“Goszakaz”: Crimean Tatar Activists Sentenced to Monstrous Prison Terms by Russian Occupation Regime


Reading of the sentence on 16.09.2020. The men are each wearing one letter each of the word ГОСЗАКАЗ (“commissioned by the state”). Photo by Crimean Solidarity. Courtesy of khpg.org

Acquittal and monstrous sentences in Russia’s offensive against Crimean Tatar civic journalists & activists
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Halya Coynash
September 17, 2020

In the last decades of the Soviet regime, dissidents received 7-10-year sentences for so-called ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’. Modern Russia, persecuting Ukrainian citizens on illegally occupied territory for their religious beliefs and political views, is doubling such sentences. Seven Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists have received sentences of up to 19 years, without any crime. Justice had not been expected from a Russian court, however absurd the charges and flawed the ‘trial’, so the only – wonderful – surprise was the acquittal of Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and photographer Ernes Ametov. If Russia was hoping, in this way, to prove that these are real ‘trials’ before independent courts, there is no chance. All eight men have long been recognized as political prisoners, and all should have been acquitted.

The sentences passed on 16 September by judges Rizvan Zubairov (presiding); Roman Saprunov; and Maxim Nikitin from the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia) were all lower than those demanded by the prosecutor Yevgeny Kolpikov, but still shocking.

Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Marlen (Suleyman) Asanov: 19 years

Crimean Solidarity activist Memet Belyalov: 18 years and 18 months restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Timur Ibragimov: 17 years and 18 months restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity Coordinator and journalist Server Mustafayev: 14 years and 1 year restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Seiran Saliyev: 16 years and 1 year restriction of liberty

Edem Smailov (the leader of a religious community): 13 years and 1 year restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity volunteer Server Zekiryaev: 13 years

In Soviet times, dissidents received a term of imprisonment, then one of exile. Now they add ‘restriction of liberty’ (ban on going outside Crimea and attending events, as well as having to register with the police). In all of the above cases, the sentences are for maximum security prison colonies, although not one of the men was even accused of an actual crime. They are also sentences that Russia, as occupying state, is prohibited by international law from imposing.

The armed searches and arrests of the men in October 2017 and May 2018 were the first major offensive against Crimean Solidarity. This important civic organization arose in April 2016 in response to the mounting persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians in occupied Crimea. The initiative not only helped political prisoners and their families, but also ensured that information was streamed onto the Internet and in other ways circulated about armed searches, arrests, disappearances and other forms of repression. Given Russia’s crushing of independent media in occupied Crimea, the work that Crimean Solidarity activists and journalists do is absolutely invaluable. It has, however, subjected them to constant harassment, including administrative prosecutions, and, when that has not stopped them, to trumped-up criminal charges.

The charges
The men were essentially accused only of ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine. In declaring all Ukrainian Muslims arrested on such charges to be political prisoners, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has repeatedly pointed out that Russia is in breach of international law by applying its own legislation on occupied territory. It has, however, also noted that Russia is the only country in the world to have called Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’ and the Russian Supreme Court did so in 2003 at a hearing which was deliberately kept secret until it was too late to lodge an appeal.

In occupied Crimea, the Russian FSB are increasingly using such prosecutions as a weapon against civic activists and journalists, particularly from Crimean Solidarity.

Initially, the FSB designated only Asanov as ‘organizer of a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’ under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code. The other men were all charged with ‘involvement in such an alleged ‘group’ (Article 205.5 § 2). Then suddenly in February 2019 it was announced that Belyalov and Ibragimov were now also facing the ‘organizer’ charge.  The essentially meaningless distinction is reflected in the sentences passed on 16 September, with the difference in sentence between Timur Ibragimov as supposed ‘organizer’ only one year longer than that passed on fellow civic journalist, Seiran Saliyev (accused of being a member of the so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir cell).

All eight men were also charged (under Article 278) with ‘planning to violently seize power’. This new charge also appeared only in February 2019, with no attempt ever made to explain how the men were planning such a ‘violent seizure’. The charge only highlights the shocking cynicism of any such ‘terrorism’ charges when the only things ‘found’ when armed searches were carried out of the men’s homes were books (not even Hizb ut-Tahrir books), no weapons, no evidence of plans to commit violence. Russian prosecutors simply claim that this follows from Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology. Memorial HRC notes that the extra charge is often laid where political prisoners refuse to ‘cooperate with the investigators’. Since all the Crimean Muslims prosecuted in these cases have stated that they are political prisoners and have refused to ‘cooperate’, the extra charge is becoming standard.

‘Evidence’
The prosecution’s case was based on the testimony of Nikolai Artykbayev, a Ukrainian turncoat, now working for the Russian FSB; two secret witnesses whose identity and motives for testifying are known, and the ‘expert assessments’ of three people with no expert knowledge of the subject.

Russia is now using so-called ‘secret witnesses’ in all politically-motivated trials of Crimeans and other Ukrainians. No good reason is ever provided for concealing the alleged witnesses’ identity, and the bad reason can easily be seen in this case where their identity was understood.  Konstantin Tumarevich (who used the pseudonym ‘Remzi Ismailov’) is a Latvian citizen and fugitive from justice who could not risk being sent back to Latvia after his passport expired. It is likely that the FSB realized this back in May 2016 and have used his vulnerable position as blackmail, getting him to testify both in the earlier trial of four Crimean Tatars from Bakhchysarai, and now in this case.

There is a similar situation with Narzulayev Salakhutdin (whose testimony was under the name ‘Ivan Bekirov’).  He is from Uzbekistan and does not have legal documents.

These men gave testimony that in many places was demonstrably false, yet ‘Judge’ Zubairov constantly blocked attempts by the defendants and their lawyers to ask questions demonstrating that the men were telling lies.

As mentioned, the main ‘material evidence’ was in the form of three illicitly taped conversations in a Crimean mosque. These were supposedly understood to be ‘incriminating’ by Artykbayev, although the latter does not know Crimean Tatar (or Arabic) [or] who transcribed them. That transcript, of highly questionable accuracy, was then sent to three supposed ‘experts’: Yulia Fomina and Yelena Khazimulina, and Timur Zakhirovich Urazumetov. Without any professional competence to back their assessments, all of the three ‘found’ what the FSB was looking for.

While the judges also lack such professional competence, they did hear the testimony of Dr Yelena Novozhilova, an independent and experienced forensic linguist, who gave an absolutely damning assessment of the linguistic analysis produced by Fomina and Khazimulina.

This was only one of the many pieces of testimony that the court ignored. Zubairov actually refused to allow a number of defence witnesses to appear and used punitive measures against the defendants and their lawyers.

All such infringements of the men’s rights will be raised at appeal level, although this will also be before a Russian court, with the charges of justice being minimal.

PLEASE WRITE TO THE MEN!
They are likely to be imprisoned at the addresses below until the appeal hearing and letters tell them they are not forgotten, and show Moscow that the ‘trial’ now underway is being followed.

Letters need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects. If that is a problem, use the sample letter below (copying it by hand), perhaps adding a picture or photo. Do add a return address so that the men can answer.

Sample letter

Привет,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.

[Hi.  I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten.]

Addresses

Marlen  Asanov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Асанову, Марлену Рифатовичу, 1977 г. р

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Asanov, Marlen Rifatovich, b. 1977]

Memet Belyalov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Белялову, Мемету Решатовичу, 1989 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Belyalov, Memet Reshatovich, b. 1989]

Timur Ibragimov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Ибрагимову, Тимуру Изетовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Ibragimov, Timur Izetovich, b. 1985]

Server Mustafayev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Мустафаеву,  Серверу Рустемовичу, 1986 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Mustafayev, Server Rustemovich,  b. 1986]

Seiran Saliyev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Салиеву,  Сейрану Алимовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Saliyev, Seiran Alimovich, b. 1985]

Edem Smailov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Смаилову,  Эдему Назимовичу, 1968 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Smailov, Edem Nazimovich, b. 1968]

Server Zekiryaev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Зекирьяеву, Серверу Зекиевичу, 1973 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Zekiryaev, Server Zekievich, b. 1973]

Thanks to Comrades SP and RA for the heads-up. The text has been very lightly edited for readability. || TRR

Solo Picket: At Home Edition (Darya Apahonchich)

I’m in self-isolation, but if I could . . .

. . . I would go out on a solo picket and make these demands.

Urgently take measures to stop domestic violence.

Release political prisoners immediately.

Give financial assistance to everyone who has lost their source of livelihood due to the virus.

Announce an amnesty for people convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Stop fighting wars and supporting dictatorial regimes.

Or buzz off.

Translated by the Russian Reader. See more by and about Darya Apahonchich here. And check out my coronavirus coverage while you’re at it.

darya

Parents Demand Release of Network Defendants Due to Coronavirus

networkThe Network defendants in the courtroom in Penza. Photo by Yevgeny Malyshev. Courtesy of 7X7

Parents Demand Release of Network Defendants from Remand Prison Due to Coronavirus
Ekaterina Malysheva
7X7
April 1, 2020

Parents of the young men convicted in the Penza portion of the Network Case have demanded their children be transferred to house arrest due to the coronavirus. They have written appeals to this effect to the president of the Russian Federation, the prosecutor general, the heads of the Investigate Committee and the Federal Penitentiary Service, and the commissioner for human rights, as reported to 7X7 by Svetlana Pchelintseva, the mother of Dmitry Pchelintsev, one of the convicted men.

The parents also demanded that safety measures be put in place at detention facilities. They argue that being in remand prison during the COVID-19 outbreak is life-threatening. Of all the quarantine regulations, the parents say, only the ban on visits from relatives has been enforced at the remand prison since March 16.

“Not only is there no guarantee of protection from infection at the remand prison, but it is simply impossible,” the letter says. “Our sons are denied the right to remain alive during the global coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, the issue of safeguarding the health of people confined to detention facilities is not on the agenda today. And, of course, qualified specialized medical care, especially involving the hospitalization of inmates from remand prisons and penal colonies in civilian medical facilities, is not feasible. It is a myth.”

The parents claim that no preventive measures have been enacted at the Penza Remand Prison: disinfection and sanitation procedures have not been carried out, and employees don’t have masks. The greatest danger, according to the authors of the appeal, are the detention facility’s employees themselves, who are potential carriers of the virus. The parents note that reducing the number of inmates in the federal penitentiary system would help prevent disease.

The parents point out that Vladimir Putin said nothing about measures to protect inmates during his address to the Russian people about the coronavirus outbreak. According to the parents, none of the regulations on laboratory testing for COVID-19 defends the rights of people in detention facilities. The authors of the letter claim that inmates will not be tested or treat if they are infected.

Two of the young men convicted in the Network Case, the parents recall, have contracted tuberculosis in remand prison. This puts them at high risk during a pandemic and could be “tantamount to a death sentence.”

On March 30, the Penza regional office of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service reported that in addition to the ban on visits to inmates in the system, visitors and employees with high temperatures and everyone who had been abroad in the last fourteen days were categorically prohibited from entering their facilities.

The office’s press service reported that a set of sanitary and anti-epidemic (preventive) was being organized and implemented at its facilities. It noted that if prisoners were suspected of having the coronavirus disease, the management of the regional office would hospitalize them in health care facilities.

The lawyers of the men convicted in the Network Case continue to visit their clients at Penza Remand Prison No. 1. According to them, conditions at the detention facility make it impossible to ensure the health and safety of prisoners during the epidemic. The lawyers are not allowed to bring certain personal protection gear into the facility. For example, latex medical gloves are not on the list of permitted items.

The lawyers have seen a mask only on the prison employee who inspects people at the entrance to the facility—the other employees were not wearing masks. According to the lawyers, the parents got the runaround in response to their previous complaints and appeals.

The last letter they sent, on February 5, was a request to Russian Federal Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov to investigate all the circumstances in the Network Case and launch a criminal case based on allegations that their children had been tortured by officers in the FSB’s Penza regional office.

In a response dated March 10, the prosecutor general’s office advised the parents to appeal (during the appeals phase of the main verdict in the Network Case) the admissibility of the evidence gathered. All the defendants and their defense lawyers have filed appeals with the Military Appeals Court in Moscow.

The parents organized a solidarity group of relatives against political repression, the Parents Network in spring 2018. In early November 2019, the relatives of defendants in several high-profile cases followed their example by uniting in the movement Mothers Against Political Repression. The movement has its own website, as well as group pages on Telegram and Facebook.

On February 10, the defendants in the Penza portion of the Network Trial were sentenced to terms in prison from six to eighteen years.

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case aka the Network 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 police state, read and share the articles I have posted on these subjects.

Reading the Signs (Team 29)

fullsizeoutput_1b8b

Hi, this is Natasha Kurchenkova.

This week, everyone was wondering what the text of the new Russian constitution meant and, most importantly, how it would ultimately help one particular person remain in power. And here I had thought we were busy trying to divine such things all the time! When methods for making decisions are almost totally opaque, the art of reading the various signs and signals sent from the top is elevated into a cult. Some pundits show off their familiarity with sacred knowledge, while others hone their interpretive skills on national TV. What makes the process particularly crazy is that there is often no logic whatsoever in the way the system acts.

It is even harder for those whom the system has taken hostage—for example, Konstantin Kotov, sentenced to four years in prison for four peaceful (“unsanctioned”) protests. He was arrested on August 12 of last year. The criminal investigation of his case took a whole three days, while the trial took another two days, and after that Kotov was sent to prison. But this week the Second Court of Appeal overturned the Moscow City Court’s refusal to commute Kotov’s sentence and ordered a new trial in the case. What the hell does it all mean?

Team 29 lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov, a member of Kotov’s defense team, argues it is a good sign, despite the fact that the court could have immediately closed the criminal case, although it declined to do so.

“The court clearly indicated that Kotov would be released, given that the Moscow City Court had reduced his sentence to a year and the fact that, in a month and a half, under the revised rules for time served in custody, he will have been imprisoned for a year,” Smirnov wrote. “All of Konstantin’s defense lawyers insist on his complete innocence and will seek to have the criminal case quashed and their client exonerated. In view of the rulings made by the Russian Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and simple common sense, such a decision is the only possible outcome.”

We have also been picking up signals from the penal colonies, where we have been trying to locate one inmate. Almost nothing is known about his case, and the individual in question simply vanished a few years ago. It turns out that the official replies we have been receiving in response to a completely straightforward question also have to be interpreted. Just get a load of this:

“In accordance with Article 7 of Federal Law No. 152 on personal data, enacted 27 July 2006, persons who have received access to personal data are obliged not to disclose or distribute personal data to third parties without the consent of the person in question, unless otherwise stipulated by federal law. Given that the convicted man is not being held at [this penal colony], and it is not possible to obtain his consent, the information you have requested cannot be disclosed.”

How do you not go crazy when the state speaks to you in this language?

For the time being, trying to decipher the system’s signals is, alas, perhaps the most constructive way of communicating with it.

If you need a sign, this is it.

—Natasha and Team 29

* When I contacted Team 29 today, asking them for more details about the case in question, they replied that they would publish something about it after they had located the inmate in question. \\ TRR

Source: Team 29 weekly email newsletter, dated 7 March 2020. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Eduard Nizamov Gets 23 Years Hard Time for Thought Crimes

nizamovEduard Nizamov. Photo courtesy of Idel.Realii (RFE/RL)

Court Sentences Kazan Resident Eduard Nizamov to 23 Years in Maximum Security for Managing Hizb ut-Tahrir
Regina Gimalova
Idel.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
February 10, 2020

Today, February 10, the Central Military District court in Yekaterinburg announced its verdict in the trial of Kazan resident Eduard Nizamov, accused of managing the Russian wing of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Nizamov was sentenced to 23 years in a maximum-security penal colony.

The Kazan resident was charged with financing terrorism (punishable under Article 205.1.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), organizing terrorist activity (Article 205.5.1), and attempting to seize power illegally (Article 278.30.1). Nizamov pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. He and his defense attorney, Rifat Yakhin, consider the case a frame-up.

During the trial, the defense revealed the real identity of a secret witness who testified to investigators. The defense argued that their testimony was used to implicate Nizamov.

“This witness, whose identity was hidden under a man’s name, allegedly donated money to finance Hizb ut-Tahrir’s activities. In fact, the witness is a woman whose child goes to the same school and studies in the same class as my client’s child,” Yakhin said.

“The financing of terrorism” in question was the payment of 200,000 rubles to Nizamov. According to Yakhin, the woman acting as a hidden witness gave his client this amount because Nizamov was building her a house. He argues that the authorities “got to” the woman, whose husband was then serving time for involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir. Investigators were unable to find this amount of money in Nizamov’s possession during the investigation.

The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Nizamov to 25 years in a penal colony and fine him 200,0000 rubles, to be paid to the state treasury. The defense asked the court to acquit Nizamov. The court sided with the prosecution, finding Nizamov guilty on all three counts and sentencing him to 23 years in a maximum-security penal colony and ordering him to pay the 200,000 rubles.

Nizamov was detained on October 10, 2018, at his home in Kazan. He was suspected of running the Russian wing of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir organization. In September of last year, the final version of the charges against Nizamov were made public. In addition to managing the organization, he was charged with financing terrorism and planning the violent seizure of power.

Two other residents of Kazan, Ildar Akhmetzyanov and Rais Gimadeyev, were also detained on the same day as Nizamov. They were identified by authorities as “leaders” of the banned organization in Tatarstan.

All of them have pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. The maximum punishment for the crimes they are alleged to have committed is life in prison.

After his arrest, Nizamov complained that officers at the remand prison had tortured him. He also said that his cellmates had been provoking him. According to our source, Nizamov was moved to another cell after his story went public.

In 2005, Nizamov was convicted of involvement in an extremist organization, as punishable under Article 282.2.2 of the Criminal Code, and sentenced to two years’ probation.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was designated a “terrorist organization” in Russia in 2003. According to human rights activists, the decision was groundless, since there was no evidence that members of the movement had ever planned or carried out terrorist attacks. The Memorial Human Rights Center has placed Nizamov on its list of Russian political prisoners.

Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Davydov: Extremely Knowledgeable Russians

KMO_173017_00047_1“Release political prisoners! They should not be in prison!” Muscovites rally in support of political prisoners on Sakharov Avenue on September 29, 2019. Photo by Pyotr Kassin for Kommersant. Courtesy of MBKh Media

Extremely Knowledgeable Russians
Ivan Davydov
MBKh Media
January 21, 2020

While you more or less grasp the sheer abnormality of the current Russian regime and even are aware of the nitty-gritty when it comes to certain things, you gradually learn to put up with a lot. You get used to it, you develop defensive skills. Constantly experiencing righteous anger is hard on the psyche. Nor does it happen on schedule, three times a day for twenty minutes, after meals, by way of clearing your conscience.

For example, you’re walking in downtown Moscow and you think, What the hell, it really has become nicer. Of course, you recall the savage corruption of the powers that be, and the trick they pulled with the elections last summer, and their persecution of ordinary people, but it has become prettier. There are the cozy shops and cafes, the lovely food courts, the new subway stations, and the Moscow Central Circle. Comfort and convenience trump righteous anger, and you catch yourself thinking, Well, they steal, naturally (I’m curious, by the way: is the word “naturally” accidental here or not? Probably not anymore), but they could just steal outright. Instead, they make improvements, and those improvements benefit more people than just them.

And it’s not that you forgive them for theft, election fraud, and last summer’s police dragnet against random passersby, but all of it recedes to the edge of consciousness, turning into cute, almost ordinary naughtiness.

But there are things you can’t put up with at all. It is impossible, for example, to forget that people are regularly tortured in Russia, including people who were allegedly planning a coup d’état, people who believe in God the wrong way (per our current laws), and the occasional lowlife whom the aces at the local police station have decided to frame for all the unsolved cases in the last couple of months.

I walk down the street, noting that Moscow has become prettier by any reckoning, and now, maybe, I’ll go into a cozy little cafe and have a cup of coffee. And almost certainly at the same time somewhere agents of the state will be torturing an ordinary person. This awareness pierces the brain like a nail—there’s no escaping it, it is painful and shameful. It’s a strange thing: I am not torturing anyone myself, but I’m ashamed for some reason. Or, rather, for some reason it’s me who is ashamed.

The same goes for awareness of the existence of political prisoners in Russia. More than two hundred people are in prison only because they allowed themselves to think something about the current Russian government that the current Russian government didn’t like. This is according to Memorial, which has been designated a “foreign agent,” so you can believe its figures. More than two hundred people are being punished for incorrect thoughts, and it’s impossible to reconcile yourself with this fact in any way.

Neither the prettified streets of the big cities, nor the funky art exhibitions, nor the generous handouts the president has promised the disadvantaged and veterans can absolve the state of its guilt. This just should not be happening, but that’s the way it is.

A recent survey by the Levada Center provides some comfort. I am not the only one in Russia who is so knowledgeable: there are a fair number of us. By the way, the Levada Center has been designated a “foreign agent,” so you can trust their findings. “Foreign agent,” after all, is something like a mark of quality, a certificate of non-complicity in the state’s lies.

When asked whether there were currently political prisoners in Russia, 23% of respondents answered yes, while another 40% answered that yes, there probably were political prisoners. Thus, a sizeable majority of people (63%) either know for certain or are reasonably sure that people are jailed in this country for thinking the wrong thoughts. The number of informed Russians has been growing. The poll was conducted in December 2019; in December 2018, 50% of those polled were aware of political prisoners. Analysts attribute this growth to the efforts of Moscow city hall, the noisy scandal over last autumn’s elections, and the protests ignited by the so-called Moscow Case.

I saw a happy tweet on Twitter from an opposition activist: “Hooray! Two thirds of Russians are aware of political prisoners! This is the result of our work! But we need more people to know.” I saw the tweet, but I immediately lost the link and forgot who wrote it. I wondered, however, whether there was much reason for celebration.

Two thirds of Russians are aware there are political prisoners in Russia, but this has not generated much of a furor. Even when the Moscow Case was in full swing, only a few hundred people in Moscow—a drop in the ocean—came out to picket in support of political prisoners. Thirty thousand people or so attended an “authorized” protest rally: this is nothing in a city of twelve million people. And in comparison with the number of people who are supposedly aware, it’s also nothing.

This means, apparently, that the vast majority of Russians consider the presence of political prisoners in the country to be the norm. I hope that, at least, they consider it an abnormal norm—that is, more or less the way I view corruption in Moscow. They see it as something unpleasant, of course, but not particularly terrible, as something they can live with.

Speaking of which, last summer the Levada Center published the results of a survey on the use of torture by the security forces. The numbers were absolutely terrible: 10% of Russians had experienced torture. This is not two hundred some people we’re talking about, but millions of people. 60% of those polled considered torture unacceptable, which is also seemingly a cause for joy. But that means that 40% either think torture is justified or haven’t formed an opinion on the subject: they are not moved by this sad, literally painful topic.

What’s the point in guessing, though? 30% of respondents stated outright that they considered torture justified in “exceptional cases.” I’ve never understood where the instinct for self-preservation goes in such cases. How can you be sure it won’t be you who turns out to be such an “exceptional case” for a tipsy policeman one day?

I don’t like it when folks chew out the “Russian people.” People in Russia are normal, on the whole, no worse than other people. Especially since I’m one of those people. There is no excuse for looking down on “the people.” It’s stupid and silly.

However, I see no particular cause for optimism when it comes to the polling data on awareness of political prisoners in our country. It points to a serious societal disease, and most important, it is completely unclear what the cure for it is.

But for starters, of course, all political prisoners must be released.

Thanks to Julia Murashova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Happy New Year!

 

“Avtozak is coming, avtozak is coming…”*

On New Year’s Night Moscow Police Carry Out Operation to “Clear Non-Residents from Places of Mass Celebration”
MBKh Media
January 1, 2019

Baza reports that on the night of January 1 Moscow police carried out an operation to “clear Central Asian non-residents from places of mass celebration.”

Baza writes that Moscow police chief Oleg Baranov issued the orders for the operation. Police officers were instructed to deliver all “non-residents” to precincts and check each of them in the databases. In addition, employees of subcontractors involved in staging the celebrations were checked separately.

According to the publication, although the results of the operation have not yet been tallied, there are reports that police detained several hundred people. Most of them were released soon after their arrests.

*Avtozak = paddy wagon.

znakcom-765441-580x436Young Moscow activists on their way to the hoosegow in Troitsk

30 People Detained in Moscow on Tverskaya for Picketing in Support of Political Prisoners
Znak.com
December 31, 2019

Police in Moscow detained over thirty people after they held solo pickets demanding freedom for jailed and imprisoned political activists. OVD Info writes that the first picketer, activist Temuuzhin Sambuudavaagiin, held up a placard that read, “While you’re chopping up your Olivier salad, innocent people are in prison. Free political prisoners!” He was released after police checked his papers, but then police detained a female picketer and several students who approached their paddy wagon.

The Telegram channel Freedom for Russia reports that the young people are being taken to the police precinct in the town of Troitsk in Moscow Region. Mansur Gilmanov, a lawyer with the organization Apologia for Protest, is traveling to meet the detainees.

Update. Apologia for Protest reports that all the detainees were released without charge in Troitsk later in the evening (TRR).

Video courtesy of Notes of an Old Cynic via Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko. Thanks to Alexei Zverev and Sergey Abashin for the heads-up on the articles. Photo courtesy of Znak.com. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Vladislav Barabanov: Anarchism and Center “E”

e9efc978d793898ae4de6e727570e6caVladislav Barabanov during a rally on September 29, 2019, on Sakharov Avenue in Moscow in support of suspects and defendants in the Moscow case, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) case, and Russia’s political prisoners. Photo by Sergei Bobylev. Courtesy of TASS and Republic

Police Detectives Created YouTube Channel Where They Uploaded Video of “Rioting”: Vladislav Barabanov, Former Suspect in Moscow Case, on Center “E” and Anarchism
Margarita Zhuravlyova
Republic
October 17, 2019

The Russian Investigative Committee has stepped up the investigation of the so-called Moscow case: five people were detained on October 14 and 15 and charged with assaulting police officers. In total, twenty-six people have been investigated as part of the case, which was launched in the wake of protests this past summer in Moscow; only six of them have gone free. One of them is Vladislav Barabanov, an anarchist from Nizhny Novgorod. He made a special trip to Moscow for the July 27 protest rally, was arrested on August 3 and charged with involvement in rioting, and was released from remand prison in early September. In an interview with Republic, he recounted how a video entitled “Our Attempt to Overthrow the Government” found its way into the evidence against him, how his jailers hinted he might be tortured, and what he talked about with Center “E” officers.

Prosecution
The wording of the charges against me was vague: “group of individuals,” “sprayed tear gas,” “destroyed property,” and so on. In my case file, however, there were two screenshots from a video that was uploaded, I am certain, by the very same police detectives who were involved in cooking up the criminal case against me. They created a channel on YouTube, calling it “Yegor Zhukov” [Yegor Zhukov, who has been charged in the Moscow Case and is currently under house arrest, is a student at the Higher School of Economics—Republic] and uploading a video entitled “Our Attempt to Overthrow the Government.” That was how this recording and two screenshots, in which I am seen marching in front of a crowd and waving my hand, were entered into the evidence. But I did not “coordinate” any riots.

The first alarm bell was at the detention center: someone from the Investigative Committee came there, wanting to interrogate me as a witness. Then I was detained as I was leaving the detention center, making it clear they would try to pin criminal charges on me. But I couldn’t imagine what would happen next and that so many people would be charged. I thought I would be the only one to face these charges.

Given the psychological pressure they applied in the investigative department, it was hard at first. There were these guards there, for example, who talked on the phone with someone and asked, “Where do we keep the gas masks?” I understand perfectly well how gas masks are used during interrogations. They are put on people’s heads as a way of forcing them to testify. Cigarette smoke can be blown into them or the air can be turned off so a person loses consciousness.

I had the support of family members and my comrades, who met me at the detention center after I did time there for administrative offenses. When they saw me being put into a police cruiser and driven away, they blocked the road and tried not to let it get through. They formed a human chain, but the police pushed them aside. Right at that moment, an officer from Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention) was sitting next to me in the car and videotaping everything. He wouldn’t let me contact anyone or take out my mobile phone, threatening to confiscate it.

Center “E”
Center “E” was intensely interested me back in Nizhny Novgorod, too. On September 9, 2018, we held an “unauthorized” protest march against the government’s raising the retirement age. Afterward, there was a wave of arrests, with the police detaining some people in their homes, and others at work. I was detained at a presentation of the almanac moloko plus. I think they knew me, because I was politically active in Nizhny Novgorod, doing solo pickets and helping organize events.

I didn’t say anything to Center “E” officers without a lawyer present. I was detained along with a comrade. He was released, but I was charged with involvement in an “unauthorized” event that had caused disruption to public transport and impeded pedestrians. They had a file with my name on it in which they rifled through papers. One of the Center “E” officers was really curious about what anarchists had in common with Navalny’s supporters. They were worried opposition forces were consolidating.

Anarchists
Since I was young, I guess, I have had a yearning for justice. I followed the Bolotnaya Square Case and all the events of 2011–2013. I was between fourteen and sixteen then. The first protest rally I ever attended was in Nizhny Novgorod on March 26, 2017, my birthday. Due to my age, I was not involved in the events of 2011–2013, but comrades say that rally, which took place after Alexei Navalny published his investigation of the corruption schemes in which Dmitry Medvedev was involved, drew a much bigger crowd. It was a really cool, very significant event: there had never been anything like it in Nizhny.

I didn’t go to protest rallies before that, although I was interested in politics. This was due to my personal rethinking of effective methods of struggle. First, there was the ideological aspect: perhaps I didn’t see any points of contact among the opposition. Second, I rejected public activism.

If we talk about the anarchist milieu and why I now call myself a libertarian socialist [libertarian socialism is a political philosophy focused on resisting authoritarian coercion and social hierarchy—Republic] the fact of the matter is that there are lots of stereotypes around the notion of anarchists, who are either imagined as subculture types with as subculture types with mohawk haircuts and the letter A on their backs, screaming “Anarchy is the mother of order,” or people in masks whose only thought is torching, blowing up, smashing, and destroying things, meaning anarchists are equated with terrorists.

As for methods, some anarchists consider it more effective to put up leaflets and stickers, do graffiti, and hang banners on the street—as long as no one sees them. Their public activism begins and ends there. But when they are confronted with crackdowns, they take to the public arena all the same, because only a huge public outcry can defend people from persecution.

I think that, if you want to promote your political ideas you have to be as public about it as possible. This will help you get around the stereotypes attached to the notion of anarchism and recruit people to your side.

I see anarchism as the endpoint in society’s evolution. It is what happens when people realize they are capable of solving their problems without recourse to any representatives whatsoever, when they realize they can organize themselves and their own lives. When the concept of centralization goes away, people won’t need power over each other.

Translated by the Russian Reader

I Am Ingush

elizaveta_alexandrova-zorinaElizaveta Alexandrova-Zorina. Courtesy of Ponedelnik

I Am Ingush
Elizaveta Alexandrova-Zorina
Radio Svoboda
September 24, 2019

In Russia, there is a political crackdown in full swing that almost no one talks about—not because it is happening somewhere other than Moscow, but because it is happening in the North Caucasus. Popular protests in Ingushetia forced Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the head of the republic to resign, triggered a wave of criminal prosecutions, and still have the republic agitated. In the rest of Russia, people say it is a Caucasian affair, something in which they should avoid getting involved. And yet many Ingush believe the events in Magas in spring 2019 were the starting point for all the recent protest campaigns, from Shiyes to Moscow. At the very least, the protests in Ingushetia were the largest in Russia since the fair elections rallies on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue in 2011–2012.

The arrests and prosecution of protesters in Moscow have been dubbed a “new” Bolotnaya Square case. Russian and international journalists alike have written a great deal about the case, and each of the defendants has been lavished with attention by human rights defenders. There are long queues of people waiting to take turns in solo pickets, and flash mobs are held in solidarity with Konstantin Kotov. Actors have rallied around Pavel Ustinov, while teachers produced an appeal in support of Yegor Zhukov. The clergy, the Union of Cinematographers, and PEN Moscow have sent official letters on behalf of the defendants, while Stephen Fry, Herta Müller, and a whole host of foreign politicians and cultural figures signed an open letter. Only Mediazona and OVD Info have been covering the events in Ingushetia, however, while the only aspect of the protests there and the fallout from them that has been discussed on the Runet is the fact that certain Ingush police officers went over to the protesters and have subsequently been criminally prosecuted for their actions.

In point of fact, Ingushetia’s version of the Bolotnaya Square case is quite as massive as the real thing. Criminal charges have been filed against thirty-three people, most of whom have been in remand prison for many months. Another forty people are under investigation. The investigators reportedly have an extended list of 150 people they would like to charge: Ingushetia is a small place, and it is hard to keep such things secret for long. We should also add to this catalog a reporter who covered the protests. Apparently, the police planted heroin on him and then tortured him to try and force him to testify.

Before the arrests kicked off, 317 people were convicted under the administrative law on “unauthorized” protest rallies and fined between 10,000 and 20,000 rubles [approx. 150 to 300 dollars]. That is a lot of money for people in Ingushetia, where a quarter of the able-bodied population earns less than 10,000 rubles a month.

Around a hundred grassroots activists have been harassed—police have searched their homes, interrogated them, and detained them—and some have lost their jobs. Even the new law about “fake” news has been employed: Murad Daskiyev, an Ingush elder, was fined for the fact that, in his appeal to Ingush lawmakers, he wrote about the possible elimination of the republic due to another redrawing of its borders with neighboring republics, despite the fact the many people there actually do see the constant “pruning” of Ingushetia as just that: an attempt to get rid of Ingushetia.

Ingush activists told me it was strange I had come. They said no one in Moscow was interested in what was happening in Ingushetia. As they put it, people in Moscow think the “wogs” were trying to divvy something up, but the conflict does not concern them. In their coverage of the protests in Magas, national Russian media managed to shift the emphasis from anger at the authorities to the supposedly ethnic conflict between Chechens and Ingush. This can not just be put down to the skill of the propagandists.

In August, during the so-called indefinite picket—which began as a way to support demands to release the imprisoned Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, but later encompassed the Crimean Tatars, historian Yuri Dmitriev, the New Greatness case, the Network case, and the Moscow case—I stood holding a placard decrying the crackdown in Ingushetia. A poster calling for a one-to-one prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine usually elicited a positive reaction from passersby, while a placard that read “No to the war with Ukraine!” generated lots of arguments. When they saw me holding up placards about the Crimean Tatars and the Ukrainian sailors, people were sometimes ready to attack. But the placard about Ingushetia could just as well have been invisible. Only once did some policemen lazily inquire about what was happening in Ingushetia because they didn’t know. And one passerby, a woman, asked her husband what was written on my placard.

“Something about Ingushetia,” he replied.

“Oh, Ingushetia,” she said.

On the contrary, people in Ingushetia follow the news from Moscow closely. They post articles and photographs on social media and discuss the arrests of protesters. I was constantly asked about what was happening in Moscow and what would happen to the protesters arrested there on criminal charges. I was ashamed of the fact I was surprised by their attention to the Moscow case.

In Moscow, you strike up the most pleasant acquaintances in paddy wagons and police stations during protest rallies because the most interesting, best-educated, and most concerned people end up there. It’s the same way in Ingushetia: the republic’s finest people are behind bars and on the lists of police investigators.

Six people, whom the authorities have identified as “leaders” of the protests, have been charged under an article of the Russian criminal code that stipulates a maximum sentence of ten years in prison for “organizing violence that threatens the life or health of public officials in the performance of their duties.” Since they have no criminal records, they could be sentenced to a “mere” five or six years in prison.

Barakh Chemurziyev worked for ten years in the department of economics at the University of Economics and Finance in St. Petersburg. He researched corruption and embezzlement of government funds by officials in the Yevkurov administration. Chair of the Ingush branch of the Red Cross, Musa Masalgov has devoted thirty years of his life to charity work. Malsag Uzhakhov, 67, is chair of the Council of Teips of the Ingush People, while Ahmed Barakhoyev, 65, is an Ingush elder and member of the Ingush National Unity Committee. Ismail Nalgiyev, a blogger and grassroots activists, held solo pickets in solidarity with his arrested countrymen, later joining their ranks himself. Zarifa Sautiyeva is a researcher and deputy director of Memorial, a museum complex dealing with the deportation of the Ingush in 1944.

Another activist, Akhmet Pogorov, former head of the Ingushetia Interior Ministry and anti-corruption researcher, is on the federal wanted list. In their last video, posted on YouTube, he and Chemurziyev outlined one of the corruption schemes used by the Yevkurov administration. A month later, they found themselves among the “organizers of the riots.”

When people post the names of the protesters arrested in Moscow, they express outrage over the fact that an actor, a “harmless” programmer, and a 26-year-old man with kids could have been singled out by the authorities. When journalists are targeted, they call it an attack on free speech. But is no one outraged by the arrest of a museum curator? Of two old, sick men who could die in remand prison? (Barakhoyev and Masalgov’s chronic illnesses have worsened since they were arrested and jailed.) Is a deliberate crackdown on public figures and civic activists not an attack on political freedoms?

In Moscow, the slogan “Stop feeding the Caucasus!” has been popular. The Ingush told me it would be great if people called for an end to feeding the elites in the Caucasus. They added I should be sure to write that the protests in Magas were not only about land but also about official lawlessness and corruption in the republic. In Moscow, the ostensible trigger for the protests was the disqualification of independent candidates who wanted to stand in elections to the Moscow City Duma, but people actually protested corruption and the endless reign of the current regime. Similarly, in Ingushetia, outrage over the transfer of land to Chechnya mushroomed into an anti-corruption movement.

Corruption in Ingushetia starts at the very top. Everyone knows there that the federal authorities take a five to ten percent kickback from subsidies to the region. The looting continues when the money trickles down to the local authorities. And there is rampant bribery everywhere: people pay bribes to get good marks on school exams, medical care, and jobs.

Here is a typical story, one of hundreds. In 2013, the largest flour mill in Russia was built in Karabulak with five billion rubles from Rosselkhozbank, money referred to as “private investments.” A portrait of Putin was draped on the building, a grand opening was held, and press releases were sent to the national media. The mill was supposed to employ 1,500 people, but since it opened, the mill has only employed security guards. So there the mill stands, a monument to corruption in Russia. A grain farmer I know complained he had to take his crop straight from the field to the distilleries, where he sold it for seven or so rubles a bushel since there was no place to store and process it.

Ingushetia has the highest unemployment rate in Russia, and finding work there is not only difficult but also expensive. They say a posting in the Emergencies Ministry costs 350,000 rubles [approx. 5,000 euros], while a nurse’s job runs you around 50,000 rubles. 64,000 people were on the books as employees of state enterprises, when in fact they did not work for them and did not even know they worked for them. Besides, the population of Ingushetia is only around half a million people.

Ingushetia is one of the five poorest regions in Russia. It suffers from poverty and ruin, lawless security forces and high officials who pilfer the budget with impunity. It was no wonder protesters chanted slogans against corruption, against Yevkurov and his administration, from the outset of the protests. Nor was it any wonder Yevkurov practically issued an order in public when he said the protesters should be put in prison.

One of Yevkurov’s ministers, now an adviser to the new head of the republic, who celebrated the Eid in a most unexpected way—with vodka and women in the courtyard of his own hotel—explained to me why people protested.

“They’re a bunch of crooks who were paid.”

“Who paid them?”

“The west, maybe?” Who else pays people in Russia to protest? Who doesn’t like the fact that Putin has made Russia strong? So they’re the ones who pay.”

Ingushetia is like Moscow, only worse. Yevkurov ordered a crackdown on the protesters because he was sick and tired of anti-corruption slogans and accusations he had looted Ingushetia. And then there is the Kremlin, which sends a signal to the entire country that any opposition movement will face a brutal crackdown. Consequently, thirty-three people await their sentences. And sentenced they will be, not least because, for some inexplicable reason, the Russian public, opposition activists, and foreign correspondents could not care less about them.

All anyone does nowadays is talk about the defendants in the Moscow case, throwing in a few other political prisoners for good measure. People say they did nothing wrong, that the charges against them are trumped-up, that the authorities ordered law enforcement to put them away. But what about the Ingush case? Is it not a frame-up? Did the accused do something wrong?

You often hear that people only defend their own kind: journalists defend other journalists, actors intercede on the behalf of other actors, lecturers at the Higher School of Economics show their solidarity with a student at the Higher School of Economics. The authorities threatened to frame Ingush journalist Rashid Maysigov on drug charges, and then they did it. They also tortured him with electrical shocks to force him to testify. I have not seen a single newspaper with the front-page headline “I Am/We Are Rashid Maysigov.” When it came to Maysigov, journalistic solidarity broke down for some reason. Nor will the folks who adorn their social media account profile pictures with slogans like “I Am Yegor Zhukov,” “I Am Ivan Golunov”  or “I Am Konstantin Kotov” ever write “I Am Zafira Sautiyeva” or “I Am Musa Masalgov.” What is wrong with Sautiyeva and Masalgov? Are they the wrong sort of people? Are they from the wrong ethnic group?

I like the slogan used by the solo picketers outside the presidential administration building in Moscow; “I Am/We Are the Whole Country.” I like the fact that the placards are inscribed with the names of people who are being persecuted right now for protesting peacefully or literally for no reason at all. But the names Sautiyeva, Masalgov, Barakhoyev, Uzhakhov, Nalgiyev, Chemurziyev, Pogorov, Maysigov, Katsiyev, Pliyev, Dzeytov, Dugiyev, Myakiyev, Gagiyev, Vishegurov, Bapkhoyev, Badiyev, Oziyev, Ozdoyev, Oskanov, Dzyazikov, Tomov, Azhigov, Muzhakhoyev, Khamkhoyev, and Aushev are not on these placards.

Are you certain you are the whole country? Have you forgotten anyone?

Elizaveta Alexandrova-Zorina is a Moscow writer and journalist. Thanks to Jenya Kulakova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Moscow: Where Waving Your Arms Energetically Is a Felony

barabanov.jpgVladislav Barabanov in the dock at the Presna District Court in Moscow earlier today. Photo by Elizaveta Pestova. Courtesy of Yegor Skovoroda and Mediazona

Yegor Skovoroda
Facebook
August 5, 2019

The Presna District Court has remanded three more people in custody as part of the Moscow “riot” case. It became clear during the hearings how they had warranted being charged with involvement in rioting, punishable by up to eight years in prison under Article 212.2 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Daniil Konon, 22, a student at the Bauman School, waved his arms energetically and showed people on the streets where other protesters had gone. (Ren TV has posted a video denunciation of Konon.) Thus, the Investigative Committee argued in court, Konon “coordinated” the riot, a riot that, in fact, never took place.

67517382_2194384337353952_1659775525830262784_oDaniil Konon in the dock at the Presna District Court today. Photo by Anna Kozkina. Courtesy of Yegor Skovoroda and Mediazona

Vladislav Barabanov, 22, an anarchist from Nizhny Novgorod, also, allegedly, “coordinated” the pogrom that wasn’t. However, field agents from Center “E” cited a video in which Barabanov can be seen merely standing in the midst of other demonstrators. He is not even waving his arms.

Sergei Abanichev, 25, is a manager. His girlfriend says he enjoys helping homeless animals. What was his crime? He tossed an empty paper cup from Burger King towards the cops, who were coming at the protesters from all sides. That was it.

67903104_2194384357353950_7558604397521928192_oSergei Abanichev in the dock at the Presna District Court. Photo by Dmitry Shvets. Courtesy of Yegor Skovoroda and Mediazona

I overheard a conversation in the court building. A case investigator exited the courtroom.

“It’s fine. He’ll have to suffer for a month, that’s all,” he said to the mother of one of the men who had been remanded in custody.

“Aren’t you ashamed?” a young woman from the support group asked him.

“What, me? No. Are you?” he replied.

I really do not like high-sounding words like “captives” and “hostages,” but all these people, seized at random by the police, are, in fact, hostages. The security forces took them captive only to frighten all of us.

Don’t be afraid.

Free all political prisoners!

Today, we again covered the hearings simultaneously online, meaning we had several reporters working in the court building, and several working at the office. Covering events online is a lot of work and only your donations and support make it possible. This is going to be a big case, so do not forget to donate to Mediazona.

Yegor Skovoroda is a journalist at Mediazona. Translated by the Russian Reader