“We shall never forget the memory of the heroes who fell in battle to liberate humanity from the yoke of fascism.” A nearly effaced Soviet war memorial in Berlin-Buch, June 1, 2019. Photo by the Russian Reader
In a recent radio broadcast, Ekaterina Schulman talked about torture in the Network case. She told listeners what she thought people should do if they were tortured by the FSB. They should do everything they are told to do, remember exactly what happened to them, and go public with the story of their torture.
“If you are subjected to physical force, say everything they want you to say. Don’t try and be a hero under any circumstances. That is not the task at hand. The task at hand is to remember as much as possible of what happened to you and tell people about it. You can recant your testimony in court. You can tell your defense lawyer what happened to you. The task at hand is to publicize what happened. It is the only tool you have at your disposal,” she said.
I was quite surprised by this way of stating the matter. It is hard to remember, but a year and half ago or so I used to give the same advice myself. Nowadays, on the contrary, I don’t think it is very good advice. It could even be harmful. I would argue it is based on several misapprehensions.
1. Torture Cannot Be Endured
Sometimes, torturers give up torturing their victims for some reason. This what happened to Dilmurod Muidinov, a defendant in the Petersburg subway bombing case.
Sometimes, torture can be endured. Sometimes, it cannot.
It’s also not clear what it is meant by the word “endure.” The accounts I read suggest people always attempt to conceal something from their torturers even when they have given in, as it were. In fact, they try and reduce the potential harm of the words they are made to say when they are being tortured. They fight over the wording of their “confessions” and barter over it as much as they are able.
I don’t know what happened during Igor Shishkin’s 24-hour interrogation, but I am certain it would not have lasted so long if Igor had just signed the statement the FSB field officers wanted him to sign.
Dmitry Pchelintsev has spoken at length about how he tried to change the wording of his statement, given under duress, when talking to the FSB investigator, how he spun his initial statement.
The FSB often tortures people in one place and interrogates them for the first time in another place. When they are tortured, people agree to sign anything whatsoever. During the first interrogation, however, they try and deny their guilt. At this point, it is sometimes enough for the investigator and state-appointed defense counsel to make it clear to a person they are on the same side as the torturers, and for field officers to suggest they will torture the person again in order to persuade them to give in.
Sometimes, this works: this was what happened to Viktor Filinkov and Akram Azimov. Sometimes, it doesn’t, as in the case of Sergei Laslov and Ilya Shchukin, the Tosno policemen.
2. You can recant the testimony you signed under torture
No, you cannot! Of course, you can try and prove you were tortured, which is almost impossible in practice. But the statement you signed stays in the case file all the same. The court can deem it proof of your guilt and the guilt of the people against whom you were forced to testify, even if you recant your testimony.
Nor it is clear where you will find a lawyer who, after hearing your account of being tortured, will take all the necessary legal steps to make your going public pay off. Ilya Shakursky, for example, told his lawyer that he had been tortured, but it was pointless.
3. Publicity is your savior
This is not obviously the case.
If you don’t talk publicly about being tortured, you will get a lighter sentence. If you talk about it publicly, you can be charged with new crimes, as happened in the cases of Pavel Zlomnov and Igor Salikov. You can be charged under more serious paragraphs of the Criminal Code for the same crimes, as in the case of Network defendants Ilya Shakursky and Dmitry Pchelintsev. You can be tortured again, as happened to Pchelintsev. You can be threatened, as happened to Viktor Filinkov. Your loved ones can be threatened and intimidated, as happened to Zlomnov and the Azimov brothers.
The arsenal the torturers have at their disposal is endless.
Nor it is guaranteed you will draw attention to your case by going public. Or, at any rate, that you will draw enough attention to your case to shut down the legal nihilism unleashed against you.
An example of this is the Petersburg subway bombing investigation and trial, which have taken place in nearly total media and public silence, despite public statements by three of the defendants that they were tortured in a secret FSB prison.
Translated by the Russian Reader