Network Case Suspects Go on Hunger Strike

Network Case Suspects Go on Hunger Strike
OVD Info
December 2, 2018

andrei chernovAndrei Chernov in court. Photo courtesy of Mediazona and OVD Info

Dmitry Pchelintsev and Andrei Chernov, residents of Penza and suspects in the so-called Network case, have gone on hunger strike, claiming remand prison officials and FSB officers have intimidated them during their review of their criminal case file, something to which they are entitled by Russian law. Several Penza suspects in the case have claimed they have been put in solitary confinement, handcuffed to radiators, and threatened with violance.

Pchelintsev and Chernov went on hunger strike on November 29, as reported by the Parents Network, a support group established by the mothers and fathers of the young men, who have been accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” that, allegedly, was planning an armed uprising during the March 2018 presidential election and 2018 FIFA World Cup, held in Russia this past summer.

It was on November 29 that wardens put Pchelintsev in solitary, demanding he admit to breaking the rules by talking with other inmates during yard time. He responded by going on hunger strike, and Chernov joined him as a token of support and solidarity. On November 30, wardens again tried to bargain with Pchelintsev and threaten him.

The Parents Network notes that the pressure on their sons has increased now that the suspects are officially reviewing the case file.

Lawyer Anatoly Vakhterov told the group that Network case suspect Ilya Shakursky had been been visited by Penza Remand Prison Warden Oleg Iskhanov, who asked him how quickly he was reviewing the file. On November 20, immediately after the incident, Shakursky was reprimanded for greeting other inmates during yard time. The alleged violation was written up, and the same day Shakursky was issued a special uniform for his upcoming stint in solitary confinement. He managed to avoid going there by filing a complaint with Penza Regional Prosecutor Natalya Kantserova.

Earlier, Maxim Ivankin spent five days in solitary. This was proceeded by a visit from Warden Iskhanov, who likewise asked Ivankin how quickly he was reviewing the case file.

As the defense lawyers explained to the Parents Network, the suspects had been reviewing the case file not only at the remand prison but also at the local FSB office. Under Russian law, suspects may review case files for up to eight hours a day. Allegedly, the Network suspects were handcuffed to radiators and stairway railings the entire time. Vasily Kuksov and Arman Sagynbayev were handcuffed to each other. As the Parents Network has noted, the suspects not only experienced physical discomfort but were also unable to examine the case file freely and take notes.

Shakursky and Pchelintsev refused to go through the procedure in such conditions. In turn, they were threatened with violence. According to them, the man who threatened them was a certain A. Pyatachkov, who had been involved in torturing them when they were initially detained in the autumn of 2017.

Mikhail Kulkov said that after handcuffing him to the staircase, FSB officers videotaped him. As they filmed him, they said, “Look at Network terrorists reviewing the case file.”

The suspects requested their lawyers be present during the review. Consequently, the authorities stopped taking them to the FSB office. Currently, all case file materials are brought directly to the remand prison.

kuksov and pchelintsevVasily Kuksov and Dmitry Pchelintsev in court. Photo courtesy of Rupression and OVD Info

“Obviously, all these measures are methods of mental and physical violence,” argues Vakterov. “There are signs that the group of FSB investigators, led by Senior Investigator Valery Tokarev, have been putting pressure on the suspects. Why? To speed up the review process and make it impossible to verify the complaints of torture made by the suspects. They want to intimidate the lads, who are fighting back any way they can under the circumstances.”

These events have spurred the Parents Network to issue a communique, which we publish here in an abridged version.

We, the parents of the suspects in the Penza Case, bear witness to the numerous violations suffered by our children during their review of the case file.

To avoid allowing the time necessary to investigate the claims made by our sons that they were tortured by FSB officers, the group of investigators, led by Valery Tokarev, has done everything possible to speed up the process of reviewing the Network case file. To this end, the investigators have engaged in daily acts of emotional and physical violence against the suspects, to wit:

  1. Our sons have been prevented from reviewing the case file with their lawyers present. When they have attempted to refuse lawfully to review the case file, they have been subjected to physical preventive measures: they have been handcuffed to whatever metal structures came to hand and handcuffed to each other. During the review of the case file, at least one hand of each suspect has been handcuffed. These actions have prevented them from concentrating on reading the file and thoughtfully preparing to defend their rights in court. This testifies to the fact that investigators have doubts about the case, and so they would like to hand it over to the court as quickly as possible. 
  2. FSB field officers who were involved in torturing our sons have been among the people allowed to be present during the investigative case file review. They have been brought to the review to exert pressure on our children. The FSB officers in question have threatened them with physical violence if they refuse to continue with the case file review. The point of their actions is to speed up the review process, intimidate the suspects, and interfere with a potential investigation of the acts of torture they perpetrated. 
  3. Our demands that a lawyer be present during the proceedings and that the act of reviewing the case file not be hindered by handcuffing the hands of the suspects to tables, chairs, radiators, and stairways have led to our children being placed in solitary confinement, where they have once again been visited by FSB officers and investigators, who have tried to speed up the review process by threatening them. 

We speak constantly of incidents of torture. They say there is no smoke without fire. We are unfamiliar with the contents of the criminal investigative case file due to the nondisclosure agreement signed by all the defense lawyers. If our children have violated the law, they will answer to society to the full extent of the law. In the present circumstances, however, they are unable to answer to society. They answer to people who believe that physical violence, beatings, and electric shock torture can be legally used to make other people’s lives conform to the canons and stories that will get them new assignments and promotions.

It is impossible to defend the rights of our sons in the current circumstances. We cannot prove they were tortured. We have exhausted all the legal resources we have in Russia. But we, our sons, the Public Monitoring Commissions, reporters, civil rights activists, and politicians must and will go on fighting for the sake of one big goal: making the Russian legal and justice system more humane.

We call on Russian Federal Human Rights Ombusdman Tatyana Moskalkova, Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human  Rights, and Yevgeny Myslovsky, a member of the council, to visit the Penza Case suspects. You are our last hope for help in combating torture in Russia. This joint task is our primary responsibility to society.

As we face the inevitability of double-digit sentences for our sons, we hope that all of us will have someone whose example will inspire us. It will be not the people who tortured our sons. Then none of this would make any sense at all.

The lawyers of the Penza suspects in the Network case say their clients have reached out to Tatyana Moskalkova and Mikhail Fedotov, asking them to visit and requesting their help in investigating the incidents of torture. Moskalkova and Fedotov have not yet replied to their appeals, although in November a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights did visit the Petersburg suspects in the Network case.

[…]

Translated by the Russian Reader

***************

What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about the Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find printable posters and flyers you can download. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandise, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You can find the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are examined by actual judges, the Russian government will again be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

***************

If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” 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 disseminate recent articles the Russian Reader has posted on these subjects.

Convoyed

convoyedHow is the all-too-common Russian verb etapirovat’ translated into English? Screenshot of the relevant page from the website dic.academic.ru

Yekaterina Kosarevskaya
Facebook
October 30, 2018

Viktor Filinkov has arrived in Petersburg. He’s now in Remand Prison No. 4 on Lebedev Street, but apparently he will be transferred from there to Remand Prison No. 3 on Shpalernaya Street. Yana Teplitskaya and I chatted with him for two hours until lights out.

And yesterday Roma and I chatted with Yuli Boyarshinov.

Viktor’s in a very sad state healthwise.

He took ill at every stop along the way during his convoy without having recovered from the previous stop. In Yaroslavl on Friday, before the last leg of his journey, Viktor was suddenly unable to walk. He doesn’t understand what it could have been, and he has never had anything like it before. His cellmates summoned the doctor. Viktor was taken to the dispensary. He was brought to his senses with smelling salts, given a injection of something, and left there until it was time to go.

It took three days for Viktor to get to Petersburg. They were on the road from Saturday to Tuesday, traveling only at night. During the day, the train car in which he was convoyed stood unheated and idle on the tracks.

He says he was really glad to go to Penza and hang out with [all the other prisoners in the Network case], although he did not enjoy the trip itself. The Penza Remand Prison was at such pains to show that none of the suspects in the Network case was being tortured anymore that every evening all ten suspects were inspected. They were forced to strip and undergo a full look-over, after which they were told to sign their names in a notebook. Viktor got tired of signing his name, so he took to drawing smileys, but no one followed his lead.

I wonder what it will mean when the wardens stop keeping this notebook.

Viktor told us about other remand prisons as well. He told us about Larissa the rat. He thought one inmate had made friends with her, but then he woke up and, finding the rat at the foot of his bed, he moved to a top bunk.

It transpired that the censor at the Nizhny Novgorod Remand Prison expunged not only the phrase “Public Monitoring Commission” from Yana’s letters but everything else he found unfamiliar, including “vegan,” “Homo sapiens,” and “transhumanism.”

Viktor also told us Yegor Skovoroda had written to him in a postcard that he was a nudnik. Viktor wrote a three-page letter proving it wasn’t the case, but then he thought better of it and didn’t mail the latter.

Yana and I tried to recall the latest news. We told Viktor about Saturday’s protest rallies, about our latest report, about who had successfully defended their dissertation (it wasn’t me), and who still hadn’t defended their dissertation and could thus invite Viktor to their defense (that would be me).

Yuli is in Remand Prison No. 3 on Shpalernaya Street and is fine. The only thing is that the prison’s censor has again gone on holiday, so Yuli doesn’t get any letters. So far he hasn’t received a single letter on Shpalernaya.

The censor at Remand Prison No. 4 has also gone on holiday.

UPDATE. I forgot to write that when we were traveling to Remand Prison No. 3 yesterday, Yana and I agreed that if I found out Viktor was there, I would exit the prison and telephone her so that she could travel there, too. I was worried I would waste a lot of time getting my telephone out of the box at the entrance to the prison, turning it on, and entering all the passwords. It transpired that Viktor was not there, but someone had made sure I didn’t waste any time. My telephone was turned on, and the password entry window was on the screen.

Translated by the Russian Reader

***************

What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about the Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find printable posters and flyers you can download. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandise, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You can find the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are examined by actual judges, the Russian government will again be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

***************

If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” 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 disseminate recent articles the Russian Reader has posted on these subjects.

“Judgement Day”: Russia’s Rabid Crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses

yuri zalipayevIs Russian Jehovah’s Witness Yuri Zalipayev an “extremist”? Should he be imprisoned for five years for exercising his right to freedom of conscience, as guaranteed by the Russian Constitution? Photo courtesy of jw-russia.org

Not Everyone Shall Be Guaranteed the Freedom of Conscience: How Russia Has Been Persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses
Marina Muratova
OVD Info
August 23, 2018

Believe what you will, but do not do it openly is how the freedom of religion should now be interpreted in Russia. The authorities have sent over fifty people to court for praying and reading the Bible together. Jehovah’s Witnesses have had their homes searched and been arrested like people suspected of grave offenses. The grounds for these actions is the argument that the practice of their faith is a “continuation of the activities of an extremist organization.” OVD Info investigated the charges.

Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with others any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views, and act according to them.
—Article 28, Constitution of the Russian Federation

Russia vs. the Jehovah’s Witnesses
23 criminal cases in 18 regions of Russia, 53 people charged, 13 suspects. 31 people released on their own recognizance, 9 people under house arrest, 26 people in remand prisons. Several people assaulted by police during searches of their homes, the doors of those homes kicked down in nearly all cases. Nighttime interrogations, confiscated electronic devices, papers, and money, blocked bank accounts.

On April 20, 2017,  the Russian Supreme Court shut down the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia for violating the law against “extremism.” All 395 official chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia were banned. The EU’s mission to Russia said the ruling could lead to arrests. That is what has happened.

The Charges
Believers gather to pray and read the Bible, meaning they continue the work of a banned organization, according to Russian police investigators. There are few exceptions: nearly all the Jehovah’s Witness who have been detained have been charged with violating Russian Criminal Code Article 282.2 (“organization of and involvement in the work of an extremist organization”).

Danish national and Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen was, among other things, charged with financing extremist activities. The prosecutor submitted to the court records,  allegedly showing that money was transferred from the account of the Jehovah’s Witnesses after the church was shut down. It transpired the transactions in question had been executed by the bank itself after the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been dissolved as a legal entity. Another Jehovah’s Witness, Yuri Zalipayev, stands accused of inciting assaults on Russian Orthodox Christians and Muslims. Zalipayev’s defense attorney is sure police investigators cooked up their evidence and then tried to conceal the frame-up.  Arkadya Akopyan, a 70-year-old tailor, has also been charged with insulting Muslims and |Russian Orthodox Christians. There is no audio or video evidence, only a witness’s testimony.

arkadya akopyanIs Russian Jehovah’s Witness Arkadya Akopyan an extremist? Photo by Diana Khachatryan. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Police Searches of Homes
Russian law enforcement authorities usually conduct searches simultaneously in the flats of several Jehovah’s Witnesses early in the morning. Jehovah’s Witness have often reported violations on the part of police during these searches. In the case of the Polyakov family in Omsk, the security services busted down the door to their flat, prevented the Polyakovs from telephoning relatives, and smashed Mr. Polyakov’s face. (Doctors recorded his injuries only two days later.) When the Polyakovs attempted to voice their disagreement with the actions of police  in the official search report, police wrested the form from their grasp.  During searches and interrogations in Penza, a police investigator forced six female Jehovah’s Witness detainees to strip naked.  In Saratov Region, the security forces mistakenly sawed off the door of the wrong flat. In another flat the same day, the police discovered banned literature in the sleeve of a child’s overcoat. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the police planted it there.

In the city of Shuya, Ivanovo Region, police interrogated a 10-year-old girl, and the list of items confiscated during the police search of her family’s flat included sheet music and a pupil’s grade book from a music school. In Kabardino-Balkaria, one group of security officers stormed a flat through the balcony, although the flat’s female occupant had opened the front door to another group of security officers. In Birobidzhan, 150 law enforcement officers took part in numerous searches carried out on the same day: the operation was codenamed “Judgement Day.” Police have seized digital gear, books, Bibles, diaries, photographs, and bank cards during the raids. The raids and subsequent interrogations have lasted several hours.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have not only been detained in their homes. Police caught up with Andrei Stupnikov of Krasnoyarsk at an airport at four in the morning as he and his wife were checking into a flight to Germany. A court later jailed Stupnikov, since he could have received political asylum, as the judge put it. Alexander Solovyov was detained when he stepped off a train after returning to Perm from holiday.

Custodial Measures
Most of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been charged with criminal offenses have been incarcerated in remand prisons.  The defense attorney representing Sergei Klimov of Tomsk told OVD Info that Klimov spent two months in a solitary confinement cell measuring 1.7 meters by 2.8 meters, allegedly, because it was impossible to find room for him in an ordinary cell. On August 8, at an appeals hearing, Klimov was left in police custody, but he was transferred out of solitary into gen pop.

After time spent in remand prisons, several Jehovah’s Witnesses have been released and placed under house arrest. Konstantin Petrov of Magadan spent 64 days in jail, while several Jehovah’s Witnesses in Orenburg spent 78 days in jail each.

Vitaly Arsenyuk, a resident of the town of Dzhankoy in northern Crimea, was charged with engaging in illegal missionary work, a violation of Article 5.25 Part 4 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code. After the first hearing in his case, in June 2017, Arsenyuk died of a heart attack.

Some Jehovah’s Witnesses have spent months in pretrial custody. Danish national Dennis Christensen has spent over a year in a remand prison. No one has yet been sentenced to hard prison time, but the courts have been indulgent to Jehovah’s Witnesses only on rare occassions. In 2017, a court acquitted Vyacheslav Stepanov and Andrei Sivak of Sergiev Posad, who had been charged with inciting hatred or enmity on the strength of a video recording of worship services. In May, an appellate court freed 55-year-old Alam Aliyev. On August 9 and 10, a court in Kamchatka overturned earlier decisions remanding Mikhail Popov in custody and placing his wife Yelena under house arrest.

Community Property
In all regions of Russia, buildings constructed or purchased by Jehovah’s Witnesses have generally been seized and turned over to the state. In Petersburg’s Resort District, the state took possession of a complex valued at around two billion rubles [approx. 25 million euros], a complex from which the authorities had received hefty tax payments for many years. Over the course of seventeen years, state inspectors never found a single violation at the complex, but now the local courts refuse to recognize the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the property or the official deeds to the complex.

Reactions
The EU delegation to the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, and human rights activists have spoken out against Russia’s persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Dennis Christensen’s arrest led to the initiation of legal proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. On May 15, 2015, the Kingdom of Denmark was admitted as a third party to the case of Christensen v. Russian Federation.

In response to the complaint filed with the ECHR, Russian envoys at the ECHR and UN claimed Jehovah’s Witnesses still had the right to practice their religion despite the dissolution of their congregations. It was at this same time, in the spring of this year, that the number of arrests of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia went through the roof.

The International Memorial Society has already recognized 29 Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses as political prisoners. A total of fifty Jehovah’s Witnesses have been subjected to persecution by the authorities.

  • Oryol: Dennis Christensen, Sergei Skrynnikov
  • Omsk: Sergei and Anastasia Polyakov
  • Penza: Vladimir Alushkin, Vladimir Kulyasov, Denis Timoshin, Andrei Magliv, and four more unnamed people
  • Tomsk: Sergei Klimov
  • Saratov: Konstantin Bazhenov, Felix Makhammadiyev
  • Village of Shirokoye, Saratov Region: Alexei Budenchuk
  • Magadan: Sergei Yerkin, Yevgeny Zyablov, Konstantin Petrov
  • Khabarovsk: Ivan Puyda, Vladimir Moskalenko
  • Naberezhnye Chelny: Ilkham Karimov, Konstantin Matrashov, Vladimir Myakushin, Aidar Yulmetiev
  • Orenburg: Vladimir Kochnev, Alexander Suvorov, Vyacheslav Kolbanov
  • Polyarny, Murmansk Region: Roman Markin, Viktor Trofimov
  • Shuya, Ivanovo Region, Dmitry and Yelena Mikhaylov, Svetlana Shishina, Alexei A., Svetlana P.
  • Vladivostok: Valentin Osadchuk
  • Nakhodka: Dmitry and Yelena Barmakin
  • Krasnoyarsk: Andrei Stupnikov
  • Perm: Alexander Solovyov
  • Sol-Iletsk, Orenburg Region: Boris Andreyev
  • Village of Perevolotsky, Orenburg Region: Anatoly Vichkitov
  • Kostroma: Sergei and Valeria Rayman
  • Vilyuchinsk, Kamchatka Territory: Mikhail and Yelena Popov
  • Beryozovsky, Keremovo Region: Sergei Britvin, Vadim Levchuk
  • Maysky, Kabardina-Balkaria: Arkadya Akopyan
  • Lensk, Yakutia: Igor  Ivashin
  • Pskov: Gennady Shpakovsky
  • Birobidzhan: Alam Aliyev
  • Yelizovo, Kamchatka Territory: Konstantin Bazhenov
  • Belgorod: Anatoly Shalyapin, Sergei Voykov

This list was supplied to us by the European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses and defense attorney Artur Leontiev.

Freedom of Conscience
OVD Info asked attorney Artur Leontiev, who has been handling the defense of Sergei Klimov and Andrei Stupnikov, as well as the case of the property owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, to comment on the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“Law enforcement agencies have been criminally prosecuting believers for ordinary, peaceful professions of faith, as when they gather in small groups to read and discuss the Bible, watch videos on biblical topics, and so forth. The security forces got it into their heads that this constituted a continuation of the activities of an organization dissolved by the court. However, the believers who have been charged with these crimes had nothing to do with the legal entities that were dissolved and were not parties to the proceedings in the Russian Supreme Court.

“Believers’ phones were tapped, their letters were vetted, and they were followed. The security service thus amassed a fair amount of operational material. I think the heads of the various agencies decided to use it to improve their conviction rates, all the more so since the peaceable Jehovah’s Witnesses were easy targets. They have always tried to be law-abiding. Even now they do not regard themselves as criminals. They evince no aggression, imagining the injustice that has befallen them is a misunderstanding that will soon be cleared up. Actually, they are faced with a choice: refuse to practice their religion or be prepared to endure all the delights of criminal prosecution. However, the law enforcers doing the dirty work in the locales often understand what is really going on, but they are guided by the principle of ‘I have my orders, and I have a family to feed.’

“The complaint (Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and Kalin v. Russian Federation, Case No. 10188/17) has been filed with the ECHR and accepted for review, the parties have exchanged comments, and the case has been expedited. Complaints have also been filed with the ECHR for each particular instance of criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“It is vital, however, the Russian legal system kicked into gear and operated not on the basis of expediency, but according to the law. Whatever you feel about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they have the same right to their beliefs and the same right to a fair trial as other Russians.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Do the Right Thing

38072215_2021826408147215_5307798211635707904_n.jpgFamous Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov picketing outside the Tverskoi District Court in Moscow on July 31, 2018. His placard reads, “Send Anya Pavlikova, 18, and Masha Dubovik, home immediately! #StopFSB.” Anna Pavlikova and Maria Dubovik are currently under in police custody in a remand prison, charged with involvement in a “terrorist community,” New Greatness, that by all accounts was concocted by undercover agents of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) as a means of entrapping the people who attended its political discussions, held, allegedly, in rooms rented by the FSB for the purpose and fastfood restaurants. The fact that two teenage girls are in jail, while four of the ten people charged in the case are under house arrest has outraged many people in Russia, as well as the torture-like treatment meted out to Ms. Pavlikova by the authorities. Photo courtesy of the Support Group for Suspects in the New Greatness Case, a public group on Facebook

My posts on the New Greatness case and related affairs:

_____________________________

Do you remember the controversy that erupted when Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was released in 1989? I do, as well as going to a rather heated showing of the film at a cinema in downtown Portland, Ore., at which moviegoers were evenly divided between frightened white liberals and screaming black kids. That was a hoot.

The funny thing is that, when I watched the movie again a year or two ago, I realized that, for all its tremendous performances and stunning cinematography, editing, and directing, the question that plagued Americans in 1989—namely, what was the right thing to do?—was answered quite plainly and simply by one of the main characters at the end of the film. He understood what the right thing to do was and he did it.

When it comes to the Putinist secret police whacking on people who did nothing wrong— people like Oleg Sentsov, Anna Pavlikova, and the eleven young men implicated in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case—there’s no controversy. If we don’t publicize their cases, discuss them aloud, make a fuss, make a lot of noise, show our solidarity, and encourage other people to do the same, they will die in the effort to get other political prisoners released (i.e., Oleg Sentsov) or be tried in kangaroo courts and sent to prisons for many years for thought crimes or no crimes at all (i.e., Anna Pavlikova, her fellow New Greatness suspects, and the eleven Network lads).

Is that you want? It’s not what I want. But I don’t hear many of you making much noise about it. What are you scared of? Looking stupid? So what, “being cool” is more important than doing the right thing? Or do you thinking doing the right thing should make you look cool? In reality, most of the time, doing the right thing either goes wholly unnoticed or makes you look stupid, as in Spike Lee’s film.

There are people, however, who almost always know what the right thing to do is and have learned the simple lesson that solidarity is a two-way street. One of those people is the famous Russian human rights defender Lev Ponomaryov. {TRR}

 

Crimean Farmer and Political Prisoner Vladimir Balukh Has Been on Hunger Strike for 104 Days

Vladimir Balukh’s 100 Days: The Crimean Euromaidan Supporter Has Been on Hunger Strike in Remand Prison for Over Three Months
Anna Kozkina
Mediazona
June 27, 2018


Vladimir Balukh. Photo by Anton Naumlyuk. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Today [July 1, 2018] is the [104th] day of a hunger strike by Vladimir Balukh, who awaits a verdict in his third criminal trial in Simferopol Remand Prison. In 2014, he refused to accept Russian citizenship, raising the Ukrainian flag over his house in solidarity with the Euromaidan protests. The first criminal case against Balukh was opened in 2015. It would be followed by two more case. In the article below, Mediazona catalogues the persecution the Crimean activist has endured and describes his hunger strike, during which he has lost at least thirty kilos.

On June 22, 2018, Balukh, who is imprisoned in Simferopol Remand Prison, said he was returning to the harsher form of hunger strike and would now only be drinking water. Balukh had been drinking fruit drink for some time.

Olga Dinze, Balukh’s defense attorney, said the cause was increased pressure from prison wardens. In court, Balukh had spoken of regular searches of his cell, including at night. According to him, prison wardens and guard have hinted it was time for him to “go down in the hole,” i.e., be sent to solitary confinement.

The following day, Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova requested Pierre-Emmanuel Ducruet, head of the International Red Cross’s Simferopol office, visit Balukh at the remand prison and secure professional medical care for him.

The Flag, Heaven’s Hundred Heroes Street, and the Insulted FSB Agent
In late 2013, Crimean farmer Vladimir Balukh raised a Ukrainian flag over his house in the village of Serebryanka in solidarity with the Euromaidan demonstrators. The flag stayed there after the March 2014 referendum. Balukh did not recognize Crimea’s annexation by Russia and refused to apply for a Russian passport.

Police and Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents first paid him a visit in the spring of 2015. Balukh was not home when they arrived. When he heard about the visit to his home by the security services, he stayed with friends for several days. The police and FSB searched Balukh’s house and also paid his mother a call.

The security services visited Balukh for the second time in November 2015. Claiming he was suspected of auto theft, they searched his house again. After the search, the farmer was charged with insulting a government official, a violation under Article 319 of the Russian Criminal Code. Allegedly, Balukh had used “foul, insulting language when addressing field agent Yevgeny Baranov, which the latter found unpleasant.” Balukh did not deny he could have sworn at the field agent, since FSB officers had punched him in the kidneys and stepped on his head after throwing him on the ground.

In February 2016, the Razdolnoye District Court found Balukh guilty, sentencing him to 320 hours of community service. Subsequently, the Crimean Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for review, but in June the district court reaffirmed its original guilty verdict, again sentencing Balukh to 320 hours of community service.

The Ukrainian flag was torn down from the farmer’s house again and again, but he put it back up every time. On November 29, 2016, the third anniversary of the Euromaidan protests, Balukh hung a sign on his house, identifying the address as “Heaven’s Hundred Heroes Street, 18.” Two weeks later, police and FSB carried out yet another search of his house. This time, they allegedly found eighty-nine rounds of ammunition and several TNT blocks in the attic. After the search, the flag and the street sign were removed from Balukh’s house. Balukh was detained and later remanded to police custody.

Balukh was charged with illegal possession of weapons and explosives (Article 222 Part 1 and Article 222.1 Part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code). The farmer claimed his innocence and said his political stance was the reason for the criminal prosecution. He claimed the rounds of ammo and explosives were planted during the search. Police allegedly found them in the presence of a single official witness.

The Memorial Human Rights Center designated Balukh a political prisoner. It noted that he had received clear threats after hanging the street sign on his home memorializing the murdered Maidan protesters.

“It was after this that the chair of the village council and his deputies visited Balukh’s home and threatened that his independent behavior would have unpleasant consequences, including the ‘discovery’ in Balukh’s house of weapons or narcotics. He demanded  Balukh take the sign down,” wrote Memorial.

Memorial argued that the prosecution had not proven the ammunition actually belonged to Balukh, since his fingerprints were not found on the items.

Vladimir Balukh’s House. Photo courtesy of hromadske.ua

“Go to Ukraine and Treat Your Back There”
On August 4, 2017, the Raznodolnoye District Court sentenced Balukh to three years and seven months in a medium security penal colony and a fine of ₽10,000 [approx. €136] for possession of the ammunition and TNT.

A week after Balukh was sentenced, he had a run-in with Valery Tkachenko, warden of the Razdolnoye Temporary Detention Facility. According to Balukh, Tkachenko punched him in the shoulder and tried to kick him as well. He also, allegedly, made insulting remarks about the ethnicity of Balukh and his parents. Balukh’s attorney filed a complaint with the police.

Two weeks later, the Investigative Committee opened a case against Balukh himself, claiming he had violated Article 318 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (violence against a state official). Subsequently, Balukh’s alleged actions were reclassified as a violation of Article 321 Part 2 (disrupting the operations of penitentiary facilities). According to police investigators, on the morning of August 11, 2017, Balukh had elbowed the warden in the stomach while his cell was being inspected. He then, allegedly, entered his cell and struck Tkachenko’s arm.

In November 2017, the district court commenced its review of the ammunition possession case, and in December Balukh was transferred from the remand prison to house arrest.  After complaining of pain in his back and groin, Balukh was soon taken to hospital straight from the courtroom.

At the district hospital, medical staff merely measured his blood pressure and gave him a cardiogram. After listening to Balukh’s complaints, the local doctor said, “My back hurts, too. Should I not go to work or what?”

Balukh asked the court permission to travel to Simferopol or Feodosia for a medical examination, but his request was turned down. During his December 27 court hearing, the ambulance was called several times due to Balukh’s temperature, high blood pressure, and back pain. According to the news website Krym.Realii, the head physician of the local hospital’s emergency department, Nadezhda Drozdenko, told Balukh, “Go to Ukraine and treat your back there.” When the hearing went on for ten hours, Balukh lay down on the floor due to the severe pain.

In early 2018, the court again found Balukh guilty on the ammunition possession charge and sentenced him to three years and seven months in a work-release penal colony. The verdict was upheld on appeal, although the sentence was reduced by two months.

Balukh was again sent to the remand prison. He has continued to complain of back pain, whose cause doctors have never been able to diagnose.

“He Has Adopted a Stance of Hopelessness”
After the Crimean Supreme Court upheld the verdict in the ammunition possession case, Balukh went on an indefinite hunger strike as of March 19, 2018. He gave up all food, only drinking water and tea, protesting what he regarded as the illegal verdict against him.

In late March, Balukh was assaulted in the remand prison and hospitalized in the infirmary, as reported by Aktivatika, who quoted defense attorney Olga Dinze.

“The hunger strike has been difficult for him. Besides, the prison wardens have engaged in constant provocations. They have brought him delicious food, enticing him to eat. It destabilizes him a bit, but he has hung and kept his word,” said the lawyer.

Vladimir Balukh on June 22, 2018. Photo by Zair Semedlyaev. Courtesy of crimeahrg.rog

In mid April, his social defender, Archbishop Kliment of Simferopol and Crimea, reported Balukh had been assaulted by guards.

A month later, Vladimir Chekrygin, an expert with the Crimean Human Rights Group, told Krim.Realii Balukh was under pressure in the remand prison.

“We know the guards at the remand prison have periodically threatened Balukh for his actions. They have told him that sooner or latter he would be punished for his willfulness. They have been doing searches in his cell night and mornings. Searches are permitted, but at certain hours and under extraordinary circumstances. They are not letting him rest,” Chekrygin explained.

On May 18, Russian human rights ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova visited the Simferopol Remand Prison. She wrote to her Ukrainian colleague, Lyudmila Denisova, that Balukh had no complaints either about the conditions of his incarceration or cruel treatment.

In May, the Raznodolnoye District Court began hearing the third criminal case against Balukh, involving his run-in with the temporary detention facility warden. During the trial, even the prosecution’s witnesses, guards at the facility, testified Balukh did not assault the wardeb. During the investigation, the alleged victim refused to take part in a face-to-face confrontation with Balukh, who described his behavior in great detail to the judge.

“He would come to my cell and try to insult me, to humiliate me for being Ukrainian and thus, as he thought, for being a member of Right Sector. He would say us Ukrainians should be murdered as a species, and so on,” said Balukh.

On June 10, Balukh was again transferred from Razdolnoye to the Simferopol Remand Prison. There he was put in the “glass,” a narrow cell in which one can only stand or sit, for two hours, Crimean human rights defenders reported.

The following day, it transpired the remand prison wardens no longer believed Balukh was on hunger strike. The guards had learned Balukh was drinking not only water but also oatmeal kissel. Archbishop Kliment had persuaded Balukh to make the compromise a month after he started his hunger strike.

“Vladimir agreed. We know  he began consuming only kissel. Sometimes, he has honey and bread crumbs at most. At some point, the prison wardens found out about the kissel and decided not to recognize his actions as a hunger strike. There are special rules when wardens decide a prisoner has gone on hunger strike. They have stopped following these rules when it comes to Balukh, since they believe he is no longer on hunger strike. But Vladimir has continued his protest. He has lost thirty kilos of weight. The doctor from the remand prison infirmary has stopped making regular checkups of Balukh, although he is obliged to do so when inmates go on hunger strike,” explained Olga Skripnik, head of the Crimean Human Rights Group.

Protesting constant inspections in the remand prison, Balukh returned on June 22, 2018, to the original form of his hunger strike. He has again been only drinking water. Olga Dinze explained the frequent searches of Balukh’s cell as a consequence of Balukh’s having filed a motion to be paroled for his first criminal conviction.

On June 25, Dinze told Mediazona her client’s condition had taken a turn for the worse.

“I think Balukh has suffered a pinched nerve. It is a quite serious case. He has been experiencing severe pain in his chest, neck, and shoulder blades. He feels unwell all the time,” Dinze said, adding the new symptoms were probably due to long-term back pain.

According to Dinze, Balukh was not receiving medical care.

“He refuses cares from the doctors in the remand prison. They cannot give him the medical care he needs, diagnose him, and prescribe him appropriate treatment. He has requested doctors from the Red Cross,” said Dinze.

The defense attorney added that, after Balukh stopped drinking oat kissel, he was transferred to a cell in the general population, but the conditions there were decent. He currently has no complaints against the wardens.

Earlier, Dinze told Krym.Realii Balukh had been hoping for a prisoner exchange.

“Vladimir is quite weary. He is emotionally exhausted. He has adopted a stance of hopelessness. He says no one will ever release him from prison. If they cannot keep him in prison on the current convictions, there will be new charges. So now he is finally talking. For the last few months we have been talking about how, if there is a prisoner exchange and everything goes well, he would really, really like to go to mainland Ukraine,” said Dinze.

The Ukrainian authorities have recently repeatedly stated their readiness to exchange Russian convicts for the sixty-four Ukrainian nationals imprisoned in Russian remand prisons and penal colonies, including Balukh and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who has been on hunger strike since mid May.

Closing arguments in Warden Tkachenko’s case against Balukh have been scheduled for July 2.

Thanks to Yegor Skovoroda for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Are You a Bitch Yet?” FSB Makes New Threats to Framed and Tortured Antifascist Viktor Filinkov

“Are You a Bitch Yet?”: Man Accused in The Network Case Talks about Mores of FSB Officers
OVD Info
April 24, 2018

Viktor Filinkov. Photo courtesy of his wife, Alexandra, and OVD Info

On April 20, 2018, the Russian Investigative Committee officially declined to open a criminal case on the basis of a complaint filed by Viktor Filinkov, one of the young men accused in The Network case, who alleged he had been tortured by FSB officers. Moreover, these very same FSB officers are permitted to visit him in remand prison. OVD Info has published, below, the account Filinkov gave to his lawyer of how the secret service officers who tortured him now talk to him.

At around eleven o’clock on April 19, 2018, I was escorted from my cell in the supermax wing of Gorelovo Remand Prison and taken to a holding area before being led out of the prison, where I was handed over to two men, one of whom I recognized as Konstantin Bondarev, a special agent in the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Office of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). I have known Special Agent Bondarev since January 23, 2018, when he supervised my apprehension at Pulkovo Airport and then, along with other local FSB officers, subjected me to physical and emotional violence for approximately thirty hours while also depriving me of rest, sleep, and food.

When I was escorted out of the holding area, one of the FSB officers meeting me ordered me to put my my hands behind my back, which he handcuffed extremely tightly. I was placed in a silver-colored Škoda. Before putting me in the car, Special Agent Bondarev asked me a question.

“Well, well, Filinkov. Are you a bitch yet?”

“What’s the point of your question?” I asked.

“You’re the point, fuckhead!” Special Agent Bondarev answered aggressively.

He then got behind the wheel of the car. I was put in the backseat. After a while, the car drove through the gates of Remand Prison No. 6. During the entire ride to St. Petersburg, the FSB officers said nothing to me, but I was genuinely afraid that, at any moment, they could drive me to a deserted place and subject me to violence.

We were on the road for about an hour. Finally, I was brought to the local FSB building and taken to the office of Investigator Klimov, where my defense attorney, Vitaly Cherkasov, was waiting for me.

Mr. Cherkasov and I had a one-on-one private conversation during which I informed him I was in a depressed state, since I had been forced to travel for a long time in the same car as Special Agent Bondarev, who had been negative and aggressive towards me, using criminal slang to threaten me with possible rape in Remand Prison No. 6.

In addition, I explained I had recognized Investigator Klimov as one of the officers who on January 24, 2018, after I was brought to the FSB building, had taken part in a prolonged attempt to coerce me mentally into signing a confession. I assume Investigator Klimov could see I had been beaten, and I also needed rest, sleep, water, and food.

It was on this basis that, when Investigator Klimov asked me whether I was willing to testify, I said I would not refuse to testify, but I was currently in a stressful state of mind due to my encounters with Special Agent Bondarev and Investigator Klimov, whom I did not trust, either. Moreover, I had been brought to the FSB building, which is linked in my mind with the torture and bullying I endured there on January 24 and January 25, 2018. For this reason, I told the investigator I could give detailed and thoughtful testimony only in Remand Prison No. 6, where I felt calmer and more secure. I put this explanation in writing in the comments section of the interrogation report.

The investigative procedure was thus completed. Investigator Klimov summoned guards, and two men in plain clothes wearing balaclavas over their heads entered his office. They handcuffed my hands behind my back. They led me out of the room and took me outside, where I was placed in the backseat of the silver-colored Škoda. Special Agent Bondarev was at the wheel.

On the way back to Gorelovo, the officers continued to pepper me with questions.

“Well, bitch, is your asshole raw yet?” Bondarev asked.

Then he said the following.

“Now I’m going to methodically drag you through the mud. Cherkasov is trying to make a name for himself, but you and Agora are all going to rot in prison, and you are to going to do your time in the Arctic Circle, in Murmansk or Karelia. Life taught you a lesson, and it gave you a chance. Do the guys in Remand Prison No. 6 know your lawyer defends LGBT?”

One of the special agents in the car responded, “He didn’t learn his lesson, apparently.”

“It didn’t get through his head, but it will get through his legs,” Bondarev replied.

“It will get through his asshole!” the other special agent added.

They laughed merrily after this remark.

I also remember that one of the special agents said, “You can find a good husband in Gorelovo.”

Bondarev and his colleagues insulted my human dignity, emotionally injured me in a profound way, and put me in a stressful state by saying these and other things. In addition to being humiliated, I finally realized that in the ranks of the local FSB off there are unworthy officers who employ prison notions for their own purposes in their attempts to pressure inmates.

Chatting with me in this vein, the FSB officers took around two hours to drive me back to the remand prison. We got in the car outside the local FSB building around 1:30 p.m. and arrived at Remand Prison No. 6 at 4:00 p.m. I kept track of the time on the clock in the car.*

After talking with the FSB special agents, I returned to my cell in a depressed state, and I was completely sweaty from the nervous atmosphere and heat in the car. My heart ached, I lost my appetite, I refused supper, and my psoriasis acted up due to the stress. When I combed my hair I felt psoriatic plaques on my head.

I take the threats made to me by Bondarev and his colleagues completely seriously. I am afraid for my safety, health, and life itself.

My verbal statement has been recorded faithfully, and I have read it over. I give my permission to publish it in the media.

* A directions search on Yandex Maps reveals that the drive from the local FSB building (4 Liteiny Prospect, Petersburg) to Remand Prison No. 6 in Gorelovo should take one hour and thirteen minutes, at most, if there are no traffic jams, and thirty-six minutes, at least, if the traffic is good and the driver takes the optimal route. This would suggest that Special Agent Konstantin Bondarev deliberately drove in circles for a long time in order to bully and threaten Mr. Filinkov. TRR

road to gorelovo

Thanks to George Losev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and related cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian police and secret services, please have a look at some of the recent articles I have published on these subjects.

Valery Pshenichny: Tortured, Then Murdered

ByEkK6EZL1H45U3VA1r3Businessman Valery Pshenichny did not kill himself in his cell in a Petersburg remand prison, as the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service has claimed. 

Tortured, Then Murdered
Irina Tumakova
Novaya Gazeta Sankt-Petersburg
April 16, 2018

Valery Pshenichny, a defendant in the case of embezzlement at the Defense Ministry in connection with the building of a submarine at the Admiralty Shipyards in Petersburg, did not die from a lack of medical care. He did not take his own life. He was not tormented by abominable living conditions, something the wardens arrange for other inmates. He was simply tortured and then murdered, and his murderers did not even try to hide their tracks. This was the unambiguous verdict reached by the Petersburg Bureau of Forensic Medical Examiners, thus ruling out the possibility of suicide.

Novaya Gazeta wrote in February about the businessman’s strange death at Petersburg Remand Prison No. 4. Valery Pshenichny stood accused of embezzling money from a Defense Ministry contract for construction of the submarine Varshavyanka. His company, NovIT Pro, was developing a 3D computer model of the submarine for servicing the craft after it was sold. In 2016, Pshenichny, who owns the company, suspected his partner and company director Andrei Petrov had stolen millions in funds from the firm’s accounts and persuaded police to open a criminal investigation. Petrov was arrested. After several months in police custody, Petrov testified the embezzlers were Pshenichny himself and Gleb Yemelchenkov, a deputy head engineer at Admiralty Shipyards. Allegedly, they had colluded and deliberately overstated the cost of the contract. Investigators determined how much the contract should actually be worth, based on their own calculations.

Petrov was released while the new suspects were arrested. Three weeks later, Pshenichny was found hanged in his cell. Before the incident, his cellmates had been removed simultaneously from the cell under various pretexts. The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service insisted Pshenichny had committed suicide, while his loved ones accused prison wardens of not giving him medical care after he had suffered a stroke.

The forensic examination was completed last week. Now we can establish what happened.

Don’t Pay Anyone Anything
Pshenichny shared a cell with three other inmates. At around two in the afternoon on February 5, 2018, two of the inmates were taken to talk to police investigators, while the third was taken to a meeting with his lawyer. CCTV footage shows Pshenichny was removed from the cell fifteen minutes later. He did not leave the remand prison. We do not know how long he was gone from his cell, where he was during this time, what condition he was in when he returned to his cell, and who was with him.  But after four o’clock in the afternoon a guard escorted his cellmate back to the cell and found Pshenichny hanged. An electrical cord torn from a water boiler and the destroyed sneakers of a cellmate lay near his body. Prison wardens explained Pshenichny had tried to slash his wrists with the arch support from the sneakers, but had failed. He then tore the cord from the water boiler, hoping to electrocute himself. Finally, he pulled the lace from his hooded sweatshirt and hanged himself.

A graduate of the Leningrad Electrotechnical Institute, Valery Pshenichny was an engineer. He would hardly have attempted to use a 220-volt current to kill himself. The lace from his hooded sweatshirt was forty centimeters long. It would have been impossible to hang himself with this length of lace. And everyone who knew Pshenichny is unanimous. The last thing this strong, cheerful man used to winning would have done was given up and taken his own life.

“My husband and I were together for forty years, since our first year at the Leningrad Electrotechnical Institute,” says Natalya Pshenichnya. “I’d never met such an intelligent, striking, strong positive person before. I’m not exaggerating. He was confident in himself and the stance he took. He knew he was innocent, and he was not afraid of anything.”

An incitement to suicide investigation was opened. But then rumors flew around the remand prison that all staff members had been made to submit sperm samples for analysis.

Cuts and stab wounds were found on Pshenichny’s body. His spine was broken. Simply put, he was tortured. Forensic experts have identified blunt trauma to the neck and asphyxiation as the causes of death. Translated into Russian, this means Pshenichny was strangled with the forty-centimeter-long lace from his own hood. Tests showed it was not remand prison staff who raped him. Most likely, someone from the outside was sicced on Pshenichny to have his way with him.

None of the businessman’s intimates can imagine what the cause of this stupid brutality could be. However, before his death, Pshenichny managed to pass a note to his wife in which he asked three times not to give money to anyone.

“Don’t pay anyone anything,” he wrote.

A Russian Elon Musk
The work for which, according to investigators, Pshenichny artificially inflated the price, was completely unique. Nobody in the world had done anything like it before. In the future, it could have generated new opportunities not only in shipbuilding, but also for oil and gas companies. NovIT Pro had been negotiating with Gazprom and Rosneft to produce similar designs.

Friends dubbed Pshenichny a Russian Elon Musk. The talk was that he was not only a brilliant engineer but also a maverick genius whose risks paid off sooner or later.

“He arrived in Leningrad to enroll at the institute carrying a tiny suitcase,” Natalya Pshenichnaya continues. “He had nothing. No one helped him, he was a self-made man. At the institute, he was the most talented student in our year. Things came easily for him, but he was a hard worker. Intelligent, cultured, well-read, he could talk with you about any subject. He would immediately pick it up. Sometimes, I would ask him how he knew something. He would laugh and say, ‘It’s obvious.'”

The student with the tiny suitcase eventually became the owner of a major IT company. NovIT Pro occupies two floors in a building on a corner of the Moika River Embankment and Palace Square in downtown Petersburg, and it has worked on defense procurement orders for many years. Staff say that when investigators arrived to search NovIT Pro’s offices in January, they laughed at first. It was clear this was a fly-by-night firm, they said, joking the place had three desks and one and a half diggers. Then they went down to the floor below and were shocked when they saw a large engineering center.


Admiralty Shipyards

One of Pshenichny’s breathtaking ideas was the selfsame 3D digital model of the submarine. He came up with idea back in 2011 after attending the Naval Salon. NovIT Pro had previously worked on orders from the Defense Ministry for seperate units and parts of ships. But nobody had ever produced a virtual model of an entire ship. Technical specs are attached to each part of the computer model, and mechanics can have access to repair documentation and blueprints wherever the ship is deployed. But it was not this design Pshenichny had planned to patent.

As Novaya Gazeta reported, the contract was signed in 2015. But then Pshenichny went even further in his thinking. What if he could make it possible to carry out repairs of the boat remotely as well? After all, no one knows how far from the shipyards where it was built the submarine will be when it needs servicing, and the specialists capable of doing the repairs all work in Petersburg at the Admiralty Shipyards. The idea of mobile repair centers thus arose.

The mobile data center for the Varshavyanka is a room the size of two railway container cars put together. It can be quickly delivered to anywhere the ship is deployed. The technician from the nearest shipyard enters the room and finds himself inside the submarine as it were. He сan produce a cross section of the ship at any point and peer into any compartment of the ship. He communicates in real time with specialists at the Admiralty Shipyards, who see the same picture as he does in the stationary center in Petersburg. This idea had no impact on the cost of the contract. Pshenichny decided to implement it using the funds approved for the contract. He was curious.

Pshenichny was planning to patent the idea for the mobile center, but he did not have the time. On January 16, investigators came to search his company and his home, and he was arrested. All documentation, including the documentation needed to apply for the patent, was confiscated and entered into evidence. It is currently in the hands of investigators.

All You Need Now Is a Grave Two Meters Deep
“When they came to search our home, those men looked at my husband’s suits in the closet and immediately said, ‘Well, you won’t be needing any of that anymore,'” Natalya Pshenichnaya says. “The investigator said that now all he needed was a grave two meters deep.”

Pshenichnaya had suffered a stroke a few years ago. The doctor had told him a second stroke would be his last. Since then, Natalya had been afraid to worry her husband unnecessarily. During the search of their home, his blood pressure jumped to 250 over 140. She begged the investigator to call an ambulance, but he refused. The police asked her only to confirm whether her husband was really in danger of a stroke. Natalya found her husband’s medical records and handed them over to the investigator. Both she and Pshenichny’s lawyer Larisa Fon-Arev say these medical records were not listed in the search inventory. Moreover, during Pschenichny’s custody hearing, the defense asked the court to order house arrest for Pshenichny or release him on his own recognizance, citing the accused man’s  health, but it transpired that the medical records, confiscated during the search, had not been entered into evidence.


The submarine Varshavyanka

It is unclear what happened to Pshenichny at the remand prison. It is clear he was tortured, that is. A wealthy man who was visited by his lawyer nearly every day was tortured. But then he was killed, and his killers did not even bother to hide their tracks, attempting to get off by making up a lie about his suicide.

What did they want from Pshenichny? Perhaps they were trying to extort money from him, because, as we have already mentioned, he wrote to this wife that she should not pay anyone. Maybe they wanted to force Pshenichny to testify, but in that case it is unclear against whom. As Novaya Gazeta has reported, Pshenichny could not have turned on anyone because he was confident the contract was clean, and to this day no new defendants have been named in the embezzlement case.

Gleb Yemelchenkov, the deputy chief engineer at the Admiralty Shipyards, was Pshenichny’s co-defendant in the case. Yemelchenkov had no financial authority and could not have unduly influenced the contract. He was arrested and charged in the case only due to Petrov’s testimony: he and Petrov had fallen out over Yemelchenkov’s wife. Yemelchenkov is still jailed in the remand prison. The term of his detention was extended to May.

Thanks to Julia Galkina et al. for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader