Criminalizing Protest Has Become a Tool for Combating Rallies Experts Studied Use of Law Criminalizing Violence Against Authorities
Anastasia Kornya Vedomosti
February 28, 2019
Defending Protest (Apologiya protesta), an organization that provides assistance to people detained at protest rallies, has analyzed the use of Russian Criminal Code Article 318 against people involved in protest events. Article 318 makes violence against authorities a criminal offense. Between 2009 and 2017, a total of 65,046 people were convicted on this charge. Typically, the charge has been filed against people involved in drunken brawls broken up by police units or people involved in roadside altercations with traffic police. But Article 318 has also become the primary tool for charging activists with using violence against the security forces.
There are no separate figures for protesters charged with violating Article 318, but between 2013 and 2015 the number of people convicted on such charges rose annually by 600 to 800 people before decreasing slightly. The authors of Defending Protest’s report argue this increase stemmed from a rise in the number of protests and protesters in 2012: it was on May 6, 2012, that the March of the Millions took place, leading to the show trials of the Bolotnaya Square Case. After the protests peaked in 2015, there was a cooling off period, and the number of convictions nearly returned to their 2009 levels. However, there has been a growing tendency to sentence people convicted under Article 318 to actual prison time.
The experts note that when defendants confess their guilt and are tried in special expedited trials, it should theoretically mitigate their punishments, but in reality it does not increase chances they will be sentenced to probation or other non-carceral penalties. Besides, courts in Moscow have made a point of not invoking the option, stipulated by law, of dismissing cases because the parties have been reconciled or defendants have sincerely apologized for their crimes, since, in the opinion of Moscow judges, cases cannot be dismissed in so-called double-ended crimes, crimes committed not only against the victim as such but also against law and order.
The report notes that customary Russian methods of criminal investigation and judicial procedure have now been applied to the cases of grassroots activists, including double standards in weighing evidence, the presumption that law enforcement officers tell the truth, and giving priority to testimony made by suspects prior to their trials. The experts note the charges in such cases can be trumped up easily. The key evidence in these cases is the testimony of the victim and witnesses, all of them police officers. If necessary, their statements can be coordinated and entered into the court record in literally identical form.
The flip side of the process is the inability to hold police officers criminally liable for using violence against demonstrators, says Alexei Glukhov, head of Defending Protest. If justice is served, this happens only if and when the European Court of Human Rights rules on a case, although Russian policemen and security services officers have been dispersing peaceful demonstrations and detaining grassroots activists and random bystanders with ever-greater ferocity. But nearly the only well-known case in which a Russian police officer was held criminally liable for violence against protesters was the case of Vadim Boyko, the so-called Pearl Sergeant, who hit a man over the head with a rubber truncheon at a demonstration in Petersburg in July 2010. In 2011, Sergeant Boyko was sentenced to three and half years of probation.
It is common practice to reject complaints filed by victims of police violence by claiming they are means of self-defense against the counter charges faced by the complainants. Thus, in the formal refusal to open a criminal case based on the complaint filed by lawyer Mikhail Benyash, the police investigator wrote, “M.M. Benyash’s testimony should be treated skeptically because he is thus attempting to build his own defense against criminal charges and thereby avoid prosecution.” In turn, the police officers who denied they had beaten Benyash testified he had beaten his own head against the window, door, and other parts of the car in which they abducted him, and when they dragged him out of the car, he beat his head against the pavement.
No less noteworthy were the reasons police investigators gave for refusing to open a criminal case based on a complaint filed by Danil Bolshakov and Daniil Markelov of Krasnoyarsk. Their testimony was not corroborated since Markelov was a supporter of Alexei Navalny, “who is a well-known opponent of the leadership of the Russian Federation, as headed by President V.V. Putin.”
Generally, the police crackdown has been intensifying. Lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky agreed Article 318 has been used to intimidate people.
“I would encourage everyone to compare the verdicts in the Bolotnaya Square Case, in which a demonstrator brushed away a policeman’s arm and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, with the sentences handed down in the wake of the recent unrest in France, in which protesters have been fined or sentenced to a few months in jail at most,” he said.
In fact, Agranovsky explained, any physical contact with Russian police would result in the “offender” being charged under Article 318. Ultimately, people have become wary of attending protest rallies, although, formally speaking, Russia has signed all the relevant international conventions encouraging peaceful protest.
Agranovsky recalled that ex-Russian MP Vladimir Bessonov was stripped of the right to engage in politics after he was charged with using violence against police officers at a protest rally.
Opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov agreed the police crackdown has intensified.
“There is a desire to extinguish protests, and that is something you can only do with a stick. The powers that be have run out of carrots,” he said.
Gudkov argued all the available tools have been brought into play in order to artificially criminalize protest. For example, the so-called Ildar Dadin article in the criminal code had been revived after it was all but outlawed by the Russian Constitutional Court. The article criminalizes repeated involvement in “unauthorized” protest rallies.
Arrest Dagestani Trucker Refuses to Report to Jail Voluntarily
Dmitry Rebrov Novaya Gazeta
September 16, 2016
The Rostov Regional Court ordered the arrest of a Dagestani trucker who took part in the tractor convoy of Krasnodar farmers, but law enforcement officials “forgot” to detain him.
On September 16, the court considered Dagestani trucker Rustam Mallamagomedov’s appeal of an August 26, 2016, ruling by the Aksay District Court. The court had found the activist guilty of violation of Article 220.127.116.11 of the Russian Misdemeanors Code (involvement in an illegal political rally) and arrested him in absentia for ten days.
The regional court judge confirmed the district court’s ruling, despite the fact that, by law, a ruling of this kind can be issued only in the defendant’s presence. Mallamagomedov was not present at either hearing. According to his attorney, Valentin Pyshkin, this is the source of the conflict. The police “forgot” to detain the trucker preliminarily, so in spite of the administrative arrest issued against him, Mallamagomedov continues to remain at liberty to roam the streets [sic], and has no intention of voluntarily “correcting” the mistake made by law enforcement officers.
“The thing is there no standard procedure as to what the police should do now. An administrative arrest cannot be issued in absentia. This is nonsense. For an individual to be put under administrative arrest he has to be present in the courtroom. At any rate, he is not obliged to report to jail himself. He bears no responsibility for failing to report to jail. Moreover, he cannot be detained and sent there forcibly, either, since this is not stipulated by Russian law,” said Pyshkin.
“Only arrest on criminal charges can be ordered in absentia,” the lawyer stressed.
In this case, the court can issue a detention order before the defendant is detained, Pyshkin explained. But this principle is not valid in the case of administrative [misdemeanor] violations. The lawyer was hard pressed to say what law enforcement officers would do now. In his opinion, it would be easier just to abolish the questionable ruling. That, however, is not what has happened.
“The Rostov Regional Court did not listen to our arguments, nor, when the case was heard on the merits, did it want to examine any of the witnesses we had brought to the hearing. And all our motions were rejected,” said Pyshkin.
When our correspondent asked about the trucker’s current whereabouts, the attorney declined to answer, saying that the telephones could be bugged. He did confirm, however, that Mallamagomedov was currently not in Rostov Region.
Beaten by the police when the tractor convoy was dispersed, the trucker himself does not admit his guilt.
“Aside from the fact we didn’t organize any political rally, it was the police who didn’t let the farmers and us leave our camp. I was elsewhere the day our other comrades were arrested,” Mallamagomedov explained to Novaya Gazeta by telephone.
“On August 22, the day before the convoy was dispersed, I was beaten by the police guarding the camp. After that, I went to the hospital and the Investigative Committee, where I stayed until the evening of August 23. On the morning of the 24th, I went to the police station to find out how the guys were doing. I was detained there, but police did not draw up an arrest sheet. I felt sick while I was sitting there and left again in an ambulance,” he added.
Nevertheless, during his time at the precinct, police officers confiscated the driver’s internal passport without explanation. Apparently, it was then they drew up the charge sheet that was the basis for the Aksay District Court’s August 26 ruling to arrest the missing activist. After receiving medical treatment, the trucker had no intention of returning to the police station voluntarily, since he had been held there without processing of the proper papers, that is, illegally. He could not attend the August 26 hearing, either, because he was undergoing outpatient treatment.
When it is a matter of arrest, the individual is usually detained first, and then taken before a judge. Then he is sent from the courtroom to jail for ten days. The court’s administrative ruling is thus implemented. The majority of truckers and farmers detained during the tractor convoy were taken to the police station and sentenced to jail terms ranging from five to ten days, in that order. They have served their sentences and returned home long ago.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Anatrrrafor the heads-up
According to Jim Jarmusch, director of the film by this name: “Down by law, at the time in the mid-80s, was kind of in use on the streets as meaning a very close connection with somebody. If somebody was down by law, they were close to you or you would protect them. I know that, earlier, in prison slang, if somebody was down by law, and they got out before you, they would contact your family or look after people outside if you needed them to. So it meant something very close or a code. I really liked the contradiction of that, being something that sounds like being oppressed by the law, which of course under that condition is where the slang came from. So, I liked that contradiction of it. And I liked it also in terms of the film being contradictory in that they are oppressed by the law but they also become down by law with each other.”
The other day, a friend of mine who works with kids complained to me that kids in Russia had no real heroes. Like kids most everywhere, they are in love with the wretched, hyper-commercialized Spider-Man and Harry Potter, not with homegrown heroes.
It might be a bit of a reach (because how do you explain this stuff to kids?), but from where I sit there are lots of heroes in modern Russia. Prominent among them are all the people convicted as part of the shameful sham known as the Bolotnaya Square case.
One of those heroes is Sergei Krivov, recently released after serving over four years in prison for the nonexistent crimes of being beaten over the head with a truncheon by a policeman and attempting nonviolently to prevent policemen from doing the same to other peaceable demonstrators in Moscow on May 6, 2012.
In the country I would like to live in, I would go outside and see dozens of people wearing t-shirts with Krivov’s totally ordinary but heroic face emblazoned on them. Krivov’s birthday would be a minor holiday, celebrated with a rousing march down every town’s main thoroughfare, followed by hearty little picnics, to celebrate the fact that Krivov undertook two hunger strikes, nearly dying in the attempt, in order to defend the freedom of speech and assembly in Russia.
Needless to say, Krivov’s would be a household name. Kids would read comics about the adventures of Sergei Krivov, where the hard facts would be mixed with a light helping of fantasy to make them more palatable to childish fancy.
If you have never heard of Sergei Krivov or don’t understand why he is a modern-day Russian hero, you need to read this interview with him. TRR
“It Is Not Recommended to Live in This Country”
Natalia Dzhanpoladova and Nikita Tatarsky Radio Svoboda
July 26, 2016
Yet another person convicted in the so-called Bolotnaya Square case, Sergei Krivov, a 54-year-old with a Ph.D. in physics and mathematics, has been released. Krivov was released from a prison colony in Bryansk Region, having served his sentence in full. In 2014, a court found him guilty of involvement in rioting and using force against police officers during a May 6, 2012, opposition rally on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.
Krivov received one of the harshest sentences in the case, three years and nine months imprisonment.
His allies explained this was because the authorities avenged Krivov for the uncompromising stand he had taken throughout the trial. Krivov went on two lengthy hunger strikes. The first, to protest his arrest, lasted over forty days. During the second, he did not eat for sixty days in order to secure transcripts of the court proceedings. Krivov suffered two heart attacks during the second hunger strike.
Krivov was arrested as part of the Bolotnaya Square investigation several months after the events, in October 2012. According to police investigators, on May 6, 2012, when the crowd broke through police lines, Krivov seized a rubber truncheon from a policeman and used it to deliver several blows to police officers. Krivov himself repeatedly claimed he had been beaten by police on Bolotnaya Square, but the Investigative Committee refused to investigate his complaint.
Krivov served his sentence in two penal colonies in Bryansk Region, first at a correctional facility in Starodub. He was then transferred to a penal colony in Klintsy. The wardens put him in solitary, because they felt his life was in danger.
In an interview with Radio Svoboda, Kriov admitted his sentence might have been shorter had he “kept [his] mouth shut.” He spoke in detail about the reasons for his uncompromising stance, what happened on Bolotnaya Square, and how much Russia has changed since 2012.
The changes have been quite huge, and for the worse, although I still cannot say I have figured out what is what. I had been gradually following these changes by watching TV and reading Novaya Gazeta newspaper and New Times magazine, so they did not happen all at once for me and were not news. Nevertheless, I am perfectly aware the country as it was in 2012 and the country as it is in 2016 are two fundamentally different countries. There are far fewer freedoms, naturally, and It is nearly impossible to do anything within this framework.
Do you feel you have changed over these years?
In fact, after I got out, changed my clothes, and bathed, I had the feeling everything was as it had been. Although I did have big problems during the middle of my sentence: lots of things happened. But when it is all behind me, when I have come back to the “free” world, I cannot say I have changed. I think I am the same person I was.
Have you managed to meet with friends and relatives since your release? What are your impressions from these meetings and conversations?
Of course I have managed to meet with them. Let me put it is this way: almost no has chewed me out, except my wife, of course. In general, the feelings have been positive, because everyone has been friendly. They all congratulate me and wish me the best.
Naturally, anyone would find this pleasant. I want to say thank you to all the people who wrote me letters, held pickets, and collected money through the Internet, and to the leaders of the PARNAS Party, who paid my lawyers and sent me care packages: Boris Nemtsov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Vladimir Ryzhkov, and Ilya Yashin. In addition, Lyudmila Alexeyeva was involved. Despite her age, she attended the court hearings. A big thank-you to everyone for their support.
Last Wednesday, you also met with activists in Sokolniki Park. You mentioned you had no hope of being paroled. [In March, the court turned down Krivov’s parole application — Radio Svoboda.] Did you pin any hopes on the court in this case, that is, the trial court that heard the Bolotnaya Square case?
No. We had no chance from the get-go. What would have been the point of cooking all this up and then releasing us later? Obviously, the authorities conceived a quite definite plan, and they have been carrying it out. From my point of view, there was no reason to change anything, and nothing changed. I had been detained on misdemeanor charges several times., and I knew perfectly well how such matters were decided. There were no doubts in this case.
And yet your tactics in court were quite different from those of the other fellows. You were one of the most active participants in all the court proceedings.
Yes, I was, because I felt it could not make things any worse. That is how it happened, if you look at the sentences handed down. Naturally, my sentence would have been shorter if I had kept my mouth shut. But here, you know, six months more, six months less do not matter. Naturally, we had to defend ourselves to the hilt. After all, we did not take to the streets only to snitch on the protest movement, to put it crudely. We did not do what we did to make the court rule in our favor. It was a continuation of the protest. Pavlensky said it: court is a continuation of my protest action. For me, it was simply a continuation of the opposition’s fight. It can happen anywhere: in court, outside of court, on Bolotnaya, away from Bolotnaya. It is like a way of thinking. It is as Solzhenitsyn put it: “Not living a lie.” Every single moment you do what you think is right. The situation changes, but the individual does not change in the situation.
Were your fairly long, serious hunger strikes also a continuation of this same story?
What prompted you to do it? Do you remember what you felt when you decided there were no other methods left?
During both hunger strikes, I was perfectly aware my demands would not be met. I got carried away with the second hunger strike: let’s put it that way. But retreating? Chapayev never retreated. So the only way was forward. The main objective was to attract attention, to shake up the situation somehow. Because getting results, especially in the first case, when it was a matter of custody measures, was totally unrealistic. All I was charged with (not what I did, but what I was charged with) was causing the bruise on the back of the hand of a policeman who in fact assaulted me. The policeman’s name is Alexander Ivanovich Algunov. He completely flagrantly hit me over the head with a truncheon. I had three lumps on my head, one of which clearly visible on my temple. It was both videotaped and photographed. And there were eyewitnesses who saw everything.
But when it was matter of conducting a judicial review or investigatining this conflict… The bruise I allegedly caused the policeman was investigated by the Investigative Committee of Russia, meaning the country’s top investigative body. But what he did to me (and they believe that these actions took place at the same time) has been investigated by another committee. When I filed a written complaint against the officer, the case was not just dropped down to the municipal level, but to a neighborhood precinct, where an investigator wrote there was nothing to investigate. The bruise on the policeman’s hand was investigated by the Investigative Committee of Russia, while beating a person with a truncheon was investigated by a completely different division, the lowest on the totem pole, and it said there was nothing to investigate. I am simply a victim in the Bolotnaya Square case. But I was really visible in the video footage. I was in a confrontation with a policeman who was assaulting me. I grabbed the truncheon with which he was beating me, because at one point I nearly fainted. He hit me so hard on the head it felt like I had been hit with a sharp nail, not a truncheon.
You were not the only victim on Bolotnaya Square, and yet the authorities investigated these incidents so unfairly. How do you explain this?
In the trial documents, for example, there is this bit of evidence. There were two ambulance crews on duty on Bolotnaya Square. They kept a record of injuries in which they wrote down the names and addresses of everyone whom they examined. As far as I remember, there are forty-eight civilians in this list, who suffered something like seventeen concussions and thirteen head injuries and injuries to the soft part of the skull, meaning they had mainly been beaten on the head. There were three policemen who sought medical attention on the square. Of the forty-eight civilians, only two people were deemed injured parties by the authorities. One was hit in the back with a stone, while the other person’s trousers caught fire, and he suffered burns on his leg from a Molotov cocktail. We do not know who threw the bottle or the stone. The authorities assume it was the protesters, so only two individuals were deemed victims. The rest were not recognized as victims, because these forty-six individuals were victims of the police. Who the heck is going to investigate injuries caused by the police? That is not how things are done.
The public commission who investigated the events on Bolotnaya Square came to the conclusion it was the Moscow authorities and police who provoked the confrontation? Do you share this point of view?
I also came to the same conclusion. Only I think it was not the Moscow authorities, but the federal authorities [who provoked the conflict]. Moscow, in this case, did not have the authority to decide these questions. There were provocateurs there. I saw a man in a mask step forward, chunks of asphalt in both hands. At the time, I wondered what was so black, because I was looking into the light. At first, I thought he was throwing black earth, because the asphalt everywhere was so clean. This guy stepped forward and tossed one stone. Then he shifted a second stone [to his throwing hand] and threw the second stone. A policeman was standing there. I was standing there looking back and forth between the two. Either I should have said, “Why are you tossing stones?” or I should have gone up to the policeman and said, “Why are you just standing and watching?” The policeman saw what he did, and then turned around and walked away. The police were completely uninterested in the people who were actually throwing stones, just as the people throwing the stones knew the police were not going to do anything to them.
Yes, and the most interesting thing is the authorities alleged the protesters shouted things about attacking the Kremlin and Red Square, and overthrowing someone. I was there. I heard no such cries. There are twenty-six hours of video footage in the case file. There are no such appeals in that footage. When the police cordon fell apart, people did not run to the bridge. This is clearly visible in the footage. People who were squeezed out of the crowd ran ten or fifteen meters away, because there was a crowd behind them and the danger of being crushed. Then, at a leisurely place, these people fixed their clothes or tied their shoelaces or something, and headed towards the square. This, too, is visible in the footage. Yet the investigators continue to claim, and the courts have not refuted it, but take it as a proven fact, that people were shouting to run across the bridge somewhere and were, allegedly, trying to escape.
So it transpires the whole thing was a planned provocation. How do you explain it? What goals was the regime pursuing via this case? Has it achieved them?
It was the first [opposition] rally after the elections. All the major protest rallies had taken place between the December [parliamentary] elections and the March [presidential] election. May 6, 2012, was the eve of the presidential inauguration: the regime no longer had anything to fear. If they had used force before the elections, naturally, it could have turned against them. But there was nothing to fear after the elections, so they were going to put the heat on people and arrest them. This was followed by the adoption of a series of repressive laws and amendments to the laws on elections, and pickets and demonstrations, not to mention the fact they introduced Criminal Code Article 212.1, which they used to put away [Ildar] Dadin.
You were not detained immediately after the events of May, but around five months later. Did you follow what was happening to the guys who were arrested first? Were you afraid you might become a defendant in the case?
Of course, I followed what was happening. I went and picketed outside the Investigative Committee building. I had this routine: one evening at home with the family, the next evening I would go picketing, and so on. At first, I did not take it very seriously. Why did they take so long to arrest me? First, they checked out everyone who had been detained on Bolotnaya. Despite the fact I had been detained, there was no arrest sheet on me; I had refused to sign some of the pages. They tossed out my arrest documents, and so it turned out I had not been detained. So, apparently, this was the reason it took so long to track me down. But the problem was that I was all over the footage. Despite the fact I inflicted no blows—I would like to emphasize I inflicted no blows, and I am absolutely certain I caused no physical pain to any policeman—I did try and prevent them from assaulting other people. I used my hands to restrain the police. Afterwards, when I found footage of myself on the Internet, I thought to myself: yeah, that was me in action. My emotional sense was that I had prevented beatings without resorting to violence. But when I watched the videos, I did think I had reasons to be worried. But I decided what was the point of worrying now? I should have thought about it then.
Four years have passed, but the authorities are still prosecuting people [as part of the Bolotnaya Square case], people whose cases have not even gone to trial, for example, Dmitry Buchenkov and Maxim Panfilov. Do you think this will go on for a long time?
No, I don’t think it will go on for long. They are just running on momentum. The case is not so interesting nowadays. There are many new, interesting articles [that have been added to the Criminal Code]. The authorities can charge people to their heart’s content: for slander, for incitement to hatred. The amended laws have now given them such possibilities they can put away any person who says anything the least bit negative or critical.
Basically, the alternatives are this: either just one opposition party will be seated in the parliament or it won’t. There are also the single-mandate districts, which also helps. A party might not get its list into parliament, but someone can get into the Duma by winning a single-mandate district. I have read that [Alexei] Navalny is inclined to boycott the elections. I understand his resentment: his party was not registered, and he himself was not admitted as a candidate. But there are other parties besides his, and they are also opposition parties. I think all fourteen percent [of Russians who, according to the country’s extremely problematic opinion polls, disapprove of President Putin’s performance] definitely have to go and vote. Anyone who can do it should be an election observer, because it is not enough just to go and vote; we also have to monitor the vote. In the current circumstances, the authorities just cannot do without electoral fraud. Maybe we have few opportunities to stop the fraud, but we have to record the incidents and talk about them. Of course, it is very unpleasant the Democratic Coalition was not able to pull it together, but the law is such that for this to happen, people would have had to join another party. Unforunately, the majority was unwilling to do this. I think they should have come to an agreement whatever the conditions, but they didn’t.
As I understand it, this is part of the old conversation about attempts to unite democratic forces, which have been going on since the 1990s.
First, the law is wrong, because it does not allow electoral coalitions. Second, in my opinion, there should be no minimum barrier [for being seated in the Duma] at all. Democracy is a regime in which decisions are taken by the majority, but the problem is the majority is quite often mistaken. For example, on the stock exchange, the majority always lets the big money get away. The minority turns out to be on the money. The majority differs from minorities in the sense that there is one majority, but there can be two, three, four, five minorities, and so on. The minority has to be allowed to speak its mind, and then, perhaps, the majority will reorient itself. So there should be no barriers. The only barrier should be each physical person. The current laws, naturally, are designed to monopolize power, which is convenient to those currently in power. So they have no need of any competitors. Competitors are harassed, persecuted, and forced off the road.
As far as I know, you were educated as a physicist and worked in science for a long time. How did it happen that you switched from science to grassroots activism and began following political events? What prompted you to do this?
A profession is a profession, but one’s own opinion is something else. I first served as an elections observer in 1989. I was still working at MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute) then. One thing did not interfere with the other, and it even helped. I left science, because salaries in the field had completely dried up, and I completely lost interest in what I was working on at the time. There was no future in it. In 1989, I was a member of an election commission for the first time. I went and found the election commission myself. It was perestroika. People had serious doubts and asked what perestroika was all about. They said perestroika would rearrange everything, but everything would be the same, [the Soviet Communist Party] would again get 99.9% of the vote, and so on. Those were the first actual elections, when Sakharov was elected [to the All-Union Congress of People’s Deputies].
What pleasantly surprised me was that there was no electoral fraud at all. In the evening, MEPhI’s Communist Party organizer came to check out the polling station, to see how we were doing. I tensed up, thinking that now they would come up with something. Nothing of the sort! I kept my eyes peeled. Everything was clean. But in 2011, when I also worked as an observer, everything was dirty, beyond dirty. It so dirty that, for example, there was an old woman, an observer from United Russia, working at our polling station. She did not get up to any tricks herself, but she would come up to us and say, “What is she doing?! Imagine the insolence!” She was referring to the woman who chaired our election commission. The old woman was indignant, her blood was boiling, but it did not go beyond that. She was already quite old, but [the electoral fraud] itself was too much for her. I was very glad a United Russia party member was outraged by our chairwoman’s behavior.
During the four years you spent in custody, how hard was it to get information about what was happening in Russia? How did you find out about events? What events during this time amazed you the most?
I was given subscriptions to Novaya Gazeta and New Times, although they only started to come regularly when I was in the penal colony. I would read these periodicals and try and watch the news. In some places, this was easier; in some places, harder. For example, the last three months, I was basically without TV, because the guys did not want to watch any news. They would turn on MUZ-TV, which would be spinning a popular music video for the hundredth time. I could not stand to listen to it. But the TV, as you know, is a biased source of information. As for events, of course, the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass. Incidentally, there were lots of Ukrainians in the penal colony, because the border is nearby. There was a guy in there who was himself from Russia, but his wife was from over there: he had got married in Ukraine. There was fighting in Kramatorsk. I asked him, “When were you there last?” He said, “Five years ago. Everything there was fine.” “Are Russians harassed there?” I asked. “Are you kidding?” he said, “Everyone lived in perfect peace. There were no problems at all.” Meaning no one discriminated against anyone, neither Russians nor Ukrainians. Where did this all come from? Why does the TV tell us that certain people are in danger there, that there is hostility? Russian TV has been kindling hostility between two sister nations. You cannot just go to war for their “bright future,” if everything in their country is okay. They have to say that everything there is bad.
You served your sentence in two penal colonies. Is it true that there are totally different rules depending on the colony?
The rules are different. That is why they say there are “red” colonies and “black” colonies. But those are the extremes, as it were, because the spectrum is continuous. The penal code is one thing, the laws are another, and if they were all obeyed, then it would make no difference where you did your time, but in reality the differences are fundamental. There is constant trench warfare between the convicts and the wardens over wrestling themselves more rights or forbidding more things. Figuratively speaking, for example, in one colony, the convicts march in formation, while in another they don’t. Even on this primitive level, marching in formation or not, there is constant conflict. The convicts try not to march in formation, while the wardens try to force them to march. It turns out different in every colony. And that applies to everything else.
Considering you were convicted as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, how were you treated in these colonies? Was there any talk about the fact you were basically a political prisoner?
The majority could care less. But some talked about it, especially in the pretrial detention facility, where I would come across sensible people. We would talk about who had been convicted and was doing time for no reason at all. When I was in the pretrial detention facility, it seemed there were many such prisoners. First, this was Moscow. Second, I was told, roughly speaking, that the accountants were on that floor, members of some other profession were on some other floor, and so on. Seemingly around thirty percent of the prisoners were in there for nothing. But when I got to Bryansk Region, this figure was no longer thirty percent, but much lower, somewhere between five and ten percent. A lot of guys were in for petty theft and drugs. Over a third were doing time for drugs. Realistically, a maximum of ten percent were doing time for nothing, or even five percent. As for how I was treated, well, I was repeatedly on the verge of a conflict. There were conflicts.
With the convicts or the wardens?
With both the wardens and the convicts. It is just that the wardens foist their rules on you, and the convicts foist theirs. You are a free man, and you realize you cannot abide by either set of rule.s So you don’t want to carry out either set of orders, and you start weaving and dodging. I was involved in several conflicts of that sort. My age was my salvation. Basically, there are all sorts of kids in there, and they could not bring themselves to hurt old people. Or rather, they could: I saw sixty-year-olds get beaten up in there, but it was still much more complicated. They also look at what you have been sent down for, although I cannot say it is so meaningful. But in this case it was a factor that worked in my favor; it was meaningful. I did not conceal the fact I had not assaulted any policemen, but a conviction is a conviction.
Now you are free and in Moscow. What are your plans? Do you see a future for yourself in Russia? Have you had thoughts of leaving the country?
By and large, I realize it is not recommended to live in this country. If a person has the opportunity and the desire, it is in his or interests to emigrate. But I somehow feel inherently Russian. I am afraid in any other country I would feel like an immigrant, an alien, if not like a guest worker. I cannot imagine living somewhere else. I feel it is okay to emigrate, and some people should emigrate, but I am afraid I am incapable of it.
Sergei Krivov is the twelfth person convicted in the Bolotnaya Square case to have been released from prison. A total of thirty-five people were prosecuted as part of the case. Thirteen of them were amnestied. Eight people remain in prison or under investigation.
The windows of the pricey Finnish supermarket Prisma, in Saint Petersburg’s former Warsaw Station, look out onto a structure with a half-collapsed roof and scruffy walls. People live there, however. They pay rent to the mysterious “proprietor” of the resettled residential building. He probably managed to “come to terms” with local “law enforcement” for a time, but the building is slated for demolition.
Early in the morning of August 13, uniformed OMON riot police and plainclothes officers raided the homes of migrant workers in this building on the city’s Obvodny Canal.
Human rights activist and sociologist Andrei Yakimov, from the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center, recounts what happened.
“At around 6:30 a.m., the ‘police’ arrived—about nineteen uniformed men and five or six plainclothes officers. After the riot policemen kicked everyone out of the building (they were not stingy in dishing out insults and shoves, nor did they give pregnant women and mothers with infants any break), they checked everyone’s papers and began ransacking the rooms where people lived, breaking down doors and searching for valuables. The migrants claim that jewelry was pilfered, money was snatched from wallets, and video cameras, tablet computers and laptops were stolen: many of the workers were preparing to leave the country and had bought presents for loved ones in Uzbekistan. Some had taken out small loans to buy tickets home. A pregnant women had the ninety thousand rubles [approx. two thousand euros] she had borrowed for medical treatment (maternity ward expenses) confiscated. The riot policemen handed all these things over to the plainclothes officers, who loaded them into cars. The total loot came to about six large plastic bags. The uniformed thieves made several trips there and back to get everything.”
Three days before the pogrom, the Federal Migration Service and regular police had done a check at the building. After looking at their papers for the umpteenth time and warning the migrants that the building would be boarded up and all tenants must vacate it by August 20, the authorities had then left. They knew that most of the workers were soon returning to their homelands. The robbery thus appears to have been carried out with a suspicious punctuality.
In the Building
Ibrahim, an Uzbek worker, meets me at the threshold of the house on the Obvodny. Limping, he leads me through a maze of dilapidated walls. In some places, oilcloth covers the leaks in the ceiling and the gaps in the windows. Surrounded by total poverty, people have managed to create some sort of living environment in several rooms. An elderly woman sits in one of these rooms: she is Ibrahim’s wife, Mavlyuda. Next to her is a pregnant woman, the one from whom police confiscated the money she had borrowed to give birth. Mavlyuda tells me that during the raid she lost everything she had earned. The riot policemen had told the plainclothes officers, “Go in and take what you want.” Not only did they steal rings, jewelry, money and new shoes, they even stole an unopened bottle of shampoo. (“What, they have no shampoo? And yet they stole it!”) A twelve-year-old boy had his new tracksuit confiscated. Police messed with the residents’ food supplies. They sprinkled laundry detergent into cooking pots, and tossed food out windows that they had smashed with the same pots. They poured cooking oil and flour onto rugs, clothes and beds. They took special pleasure in disposing of religious objects. Ibrahim holds a board in a broken frame—engraved verses from the Quran. Muslims hang such boards over the door. The riot policemen had trampled and spit on this board.
Ghalib, a construction worker from Uzbekistan, was beaten in the hallway of his refuge while attempting to prevent the robbery. Police confiscated his ticket home and tore it up in front of him. The women say that Ghalib is ashamed to tell where he was beaten. Police beat him in the kidneys and the groin so badly he urinated blood.
On the second floor, a girl of twelve or thirteen recounts how, first, stones were thrown at the windows, then men came and dragged the adults outside, saying to the children, “Come out, children, and brush your teeth.” Then the men began tossing televisions and household utensils out the windows.
His wife had warned Azamat, a truck driver, about the danger that day, and so he watched the pogrom from a hiding place. Later, he discovered that his money and a present (a watch) for his father, who has cancer, were missing. Azamat tells me how three of the policemen beat up a teenager whom he did not know. Non-Slavic in appearance, the boy did not live in the building (none of the residents had seen him before), he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. “He got scared and ran, but they caught up with them and kicked him around like he was a football. When they picked him off the ground, he was limp like a rag,” Azamat says. He lifts a sweatshirt from a chair and shows me how the boy’s body fell.
After the pogrom, Pyotr Krasnov, a lawyer at the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center, tried to help the victims.
“We filled out seven police complaint statements at the scene and left around sixty complaint forms in the resettled building in the hope that residents would submit them to the police precinct themselves. In the end, three of the seven people who filled out complaints came to the precinct with us, which I think is a huge success in itself,” says Krasnov.
Ghalib, the man who was beaten, took his complaint to the police. The first thing he was asked was, “Why do you live there?” He then sought medical attention. When the doctors found out it was the riot police who had beaten him, they refused to issue him any documents detailing his injuries.
“Illegals”: How Is That?
After conversing with the tenants of the abandoned building on Obvodny Canal, I got the impression they do not realize they inhabit the premises illegally, and that the “proprietor” to whom they pay rent has no real claim on this “residential space.” “My papers are in order” is the main code in a migrant’s life, and the residents of the building on the Obvodny repeat it like a mantra. Their lives are lived outside the law, and even outside any notion that somewhere it exists and functions. The migrants, especially the young people, believe that buying the necessary documents (it doesn’t matter where) is in fact the correct, legal way of doing things. Many are surprised to learn that a “work permit” that has to be purchased is a fake.
Pyotr Prinyov, from the trade union Novoprof, opens a newspaper and reads a want ad aloud.
“Look here. ‘Wanted: Uzbek nationals with work permits . . .’ But it is the employer who is required to obtain a work permit. That is, it is issued with the employer’s involvement. But if someone shows up with a readymade work permit, then it is 99% certain it has been purchased. There are tons of want ads like this. It is clear that employers are at fault, and that migrant workers are forced to play by these rules.”
But people in the house on the Obvodny do not understand this. It was only the robbery that angered the residents. Document checks and arrests are routine. Regular extortions by police on the streets, and getting ripped off at hard jobs with long hours are things to be endured for the sake of families. But where is the reward now?
We talk with another woman, whose husband is being deported. With tears in her eyes, she speaks about three children in Uzbekistan, how they will have to go back, and that her husband will be unable to re-enter the Russian Federation for five years. At one point, she says something that applies not only to herself.
“Tell the Russians we are honest workers. Tell them we aren’t criminals. My boss at the kitchen [where she works], a Russian woman, almost started crying with me when she found out I was leaving: ‘Where will I find someone like you?’ She’s satisfied with me! Why do you say on television that an Uzbek killed someone? We’re not all like that. Tell them that Uzbeks are honest workers. We’ll leave, but will a Russian woman go clean the streets and stairwells like we do?”
Contrary to the popular myth of the total criminality of migrants, according to official statistics from the Prosecutor General’s Office (a body that checks the police and thus has no interest in fudging the numbers), the majority of crimes are committed not by migrants and guest workers, but by Russian citizens (22.57% versus 77.43%). And Moscow’s judicial department informs us that, in 2012, immigrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States (i.e., the former Soviet republics) had 17% of the crimes committed in the city on their conscience, but a quarter of these involved faked migration papers and work permits.
Andrei Yakimov debunks another myth.
“In fact, most of the migrants in Russia would like to forget they are migrants. They would adapt quite quickly were they allowed to. The older generation remembers the Soviet Union as a golden age, when they had it all. The younger generation of immigrants believes that dissolving into Russian society is better than going home. And that fabled Islamic solidarity is actually a fiction. Look at the mood in Tatarstan: Tatars experience the same xenophobia towards immigrants as Russians do.”
For now, though, everything goes on as before and will continue to go on this way. According to Memorial’s calculations, a so-called native Petersburg is twenty-six times less likely to fall victim to police violence than a person of “non-Slavic” appearance.
As you leave these robbed and humiliated people in their ruined shelter, you inadvertently catch myself thinking about what Alexander Herzen once said about the pacification of Poland: “I am ashamed to be Russian.”