Vocalese (The Network Trials)

DSCN0045Viktor Filinkov (left) and Yuli Boyarshinov (right) in the dock at the Network trial in Petersburg, discussing matters with their defense lawyers. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

Petersburg Defendants in Network Case Remanded in Custody till September 11
Zaks.ru
June 4, 2019

On Tuesday, June 4, a panel of judges from the Moscow Military District Court, presiding at a circuit hearing in Petersburg, extended the remand in custody of anarchists Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov, defendants in the trial of the so-called Network terrorist community, until September 11.

The defendants’ previous remand in custody would have expired on June 11. The prosecution insisted it be extended. The defendants asked to release them on house arrest. Filinkov and Boyarshinov have been imprisoned for nearly a year and a half.

Earlier in the hearing, the court granted a motion, made by Filinkov’s defense counsel, Vitaly Cherkasov, to order a phonoscopic forensic examination of an audio recording in the case files containing, allegedly, a conversation between the Petersburg defendants.

As part of the forensic examination, FSB Captain Maxim Volkov recorded their voices in the courtroom. They were told to say anything they liked in the microphone.

Filinkov spoke for around eleven minutes about what happened during the early days after he was detained by the FSB, including  the electrical shock torture to which he had previously accused the FSB officers who detained him of subjecting him.

Boyarshinov recounted the time he had spent in remand prison, his loved ones, and his passion for traveling.

The trials of the Network defendants have been taking place simultaneously in Petersburg and Penza.

There are nine defendants in the dock. They have been charged with establishing a terrorist organization that, allegedly, wanted to carry out terrorist attacks against officials and security services officers. They also, allegedly, planned to overthrow the government.

On the contrary, the defendants claim they practiced airsoft together and discussed anarchist ideas, but had no plans to commit any crimes whatsoever.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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They took a dynamo out of a bag and put it on the table. All the agents were wearing balaclavas and medical gloves.

They strapped my hands behind my back, I was only in my underpants, they strapped my legs to the bench with tape. One agent, Alexander, stripped the wires with a craft knife and attached them to my toes. They didn’t ask any questions, they simply started cranking the dynamo.

I felt electric currents in my legs up to the knees. It feels like you are being skinned alive, but when it stops, it’s as if nothing happened at all. There’s no pain when the electricity stops.

Well, it’s impossible to endure this. They hit me [with electric shocks] maybe about five times without asking any questions, probably, to stun me or something like that. Then they told me: if you haven’t figured it out, you are in the hands of the FSB, we are not going to play games, you will have to answer our questions now. The answers “no”, “I don’t know”, “I don’t remember” are wrong answers.

Excerpt from Network defendant Dmitry Pchelintsev’s testimony at the Penza Network trial, as published by People and Nature on June 4, 2019. Read the rest of Pchelintsev’s nearly unbearable story there.

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FSB May Have Used Neo-Nazi Provocateur to Frame Network Suspects

Russian Security Services May Have Used Agent Provocateur to Frame Up Antifascists
People and Nature
January 31, 2019

Antifascists have launched an international campaign to defend Russian activists who have been arrested, tortured in detention, and charged with terrorism-related offences in the Network case.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) claims that 11 people arrested in St Petersburg and Penza were part of an underground terrorist group seeking to sow disorder ahead of the 2018 Russian Presidential elections and the football World Cup.

Several of the detainees have described in detail how they were tortured by the FSB. For example, Viktor Filinkov described how he was tortured with an electric shocker after being detained at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport in January 2018. Filinkov stated that FSB officers put him in a minivan, and then drove him around the city while torturing him into learning a forced confession.

pan-antifaDemonstrators showing their solidarity with Network defendants on January 19, 2019, in London. Photo courtesy of People and Nature

The quasi-official St. Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission has compiled evidence of torture, and the issue was raised at a meeting of the Kremlin’s own Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. Nevertheless, preparations for what the defendants and their families describe as a show trial continue.

On 19 January, demonstrations in solidarity with the defendants were held in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kyiv, London, and other European and North American cities. (Information on the London event here and here.)

On 17 January, defendant Igor Shishkin received three and a half years for involvement in a terrorist organization. Shishkin admitted his guilt and came to a pretrial agreement with the investigation. Most other defendants have renounced their confessions, citing the fact that they were tortured by FSB officers.

The following article, by Tatyana Likhanova of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, describes the use of what appears to be an agent provocateur in the Network case. This agent, who attended the same sports club as one of the case investigators in Penza, previously gave information to Ilya Shakursky, one of the defendants, and appears to have encouraged Shakursky to take radical action. We translated it with the author’s permission.

***

Following the conviction of Igor Shishkin, his lawyer Dmitry Dinze published several extracts from the case materials in a Facebook post. According to the post, a certain “V.I. Kabanov (an agent who possesses audio files of conversations with members of the Network)” features on the list of witnesses who testified against the defendants.

Ilya Shakursky, one of the Penza-based defendants in the Network case, reported that this agent came into contact with the antifascists previously, in a statement made last April. Having introduced himself as “Vlad Dobrovolsky,” the agent encouraged them to take radical measures against the Russian authorities and engage in violent acts against law enforcement officials. Shakursky’s statement was given to Senior Investigator Valery Tokarev and attached to the case files. But this evidence was not verified by law enforcement.

At a recent court hearing on the extension of pretrial custody for Shakursky, the following statement by the defendant was read out by the presiding officer (the session was open to the public, and journalists made audio recordings):

In autumn 2016, I met a young man named Vlad Dobrovolsky on the VKontakte social network [a Russian network similar to Facebook]. His name and surname may not be real. He was of an average height, with short dark hair, a beard, and strong build. I can identify him. I also know that he was studying at Penza State University. Vlad had given me important information about upcoming attacks by neo-Nazis on antifascist events. According to him, he did it because of a personal grudge against the Penza Nazis.

He also told me that some neo-Nazis maintained close relations with officers from the counter-extremism department, who, in turn, do not prevent the organisation of neo-Nazi events (tournaments, meetings, concerts).

Vlad found out later that I play airsoft, and offered to give me a few training sessions on tactics. At one of his training sessions, he showed me his Wild Boar firearm.

Later, he told me that a radical neo-Nazi organisation operates in Siberia; its aim is to fight for the autonomy of Siberia. As a committed antifascist, I felt it was my duty to learn more about this organization in order to expose it later on by writing articles in the media. That is why I deliberately misled Dobrovolsky when I spoke about my views and supported his proposals. My goal was to gain his trust to learn more about the neo-Nazis.

In spite of his constant requests to meet, I rarely met Vlad. Communication with him was not a priority for me. I was busy with my studies and my personal life. At the last meeting in summer 2017, he talked about his desire to move on to radical action and try to make an explosive device. I thought he was a crazy fanatic and stopped talking to him, ignoring his calls.

In court, Shakursky clarified that the man called “Dobrovolsky” is known in Penza as a neo-Nazi.

Novaya Gazeta found a user with the same name on the Ask.fm social network. His jokes in the comments have a nationalist flavor.

Talking with relatives during breaks, Shakursky also said that he recorded conversations with Vlad on his smartphone. He also saved the correspondence with him and photographs of “Dobrovolsky” from several meetings (a friend of Shakursky’s, at his request, photographed them secretly).

pan-shakurskyIlya Shakursky

Law enforcement confiscated the smartphone and computer. According to Shakursky, the investigating officers showed his correspondence with “Dobrovolsky” to Dmitry Pchelintsev, another defendant, but this correspondence is not in the file. As for the audio recordings, they were added to the case file, but with omissions that allow the remaining phrases to be used against the defendants. The defense has no access to the original records, since Shakursky’s electronic devices remain in the possession of the investigation.

pan-pchelintsevDmitry Pchelinstev

When Ilya’s acquaintances showed a photo of “Dobrovolsky” to students at Penza university, they recognized a Penza State University student called Vlad Gresko. As Novaya Gazeta has noted, on Ask.fm, people address user wlad8 as “Gres.” Web searches revealed yet another coincidence: “Dobrovolsky” trains at the same sport club as investigator Valery Tokarev. Both appear in pictures on the zavod58_sport_club online community.

During breaks in court hearings, Shakursky also managed to report that, after one of his meetings with Vlad, a sporty-looking man came up to him on the street and tried to provoke a fight. Subsequently, after his arrest, Shakursky saw this same man in the FSB office. The man turned out to be Dmitry N., an investigating officer with the Penza branch office of the FSB.

According to Shakursky, the officer “listened to Nazi bands […] and talked to officer Shepelev about his desire to ‘shoot shavki’ [Russian neo-Nazi slang for antifascists – Novaya Gazeta]. I pretended that I did not recognize him.”

Indeed, according to Shakursky’s statement on torture, it was Captain Shepelev who subjected Shakursky to torture in an effort to force him to confess to terrorism charges. During a court session break, Shakursky said:

This man [Shepelev] participated in my torture and the torture of Dima [Dmitry Pchelintsev, another defendant]. He threatened to rape me. […] When the human rights ombudsperson [Elena Rogova] visited us, which was a while ago, when Dima and I couldn’t see each other, she asked me to draw the locations [in investigation detention] where I had been tortured. I drew them. In the office next door, Dima drew the same thing. She compared them, and it was the same place. Although I was not being kept there officially [according to the Military Investigative Commission’s investigation into the claims of torture – Novaya Gazeta].

There were three people there — Shepelev held me down, tied me up with black tape. [….] I was wearing only my underwear. He took my underwear off and said he was going to rape me.

Elena Bogatova, Shakursky’s mother, told journalists that when law enforcement searched her son’s apartment, officers went straight to a hole under the kitchen window. There, they found “an improvised explosive device camouflaged as a fire extinguisher”. When Shepelev ordered officers to look under the couch, a pistol was found.

The initial forensic test did not find any DNA or fingerprint traces belonging to Shakursky on these items. Then, after Shakursky gave a saliva sample, a second test was conducted. This test showed traces of Shakursky’s DNA on a piece of electrical tape stuck to the explosive device. But, as Elena Bogatova recalls, and photographs of the search confirm, after the device was found, it was left on the apartment floor for a period of time. Given that Shakursky had lived there for a significant period of time, there were bound to be traces of his DNA.

According to Bogatova, Captain Shepelev also tried to force her to give a “correct comment” to the television channel NTV when they interviewed her. She was advised not to deny the existence of a terrorist organization and not insist on her son’s innocence. Otherwise, Bogatova says, Shepelev threatened he would spread rumors in prison that her son was a pedophile.

■ A cash appeal to support the Network case defendants (for legal expenses and support of their families), initiated by the organizing committee for the 19 January demonstration in London, will close in nine days’ time on 8 February. It has raised more than £3000, surpassing the original target of £2000. But we are making a final push to try to hit £4000. You can see the details, and donate, here.

Thanks to Gabriel Levy for permission to republish the article. It has been edited very lightly to conform with our style guide. {TRR}

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What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists who have been tortured and imprisoned by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)?

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

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

Relentless Repression in Russia: Why Londoners Are Demonstrating on January 19

Relentless repression in Russia: why we will demonstrate on Saturday 19 January
People and Nature
14 January 2019

On Saturday, January 19, we will demonstrate in London in solidarity with Russian antifascists. Eleven of them, who have been arrested, tortured, and accused of fabricated “terrorism” charges, are awaiting trial. Many others have faced a relentless campaign of persecution by officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the police, as summarized in the following article.

Please join us on Saturday to support the Russian antifascists and strengthen international solidarity against fascism, xenophobia, and state terror. Please repost and share this article.

Details of our London event here.

2018 summary

By Misha Shubin, 31 December 2018 (Original Russian text here)

I’ve also decided to sum up the year. Not my own year, but rather to remember what happened to anarchists and leftists in Russia in 2018. This post will be long, and many of you know  or heard something about the events I recount here.

But I think it is very important not to forget all this. [Note. Links from the original article to Russian-language sources are included. Links to English translations or relevant articles in English added where available. Translator.]

The Network Case

Eleven anarchists and antifascists have been arrested. They are accused of setting up a terrorist group and planning terrorist attacks. According to the Federal Security Service (FSB), they wanted to organise an armed uprising in Russia.

Almost all the evidence has been gathered on pain of torture. The detainees were beaten up. Some of them were tortured using shocks from a stationary electric dynamo, others with tasers. At least one of the accused, Dmitry Pchelintsev, was hung upside down.

The accused are Yegor Zorin, Ilya Shakursky, Vasily Kuksov, Dmitry Pchelintsev, Arman Sagynbayev, Andrei Chernov, Viktor Filinkov, Igor Shishkin, Yuli Boyarshinov, Mikhail Kulkov, and Maksim Ivankin.

What to read:

“How the FSB is manufacturing a terrorist case against antifascists in Russia”

What else you need to know about this case:

“A witness in the ‘network’ case, Ilya Kapustin, was tortured with a hand-held electric shocker.” Subsequently, he left for Finland, where he has applied for political asylum.

Viktoria Frolova, Ilya Shakursky’s girlfriend, was detained on Russia’s border with Ukraine. (Link in Russian.) Shakursky was threatened that “it would be bad” for his girlfriend if he did not make a confession.

The case of anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev

In early February 2018, anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev was arrested in Crimea [the peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014]. They brought him to the police station with a bag over his head. There were fresh bruises on his temples and his knees. On the basis of

two videos that he had uploaded to various chat forums, he was accused of making public calls for terrorist activity.

What to read:

“A rifle stock to the heart, a fist to the gut: how left-wing activists are persecuted in Crimea”

(And more in Russian.) [And a report of Karakashev’s subsequent court appearance is here.]

What else you need to know about this case:

The main prosecution witness is a former comrade of Karakashev’s.

In the autumn, 16 people from various Russian regions were summoned to the Russian Investigative Committee for interrogations. Many of them have expressed left-wing views. Some of them did not even know Karakashev.

Torture of anarchists in Chelyabinsk

Anarchists in Chelyabinsk staged an event on the night of 14–15 February in solidarity with the Network Case defendants. They displayed a banner outside the FSB headquarters and threw a flare over a fence. The banner read, “The FSB is the chief terrorist.”

Three days later, five people were arrested: Dmitry Semenov, Dmitry Tsibukovsky, Anastasia Safonova, Maksim Anfalov, and their friend Maksim. Tsibukovsky and Anfalov were beaten up and tortured with electric shockers.

Over the summer, the criminal case against theChelyabinsk anarchists was dropped.

What to read:

“The main thing at that moment, in that situation, was to come out alive”

What else you need to know about this case:

In November, a new criminal case was opened against anarchists Tsibukovsky, Safonova, Grigory Potanin, Mikhail Perkov, and Dmitry Dubovoi. This time, they were charged with vandalism during their protest of the government’s pension reform.

The broken window in United Russia’s office and torture of Svyatoslav Rechkalov

On 31 January, persons unknown broke a window at the office of United Russia [the largest party in the Russian parliament, which supports President Putin] and threw a smoke bomb. A criminal investigation into vandalism was launched. Sixteen days later, Yelena Gorban and Aleksei Kobaidze were arrested. After questioning, they were released on their own recognizance.

On 14 March, searches were conducted of the homes of anarchists from the People’s Self-

Defence organisation in connection with the case. Subsequently, Svyatoslav Rechkalov and Andrei were detained; the latter, most likely, was released.

Rechkalov was driven around the city for several hours, blindfolded. Then security services officers beat him and tortured him with electric shocks. They warned that, if he did not make the necessary confession, he would end up a defendant in the Network Case. After being tortured, Rechkalov was released. He emigrated to France.

What to read:

“The horror continues”, and “They put a bag on my head, cuffed my hands behind my back and tortured me with a taser”.

What else you need to know about this case:

In November, Rechkalov started getting threats from the FSB. (Link in Russian.)

Torture of Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin

In late April, Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin was detained in Tomsk. On the way to his interrogation, security service officers beat him up in their vehicle and held his face against a heater. To protect his face from burns, Shulgin put his arms against the heater

and received first- and second-degree burns. Shulgin was accused of inciting hatred towards the police after posting songs on VK [a Russian social network similar to Facebook].

Shulgin filed a complaint about his having been tortured. In late December, he was again detained. This time, law enforcers tried to choke him to force him to withdraw the accusations he had made against FSB officers.

What to read:

Arrest in April. “Is Maxim Shulgin An Extremist?” and “Tomsk resident tortured for posting songs about police on VK.”

Torture in December. (Link in Russian.)

What else you need to know about this case:

Another nine Left Bloc activists were detained with Shulgin. They were forced to make confessions under threat of torture. (Link in Russian.)

Explosion in Arkhangelsk, interrogation of anarchists and leftist activists, and torture of Vyacheslav Lukichev

On 31 October there was an explosion at the FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk, set off by Mikhail Zhlobitsky [who died at the scene]. As a result, all over Russia the police detained and brought anarchists, left-wingers, and those who hold alternative political views in for so-called discussions. (Link in Russian.)

In early November, anarchist Vyacheslav Lukichev was arrested in Kaliningrad. He was accused of vindicating the explosion set off by Zhlobitsky. It was later established that after Lukichev’s arrest he was beaten by six people. He was questioned for 36 hours.

What to read:

“Vyacheslav Lukichev: interrogated for 36 hours and beaten”

What else you need to know about this case:

After the explosion, a 14-year old who, allegedly, had contact with Zhlobitsky was detained in Moscow on suspicion of planning bombings. (Link in Russian.)

What else happened this year?

■ In March, the police checked the documents of participants in a football tournament organised by antifascists. (Link in Russian.)

■ In July, police and FSB officers went to the Pryamukhino Readings [an event held annually to discuss the ideas and legacy of Mikhail Bakunin, at his birthplace in Tver Region]. The conference theme was “Revolution and Culture”. The security service officers checked participants’ passports, and then detained Artem Markin, an anarchist from Belarus. He was detained for three days for allegedly using psychotropic substances. See: “A Funny Thing Happened in Pryamukhino”.

■ In August, officers from Centre “E” [Center for Combating Extremism] turned up at the Icebreaker [Ledokol] punk festival. They arrested two people, tried to persuade them to turn informer, and asked about the People’s Self-Defence group. (Link in Russian.)

■ In October, anarchist Ilya Romanov was sentenced to five-and-a-half years on charges of incitement to terrorism. He allegedly published on Facebook a video recording of jihadists and an occult ritual featuring a puppet named Vladimir. All the indications are that the criminal case was a frame-up. See: “Meet Russian anarchist Ilya Romanov. He’s spent nearly twenty years in prison”.

■ In late December, the anarchist Aleksandr Kolchenko [from Crimea, who since 2015 has been serving a ten-year sentence in Russia on trumped-up charges] was transferred, on a formal pretext, to a punitive isolation cell, where he saw in the new year. (Link in Russian.)

Moloko plus siloviki

[Moloko is Russian for “milk”. Siloviki is a widely used term for the heads and officers of Russia’s numerous, overlapping security services, including the FSB, Centre “E”, the Russian National Guard, and the Russian Investigative Committee.]

In mid June, there was a gathering in Krasnodar of members of the collective that publishes the countercultural almanac moloko plus. Sofiko Arifdzhanova and Pavel Nikulin had planned to present the latest issue of the almanac, on the topic of revolution. On the day before the event, the police arrested Sofiko and a volunteer [who helped with printing], Anastasia Kkhukhurenko. The police would not release them and demanded a meeting with Pavel. They then forced Sofiko and Anastasia to sign an undertaking not to organise unauthorised mass gatherings and warned them about the punishments for extremist activity before releasing them

The next day, persons unknown attacked Sofiko and Pavel with pepper spray. A few hours later, at the presentation, the police arrived and confiscated almanac’s print run.

In September, there was another presentation, in Petersburg, and FSB officers turned up. In this case, everything turned out relatively peacefully. They just got up and left.

After another two weeks, there was a presentation here in Nizhny Novgorod. A few minutes after it began, officers from Centre “E” burst in, with armed back-up. Sofiko, Pavel, and I were arrested and taken to the police station. Ninety copies of the almanac were confiscated, along with some gas cylinders [sic]. Pavel was detained for two days on charges of insubordination to a police officer. The issue of moloko plus is now being checked for any indications of extremism. There is a big text about our adventures in Russian here.

I am sure I have forgotten something and so not included it. Generally speaking, that was the sort of year we had.

More on defending Russian political prisoners:

 The Rupression site

 “Convoyed”, on The Russian Reader

Thanks to People and Nature for their generous permission to republish this important article and solidarity appeal here. I have lightly edited the original text to make it hew more closely to this website’s imaginary style guide. {TRR}

People and Nature: Break the Silence on Azerbaijan Oil Workers’ Deaths

An improvised memorial to the victims. Photo: OWRPO site
An improvised memorial to the victims. Photo: OWRPO site

Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths
People and Nature
August 4, 2016

Nine months after 31 workers drowned in Azerbaijan’s worst-ever oil industry disaster, the country’s authorities have still not said a word about how it happened or what mistakes could be avoided in future.

Most of the victims were thrown into the water when a lifeboat smashed against the side of production platform No. 10 at the Guneshli oil field in the Caspian Sea, as they tried to escape a fire during a force 10 gale on 4 December last year.

The Oil Workers Rights Protection Organisation (OWRPO), a campaign group, says state oil company managers broke safety laws for the sake of keeping production going, and that workers did not even have life jackets on during the attempt to evacuate the platform.

State officials lied to the media and the public during the emergency, and treated oil workers’ families with contempt, the OWRPO said in a report published in February.

The government was quick to dismiss the report, but its own 14-person commission, set up to deal with the disaster’s consequences, has not breathed a word. The prosecutor’s office has opened a criminal case (which is standard procedure), but has made public no details of its investigation. It is not known whether it has questioned managers accused by oil workers of glaring safety breaches.

Mirvari Gharamanli, president of the OWRPO, said in an interview with People & Nature: “It’s ‘oil first, people second’, just like in Soviet times. The human factor is devalued. It should be other way round: people first, and then the oil.

“People should have been evacuated in a timely way. Attention should have been paid to these safety issues. But the human factor comes at the end”, she said.

The oil workers’ trade union should have been monitoring safety standards, but were “not interested” in that nor in investigating the causes of the accident, she said. “They helped with a bit of money to the families, that’s all. And we are talking about human lives here.”

The events of 4 December, as described in the media and the OWRPO’s report, were as follows. (The OWRPO report is here; there are news agency reports here and here; and a valuable analytical article on the Caspian Barrel web site.)

Wind speed had risen to 38-40 metres per second, and the height of waves rose from 8 metres to 9-10 metres. At about 17.40, a submarine gas pipe running from the platform broke.

Map of the Caucasus and Caspian Sea region
A map of the Caucasus and Caspian Sea region

There was an explosion of gas escaping from it, and a fire broke out, which soon spread to a number of the oil and gas wells operated from the platform.

Due to the strength of the storm, firefighting and rescue vessels were unable to reach the platform, which is operated by Azneft, a production division of Socar (the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic).

There were 63 workers on the rig; most of them evacuated via the north side of the platform and boarded two lifeboats. The OWRPO says that the way the evacuation was implemented by those in charge on the platform showed a lack of safety training and awareness.

Both of the boats were lowered on cables to about 10 metres above sea level: it was decided not to lower them into the water for fear of being dashed against the platform by the storm.

One of the lifeboats was blown by the wind and got wedged between the platform’s supporting legs. That saved the lives of its occupants, who were rescued after the storm subsided.

The cables holding the other boat snapped. It was blown against the side of the rig and broke into pieces. Those on board were thrown into the water.

The rescue vessels, still held back by the force of the storm, only managed to pull three men from the water, one of whom died straight away.

The rest of those who had been on that lifeboat perished. The OWRPO concluded that there were 12 dead and 19 missing, presumed dead (listed in the OWRPO report here). There has been no official list of victims published by the government or Socar.

Three other Azerbaijani oil workers lost their lives on 4 December: Dzhavad Khudaverdiev (44), Bakhman Dzhafarov (54) and Rovshan Mamedov (41) were swept out to sea from production platform No. 501 at the Oil Rocks oil field, bringing the total number of deceased on that day to 34. (Reported here in Russian.)

The OWRPO conducted its own investigation into the tragedy, and published it on 24 February this year. The organisation concluded that:

■ Workers had reported a gas leak from the pipeline a day before the disaster. They were told by the managers of the “28 May” oil and gas production department not to stop production, although doing so might have minimised losses when the accident happened.

■ The practice, and legal requirement in Azerbaijan, of reducing worker numbers on rigs to the minimum during stormy weather, was not followed. Of the 63 people on the rig when the fire began, 15 were members of a construction and drilling team, in breach of the Labour Code, which states that construction, installation and dismantling work on platforms should be stopped during stormy weather.

■ There were other non-essential workers, including five catering staff, on the platform. “The heads of departments are obliged to explain to society, and the families of killed and missing oil workers: why didn’t they send them away, if they received information about a hurricane?” the OWRPO report states.

■ Azerbaijan’s law requires that in storms of force 8 or greater, most types of production work should be stopped, and that in storms of force 10 or greater, all work, except to flush and cool tools, should be stopped. This did not happen.

■ Many of the workers were not wearing lifejackets during the evacuation. Mirvari Gharamanli said this is confirmed by photographic evidence from the scene, and her own meetings with survivors in hospitals. (Note. There are different requirements for safety clothing in different countries. On the North Sea, the standard now is for each worker to have a survival suit; in some oil producing countries, lifejackets are still the norm. UK oil worker trade unionists say it is unthinkable that, during an evacuation during stormy weather, either survival suits or lifejackets were not available.)

■ “Safety rules were seriously violated”, the OWRPO said; direct responsibility lies with the heads of the “28 May” oil and gas production department, the complex drilling trust, the transportation department, Caspian Catering Service and others.

■ “During the rescue operation, oil workers were not given proper instructions.” (The report stated that some industry experts believed that the evacuation should not have been attempted, and that workers would have had a better chance of survival by remaining on the platform, in the living quarters. Other industry specialists dispute this.)

■ Questions were raised by industry specialists about the quality of the lifeboats, and when they had been inspected.

The OWRPO report also detailed the fog of lies and deceit created around the accident by the government and Socar on the evening that it took place.

For six hours after the emergency began, no public comment was issued by Socar or the ministry of emergency situations; then Socar issued a statement that there had been no injuries or deaths. Mirvari Gharamanli explained in her interview how her Facebook page became a lightning rod for information in the midst of an official blackout.

The OWRPO also accuses the authorities of treating oil workers’ families with contempt. Although, under pressure, they established a central information point, no psychological support was provided, and some families were sent away by intolerant officials.

Socar in March issued an inconsequential rebuttal to the OWRPO report (reported here), which failed to deal with any of the main points, but has itself said nothing about the causes of the disaster, or the possibility that safety procedures could be improved.

It is hard to think of a more cynical, money-grubbing attitude to the safety of a company’s employees.

The background to the disaster is the generally poor safety culture in the Azerbaijani oil industry, the OWRPO says. In 2014, 19 people were killed; in 2015, as a result of the accident on platform No. 10, this figure more than doubled to 40. The organisation blames production-oriented management and the spinelessness of the officially sanctioned trade union, which has raised no protest at the official failure to investigate last year’s tragedy.

But this is also an issue for the oil industry, and oil workers, internationally. (James Marriott raised some key issues in December last year, in this article.)

The Guneshli death toll was the highest on an offshore oil platform since the explosion on Piper Alpha in the North Sea, which killed 167 British workers in 1988, and the highest in any offshore accident since the American drilling ship Seacrest capsized in the Gulf of Thailand in 1989, killing 90 people. And yet the international reaction to it has been minimal.

The British government, a key supporter of the Azerbaijan regime, has maintained a polite silence. BP, which operates the largest oil and gas fields in Azerbaijan, and has billions of dollars’ worth of joint projects with Socar (although it has no operational involvement whatever with the Guneshli field where the accident took place) sees the Azerbaijani company as one of its most important business partners.

An acquaintance who works in the oil business said: “You could see how important they think the lives of oil workers are, at the annual oil and gas business conference in Baku in June. No one from the oil companies or the government expressed any regret about the disaster. It was not even mentioned by any of the main speakers. Not even a moment’s silence.”

Senior BP managers and Baroness Nicholson, representing the UK government, were among those who had more important things to discuss.

Oil is an international business. We need to find a way to link up international struggles in workers’ and communities’ interests.

Let’s hope the international trade union federations can find ways of putting pressure on Azerbaijan over its appalling safety record. Maybe British and Norwegian oil workers could take up the issue.

Let’s find ways of supporting OWRPO’s efforts to organise Azerbaijani oil workers, to improve workplace conditions and dismantle the safety culture that subordinates human life to production. GL, 4 August 2016.

■ “It’s ‘oil first, people second’, just like in Soviet times – interview with Mirvari Gahramanli, Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Organization president

Also about the Caspian Sea region:

Kazakhstan: land protesters face police rampage – by Andrei Grishin. 25 May 2016

Activists imprisoned in Azerbaijan, the house that BP built. 7 June 2015

Kazakh oil workers. Links to articles on the 2011 strike, the shootings that ended it, and the campaign for justice that followed

Thanks to Gabriel Levy for his kind permission to reprint this article here. TRR

Kazakhstan: Land Protesters Face Police Rampage

Kazakhstan: Land Protesters Face Police Rampage
People and Nature
May 25, 2016

Street protests against plans to step up land privatization were broken up by police in many of Kazakhstan’s largest cities on Saturday, May 21. The demonstrations were organized by informal online networks rather than by any of the recognized opposition groups. Here are the key points from a report by Andrei Grishin, published in Russian on the website of the Fergana News Agency.

Special rapid-reaction police detachments attacked small groups [of demonstrators] wherever they gathered. They grabbed everyone, regardless of gender, age and nationality. Dozens of journalists were arrested.

Kazakhstan had waited for the events of May 21 with bated breath. [Protesters had named that as a day of action after a previous wave of demonstrations had forced the government to pull back from planned land reforms. See an earlier report here.] The official media had railed against the protests. And it all ended, as it has so many times before, with the “slaughter of the innocents,” but this time more brutal than usual. The detention of dozens of journalists, including foreigners, was proof of that.

Police detain land protester in Almaty
Police detain protester in Almaty, May 21, 2016

However, for the first time, people came out to protest all at once, in a number of cities and towns, without any leaders, because these leaders had either been arrested in advance, or had agreed to the authorities’ demands [after the previous demonstrations] and joined the [government’s] land commission.

[In Almaty in the southeast, the largest city in Kazakhstan and former capital, the authorities used every possible method of disrupting people’s plans to demonstrate. They created a “terrorism” scare, announcing the discovery of a stash of molotov cocktails, sticks, money and explosives; blocked social media; and issued orders forbidding public sector employees, students and workers in large enterprises from demonstrating, and in many cases, called people into work. Nevertheless, people gathered in small groups at Astana Square and by 11.30 am there were about a thousand of them. The police then went on the rampage, arresting and dispersing people.]

In other towns where activists made attempts to gather in squares or parks, the authorities acted similarly, although the numbers of both demonstrators and police were much smaller than those in Almaty. [There were arrests in Astana, the new capital, whereas things went compariatively peacefully in Kustanai and Pavlodar.]

In any case, no revolution took place! The president of the administrative policing committee at the ministry of internal affairs, Igor Lepekha, announced on Saturday that there had been “no unsanctioned gatherings or conflicts with the police. No breaches of order were permitted.” But at the same time he confirmed the detention of a number of people, including journalists; there had been a “misunderstanding” with the latter, he said.

Nevertheless, even this small number of demonstrations was a new phenomenon in Kazakhstan, in the sense that they started simultaneously in different regions. And all the experts noted in chorus that the land question was just the pretext, that in fact people have all sorts of other issues with the government. And that is really worrying parliament, above all, the fact that people are openly, and quite legally, calling for the resignation of the president.

And so it was clear that the government once again would deal with the problem [of protest] with repression. Evidence of this was the series of criminal cases opened even before May 21 against civil society activists, and the announcement by the internal affairs department of Western Kazakhstan about “preventing mass disorder.”And it is still possible, of course, that the Almaty police will “find” the owners of the molotov cocktails and sticks [i.e. use frame-up tactics against militants].

Police detaining protesters in Almaty on Saturday, May 21, 2016
Police detaining protesters in Almaty on Saturday, May 21, 2016

However at the same time the authorities have treated the land question with great caution, thus the one-year moratorium [announced by President Nazarbayev on 6 May] on the amendments [to the land code], and the establishment of the land commission, and inclusion in it of several “disloyal” civil society activists, and the hints that have been dropped about the possibility that each citizen of the country could be granted by law 1,000 square meters of free land.

Riot police loading protesters onto a bus, Almaty, May 21, 2016
Riot police loading protesters onto a bus, Almaty, May 21, 2016

Just a few days ago, when the government feared the spread of mass action, President Nazarbayev appealed to Kazakhs “not to shame ourselves before the world, but to solve our complicated problems by means of constructive dialogue.”

Despite this talk of “constructive dialogue” from the president, the police special detachments hid firearms in their buses on Saturday. Whether they had plastic bullets, tear gas or live ammunition we don’t know. But thankfully they didn’t open fire on the crowds: bearing in mind the events at Zhanaozen and Shetpe [in December 2011, when police fired on a crowd of striking oil workers, killing at least 16 and wounding at least 60], it seems there was enough sense at the top to order that there be no repeat of that. 25 May 2016.

People and Nature: Punitive Psychiatry Back in Vogue in Russia

Russia: punishment psychiatry back in vogue
People and Nature
February 17, 2016

The Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky has been sent to the notorious Serbsky Institute of Psychiatry, and his family and lawyers are worried about him.

On November 9, 2015, Pavlensky poured petrol over the doors of the infamous Federal Security Service (FSB) building at Lubyanka Square in central Moscow and set fire to them. He named the action Threat (Ugroza). Friends photographed and filmed him as the flames took hold. (Damage was done, but no one was hurt.) Pavlensky was arrested soon afterwards.

The FSB’s building was inherited directly from the Soviet KGB. Thousands of the regime’s political opponents were tortured and killed behind its austere façade.

Pavlensky has been charged with “vandalism motivated by ideological hatred,” whatever that means, and appeared at the Tagansky District Court several times. At his first appearance he compared his case to those of Crimean activists jailed on false “terrorism” charges – including Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov – and said he would not address the court further.

Oleksei Chirniy, who was charged along with Kolchenko and Sentsov, was also detained at the Serbsky Institute prior to his trial. His supporters alleged he had been mistreated with psychotropic drugs.

Pavlensky is also awaiting trial for charges arising from an earlier performance, Freedom (Svoboda). In February 2014, days after the removal  of Ukrainian president Viktor

Separation (Otdelenie). Pavel Pavlensky protesting against punishment psychiatry, October 2014. Photo courtesy of Calvert Journal

Yanukovich, he went with collaborators to the Maly Konyushenny Bridge in Saint Petersburg, setting light to car tires and banging dustbin lids, to recreate the atmosphere of the Maidan demonstrations in Kyiv.

Pavlensky was sent to the Serbsky State Scientific Centre for Social and Forensic Psychiatry last month (on January 27) to be observed by doctors. The centre was then closed due to an outbreak of a strong flu-like virus, and Pavlensky’s lawyers have been denied access to their client.

Human rights campaigners are focusing on Pavlensky’s case and Amnesty International have expressed concern about it.

On February 3, in Pavlensky’s absence, the Tagansky District Court extended his detention to March 5. His wife expressed fears for his health in a Facebook post: “We do not know if they are injecting him with drugs, trying to give him pills. We don’t know.”

Meanwhile, artists are protesting a decision by the National Centre for Contemporary Art to throw Pavlensky’s performance out of the contest for this year’s Innovation Prize.

His action at the Lubyanka was included after an online vote by critics. But on February 15, the organizers of the prize struck it off, on the grounds that it had involved an illegal act. Members of the expert committee that advised the organizers were angry; art critic Anna Tolstova quit the committee, saying: “I don’t consider myself obliged to agree with censorship and become part of the repressive machinery of the state.”

Clearly, the Innovation Prize organizing committee has taken a step backwards. In 2010, the prize was won by the Voina group for painting a large phallus on a bridge near FSB headquarters in Saint Petersburg.

Punitive psychiatry has been on the rise in Russia again since the 2011 demonstrations against government ballot-rigging.

In October 2013, Mikhail Kosenko, one of the defendants brought to trial after those demonstrations, was sentenced to indefinite psychiatric treatment after the Serbsky Instititue declared him insane. Psychiatric treatment was also used in the recent case of Crimean activists, three of whom are serving long jail sentences in Russia and are widely regarded as political prisoners.

Pavlensky has protested against punishment psychiatry. In October 2014, he sat on the wall of the Serbsky Institute and cut off his earlobe to make his point. He then wrote: “Armed with psychiatric diagnoses, the bureaucrat in a white lab coat cuts off from society those pieces that prevent him from establishing a monolithic dictate of a single, mandatory norm for everyone.”

But punitive psychiatry goes back much further. It was used in the Soviet Union from (at least) the 1940s, to deal with those who defied its tyrannical, misnamed “socialism”, and became widespread in the 1960s. It was the Serbsky Institute that developed the diagnosis of “sluggish schizophrenia” (vyalotekushchaya shizofreniya) which was widely applied to political dissidents.

Not only were internationally known oppositionists, such as the independent trade union organizer Vladimir Klebanov and the Second World War general Pyotr Grigorenko, confined to psychiatric institutions, but psychiatry was used against large numbers of less-well-known Soviet citizens. (Indeed two western writers who studied the phenomenon in Soviet times concluded that the abuse of psychiatry against prominent dissidents was “probably only the tip of an iceberg.” It had a wide-ranging function in dealing with “social deviants,” “suppressing individuality […] so that the state can maintain a stifling social as well as political control.” Sidney Bloch and Peter Reddaway, Russia’s Political Hospitals, Gollancz 1977, pp. 278-279.)

An early (and typical) case was that of Revolt Pimenov, a maths student who resigned from the Communist Party’s Youth League, was diagnosed as schizophrenic and consigned to a psychiatric hospital – the sentence being lifted when he agreed to rejoin the league! His story is recorded in the marvellous archive of the Chronicle of Current Events, a dissident journal. (Thanks to J. who drew that to my attention!)

Revolt Pimenov in his student days. Photo courtesy of the Chronicle of Current Events

Finally, a thought about Pavlensky’s art. I am pretty conservative in my artistic tastes, but it works wonders for me. What is an artist supposed to do when his government becomes increasingly repressive and supports military mayhem in a neighbouring state? Paint landscapes?

In my view, setting fire to the doors of the Lubyanka was a cry of sanity in an insane world. I’m not blind to the limitations of individual protest, but this protest tried seriously to deal with the state machine’s monstrous corrosion of humanity.

If you are a western leftie thinking “Well, this is hardly the worst example of state repression,” give me some credit. I know. I, too, see the sickening irony in the denunciation of Putin for ordering Syrian children’s deaths to gain diplomatic advantage by people who had little to say about Tony Blair and George Bush ordering Iraqi children’s deaths on a vastly greater scale. Well, you know what, it’s not a competition! Putin’s violence is part of the same process as Tony Blair’s, not some sort of answer to it.

For me, this is about the reality with which my friends, activists in social and labour movements in Russia and Ukraine, have to deal.

If you’re a psychiatrist, please get on to your professional association about that institute. If you’re an artist, please get on to that art centre about that competition. If you’re a letter writer, please follow Amnesty’s advice on protesting to the Russian prosecutor, and if you’re fighting for some other cause, big or small, please keep doing what you’re doing. How else can we deal with the inherent madness of the system under which we live? GL, February 17, 2016

Meaningful art: the Lubyanka ablazePeople & Nature, November 2015

■ For the latest on the Crimean political prisoners, read the website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Editor’s Note. A huge thanks to Gabriel Levy for writing this timely and pointed essay and especially for his permission to republish it here.

The Zhanaozen Massacre: Four Years Later

Kazakhstan: who ordered the killings and tortures?
People and Nature
December 13, 2015

Who ordered police to shoot down oil workers demonstrating for fair living standards? Who organised the torture of activists in police cells?

Four years after police killed at least 16 demonstrators and injured 60 more in the oil city of Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan, trade unionists and human rights campaigners are demanding answers.

They will spell out their calls for justice again on Wednesday this week, the fourth anniversary of the massacre, on December 16, 2011.

After the killings, some rank-and-file police officers who opened fire were jailed, and some local officials punished for corruption offences. But those who organised and instigated the crackdown have so far escaped justice.

Demonstrators in Uralsk, Kazakhstan, on the third anniversary of the Zhanaozen massacre last year. Photo: R. Uporova/ Uralskaya Nedelya newspaper

Demonstrators in Uralsk, Kazakhstan, on the third anniversary of the Zhanaozen massacre last year. Photo: R. Uporova/ Uralskaya Nedelya newspaper.

The well-documented use of torture against trade union activists after the massacre has gone unpunished.

Demands for an independent international enquiry, by the United Nations and international trade union federations, have not been met.

In the Kazakh oil fields, workers have been told they will be sacked if they dare to mark the anniversary on Wednesday. Activists in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere will demonstrate at Kazakhstan’s embassies. If you live in another country, you can mark the anniversary by sending a message of support or taking any other type of solidarity action. (See links at the end.)

Here is an update on the campaign for justice for those killed, injured and tortured while fighting for workers’ rights.

Justice for those killed and injured on 16 December 2011

Statements about the Zhanaozen killings by the Kazakh authorities contradict each other, contradict accounts by other witnesses, and are difficult to reconcile with video and audio recordings made on the day.

Trade unionists and international campaign organisations supporting the oil workers’ families fear that, by jailing a small number of officers – all of whom have now been released – the government hoped to cover up the chain of command that led to the killings.

Journalist Saniya Toyken, who is based in the Mangistau region (which includes Zhanaozen), this month explained in an article (link to Radio Azattyq site here, Russian only) that:

■ On 18 December 2011, two days after the Zhanaozen killings, Kazakh internal affairs minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov denied that anyone had ordered police officers to open fire on peaceful demonstrators. He claimed that police were unarmed, but went to fetch Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition after disorder broke out.

■ On the same day, the Kazakh general prosecutor admitted that 15 people had been killed in the course of the forcible response to the oil workers’ demonstration. Ten days later, on 27 December 2011, the prosecutor announced that five officers would be charged for “exceeding their legal powers.” At a trial in April-May 2012, five officers were found guilty of “exceeding their legal powers with the use of firearms.” The indictment against one, police colonel Kabdygali Utegaliev (who received the heaviest sentence, of seven years), referred to him “giving an order to use weapons.”

■ At the trial it was stated that police lieutenant-colonel Bekzhan Bagdabaev, former head of the department for combating extremism of the department for internal affairs, had killed Zhanar Abdikarimova, a peaceful resident of Zhanaozen – and that the same bullet that killed Abdikarimova had also struck Rakhat Tazhmivanov and Rzabek Makhambet. The

Oil workers at Munaifildservis in the Mangistau field at a meeting in February 2014. Photo: Saniya Toiken

Oil workers at Munaifildservis in the Mangistau field at a meeting in February 2014. Photo: Saniya Toiken

charges against three other officers (colonel Erlan Bakytkaliuly, senior lieutenant Rinat Zholdybaev and police captain Nurlan Esbergenov) mentioned deaths of, and injury to, specific victims.

■ Another victim, Bazarbai Kenzhebaev, died as a result of injuries received in police detention after the demonstration. Zhenisbek Temirov, who had been the officer in charge, was also jailed – again on charges of “exceeding his legal powers” – and made to pay 1 million tenge (about $5000) to Kenzhebaev’s family.

■ The verdicts were publicly questioned by Bagdabaev’s wife, Gulzhikhan, who in a media interview said that her husband had not opened fire and had been unjustly punished, whereas those who had used their weapons – and could be clearly seen doing so on videos – had not been brought to justice.

Relatives of massacre victims expressed dissatisfaction with the trial’s outcome, and demanded that charges of murder – rather than “exceeding legal powers” – be brought. In August 2012 they took an appeal to the regional cassation court (which re-examines legal issues, but not evidence). Judge Doszhan Amirov confirmed the trial decision but said that the question of murder charges “remained open.”

The relatives, and human rights organisations who supported them, reacted fiercely to a statement made during the officers’ trial that “unknown police officers used unregistered weapons without permission.”

Asel Nurgazieva, the legal representative of victims’ families, said: “How can police officers be described as ‘unknown’? This would mean that the whole state does not know who it employs and in whose hands it places weapons.”

Max Bokaev of the human rights campaign group Arlan, who acted as a trial observer, said in a recent interview with Toyken that while police officers’ faces were not visible in videos – which were in any case not used as evidence – their voices could be identified from sound recordings. “Now it will be complicated to ascertain who concretely shot and killed people, but those who gave the orders could be identified,” he said.

Ninel Fokina of the Helsinki committee in Almaty pointed out that there was no provision in Kazakh law for civil society to monitor the use of weapons by state agencies.

In addition to the shootings at Zhanaozen, firefighter Serik Kozhaev was killed, and 11 people injured, when police opened fire on demonstrators at the nearby railway station of Shetle on November 16, 2011. A week later, a local internal affairs ministry official, Serik Kozhaev, told journalists that police officers had fired on the crowd.

“That firefighter was on the other side [i.e. the demonstrators’ side]”, Kozhaev said. “Who opened fire? We did! We have the right to use service weapons in life-threatening situations.” Kozhaev claimed that some of the demonstrators were armed, but no evidence of this was brought to court.

One day, hopefully, our campaign efforts will lead to a genuine investigation of the killings. Then, a list of the senior security services officers responsible for the police action – compiled by Saniya Toyken, and reproduced below (“Officials with questions to answer”) – will come in useful.

Justice for trade unionists who were imprisoned and tortured

Security services officers who tortured trade unionists and their supporters  imprisoned after the Zhanaozen events have gone unpunished. These crimes have not even been investigated by the Kazakh authorities.

Thirty-seven Zhanaozen residents were tried in April-May 2012 for their part in the oil workers’ struggle, and 13 of them jailed. (More details here.) The trial judge passed numerous claims of torture, made in court, to the Mangistau district prosecutor’s office, which declined to open a criminal case, citing a lack of evidence. The office did not explain why it chose not to exercise its investigative function.

Kazakh human rights campaigner Erlan Kaliev, who acted as an observer at the oil workers’ trials, wrote on this site last year:

In court, the accused started publicly to deny the testimony that they had given during the investigation. They argued that they had been compelled to give that testimony under the strongest psychological and physical pressure from police officers. They spelled out concrete examples of how torture had been used against them.

The most common methods were suffocation with plastic bags; soaking with cold water at a temperature of minus 20 or minus 30 degrees; and hanging by the hair from the ceiling, as was the case with Roza Tuletaeva. The accused were made to stand for many hours, to sleep on the bare, or even iced-over, floor. They threatened to rape underage children, as became clear from the statements [in court] of Tanatar Kaliev and Roza Tuletaev. [Aleksandr] Bozhenko spoke of how they beat him mercilessly with switches [sheafs of branches] and jumped on him.

What’s more, all the victims gave the names of those who had treated them so brutally. They said that the perpetrators – police officers, prison staff or Committee of National Security operatives – very often made no attempt to cover up their identities. Their first names and surnames are in the court record. But there has been no investigation.

Victims of torture, listed in another recent article by Saniya Toyken (link here, Russian only), include:

■ Maksat Dosmagambetov, oil worker and trade union activist jailed at the 2012 trial and given conditional early release in February this year. He has cancer of his facial bones, apparently caused by the beating he received in police custody. In March, after his release, he travelled to South Korea for treatment. Dosmagambetov had pointed to a police officer and

Police at Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011

Police at Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011

said: “You saw with your own eyes how they beat me and punctured my ears with a staple gun.” Another defendant, Tanatir Kaliev, repeated the claim. (Activists have not published the name of the officer, who has not been charged.)

■ Yesengeldy Abdrakhmanov, an unemployed man from Zhanaozen who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment but released via an amnesty, told the court that he had contracted tuberculosis as a result of police torture. “I was stripped naked. They poured freezing water over me and beat me.”

■ Shabdol Otkelov, sentenced to five years, said in court that a security services officer “put a cellophane bag over my head and, stuffing it in to my mouth, forced me to confess to the preparation of explosives and to sign papers prepared by an investigator based in Astana [the capital of Kazakhstan].”

■ Roza Tuletaeva, a trade union activist who told the court she had been suffocated and hung by her hair, demanded that the tortures be investigated.

■ Kairat Adilov, sentenced to three years, told how an investigator put a gun to his head and threatened to shoot if he did not confess guilt.

■ Allegations of torture by police, prison officers and other security personnel were also made to the court by Ergazy Zhannyr, Serik Akzhigitov, Islam Shamilov, Bauyrzhan Telegenov, Zharas Besmagambetov, Samat Koyshybaev, Ertai Ermukhanov, Sisen Aspentaev, Zhenis Bopilov and Rasul Mukhanbetov.

■ Trial observers from Open Dialog say that, furthermore, six trial witnesses made allegations of torture in court. One, Aleksandr Bozhenko, who repeated the claims in television interviews, was murdered in unclear circumstances ten days later.

In 2013, Amnesty International accused Kazakhstan of “routinely” using torture, including in the Zhanaozen cases. (Amnesty report downloadable here.) Now some campaigners are calling for a “Zhanaozen list” of officials to be compiled, similar to the “Magnitsky list” drawn up by human rights activists in Russia, which led to the USA sanctioning security services officers involved in the ill-treatment and death in prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Lyudmyla Kozlovska of the international campaign group Open Dialog, that has championed human rights cases in Kazakhstan, said in an interview with Saniya Toyken that putting together a list would take time. “The question of tortures is not being raised [by the authorities] in Kazakhstan, because it involves people at the highest levels of government.”

The UK connection

There are strong business links between the UK and Kazakhstan. BG Group (former British Gas, now merging with Shell) and other oil companies work there; Kazakh companies raise money through the London markets. Tony Blair, former prime minister, advised Kazakhstan’s government – including specifically encouraging them to hush up the Zhanaozen issue – and UK government ministers, together with Prince Andrew, keep the relationship sweet. GL, 13 December 2015.

■ Send solidarity messages via the Confederation of Labour of Russia (email ktr@ktr.su) and/or via the Justice for Kazakh oil workers facebook page, and/or via gabriel.levy.mail@gmail.com.

Kazakh oil workers information page

Kazakhstan: oil companies threaten activists

Officials with questions to answer

►Kalmukhanbet Kasymov, minister of internal affairs at the time of the Zhanaozen massacre, has twice been reappointed to that position. In 2014 he was awarded the Order of Honour, and in 2015 was given the rank of general-colonel.

►Amanzhol Kabylov, who was head of the department of internal affairs of Mangistau region, and was appointed commandant of Zhanaozen when the state of emergency was declared there after the massacre, has been promoted. He now works as the deputy chairman of the criminal investigation committee of the Astana police.

►Abkrasul Oteshov, former deputy head of the directorate of internal affairs in Zhanaozen, who was accused of torture at the oil workers’ trial, is currently deputy head of the directorate of internal affairs of Munailinsky district of Mangistau region. 

►Former head of the directorate of internal affairs of Zhanaozen, Mukhtar Kozhaev, has been promoted to a position as head of criminal police in Astana.

►Another deputy head of the directorate of internal affairs in Zhanaozen, Nuraly Barzhikov, who has said “I was on the square [where the shootings took place] and I used firearms,” remains at his post.

►Officer Marat Kyzylkuluky, who admitted using firearms, now works with the migration police in Zhanaozen.

►Colonel Ulykbek Myltykov, who said in court that he had not fired on fleeing demonstrators – and after being showed video vidence, said he “did not know why [officers] fired” – is currently head of the administrative police of the department of internal affairs of the Mangistau region.

►Former deputy head of the department of internal affairs of Mangistau region Erzhan Sadenov currently works as the head of the department of internal affairs transport division in Astana.  

__________

Kazakhstan: oil companies threaten activists
People and Nature
December 13, 2015

Oil company managers have warned workers not to demonstrate on the fourth anniversary of the Zhanaozen massacre, Kazakh opposition news sites reported last week.

A fresh wave of unrest is brewing in the oil field after the announcement of redundancies, caused by the falling oil price and company cutbacks. A Kazakh-Chinese drilling company laid off 200 people in August.

Activists jailed after the 2011 strikes – which ended with police killing at least 16, and wounding 60, when they opened fire on protestors on 16 December 2011 – are under special scrutiny. “The security services have

Roza Tuletaeva. Photo: Saniya Toyken

Roza Tuletaeva. Photo: Saniya Toyken

been active, and have carried out ‘preventive discussions’ with activists, especially those who have been released from prison,” Respublika newspaper reported.

“They have promised [the activists] that they will again be put behind bars, especially if they try to influence trade union elections, as happened on 21 November in Zhanaozen.”

Akzhanat Aminov, one of the activists who was jailed and conditionally released, has been given an additional one year suspended sentence. That was a response to his election in June this year as chairman of the trade union committee of Ozenmunaigaz, the largest state-owned oil production company, the socialismkz.info site reported.

Roza Tuletaeva, a prominent trade union activist who was jailed at the Zhanaozen trial, said last month in a telephone interview with Radio Azattyq that she is back at work in the well drilling division of Ozenmunaigaz. She expressed concern for the condition of Maksat Dosmagambetov, her fellow activist who is seriously ill following torture in detention. Roza added that she remains in touch with the 12 other workers jailed at the Zhanaozen trial.

While the Zhanaozen prisoners have now been released, the politician Vladimir Kozlov of the democratic movement Alga was last week denied conditional release terms. He was jailed in a general crackdown following the oil workers’ strikes, of which he was a prominent supporter. GL, 13 December 2015.

Editor’s Note. My profound thanks to Gabriel Levy for his permission to reproduce these articles here.