A Letter to the International Congress of Mathematicians on the Azat Miftakhov Case

January 4, 2021

To the members of the Executive Organizing Committee and Local Organizing Committee of the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM):

Dear ICM Organizers,

The international mathematical community is deeply concerned about the situation of Azat Miftakhov, the graduate student from Moscow State University who has been detained by Russian state authorities for nearly two years.

Azat is a talented young mathematician who comes from the Tatarstan region in the Russian Federation. Already in school he won prizes in several math competitions and received support given to talented young people by the Ministry of Education and Science. As a student in Moscow he became involved with the anarchist movement. In February 2019, right after his return from a conference in Nizhni Novgorod where Azat gave his first talk in English, he was detained by the police and accused of manufacturing explosives. He was tortured at the police station. After three days Azat was released, since the court found no evidence to justify his detention. Less than two days later, on February 9, 2019, he was again arrested and accused of destruction of an office window of the United Russia political party, an act which had taken place more than a year earlier. He has been kept in jail since then. The lack of evidence in Azat’s case is disturbing, as is the fact that, for most of the time since his arrest, he has remained in pre-trial detention.

Azat pleads not guilty. During his detention he has managed to publish two mathematical preprints on arxiv.

Azat Miftakhov has been recognized as a political prisoner by the Russian human rights organization Memorial. The American Mathematical Society and Société Mathématique de France have issued statements of concern. A recent petition in support of Azat has been signed by more than 2000 mathematicians from more than 15 countries.

On December 23, 2020 it was announced that Azat faces six years of prison if convicted.

While Russia is going to host the ICM in less than two years, Miftakhov’s trial reminds us of the host country’s frequent violations of human rights and repression of freedoms, which are regularly condemned by human rights organizations. Let us recall that in 1982 the International Congress in Warsaw was postponed by one year, during which various actions were taken by the international mathematical community to free political prisoners in Poland.

Freedom is one of the highest values for us as scientists. Attending the congress while our colleague Azat Miftakhov is arbitrarily detained will pose a serious dilemma for us and for the entire mathematical community. We kindly ask you to take an active position on this case and to communicate with the state authorities to free Azat.


Ahmed Abbes, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Paris

Zofia Adamowicz, Professor, Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Fabrizio Andreatta, Professor of mathematics, Università Statale di Milano

Michèle Audin, mathematician and writer

Viviane Baladi, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Paris

Arnaud Beauville, Professor emeritus of mathematics, Université Côte d’Azur

Michel Broué, Professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Paris

Antoine Chambert-Loir, Professor of mathematics, Université de Paris

Bruno Chiarellotto, Professor of mathematics, Università degli studi di Padova

Henri Darmon, Professor of mathematics, McGill University

Chandler Davis, Professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Toronto

Adrien Deloro, Associate professor of mathematics at Sorbonne Université

Fabien Durand, Président de la Société Mathématique de France, Professor of mathematics, Université de Picardie Jules Verne

Ivar Ekeland, FRSC, Professor emeritus of mathematics and former President, University of Paris-Dauphine

Pavel Etingof, Department of Mathematics, MIT

Javier Fresán, Professor, École polytechnique

Dennis Gaitsgory, Professor of mathematics, Harvard University

Paul Garrett, Professor of mathematics, University of Minnesota

Damien Gayet, Professor of mathematics at Institut Fourier and Editor-in-chief of the Gazette des mathématiciens

Catherine Goldstein, Director of research at CNRS, Institut de mathématiques de Jussieu-Paris Gauche, Paris

Timothy Gowers, Professor of combinatorics, Collège de France

Michael Harris, Professor of mathematics, Columbia University

Frédéric Hélein, Professor, Université de Paris

Ilya Kapovich, Professor of mathematics, Hunter College of CUNY, Chair, Committee on the Human Rights of Mathematicians, American Mathematical Society

Vincent Lafforgue, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Grenoble

François Loeser, Professor of mathematics, Sorbonne University

Wiesława Nizioł, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, IMJ-PRG, Sorbonne University

Joseph Oesterlé, Professor emeritus of mathematics at Sorbonne University, Paris

Arthur Ogus, Professor emeritus of mathematics, University of California at Berkeley

Fabrice Planchon, Professor of mathematics, Sorbonne University

Bjorn Poonen, Distinguished professor in science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Raphaël Rouquier, Professor of mathematics at the University of California at Los Angeles

Claude Sabbah, Director of research at CNRS, Université de Paris-Saclay

Takeshi Saito, Professor of mathematics at the University of Tokyo

Peter Sarnak, Professor of mathematics, Princeton

Pierre Schapira, Professor emeritus of mathematics, Sorbonne Université

Peter Scholze, Professor of mathematics at the University of Bonn and Director of Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn

Adam Skalski, Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Stephen Smale, Professor emeritus of mathematics, University of California at Berkeley

Christophe Soulé, mathematician, member of the French Academy of Science

Bernard Teissier, mathematician, Director of research emeritus at CNRS, Paris

Dylan Thurston, Professor of mathematics, Indiana University, Bloomington

Claude Viterbo, Professor of mathematics at the University of Paris-Saclay and at the École normale supérieure de Paris

Masha Vlasenko, Professor, Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences

David A. Vogan, Jr., Professor emeritus of mathematics, MIT

Jarosław A. Wiśniewski, Professor of mathematics at the University of Warsaw and corresponding Member of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Hatem Zaag, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Paris

Thanks to the authors of this letter for sending it to me. Photo courtesy of MSU Pressure Group and Radio Svoboda

Three Years of Revenge (A Chronicle of the Network Case)

The Three-Year Revenge
The appeals hearing in the Network Case is over. The sentences are the same: from six to eighteen years in prison
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
October 20, 2020

The Network Case […] has been going on for exactly three years. Today, we can say that the case has come to an end: an appeals court has upheld the convictions of all the defendants [in the Penza portion of the case, not the Petersburg portion], who face six to eighteen years in prison. In the coming days and weeks, they will be transported to penal colonies to serve their sentences, while their lawyers file complaints with the Russian Court of Cassation and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Novaya Gazeta recalls how one of the most dramatic and unjust cases of the 2010s unfolded.



The Maltsev/Artpodgotovka Case […] had just exploded on the front pages, and the World Cup and the presidential election were on the horizon. The circumstances were perfect for the special services to uncover a “terrorist plot” and impress their superiors. A year and and a half earlier, an ambitious FSB colonel, Sergei Sizov, took charge of the agency’s Penza office: it is believed that he launched the Network Case. Now a lieutenant-general, Sizov currently heads the agency’s Chelyabinsk regional office. Soon after he was assigned to Chelyabinsk, news broke of the so-called Chelyabinsk Case, which is quite reminiscent of the Network Case.

The arrests in Penza began on October 18, 2017. Yegor Zorin was the first to be taken. He had drugs on him, allegedly, but now that we know how investigators handled the evidence in the case, this circumstance is in doubt. Zorin was pressured into cooperating with the authorities, giving evidence about a certain organization, to which he and his friend Ilya Shakursky belonged, allegedly. Shakursky is a well-known anti-fascist activist, organizer of charitable and environmental campaigns, and musician. The authorities had long had their eyes on him and were so interested that they sicked a provocateur on him. This provocateur, Vladislav Gresko-Dobrovolsky, would later be a secret witness for the prosecution at the trial.

Dmitry Pchelintsev, Andrei Chernov, Vasily Kuksov and, a bit later, Arman Sagynbayev are arrested. The young men are beaten and threatened during their arrests. Although weapons were found, allegedly, on Kuksov, Shakursky, and Pchelintsev, no traces of the accused or their body tissues are detected on the weapons.

Everything is held against them: the books they read (including Tolstoy), a staged airsoft video, shot two years earlier; their correspondence on messengers; and hikes in the forest that involved practicing survival skills and first aid. But what matters most is their own testimony, obtained under torture, something that no one except the prosecutor’s office doubts anymore. The conclusion: the accused are a “terrorist community” that was planning to seize power and enact regime change.


Rumors reach Moscow that anarchists and antifascists have been disappearing in Penza. Their arrests are really like abductions: a person disappears, and that is it. Alexei Polikhovich, a correspondent with OVD Info and an anarchist who recently served time in the Bolotnaya Square Case, travels to Penza. He learns about what has happened, including the torture, but the relatives of the detainees ask him not to publish the information. The general sentiment at the time was not to make a fuss: things would only get worse, and most importantly, the torture would resume. Consequently, the information is published only in January, after the arrests in Petersburg of Viktor Filinkov, Igor Shishkin, and Yuli Boyarshinov as part of the same case.



Yana Teplitskaya and Katya Kosarevskaya, members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, find Filinkov in the Crosses Prison, recording “numerous traces of burns from a stun gun on the entire surface of [his] right thigh, a hematoma on [his] right ankle, [and] burns from a stun gun in [his] chest area.” There were more than thirty such signs of injury. Filinkov claims he was tortured. Slightly later, Pchelintsev and Shakursky would claim they were tortured. Doctors confirm that Shishkin suffered a fracture in the lower wall of his eye socket, as well as numerous bruises and abrasions.

Pchelintsev: “When I was tortured with electrical shocks, my mouth was full of ‘crushed teeth’ due to the fact I gritted my teeth since the pain was strong, and I tore the frenulum of my tongue. My mouth was full of blood, and at some point one of my torturers stuck my sock in my mouth.”

The case attracts attention.

February 14

A banner bearing the inscription “The FSB is the main terrorist” is hung on the fence of the FSB building in Chelyabinsk “in solidarity with repressed anarchists all over the country.” The people who hung the banner are detained and, according to them, tortured. They are charged with disorderly conduct. Six months later, the charges are dropped due to lack of evidence. It is in Chelyabinsk that investigators use the phrase “damage to the FSB’s reputation” for the first time. The phrase is the key to the entire process. Subsequently, the security forces would take revenge against those who publicized instances of torture and procedural violations. People who supported the accused would sometimes be punished: they would face criminal charges and threats to their lives. The motive of revenge is clearly legible in all the actions taken by investigators, in the stance adopted by the prosecutors and the judges, and in the verdict itself.


Gradually, information about the Network Case is published in the media, first as brief news items, then as full-fledged articles in independent publications. By the end of April, everyone is writing about the case. The solidarity campaign becomes massive, and the case gains notoriety. At the same time, the NTV propaganda film Dangerous Network is broadcast: in terms of genre, it  resembles other such film, including Anatomy of a Protest and 13 Friends of the Junta. It attacks not only the accused, making them look like bin Laden-scale terrorists , but also the human rights defenders and activists who support them and thus, allegedly, betray Russian interests. Dangerous Network was the first of many similar “documentaries” and articles on the case.

The first solidarity rallies and concerts are held in May. The parents of the defendants create the Parents Network, an association aimed at protecting their children, and ask for help from federal human rights ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova. Consequently, the torture stops, but no one thinks to close the case.

In July, there are new arrests in the case: Penza residents Mikhail Kulkov and Maxim Ivankin are arrested. At the same time, in July, during a session of the UN Committee Against Torture, the Russian delegation is asked about the Network Case. The delegation ignores the question.

October 28

An unauthorized “people’s meeting” in support of the defendants in the Network and New Greatness cases takes place outside FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square in Moscow. Similar protests are held in Petersburg, Penza, Novosibirsk, Rostov-on-Don, and Irkutsk. Among those detained after the protest in Moscow is activist Konstantin Kotov. A week later, 77-year-old human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov is fined and sentenced to 25 days of administrative arrest for calling for the meeting. Ponomaryov comments, “This is the FSB’s revenge.” The gatherings on Lubyanka against torture and crackdowns would continue in 2019.

October 31

In Arkhangelsk, 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky blows himself up at the local offices of the FSB. Shortly before the blast, a message appears on the Telegram channel Rebel Talk [Rech’ buntovshchika]: “Since the FSB fabricates cases and tortures people, I decided to go for it.” There is no indication of a specific case, but the phrase “fabricates cases and tortures” suggests the Network Case.


At a meeting of the Human Rights Council, journalist Nikolai Svanidze and council chair Mikhail Fedotov tell Putin about the provocations in the New Greatness Case and the torture in the Network Case. “This is the first time I’ve heard about it,” Putin says, promising to “sort it out.” Fedotov also appealed to FSB director Nikolai Bortnikov, but none of the internal investigations into the Network Case revealed any wrongdoing by law enforcement officers. The reason is simple: law enforcement agencies investigate themselves, and complaints of torture and other wrongdoing are sent down the chain of command to the local level—to those guilty of torture and other crimes.



Moscow State University graduate student Azat Miftakhov is detained by police. At the police department, he slashes his wrists—to avoid torture, as he explains to his lawyer. According to one theory, Miftakhov has been detained in an attempt to “uncover” the Network’s “Moscow cell.”

Azat Miftakhov. Photo: Victoria Odissonova/Novaya Gazeta


A petition is posted on Change.org demanding that the Network Case be dropped and that the allegations of torture be investigated. It is signed by rock musician Andrey Makarevich, actress Liya Akhedzhakova, writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, actress Natalya Fateyeva, animator Garri Bardin, and many others.

On April 8, by decision of the Moscow District Military Court, the FSB places the Network on its list of “terrorist” organizations. It bothers no one that the guilt of the defendants in the case has not yet been proven in court.


The case is brought to trial: the [Penza] trial will last until February 10, 2020. At the trial, the prosecution’s witnesses will recant their earlier statements, which they claim were given either under duress or misrepresented. The prosecution still has confessions made under torture, the testimony of secret witnesses, and physical evidence, including internet correspondence and computer files that were altered after they were confiscated, weapons of unknown origin, and a conclusion by FSB experts that the defendants constituted a group, and Pchelintsev was their leader.  This is enough to persuade the court to sentence the seven Penza defendants to 86 years in prison in total: Pchelintsev is sentenced to 18 years; Shakursky, to 16; Chernov, to 14; Ivankin, to 13; Kulkov, to 10; Kuksov, to 9; and Sagynbayev, to 6.

Penza Network defendants during the reading of the verdict. Photo: Victoria Odissonova/Novaya Gazeta



There is unprecedented public outrage at the verdict and the prison sentences requested by the prosecutor. Hundreds of open letters and appeals—from musicians, poets, cinematographers, book publishers, artists, teachers, and municipal councilors—are published. For the first time in Russia, the practice of torture by the special services is openly and massively condemned. The verdict is called an attempt to intimidate the Russian people. The public demands a review of the Network Case and an investigation of the claims of torture. People stand in a huge queue on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square to take turns doing solo pickets.

Journalist Nikolai Solodnikov, holding a placard that reads, “I demand an investigation of the torture in the Network Case.” Photo: Svetlana Vidanova/Novaya Gazeta

But a week later, the wave of indignation is shot down. Meduza publishes a controversial article, “Four Went In, Only Two Returned,” in which a certain Alexei Poltavets confesses to a double murder that he committed, allegedly, with defendants in the Network Case. There had long been rumors about the so-called Ryazan Case—the murders of Artyom Dorofeyev and Ekaterina Levchenko in the woods near Ryazan—within the activist community, but the story had never surfaced, because there was no evidence. There is no evidence now, either: the Network’s involvement in the murder is not corroborated by anything other than the claims made by Poltavets. Poltavets himself is in Kiev, and no formal murder charges are made against the Network. But it is enough to discredit the solidarity campaign. Now, in the eyes of society, those who take the side of the Network Case defendants are defending murderers. Public outrage fades, and the verdict remains the same.


In Petersburg, Filinkov and Boyarshinov are sentenced to seven years and five and a half years in prison, respectively. Shishkin made a deal with the investigation and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in 2019.

Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov. Photo: David Frenkel/Mediazona

Putin signs a decree awarding Sergei Sizov the rank of lieutenant general. Other Russia activists are arrested in Chelyabinsk. The so-called Chelyabinsk Case begins.


The appeals hearing in the Network Case has begun. It is held in the closed city of Vlasikha near Moscow, with a video link from Penza. The issue now is not torture, but the lack of evidence for the verdict. And indeed, from the point of view of any lawyer, the verdict look quite odd. It is not the verdict of an independent court, but a rewrite of excerpts from the case file and the indictment, a sloppy collection of unconfirmed facts and unreliable expertise. The verdict is reminiscent of the famous line from the 1979 Soviet TV miniseries The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed: “He’s going to prison! I said so.”

October 20
The appeal hearing ends and the verdict is upheld. The authorities have enacted their revenge. The defense concludes that there is no more justice in Russia.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the Network Case, and go to Rupression.com to find out how you can show your solidarity with the defendants in the case.

To All the “Antifascists” Out There, from Petrograd

work for russians-cropped

The sticker reads, in part, “Work for ethnic Russians.” Photographed by The Russian Reader in the Petersburg subway.

A young Petersburg leftist, A.N., made the following comment on his Facebook page earlier today. What he says here is obvious to anyone with a brain and elementary powers of observation who has been living in Russia the past five or ten years (if not longer), but it had to be said now. People outside Russia who don’t understand these “alphabetical truths” (home truths), as the Russians say, should refrain from commenting on “the situation” in Ukraine and Russia.

It’s been funny watching as people absolutely incapable of doing anything at home in Russia have been vigorously calling for the “restoration of order” in a neighboring country, Ukraine. Day and night, they have been seeking out “fascists,” provocateurs, and victims on Maidan and in Crimea, while paying no attention to what has been happening right under their own noses.

The only thing these latter-day “antifascists” want to avoid seeing is that there has been fascism here in Russia for a long time already. It has been manifested in assaults on migrants, in the ongoing homophobic hysteria, in flagrant censorship, in cutbacks to social services, in political show trials and folks sent to prison for political or trade union activism, in the implantation of right-wing reactionary views in society, in increasing social stratification, in insane laws passed with such speed we don’t have time to react to them, and in many other things.

But this is of no interest to anyone, because it’s not a YouTube video or a comment on Facebook, and basically we got used to all of it long ago. And it’s okay: life goes on. And now our neighbors in Ukraine can get used to it, too.