Dmitry Ivanov’s closing statement at his trial
I have been in police custody since April of last year. I was formally charged in early June, and since then I have been an “accused” man. I see this word in paperwork, I sign statements containing it, and that is how the prison authorities address me. “Accused” has been my new social status for the past nine months.
A criminal change can be a serious burden. I have met people in prison, albeit a few, who are plagued by a sense of guilt for what they have done. In this sense, though, my case is simple. All the accusations against me are ridiculous and absurd, and the article [in the criminal code] under which I am being tried should not exist, basically. I find it easy and pleasant to take a consistent stance and to tell the truth. I have always adhered to this principle both in public life and in personal matters.
The investigation, whilst trying to accuse me of spreading “fakes,” has constructed one giant fake. Literally the entire indictment, from the first word to the last, is at odds with reality. I subscribe to every word I wrote a year ago. All my emotional assessments have retained their force, and all factual claims have been borne out many times. So there can be no question of any sense of guilt on my part in terms of the present case.
Life, though, is much more complicated than a trumped-up criminal case. A year ago, events happened that shocked the world. In a matter of days, the foundations of life, which had seemed to us unshakable, were destroyed. The most terrible pictures stepped off the pages of history textbooks, reviving the nightmares of bygone years and wars whose fury had long ago been stilled. Unable to stop this ongoing tragedy, tens of millions of Russians have come face to face with an oppressive sense of guilt. It is a normal reaction to the monstrously abnormal situation in which all of us find ourselves.
If you feel guilty, it means that you have a conscience. It means that you cannot see the suffering of innocent people without feeling pain in your heart, that you are able to empathize with someone else’s grief. What is more, a sense of guilt for the actions of one’s country is impossible without a sense of belonging. It means that no matter where you are now, you maintain an emotional connection with your homeland, you realize that you are a citizen of Russia and worry about its fate. You — we — are real patriots of Russia in the true sense of the word! We love our country, and so we are especially hurt and ashamed that this inhuman war is waged on its behalf.
It is vital to remember that the guilt that we cannot help but feel is irrational per see. After all, we are not actually to blame for what is happening. The blame is on those who unleashed and wage this war, on those who issue and carry out criminal orders, on those who commit outrages on foreign soil, as well as on those who condone these crimes by cracking down on their own people and generating an atmosphere of fear and intolerance.
On the contrary, we want to live in a free and peaceful country. We want a better future for ourselves and our neighbors. In order for our hopes to come true, we must move away from a passive sense of guilt, focused on the past, and strive to realize our own civic responsibility. We must move away from regrets about what has happened to solving existing problems and making plans for the future. Yes, right now we are unable to stop the war, but this does not mean that we are powerless. I want each of you to think about what you can do personally. The answer “nothing” is not acceptable. First, if you are not on the side of the scoundrels, if you have remained true to yourself, have kept your wits about you, and have not fallen into despair, if you are listening to me now or reading this text, this is much more than nothing. And second, even I can do something and am doing something. I keep talking, communicating the truth about events to people. I have been using this trial as a platform for public anti-war statements. To the best of my ability, I have been helping those who, due to their civic stance, have found themselves on the same side of the bars as me. You have many more opportunities to act today for the sake of our common better tomorrow.
Our problem is the inability to take the initiative and find allies. We are used to following leaders and waiting for instructions. Don’t wait — act! Become volunteers, help refugees, support political prisoners, form horizontal ties. Get to know your neighbors, colleagues and classmates, set common goals and achieve them together. When someone needs your help, don’t ignore them. Make this world a better place for us and for our children.
We like to repeat, like a mantra, the words “Russia will be free!” But Russia is us, and what it will be depends only on us. The war will inevitably end, and then the regime that unleashed it will cease to exist. This is the law of history. We have a lot of work ahead of us, work which we must start now. This work of ours, I am sure, is bound to succeed. Russia will be free — because we will make it so.
Source: Darya Kornilova (Facebook), 1 March 2023. Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Originally published on the website of the movement For Human Rights. Translated by the Russian Reader. The verdict in Mr. Ivanov’s case is scheduled to be announced on March 7. The prosecutor has asked the court to find him guilty as charged and sentence him to nine years in prison. See my translation of Mediazona‘s detailed account of the case and trial against Mr. Ivanov, below.
Russian lawmakers on Thursday voted in favor of a bill that would make it a criminal offense to “discredit” anyone fighting on Russia’s side in the war in Ukraine, not just the Russian military.
The legislation aims to expand current laws criminalizing the discrediting of the Russian Armed Forces to include mercenaries serving in the ranks of Russia’s growing number of private military companies, such as the Wagner Group.
The bill was unexpectedly introduced by State Duma deputies Wednesday in the form of amendments to two largely unrelated bills that were already due to be voted on in the lower chamber of the Russian parliament.
If signed into law, the amendments would introduce sentences of up to seven years in prison for “public acts aimed at discrediting volunteer formations, organizations or individuals” that are aiding the work of the Russian Armed Forces.
The proposed amendments also increase the maximum punishment for violating the existing law against spreading “false” information about the army.
Those found guilty of “spreading fake information” about the army or a volunteer military formation would then face up to five years in prison instead of the three years outlined in the current law.
The new law would also raise the maximum fine from 700,000 rubles ($9,250) to 1.5 million rubles ($19,830).
In cases in which the dissemination of “false information” is deemed to have had “grave consequences,” violators could face up to 15 years in prison, under the new legislation.
The bill must now pass its third reading in the State Duma on March 14 before going to the upper house of parliament for approval and then finally to the president for his signature.
Source: “Duma Votes to Expand Russia’s Military Discreditation Law,” Moscow Times, 2 March 2023
The trial of Dmitry Ivanov, a mathematics student and creator of the Telegram channel “MSU Protesting,” is nearing completion in Moscow’s Timiryazevsky District Court. Ivanov is accused of disseminating “fake news” about the army. (The investigators claim that reports of war crimes, the killing of civilians and the destruction of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure are “fake news,” as well as Ivanov’s refusal to call the war a “special operation.”) Today, Prosecutor Yulia Pravosud asked the court to sentence Ivanov to nine years in prison. Mediazona examines the grounds for the case against the activist and how investigators have tried to prove his guilt.
“Don’t betray the Motherland, Dima” was the message painted on 16 March 2022 on the door of the Moscow flat in which the Moscow State University student Dmitry Ivanov had lived all twenty-two years of his life. The message was embellished with three huge Z’s. At the time, Ivanov joked: “We have already washed off the door — a simple Soviet acetone helped us make short work of the paint.” The Telegram channel “MSU Protesting,” which he had created and ran, continued to write about the war and anti-war protests inside Russia, until its author was detained on April 28 as he was leaving the university. He has not been released since.
On April 29, the Nikulinsky District Court jailed Ivanov for ten days for “organizing a rally” — this is how the security forces deemed one of the posts in his channel. He served his jail sentence in the Sakharovo Temporary Detention Center for Foreign Nationals outside of Moscow, but on May 9 he was detained as he was leaving the facility and sentenced again under the same article of the Administrative Offenses Code — this time for twenty-five days. The student missed the state exams and was unable to submit his honor’s thesis. After serving the new sentence, he was immediately detained again on June 2, this time on a criminal charges. He was taken from the detention center to the Investigative Committee for questioning.
Ivanov managed to transfer the admin of “MSU Protesting” to his friend Nikita Zaitsev. Ivanov’s friends later created a separate channel in his support, “Prison MSU.”
“From the very beginning of my imprisonment, I have lucked out in terms of symbolic dates. I was tried on Victory Day and on the day the mobilization began, and I was transferred to the pretrial detention center on Russia Day. Another hearing will be held on the anniversary of Navalny’s return to Russia. Back then it seemed that all the masks had been doffed and there was nothing more that could shock us. If only we had known what would happen a year later,” Ivanov wrote in a letter to our correspondent.
What Dmitry Ivanov is accused of
The case against Ivanov was handled by the Investigative Committee’s First Major Case Department. Like most cases investigated under the article on “fakes about the military,” it was launched on the basis of “law enforcement intelligence.” Еhe report on the student was written by Lieutenant Colonel A.L. Kapustin, a field officer in the FSB’s Moscow and Moscow Region directorate.
Kapustin copied several posts from “MSU Protesting,” and Captain K.A. Myagkov, a major case investigator, concluded that they were sufficient to launch a criminal case.
The prosecution argues that the activist, “motivated by political hatred” and “foreseeing the inevitability of socially dangerous consequences in the form of undermining and discrediting the current state authorities,” is alleged to have disseminated the following claims on Telegram between 4 March and 4 April 2022:
— the Russian army attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant;
— The Russian armed forces have been destroying cities and civilian infrastructure and killing civilians in Ukraine;
— Russia is waging a real war, not a “special military operation”;
— Russian aviation has suffered significant losses in the war;
— Russian soldiers committed war crimes in the towns of Bucha and Irpen.
Most of the posts that investigators attributed to Ivanov were reposts of allegations made by other people, including politician Alexei Navalny, Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky, BBC journalist Ilya Barabanov, blogger Maxim Katz, and the writers on social media news page Lentach.
From a broken phone to a canceled thesis defense: how field officers and MSU officials persecuted an undesirable student
In 2018, Ivanov was a student majoring in computational mathematics and cybernetics. Along with dozens of other students and lecturers, he protested against construction of a World Cup fan zone outside Moscow State University’s main building. The inhabitants of the building complained that the construction work prevented them from working during the day and sleeping at night, and that the crowds of fans would make their lives unbearable.
It was then that Ivanov launched the initially anonymous Telegram channel “MSU Protesting,” in which he described in detail the struggle of students and lecturers against developers. He would go on to write about other protest actions. On 16 December 2018, Ivanov was detained at a rally outside the FSB building in Moscow: the infamous Center “E” officer Alexei Okopny did not like the fact that the student had photographed him.
The very next day, Ivanov’s channel ceased to be anonymous. “Hi, my name is Dima, I’m 19, I study at Moscow State University, and today I became a victim of torture,” the student wrote. He said that after his arrest the security forces had demanded that he give them the password to his phone; when he refused, they beat him and threatened to rape him with a police baton. Having failed to achieve their goal, they simply broke the phone, and access to “MSU Protesting” was lost. Ivanov created a new channel with the same name and recounted his experiences in detail in his inaugural post.
Ivanov thus became one of the well-known activists whom the security forces snatched from the crowd first during protests. On 2 February 2021, he was detained at a rally in support of Alexei Navalny, who had returned to Russia after recovering from poisoning. It was then that, for the first time, the Meshchansky District Court sent the student to the Temporary Detention Center for Foreign Nationals in Sakharovo for thirty days. At this center for migrants facing deportation, where Moscow opposition activists were taken to serve their administrative sentences that winter, a second charge sheet was drawn up against Ivanov because he argued with the guards. Ten more days were added to the thirty days he had got for attending the rally.
Ivanov’s friends estimated that he spent a total of 101 days under administrative arrest.
Ivanov was scheduled to defend his honor’s thesis on 1 June 2022. The student was supposed to be released from the detention center on the second of June. Ivanov’s defense team asked the court to shorten the term of arrest by at least one day and requested a postponement from the examination commission, but to no avail. In July, Ivanov was expelled from Moscow State University for not having passed the state final certification.
“I got out of the subway, saw a building with paddy wagons, and decided to give evidence”: the prosecution’s witnesses
The investigation into the Ivanov case was completed in two months. During this time, several witnesses were questioned at the Investigative Committee. Only one of them, Yuliaslava Korolevich, a school friend of the activist, testified in his defense. The security forces searched the home of Korolevich and her mother, and then brought the young woman in for questioning. She said only that she knows Dmitry “as a person who can listen and help out in difficult times, and who is intelligent, rational and logical by nature.”
The other witnesses in the case did not have their homes searched. All of them unfailingly identified themselves as “patriots” during questioning, and the wording of their testimony against Ivanov overlaps almost verbatim. All of them described the arrested student “negatively as an anti-Russian fascist,” and his posts in the Telegram channel as “not corresponding to the position of the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation.”
The most verbose among the witnesses was the former dean of the Faculty of Fundamental Physical and Chemical Engineering at Moscow State University Lyudmila Grigorieva, infamous for her confrontation with student activists. In 2021, she was forced to resign after she called the Initiative Group at the university “western liberasts” who “grunt, crawl and shit constantly for scraps.”
During questioning, Grigorieva labeled herself “a patriot and a person who loves her country very much, and also stands for kindness, state power, unity, and public order.” She thus considered it her duty to testify against a student who, in her opinion, is a “fascist” and “belongs to a political sect.”
“Ivanov hates people who do not share his liberal views, and defends all the dregs of society,” she said.
Later, at the trial, Grigorieva voiced the hope that not only Ivanov, but also another opposition mathematician from Moscow State University, associate professor Mikhail Lobanov, would pay for “anti-Russian activities.”
Three more prosecution witnesses are Grigorieva’s former subordinates Alexander Krasilnikov, Daniil Afanasyev, and her former graduate student Kirill Borisevich. In court, none of them (like the ex-dean herself) could explain how they had ended up in the investigator’s office and had decided to testify against Ivanov.
“I was walking from the subway, I had got out of the subway. I saw a building with paddy wagons, and decided to give evidence,” Krasilnikov said uncertainly. Each of the three repeated verbatim Grigorieva’s epithets for the student, and in court they read their testimony from a phone or a piece of paper.
What connects the unemployed man Ivan Lyamin and Kolomna Philharmonic musician Mikhail Zhuravlev with the case of Ivanov is not at all clear. In court, Lyamin explained that he had “accidentally stumbled upon” the Telegram channel “MSU Protesting.” He would sometimes read it. He then told an acquaintance about it, who advised him to contact the Investigative Committee.
Zhuravlev claimed that he had decided to testify so that justice would prevail.
“Because freedom of speech has become too much,” he said.
During questioning, Zhuravlev said that Ivanov “is trying to disorient his readers about the events in Ukraine and impose a sense of guilt for the conduct of the special operation not only on Russian citizens, but on all ethnic Russians. He is also trying to shape public opinion among citizens of the Russian Federation about the need to stop the actions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in Ukraine in order to preserve the power of the nationalists.”
The witness could not repeat such a long statement from memory, so in court the prosecutor had to read out his written testimony .
The evidence and witnesses for the defense
The prosecution argues that, since the posts on the Telegram channel “MSU Protesting” diverged from the official reports of the Defense Ministry, meaning that they were “deliberately false,” this is sufficient proof of Ivanov’s guilt. This conclusion was reached by linguists from the FSB, who testified in court.
Defense counsel Maria Eismont asked psychologist Veronika Konstantinova and linguist Igor Zharkov to prepare an independent expert analysis of the activist’s posts. They concluded that, at the time of their publication, the information in Ivanov’s posts was not “knowingly false” from his point of view. The prosecutor retorted that the experts were only “trying to discredit the actions of the investigation.”
In addition to the expert analysis, the defense presented the testimony of seven people in court. Unlike the prosecution witnesses, all of them were personally acquainted with Ivanov. Andrei Stroganov taught Ivanov computer science at school. Ivanov worked on his honor’s thesis with Alexei Borodin, a senior researcher at the Institute of System Programming. Ivan Shmatin, a fifth-year student at Moscow State University is not only friends with the defendant, but also knows Lyudmila Grigorieva, whom he called “a person hyper-concentrated on people who espouse democratic values.”
All of them described the accused as an honest individual and a talented mathematician. This was said by activists Irina Yakutenko and Konstantin Kotov, with whom Ivanov had been involved in solidarity campaigns for political prisoners — the mathematician Azat Miftakhov and the defendants in the New Greatness Case.
Mathematician and leftist politician Mikhail Lobanov, for whose election campaign to the State Duma Ivanov had worked, was also summoned to court. He talked about defendant’s involvement in the life of the university. According to Lobanov, “Uniquely, Dima was not embittered, even as he was being persecuted for his views.”
Grigory Mikhnov-Voytenko, a bishop of the Apostolic Orthodox Church and a human rights activist, helps Ukrainian refugees who find themselves in Russia. Their accounts fully confirm the veracity of Ivanov’s posts, the clergyman said in court.
A billy club and a dog in court, summonses to the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry
On January 19, Ivanov was beaten by a guard. The reason was that the defendant did not immediately exit the “fish tank” after the court hearing, but stayed to find out from Maria Eismont when she would visit him in the pretrial detention center. It later transpired that the escort guard’s name was Alexei Nikolayevich Zhalnin.
Without giving the defendant a chance to talk to his lawyer, Zhalnin dragged Ivanov into the escort guard room. The next day, Ivanov told Eismont that the escort had taken him downstairs, turned off his body cam, and kicked him in the head and ribs and beaten him with a billy club. Zhalnin tried to put Ivanov’s head into the toilet and threatened that he would “insert a stick in his anus.” The second escort guard “watched” this and “did nothing.” The bruises suffered by the activist were documented at the detention center’s medical unit.
The defense has filed complaints about Zhalnin’s actions to numerous authorities, but so far to no avail. At the subsequent hearings, however, Ivanov was escorted by emphatically polite guards, and Judge Daria Pugacheva asked whether he had any complaints about the escort. Meanwhile, bailiffs stopped letting members of the public who could not recall the judge’s surname into the courthouse. Previously it had been enough to name the defendant’s last name at the entrance. A continuously whining service dog appeared in the courtroom.
Coincidentally, all these security measures were introduced when Eismont persuaded the court to call as witnesses Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya.
“Ivanov is charged with a serious crime based on a comparison of his texts with statements made by Nebenzya, Lavrov, and Konashenkov. This means that these people are essentially witnesses for the prosecution, and so he has the right to question them in court,” the lawyer argued.
Eismont had attempted to use this trick before, at the trial of the politician Ilya Yashin, but the court did not even issue summonses to the high-ranking officials then. In the Ivanov case, the summons reached their addressees, but the witnesses ignored them.
What else Ivanov was asked in court
Before oral arguments were made, Ivanov was himself put on the witness stand. While answering the questions posed by Prosecutor Yulia Pravosud, he explained why, as a student, he had written about pension reform, how he had checked his sources of information for reliability, and which media outlets he trusted. The prosecutor then tried to get Ivanov to talk about allegations that the Russian language has been banned in Ukraine.
“Do you know anything about Zelensky’s attitude toward the Russian language?” she asked.
“It’s his native language, basically. He’s completely fluent in it,” Ivanov replied.
“Is the Russian language banned or not banned [in Ukraine]?”
“I had not heard that the Russian language was banned in Ukraine. As far as I know, many regions used it as the primary one. The Mariupol City Hall maintained all its social media and websites in Russian even after 2014.”
“I see, and what about Zelensky’s position? Does he allow [Ukrainians] to communicate [in Russian]?”
“Probably, if he forbade communication in Russian, the mayor of Mariupol would not have spoken publicly in Russian, and would not have maintained online resources in Russian.”
Prosecutor Pravosud then read aloud a post from “MSU Protesting” in which Ivanov admitted that he could face criminal charges for his statements about the Russian army’s actions in Ukraine.
“Why did you, knowing of the criminal liability, still write on your Telegram channel?” she asked Ivanov.
“‘Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.’ That’s a quote from George Orwell,” he said. “Should I explain it to you?”
“No, I get it,” the prosecutor admitted.
Source: Elizaveta Nesterova, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four: what Dmitry Ivanov, mathematician and author of the Telegram channel ‘MSU Protesting,’ is on trial for,” Mediazona, 1 March 2023. Thanks to Dmitry Tkachev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader