“The Rowdies Have to Be Apprehended Legally, So We Can Have a Celebration in the City on March 18, not Bedlam”

8792CD92-EE28-452C-859C-77B15F02744B_w1023_r1_sThe political performance “Clanking Chains,” March 11, 2018, Petersburg. Photo by Tatyana Voltskaya. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Petersburg Puts Oppositionists on Pause: Eight More Activists Detained
Maria Karpenko, Kseniya Mironova and Anna Pushkarskaya
Kommersant
March 13, 2018 (updated March 14, 2018)

The arrests of opposition activists continue in St. Petersburg. In the last two days, police have apprehended eight activists, three of whom ended up in police custody at the courthouse, where they had gone to support their comrades. The court has already remanded eight people in custody for their alleged involvement in a protest rally that took place a month and a half ago. At Petersburg city hall, Kommersant was told, “The rowdies have to be apprehended legally, so we can have a celebration in the city on March 18, not bedlam.”

On Tuesday, Smolny District Court in St. Petersburg sentenced three opposition activists—Viktor Cherkassov, Yekaterina Shlikhta, and Ilya Gantvarg (son of Mikhail Gantvarg, ex-rector of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and Russian Federation People’s Artist)—to ten days in jail. Police had apprehended them on Monday for involvement in the so-called Voters Strike, a protest rally held on January 28 by supporters by Alexei Navalny. Yegor Ryabchenko, who was also apprehended, was only fined.

On Tuesday, police apprehended another three activists—Vladimir Kazachenko, Alexander Kirpichov, and Darya Mursalimova, who had come to support their comrades—right in the courthouse. Mursalimova and activist Sergei Belyaev, also apprehended on Tuesday, were sentenced by the same court around 11 p.m. in the evening. Mursalimova was given fifteen days in jail for repeated involvement in an unsanctioned rally, while Belyaev was sentenced to seven days in jail and twenty hours of correctional labor.

Kazachenko and Kirpichov’s court hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.

The new wave of arrests was prefaced by a flash mob [sic], entitled “Clanking Chains,” during which ten activists marched down Nevsky Prospect in chains and prisoners’ outfits. The [performance], which took place on March 11, was held in support of oppositionists who had already been jailed.

The defense attorneys of all of the activists jailed on Tuesday plan to file appeals in St. Petersburg City Court. If the appeals are unsuccessful, the activists will be released only after the presidential election on March 18, just like the three oppositionists already in police custody on the same grounds.

In early march, the court sentenced Alexei Pivovarov, Open Russia’s regional coordinator, Denis Mikhailov, head of Alexei Navalny’s Petersburg headquarters, and Artyom Goncharenko, an activist with the Vesna (“Spring”) Movement, to twenty-five days in jail for their involvement in the Voters’ Strike.

Moreover, Mr. Mikhailov had just served thirty days in jail for organizing the same event, while Mr. Goncharenko had not attended the rally at all. He had merely displayed an inflatable yellow duck in the window of his apartment building, past which the protesters marched. St. Petersburg City Court rejected an appeal to overturn their jail sentences, despite arguments made by the defense that the “deferred punishment” for violating the rules on rallies was “politically motivated.”

The January 28 protest rally was peaceful. Police detained around twenty people, which was very few compared with previous unauthorized protests in Petersburg. Except for Denis Mikhailov, all of the detainees were released from police precincts after police had so-called preventive conversations with them. They were not even written up for administrative violations.

Our source at Petersburg city hall explained what was happening.

“The rowdies have to be apprehended legally, so we can have a celebration in the city on March 18, not bedlam.”

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

Russia’s Bright Future (Putin 4.0)

Member of HRC Describes Putin’s New Term: Everything under the Sun Will Be Banned
Alexei Obukhov
Moskovsky Komsomolets
October 10, 2017

Pavel Chikov argues Russia will become isolated internationally, and federalism and regional economies will be jettisoned.

Pavel Chikov, member of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, has forecast what politics in Russia will be like if Vladimir Putin is re-elected to another term. According to Chikov, the situation in the country will deteriorate rapidly, and more and more areas of public life will be off limits.

1a1bb3f8a345889fc79a754c4ae35c6dPavel Chikov. Photo courtesy of Facebook/MK

Foreign mass media will be the first to be banned. This has been borne out, says the human rights activist, by the threat to shutter Radio Svoboda, which the media outlet received from the Justice Ministry last Monday.

Following the media, “the political arena will be mopped up: the current persecution of Alexei Navalny’s employees and Open Russia’s employees is a harbinger of this.”

In Chikov’s opinion, the country will also be stripped of religious freedom, as witnessed by “the huge criminal cases against and expulsion from the country” of members of various non-traditional religious movements, from Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have been declared “extremist” banned in the Russian Federation, to supporters of non-mainstream Buddhist and Muslim groups.

These measures, writes the human rights activist on his Telegram channel, will be paralleled by Russia’s renunciation of its international commitments. It will exit the Council of Europe and end its cooperation with the European Court of Human Rights. (Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Federation Council, said yesterday this was a probable scenario.) Russian’s relations with many European countries, from the Baltic states to Germany, will deteriorate, and their embassies will be closed. Restrictions will be placed on Russian nationals traveling outside the country, and the practice of stripping refugees and asylum seekers of their Russian citizenship and confiscating their property will be broadened.

Meanwhile, Russia will succeed in isolating its segment of the Internet and instituting a Chinese-style firewall to censor content.

Finally, Chikov writes, the country’s economy and domestic politics will deteriorate. The regions will lose the last remnants of their autonomy (Chikhov cites Vladimir Vasilyev’s  recent appointment as acting head of Dagestan, although the United Russia MP has no experience in the republic), and the assets the regions have left will be placed under the control of Putin’s inner circle.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Vasily Zharkov for the heads-up

Coming Out: A Lesson in Solidarity from Petersburg

“The Regime Is Making New Enemies with These Arrests”
Irina Tumakova
Fontanka.ru
June 22, 2017

The arrestees who served ten days in jail after Russia Day shared their plans for the future. They once again included the Field of Mars, and Navalny, and the special detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street they had just left. 

«Этими арестами власть готовит себе врагов»
Ksenia Morozova, holding a placard that reads, “Freedom is within.” Photo courtesy of Sergei Mikhailechenko/Fontanka.ru

A new group of prisoners, who had finished serving the jail sentences they were given after Russia Day, was released on Thursday, June 22, from the Interior Ministry’s special detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street in central Petersburg. They had been sentenced to ten days in police custody, meaning they had committed violations of “moderate severity.” The die-hard violators, who were sentenced to fifteen days in jail, will not be released until next week. The least malicious violators, who had already been released, greeted their recent cellmates with soda pop, flowers, and rounds of applause. The former prisoners were cheerful and praised the prison food. They came out of jail with the same clear conscience they had when they left the Field of Mars in paddy wagons.

The Interior Ministry’s special detention center on Zakharyevskaya is a historical landmark. Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) and Felix Dzerzhinsky had done time there prior to 1917. In June 2017, people who attended an anti-corruption rally on Russian Independence Day were jailed there.

Around 10,000 people had gone to the Field of Mars on the national holiday. Some people celebrated, while others were arrested. Nearly six hundred hundred left the celebrations in paddy wagons, headed to police precincts round the city. From June 13 on, the city’s district courts worked like a conveyor belt for meting out punishment. The arrestees were sentenced for going to the anti-corruption rally and for failing to obey police orders to leave the rally, i.e., they had violated two articles in the Administrative Offenses Code. The majority of those detained at the event got off with 10,500-ruble fines [approx. 158 euros], but a hundred and fifty people were sent to jail, sentenced to terms of three to fifteen days.

The release of the prisoners whose time in jail ended on June 22 was due to start at two o’clock in the afternoon, when the lunch break ends on Zakharyevskaya. At the very same time, as recorded in their arrest records, exactly 240 hours had passed since the first of the “ten-dayers” had been detained. In fact, they had been detained and hauled to the courts wholesale. But the law enforcement machine was carefully counting off the minutes. One prisoner could be released at 2:30 p.m., but another had to be released at 4:00 p.m.

The Support Group
At a quarter to two, people holding plastic bags form a semi-circle at the exit from the detention center. Two vehicles are cruising nearby. One, emblazoned with Open Russia’s logo, is ready to give the released detainees a lift to the courts, where lawyers are waiting to appeal their fines. The other, emblazoned with the police’s logo, is also ready to take them somewhere.

“I’m going to detain you for jaywalking,” a policeman standing on the sidewalk warns me.

“Please arrest me for jaywalking,” I smile back at him, standing on the same sidewalk. The policeman goes back to his car.

The bags of the people waiting outside the detention center are stuffed with bottles of soda pop. There is also a bunch of pink chrysanthemums. Later, the chrysanthemums will be divided and given to the liberated comrades. Everybody knows who nice it is when people are waiting for you with chrysanthemums when you get out of jail. And you are also really thirsty when you get out. The greeters know all of this from personal experience.

“I was in for five days and got out last week,” says a man standing near the gates of the detention center.  “And today the guy I shared a cell with is getting out.”

The man’s name is Oleg Maksakov. He is forty-three. He doesn’t know why he was sentenced to five days, while his young cellmate got ten days. They didn’t know each other before they were jailed, but they made friends in the cell.

“The propaganda has no effect on the people aged eighteen to twenty-five who came to the Field of Mars,” Maksakov says of his “accomplice.” “What matters even more is that they’re not afraid. They’re not downtrodden. They have no experience of the Soviet repression machine. I mean, now they are finding out, of course. But it doesn’t scare them. It only makes them mad.”

Another person who celebrated Russia Day at the Field of Mars approaches us. In terms of age, Pavel Ilatovsky is one of the “non-downtrodden.” You could say he lucked out. He got off with a 10,500-ruble fine and spent two days at police precinct while he waited for his court hearing.

“Yeah, I was lucky,” Ilatovsky agrees. “I had my hearing at the Krasnoye Selo District Court, and the judges were okay. They said right off the bat there was no room in the cells, and so they were going fine us.”

The figures assembled by volunteers back up what Ilatovsky says. The Krasnoye Selo District Court heard 59 cases, and no one was sentenced to time in jail. The Kalinin District Court proved to be the most cruel and greediest. Among the 44 cases it heard, around three fourths (the volunteers don’t know for certain) resulted in fines alone, while the rest resulted in fines and jail time. The same court handed down the harshest sentence: fifteen days in jail plus a 20,000-ruble fine.

Ilatovsky volunteers with the detainees assistance group. The group brought care packages to Zakharyevskaya all ten days and raised money to pay the fines. And now they have brought a vehicle, soda pop, and chrysanthemums. This system of assistance improves with every series of arrests. It has started working like a well-oiled machine.

“There are lots of us,” says Ilatovsky. “And we know that if someone wasn’t detained this time round, he or she could be detained next time. When I was at the police precinct, they brought us water and helped out with food. They even brought us shawarmas.”

We are chatting next to the prison’s entrance. Everyone’s mood is upbeat, even joyful. Finally, the iron door opens and a young man exits holding his passport. He is carrying a backpack, and a container of liquid soap pokes out from the pocket. A yellow-and-blue ribbon is pinned to his jacket.

“Oh!” says Oleg Maksakov, rushing towards him. “I spent five days in a cell with that guy!”

“I Hung Out with Interesting People”
Denis Uvarov went to the Field of Mars with a purpose. He wasn’t celebrating the holiday, but combating corruption.

“This dude was walking around with a bullhorn and ordering everyone to disperse, but no one dispersed. Therefore, they did not obey [the police’s orders],” he says by way of explaining why he was convicted of disobeying the police.

Besides, Uvarov chanted slogans offensive to our president, and what is worse, waved the flag of Ukraine, with which he sympathizes. He caught flak for it: ten days in the slammer. He admits it could have been worse. He twice received care packages of food from complete strangers, and that amazed him most of all.

“Of course, we didn’t really need anything in the cell, but it’s nice knowing that you’re in there, and somebody cares,” says Uvarov.

In the two-person cells in which the June 12 arrestees were held, they really did not need anything. Uvarov compared it to a hospital, adding, only, that he couldn’t go into the hallway. But they were taken out for walks every day.

“The biggest problem was not being able to wash up,” he says. “They let us take a shower only once over the ten days. Well and, excuse me for mentioning it, but going to the toilet when you’re not alone in the cell, is, you know . . . Otherwise, it was okay. There was nothing to do, so I read a pile of books, slept in, studied English a bit, and hung out with interesting people.”

The interesting people were other prisoners sentenced to jail for June 12. Uvarov says it was the first protest many of them had attended. Some of them ended up there by accident and were not interested in politics.

“Now they say they’re going to be more active and angrier,” Uvarov continues. “So the regime is deliberately making new enemies with these arrests, as it were. You can do fifteen days in jail, after all. As long as there is a point.”

“What about twenty?” I ask. “That’s nearly a month.”

“Twenty?” says the young man thoughtfully. “Yes, I could probably do it.”

Then I remind him that, in Russia, it is a criminal offense to attend unauthorized rallies repeatedly.

“Yeah, but don’t you need to be arrested twice in six months,” Uvarov asks uncertainly. “I’ll probably need to take that into account. I’ll think it over.”

“I’ll Go to Jail Again”
Ivan Gerasimyuk is one of the young people who collided head on with politics at the special detention center. He looks about twenty years old.

“I was just hanging out on the Field of Mars,” says the young man. “There was a celebration of four eras taking place there. I looked at pre-revolutionary tanks, and then I went to eat kasha in the field kitchen. That’s where the police grabbed me. In court, I said I wasn’t interested in politics, but the judge didn’t believe me and gave me ten days in jail. It turns out you cannot attend celebrations in our country.”

Gerasimyuk thought jail was awful, especially the fact the prisoners were fed not according to schedule, but whenever. And his cell was very dirty.

“I don’t want to go back there,” Gerasimyuk frowns. “But I’ll definitely go to a protest rally now. We have to combat this lawlessness. Well, so I’ll go to jail again. But then other people won’t have to go.”

Alexander, who refuses to tell me his surname, works in a school. He won’t say what he does there, but he deals with young people like Gerasimyuk, only a bit younger.

He shakes his head.

“I don’t talk with the kids about politics at all. I don’t need to. They know it all anyway. They read about Navalny and Putin in the internet. Although what gets them hot and bothered is memes and all, not politics. But their teachers propagandize them, and they see it doesn’t synch with what is happening around them. That generates distrust in them.”

Alexander went to the Field of Mars knowing a rally was supposed to take place there, but he had no plans of taking part in the protest. He only wanted to watch.

“The numbers of true believers who were arrested were small, in fact,” he grins. “It was the rubberneckers like me who got caught. After doing time in jail, some of them are now true believers. But I’ve also spoken with other people, who say they would never do it again. As for me, I’m definitely going next time.”

Vladimir Drofa, who is released right after Alexander, has become a true believer. Or, at least, he says so.

“Until my arrest I was a sympathizer,” he says, looking at my dictaphone. “But now I’m a convinced revolutionary. I will devote the rest of my life to making sure I change places with the people who put me in here.”

“You want to sentence them to ten days in jail?” I ask.

“I’d start with ten at least.”

Drofa knows that, before him, his namesake Vladimir Ulyanov was imprisoned in a nearby cell.

“I need to read ‘The April Theses,’” he adds.

“Let Them Bust Me!”
The convicts opened the iron door one after another. The young women who were released were mobbed by other young women, who gave them bouquets and squealed in delight, as if they were greeting movie stars. The female arrestees who were the last to be released wearily thanked the public and refused to talk to the press, because they wanted to go home. Ksenia Morozova, a social media marketing manager for Sobaka.ru who had become famous over the last ten days, set her bags on the pavement. She held up a placard reading, “Freedom is within.” She did not hold it up very high, only as high as her own neck

“This is my first picket on the outside!” she yelled. “Let them bust me if they want!”

She was not busted. Her girlfriend grabbed her bags, and the flock of young women ran off towards the subway.

The young people were applauded as they left the jail. They were also given flowers, the very same pink chrysanthemums, until the entire bunch had been divvied up and was gone. The press drifted away. The bus emblazoned with Open Russia’s logo left, taking with it those who wanted to appeal their sentences to meet with lawyers. The last of the dozen and a half “ten-dayers” emerged from the jail after four o’clock, saying almost exactly the same things their special detention center cellmates said. None of them broke their toothbrushes at the doors of the prison.

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

What Goes Around Comes Around

Supreme Court Chief Justice Accused of Persecuting Dissidents during Soviet Times 
He convicted human rights activist Felix Svetov, whose daughter Zoya Svetova had her apartment searched by the FSB yesterday
Alexei Obukhov
Moskovsky Komsomolets
March 1, 2017

Memorial has published documents relating to the case of journalist and human rights activist Zoya Svetova’s father, Felix Svetov, who was convicted in the Soviet for his human rights works. His trial, in 1986, was presided over by Vyacheslav Lebedev, who has been chief justice of the Russian Federal Supreme Court since 1989.

Chief Justice Vyacheslav Lebedev. Photo courtesy of Kremlin.ru

According to Memorial, Svetov was found guilty because he had made “defamatory” allegations that “innocent people [were] thrown into prison” and accusations that the authorities did not observe socialist laws and violated the rules of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Ultimately, Lebedev, who was then deputy head judge of Moscow City Court, sentenced Svetov to five years of exile.

Memorial published the information in connection with the search conducted this past Tuesday in the apartment of Felix Svetov’s daughter Zoya Svetova, an employee of Open Russia, which is headed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. A similar search had taken place before Svetov’s trial in 1986.

Yet investigators have claimed that the hours-long search, which in particular involved confiscating the computers of Svetova’s children, the well-known journalists and brothers Filipp, Tikhon and Timofei Dzyadko, was carried out as part of the case against Khodorkovsky’s company Yukos, launched back in 2003. Svetova herself has suggested the real reason for the search was her work on the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission.

Memorial added that, in 1984, Lebedev handed down a guilty verdict to human rights activist Elena Sannikova. She was convicted of “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.”

_________________________

Moskovsky Komsomolets Deletes Article on Supreme Court Chief Justice’s Involvement in Persecuting Soviet Dissidents
Meduza
March 1,  2017

On March 1, an article entitled “Supreme Court Chief Justice Accused of Persecuting Dissidents during Soviet Times” vanished from the website of newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets. The article was published on Wednesday afternoon and was accessible on the site for a few hours.

No reasons have been given for its deletion. A copy of the article has been cached in Google Search results.  Moskovsky Komsolets editor-in-chief Pavel Gusev told Meduza he was unaware of why the the article had been deleted and was hearing about the matter for the first time.

The article discusses Memorial’s publication of documents relating to a police search of the home of Felix Svetov and Zoya Krakhmalnikova, parents of Zoya Svetova, which took place in 1982.

Among other things, Memorial’s Facebook post points out that the presiding judge in Svetov’s case, which was heard in the mid 1980s, was Vyacheslav Lebedev, who would become chief justice of the Russian Federal Supreme Court in 1989.

FSB investigators searched journalist Zoya Svetova’s home for over ten hours on February 28, 2017, allegedly, as part of the Yukos affair. Svetova works for Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia, but claims she knows nothing about Yukos’s business.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrades AK and JM for the heads-up

___________

Zoya Svetova. Photo courtesdy of L'Express
Zoya Svetova. Photo courtesy of L’Express

Russia: ‘Deeply alarming’ raid targets human rights activist and journalist Zoya Svetova
Amnesty International
28 February 2017

After Russian criminal investigators searched the flat of Zoya Svetova, a prominent journalist and human rights activist, this morning, Sergei Nikitin, Director of Amnesty International Russia, said:

“Today’s search of Zoya Svetova’s flat is deeply alarming. She is one of Russia’s most respected journalists and human rights activists – it is unclear what she might have to do with the criminal investigation against YUKOS.”

“This search seems like a blatant attempt by the authorities to interfere with her legitimate work as a journalist and perhaps a warning for her and others of the risks of human rights work and independent journalism in Russia.”

Zoya Svetova previously worked for Reporters without Borders and Soros Foundation in Russia.

The search was conducted by 12 officers from Russia’s Investigative Committee that probes serious crime. According to Svetova’s lawyer, it was linked to a case of alleged embezzlement and tax fraud by the former YUKOS oil company head Mikhail Khodorkovsky. One of the most prominent critics of the Kremlin, Khodorkovsky served 10 years in jail and in 2011, after being convicted of another offence and sentenced to a new term of imprisonment, he was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

In December 2016 Russian Investigative Committee officers raided the apartments of seven Open Russia activists as well as the movement’s offices in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The Investigative Committee claimed it was seeking evidence of money laundering by former YUKOS executives with links to Khodorkovsky.

Orthodoxy or Death

Russian MP Vitaly Milonov. Photo courtesy of @Fake_MIDRF
Russian MP Vitaly Milonov. Photo courtesy of @Fake_MIDRF

Chuvashia Resident Fined for Reposting Photo of Milonov
Maria Leiva
RBC
November 16, 2016

A member of the board of Open Russia from Chuvashia has been fined 1,000 rubles for reposting a photograph of Russian MP Vitaly Milonov in which he is posed in a t-shirt brandishing a slogan deemed extremist in Russia

A court in Chuvashia has fined Dmitry Semyonov, a member of Open Russia‘s board in the region, 1,000 rubles for reposting a photo of MP Vitaly Milonov in a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Orthodoxy or Death” on the social media network VKontakte. The slogan has been ruled an incitement to sectarian strife and placed on the federal list of extremist matter. Semyonov’s lawyer, Alexei Glukhov, reported the news on his Facebook page.

In another post, he added that the court had reject the defense’s motion to order a forensic examination and summon specialists to confirm the date when the Internet had been monitored.

Last week, Semyonov was summoned by the police over the repost of Milonov’s photograph. As the activist told RBC himself, he was charged in writing with violating Article 20.29 of the Administrative Offense Codes (producing and disseminating extremist matter).

“The charge sheets say that, on November 3, FSB officers suddenly felt like monitoring social media networks and chanced upon my post,” said Semyonov.

He linked the incident to his work as a social and political activist with Open Russia. Semyonov is the organization’s regional coordinator in eight Russian regioins.

In turn, Glukhov told RBC that police in Chuvashia constantly haul in activists for reposts on social media.

In conversation with RBC, Milonov said that last Wednesday he had sent a letter to the Justice Ministry asking them to remove the slogan from the register of extremist matter, but had not yet received a reply.

“As one brother to another, I’ll tell the justice minister, ‘Do you really imagine living outside the faith? So it’s a normal Orthodox slogan, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a bastard,” said the MP.

He was confident the slogan would soon be removed from the list of extremist matter, but promised to study Semyonov’s case more closely, “although membership in Khodorkovsky’s organization deserves attention itself.”

Earlier, Milonov told RBC that he did not consider displaying a photograph in which he posed with the slogan “Orthodoxy or Death” a crime. However, the MP doubted that Semyonov was being prosecuted solely over the photograph.


Translated by
A Loaf of Bread

Socrates Has Not Surrendered: The Plight of Political Prisoner Alexei Sutuga

Alexei Sutuga, December 10, 2015. Photo courtesy of Svyatoslav Khromenkov
Alexei Sutuga, December 10, 2015. Photo courtesy of Svyatoslav Khromenkov

PERSCECUTION
No medical treatment, no letters, no visits. A political prisoner’s life in a penal colony. Zoya Svetova and Alexei Glukhov investigated the conditions of antifascist Alexei Sutuga’s imprisonment
December 14, 2015
Open Russia

29-year-old Muscovite Alexei Sutuga is an antifascist activist known among antifa by the nickname Socrates. On September 30, 2014, the Zamoskorechye District Court in Moscow sentenced Sutuga to three years and one month in prison for disorderly conduct for his alleged involvement in a fight at a Sbarro restaurant in the city. Sutuga’s defenders believe the criminal case was revenge on the part of Center “E” officers who had already tried to put Sutuga behind bars for his alleged involvement in a fight at the Moscow nightclub Vozdukh, for which he had been amnestied.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre has declared Alexei Sutuga a political prisoner.

In March 2015, the antifascist was sent to Correctional Colony No. 14, a medium-security facility, to serve his sentence. He was soon put in solitary confinement, and two months later he was sentenced to a new type of punishment, a year’s imprisonment in a single-space cell. Now Sutuga is serving his sentence at Correctional Colony No. 2 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region.

Olga Sutuga, Alexei’s mom, explained to Zoya Svetova how and why her son is being pressured in the colony.

Solitary confinement and single-space cells are forms of penitentiary repression. Is this improvisation on the part of local wardens or are there orders from above? Is there a plan to break your son?

It began in Moscow, when the FSB wanted Alexei to cooperate with them. They came to him while he was still in the remand prison and suggested he collaborate. They said he would serve his sentence in far from the best conditions, in a colony far from Moscow Region. That is what happened: he was sent to Siberia. And there, in the remand prison, he was again visited by two Center “E” officers who suggested he collaborate and promised that in exchange he would do his time in the Irkutsk Remand Prison and get parole. But he did not agree to these proposals.

What exactly do they want from him? To snitch on anarchists?

Apparently, yes, because he knows a lot of people, is a fairly authoritative person in that world, and has his own opinion. Not only anarchists but also other activists listened to him. He is a very inconvenient person for the secret services. He always spoke the truth, and they decided it was vital to break him and force him to cooperate with them.

How do you keep in touch with your son? He is not allowed visits, letters, and telephone calls. How do you find out what is happening with him in the penal colony?

Only through his lawyer. When his lawyer battles his ways through to see him, he finds out that Alexei has not been getting letters from his wife, from me or from his friends. On November 30 he was released from solitary confinement, where he had spent ten days. Now he is in a single-space cell in Correctional Colony No. 2 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region. He is supposed to spend a year there—until May 2016.

Is he considered a repeat offender of prison rules?

Here are some of the violations he has been charged with: not making his bed, having his nametag torn from his clothing, and sleeping during the daytime while sitting on a stool. For all these things he was deemed a repeat offender. When in late May he was transferred for a year to the single-space cell, the warden of the single-space cell facility told him he would not be getting out of there, that he would be spending the rest of his sentence in the “jug,” that he would not be returning to the medium-security facility, although by the verdict of the court he should be serving his sentence in a medium-security penal colony.

Is Alexei in solitary?

No, there are four people in there.

How can we help him?

He has asked that people do not stop paying attention to the whole situation, because if they do not write and talk about it, the prison wardens will see they can do anything they like and will use even more repressive methods against him.

How long does he have till the end of his sentence?

One year and five months.

Do members of the Public Monitoring Commission (PNC) visit him?

Employees of the PNC come to see him every two or three months. They constantly file complaints about violations of his rights with the Federal Penitentiary Service. But it does not help: no one pays any mind to the complaints.

Those violations of the rules in the remand prison for which he has been punished, were they real or contrived?

It is impossible to comply with all the rules there one hundred percent. Maybe the nametag really was torn off his clothing. But Alexei definitely did not have a shiv, because when he was transferred from the remand prison to the penal colony, six people searched him, and the trip from the prison to the colony takes half an hour. [Angarsk is forty kilometers away from Irkutsk — Open Russia.] So it is completely unclear how he could have got hold of a shiv if he was in a paddy wagon with guards the entire half hour.

When is your next visit with him?

I was authorized to visit him in October but I was unable to go. I will go in late December. I wanted to get to see him during the January holidays. But I am not sure it will work out. When the lawyer went to see the head warden of the colony and find out whether I might be able to get this visit, the warden replied there would be no visits due to the fact that Sutuga was socially dangerous.

Is that even legal?

No, of course not. By law I have the right to visit him. I wrote to the head warden of the colony asking him to give me a visit. If he does not respond to me within fifteen days, then we will file another complaint. Unfortunately, though, complaints have no impact. We write to the Federal Penitentiary Service, the prosecutor’s office, and the court.

How does Alexei spend his time? Is it true he has no books and is unable to get periodicals?

The prison does not accept books sent to him, and it also does not give him the periodicals we subscribed to for him. I wrote to the warden and asked what happened to the periodicals that were sent by mail in my son’s name to the penal colony. After all, we had paid money for the subscriptions. It smacks of petty theft.

What is his mood?

When attorney Svetlana Sidorkina went to see him in October, she said that Alexei was very depressed, sick, and his knees were swollen and painful. He was diagnosed with acute arthritis and tossed out of the infirmary back into the cell. He receives no medical treatment or medical examinations. Sidorkina brought him letters from me and from his friends. That supported him. The local lawyer, who visited him the other day, says that Alexei’s mood has improved. Generally, he is a very active person, and if he has no opportunity to do anything he gets depressed. But now, apparently, he has realized we are fighting for him, his friends wrote that he has not been forgotten, and so his mood has been normal and he is holding up. He will turn thirty on January 24. It’s a big birthday.

How Alexei Sutuga Was Made a Repeat Offender

After his trial in Moscow, Alexei was sent to the Irkutsk Remand Prison. When the prison staff confiscated his personal belongings and letters, Sutuga protested by declaring a hunger strike and demanding to be transferred to a penal colony. Three days later, Sutuga was transferred to Correctional Colony No. 14 in the city of Angarsk, Irkutsk Region.

However, as soon as Alexei arrived at the colony, a shiv was found on him. Sidorkina believes prison colony staff planted the shiv on him.

Before his transfer from the remand prison, Sutuga was undressed completely, all his personal belongings were examined, and the procedure was filmed on a video recorder. No forbidden items were found. The paddy wagon in which he was transported in the company of three guards was also inspected.

At the penal colony, Sutuga was immediately taken to the search room, where in the presence of ten colony staff he was again forced to strip and put all his things on a table. As Sutuga was undressing and simultaneously replying to the questions of penal colony staff, one of them suddenly discovered a sharpened metal object in Sutuga’s cap. Sutuga claimed he had nothing to do with the shiv.

Sutuga was placed in solitary confinement for seven days.

Over the next month, Sutuga received three more disciplinary reprimands: for not wearing a badge, for not reporting to the on-duty guard, and for not cleaning his room.

Due to these clearly fabricated violations, Sutuga was declared a repeat offender of prison rules and was first transferred to a high-security cell, then to a single-space cell.

What Is a Single-Space Cell?

Sutuga is now imprisoned in a single-space cell [edinoye pomeshchenie kamernogo tipa or EPKT] at Correctional Colony No. 2 in Irkutsk Region.

Single-space cells were instituted in penal colonies after July 1997. Previous to this, each penal colony had contained an “internal prison”—a cell-like space [pomeshchenie kamernogo tipa or PKT]. Now single-space cells have been devised that are no longer managed by the particular correctional facility, but by the regional office of the Federal Penitentiary Service. Prisoners placed in single-space cells are often in the process of transfer to another city and sometimes another region. But Alexei Sutuga has been left in the very same city, in Angarsk.

Members of the Irkutsk Public Monitoring Commission reported what they saw at Correctional Colony No. 2 in June 2015.

“There were heaps of construction debris in the yard in front of the entrance to the space. The cells were dimly lit, there was no ventilation, and the radio was not working. The tables were ninety by fifty centimeters, and there were benches ninety by twenty centimeter benches on each side. They were in the middle of the room, so it was problematic for four people to fit in the room at the same time. There was also very little space to move around. The drinking water was poured from the tap into tanks in the rooms.”

Top brass at the Irkutsk Regional Office of the Federal Penitentiary Service reacted to the remarks, but as of October 2015 the construction debris had not been removed. In conclusion, the PMC wrote:

“Slag mixed with ash that is loosened up every day is scattered near the entrance to the building and around the entire perimeter of the room. It is not only that the slag exudes harmful substances (sulfates, phenol, etc.) but also that the dust from the slag and ash gets into the air and from there, through the windows, into the cells and exercise yards, harming the health both of convicts and staff.”

Alexei Sutuga Does Not Receive Medical Treatment in Prison

The antifascist has several ailments that require treatment.

“In October, the public monitors established that Alexei was not being given packages with medicaments: they were being sent back. Staff at the facility explained that they do not let packages through if the permitted number of them is exceeded. And yet they do not look inside to determine whether they contain medicaments or not, but just send them back. They say the sender has to personally come to the facility and submit the package through the infirmary,” recounts Irkutsk human rights defender Svyatoslav Khromenkov.

In the presence of members of the PMC, Sutuga was prescribed an x-ray. At the time of the visit Sutuga was in the facility’s medical solitary confinement cell with a foot injury. According to him, he had an old sports injury, which had flared up after he had struck his foot against a nightstand. Sutuga also complained about lung problems: he said he was having trouble breathing. He believed he had pneumonia.

Lawyer Denis Ivanets says the trauma specialist in the infirmary at Correctional Colony No. 6 diagnosed Sutuga with first- and second-degree severe arthritis in both knee joints. This is a chronic illness. Civilian trauma specialists told the lawyer that, given such a diagnosis, medication was insufficient. Sutuga would also need physiotherapy, including massage, as well as special orthopedic aids.

On December 10, 2015, the public monitors once again visited the antifascist. He said he had been given the package of medicaments that had been brought to the prison personally by his comrades. Sutuga was very happy that he had finally got the pills. According to Sutuga, a doctor, who had told him there was no need for an immediate operation, had examined him and it could wait until his release.

Lawyers and Public Monitors Are Often Not Allowed to See Alexei Sutuga

During the course of the calendar week (five working days) beginning November 25, 2015, lawyer Denis Ivanets and human rights defenders constantly attempted to visit the political prisoner.

Every time the visitors appeared at the headquarters of Correctional Colony No. 2, the Federal Penitentiary Service officers found a pretext to turn them away. Either the warden of the facility, who had to sign the lawyer’s request to visit the convict, was not there (although, as later transpired, he had been in his office having an intercom meeting with the head office), or the warden of the single-room cell facility was gone all day, and he was allegedly the only staff member who could escort the lawyer to the premises behind the barbed wire (although the warden of Correctional Colony No. 2 had signed off on the paperwork for visiting the convict).

Now members of the Irkutsk PMC are appealing in court Correctional Colony No. 2’s ban on holding a personal conversation with Alexei Sutuga under conditions of acoustic isolation from penal colony staff. The law “On Public Monitoring” directly stipulates this right.

Letters and Newspapers Are Not Delivered to Sutuga

According to lawyer Denis Ivanets, “Alexei’s mom says her son does not reply to letters from his spouse, parents, and friends. When I talked to him about it, it turned out that more than two thirds of the letters had simply not got to him! These letters had been sent to Alexei over a month ago.”

According to Article 91.2 of the Russian Federal Correctional Code, letters, postcards, and telegrams sent and received by convicts are censored by the wardens of the correctional facility, after which they must be given to the convicts.

In addition, Sutuga’s relatives took out subscriptions to several newspapers and magazines (Kommersant, Novaya Gazeta, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, GEO, Vokrug sveta), but Sutuga had not been receiving them. Staff in the warden’s office at Correctional Colony No. 2 could not give the lawyer an intelligible answer as to why this had been happening. According to the Article 95.1 of the Russian Federal Correctional Code, convicts are permitted to receive stationery supplies in parcels and packages, purchase literature through retail distributors, and subscribe to newspapers and magazines without limitation at their own expense.

Socrates Has Not Surrendered

Alexei Sutuga was placed in solitary confinement from November 20 to November 30 for his latest “rules violation.” As his lawyers report, the number of reprimands grows with each passing month, and this will make it impossible for him to be paroled.

On December 10, 2015, the members of the PMC were able to chat with Sutuga, who sent greetings to everyone, especially his loved ones, his mom, wife, and child. Sutuga asked for new photographs of them, as well as books on psychology, sociology, and political science.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Forgive Us, Netherlands”: Petersburgers Remember MH17 Victims One Year On

Petersburgers Remember MH17 Victims One Year On
David Frenkel
Special to The Russian Reader
July 18, 2015

Despite heavy rain and hail, several dozen Petersburgers came to the Netherlands Consulate General in the city yesterday, July 17, to lay flowers and paper planes in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which crashed near Torez in Donetsk Region, Ukraine, on July 17, 2014, after being shot down, killing all 283 passengers and fifteen crew members on board. Two thirds of the passengers were Dutch nationals. The plane was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

IMG_5820A similar memorial took place in Moscow, where Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov was the only Russian official to bring flowers.

Despite the meager attendance in Petersburg, three regular police cars arrived to complement the usual consulate guards. Police tried to forbid the mourners from leaving the paper planes, printed with the names of the victims, dubbing them “garbage.”

IMG_5850The paper planes were part of an action, sponsored by Open Russia, entitled #PAPERBOEING. Eventually, the mourners got their way and were allowed to leave the planes.

IMG_5883Police also checked documents of an elderly man who came to the memorial wearing a handmade hat with the Dutch phrase “Vergeet ons, Nederland” (“Forgive us, Netherlands”) printed on it. They suspected him of attempting to hold a one-person picket.

IMG_5847

All photographs by and courtesy of David Frenkel