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

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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

Ping, Ping, Ping: The Remand Extension Hearing of the Penza “Terrorists”

Ping, Ping, Ping: A Report from the Remand Extension Hearing of the Defendants in the Penza “Terrorism” Case
Yegor Skovoroda
Mediazona
March 16, 2018


Ilya Shakursky. Photo courtesy of Yegor Skvoroda and Mediazona

Yegor Svokoroda traveled to Penza, where, over the course of three days, the Lenin District Court considered whether to extend the remand in police custody of the antifascists who, according to the FSB, were part of a “terrorist community” known as The Network.

FSB Senior Investigator Valery Tokarev blushes gradually: first the tip of his nose, then his ears, and finally the bald patch that covers half his head. He is arguing with a lawyer, insting on a closed hearing in order to ensure “investigatory privilege.” The lawyer objects.

“The case is at the evidence gathering stage. We have not finalized all the witnesses or the defendants. A number of parties to the crime have not been identified or are on the wanted list,” says Tokarev, his forehead covered with sweat.

This scene was repeated several times in Penza’s Lenin District Court, where, between March 13 and March 15, the arrest in police custody of five antifascists apprehended and charged with involvement in a “terrorist community” was extended. Time after time, Judge Svetlana Shubina closed the hearings to the public and the press.

Ordering that yet another of the accused be remanded in custody to the local remand prison until June 18, Judge Shubina time after time bases her ruling by referring to the particularly complicated nature of the case and the allegation that each of the young men was a member of a “stable, highly secretive criminal group,” and that “firearms and ammunition” were involved. Shubina notes investigators had to finish their numerous forensic examinations and interrogations, and finally indict Sagynbayev, Pchelintsev, Shakursky, Chernov, Zorin, Kuksov, Ivankin, and Kulkov.

Yegor Zorin, a fourth-year student at the Belinsky Pedagogical Institute, was the first person detained in the investigation of the “terrorist community.” The FSB has alleged its members planned, during the March 18 presidential election and this summer’s FIFA World Cup, to “agitate the masses in order to further destabilize the political situation in the country” by setting off bombs; when the H-hour came, they would lead an armed insurrection. Zorin was apprehended on October 17, 2018. There are unconfirmed reports he signed a confession, which was the basis of Criminal Case No. 11707560001000036, concerning organization of and involvement in a terrorist community, per Article 205.4 Parts 1 and 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

Zorin’s time in the remand prison was not extended. He was jailed there until December 18 and subsequently transferred to house arrest. The press service of the Lenin District Court told Mediazona, however, that after December 18, investigators had not petitioned the court to extend his arrest.


Arman Sagynbayev. Photo courtesy of Yegor Skvoroda and Mediazona

The next to be apprehended were Zorin’s classmate Ilya Shakursky and their common friend Vasily Kuksov during the wee hours of October 19, 2017. On October 27, Dmitry Pchelintsev was detained; he knew Shakursky through the leftist activist scene and because they shared a hobby: airsoft. On November 6, Arman Sagynbayev was detained in Petersburg. He had been to Penza several times for airsoft practice sessions. He was transferred to the Penza Remand Prison. On November 9, Andrei Chernov, another airsoft player and an old friend of Pchelintsev’s was detained.

A passion for airsoft and a sympathy for leftist ideas, anarchism, and antifascism were what all the detainees had in common. The case files contain videos of training sessions in the woods outside Penza, sessions during which the young men used fireworks. The FSB has alleged that the group training sessions were preparation for the insurrection, while the hikes the young men took in the woods constituted “illegal mastery of survival skills in the woods and rendering of first aid.”The airsoft teams in which the antifascists played, Voskhod (“Sunrise”) and 5.11 (“November Fifth”), were cells of a terrorist organization known as The Network (Set’). Aside from Penza, The Network was alleged to have underground cells in Moscow, Petersburg, and Belarus.*

The FSB has alleged the Penzans divided up the roles in their “terrorist community.” Pchelintsev was the leader and ideologue. His deputy, nicknamed Redhead, handled reconnaissance and recruiting, while Sagynbayev, nicknamed Andrei Security, was the engineer and sapper, Shakursky (aka Spike), the tactician, Chernov (aka Twin), the signalman, Zorin (aka Grisha), the sniper, while a certain Boris was also a coordinator and ideologue.

Redhead is Maxim Ivankin, mentioned in the court’s new custody ruling, while in all likelihood the Boris referred to by the security services is M.A. Kulkov. According to our sources, both men have left Russia and are on the wanted list.

The Lenin District Court occupies a three-storey nineteenth-century mansion whose interior has been modernized. The courtroom where the custody extension hearings take place is located in a wing of the building accessible only through doors outfitted with an electronic lock. To gain access to the hallway leading to the courtroom you have to place a card on the lock, which sets off an obnoxious pinging sound. The squeaky alarm goes off constantly. Ping, ping, ping: terrorist community. Ping, ping, ping: investigative privilege. Ping, ping, ping: extend the arrests.

Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.


Dmitry Pchelintsev and his wife Angelina. Photo courtesy of relatives

A broad-shouldered FSB guard escorts 25-year-old Dmitry Pchelintsev into the room, not taking his eyes off him the entire hearing. Guards just like him also escort the other detainees. Some of them wear balaclavas to conceal their identities, some wear Buff scarves over their faces. Viktor Filinkov, detained in Petersburg, and Pchelintsev himself recounted how they were tortured by men wearing such masks. Pchelintsev recalled how the officers who tortured him later escorted him to the remand prison.

“When I was tortured with electrical shocks, my mouth was full of ‘crushed teeth’ due to the fact I gritted my teeth since the pain was strong, and I tore the frenulum of my tongue. My mouth was full of blood, and at some point one of my torturers stuck my sock in my mouth,” Pchelintsev told his lawyer in order to explain why he had signed a confession.

Soon, after he was beaten again, Pchelintsev recanted his testimony about being tortured. Pchelintsev, who has thick, kinky eyebrows and slightly protruding ears, worked as a target practice instructor after serving in the army. He wears a checkered shirt whose collar he constantly buttons and unbuttons. Cautious at first, he thaws by the end of the hearing, when he manages to chat with his wife Angelina through the glass of the so-called fish tank in which defendants are held during trials and hearings.

Dmitry laughs, talking about books and Alina Orlova songs. He jokes that during the last hearing he was in handcuffs because “Arman was sitting next to me, and they thought I would attack him.”

Alina Orlova sings “I Stroll Around Moscow,” IKRA Club, Moscow, September 29, 2008

“What should I do with your car?” Angelina asks. The FSB claims to have found two grenades under the seat of the old Lada. Pchelintsev said they were planted there.

“Burn it,” says Dmitry, joking once more.

“I’m afraid I’d be arrested.”

“Yeah, you’d also go to jail for terrorism,” Pchelintsev quips. “Actually, I was told we should take it to the junkyard and sell it for scrap.”

Angelina presses her nose against the glass of the fish tank.

Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.


Vasily Kuksov. Photo courtesy of relatives

29-year-old design engineer Vasily Kuksov appears to be the most confused and indifferent of all the prisoners. His wife Yelena says Vasily was cheerful and life-affirming prior to his arrest. He enjoyed drawing and was into music, performing a year ago at a Vladimir Vysotsky memorial festival at the Penza Philharmonic. Now his case file describes him as an “individual who leads an isolated lifestyle characterized by antisocial behavior.”

Vasily Kuksov performing at the Penza Philharmonic on January 25, 2017

Kuksov has not complained that FSB officers were violent with him, but his friend Ilya Shakursky recalled that, when they were taken to the FSB building in Penza, first he heard Kuksov’s groan and then later saw him, his face badly mangled. Nevertheless, Kuksov avoided testifying by invoking his right not to incriminate himself under Article 51 of the Russian Constitution.

A pistol was confiscated from his car. According to his loved ones, the gun had been planted there.

Kuksov is the only prisoner whom the investigator allows to talk with his mother for a long time during the recess [sic].

As he listens to the judge’s ruling, Kuksov zips and unzips the zipper of his black winter jacket.

Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.

“They blindfolded me, tied my hands, and stuck a sock in my mouth. Then I thought they wanted to leave my fingerprints on something, but later they attached wires to my big toes. I felt the first surge of current, and I could not hold back the moaning and shaking. They repeated the procedure until I promised to say what they told me to say. After that, I forgot the word ‘no’ and said everything the officers told me to say,” recalled 21-year-old antifascist Ilya Shakursky.

Shakursky was a classmate of the first person arrested in the case, Yegor Zorin. Both of them were studying to be physics teachers.

Shakursky is a thin young man with a shaved head and a deep wrinkle on his forehead. He is a well-known activist in Penza. He used to be involved with Food Not Bombs, and he was himself always organizing everything from lectures to trips to the woods to pick up trash. Before the antifascist rally held annually on January 19, he sent friends a letter in which he wrote, “If I were on the outside, I would definitely attend the memorial event for two great heroes, Nastya Baburova and Stas Markelov.”

Recently, relations between him and Pchelintsev had been strained. The young men had fallen out over Shakursky’s ex-girlfriend Victoria Frolova. They had fought several days before Shakursky’s arrest. The FSB officers who were staking out the alleged terrorist group were surprised to see two members of the “stable” group brawling.

When the judge reads out the ruling, Shakursky, dressed in a gray track suit, lifts his left eyebrow slightly and folds his hands behind his back.

Shakursky’s mother sobs.

Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.

When questioning 28-year-old Andrei Chernov’s mother after her son was arrested, the investigator wondered aloud whether she knew he had a secret nickname, Twin.

“He’s had the nickname since he was a kid,” Tatyana Chernova says, recalling her outrage. Next to her is Alexei Chernov, Andrei’s twin brother.


Andrei Chernov. Photo courtesy of Yegor Skvoroda and Mediazona

The Chernov brothers studied in the same department at the pedagogical institute as Zorin and Shakursky, but they dropped out before the other young men had enrolled there. Subsequently, Andrei went to work at a factory where he assembled water heaters. He was apprehended on the shop floor.

According to his defense attorney, Stanislav Fomenko, Chernov had not been subjected to violence by the FSB. Tatyana Chernova adds that her son signed a confession after Dmitry Pchelintsev, who had been tortured, spoke with him. Chernov has now recanted his testimony.

Andrei wrote to his mother that after human rights activists spoke out about the plight of the young men and the press published articles about the so-called Penza Case, the guards and wardens at the remand prison often visited his cell to perform spot checks, videotaping everthing he did.

Chernov was finally examined by an ophthalmologist (there were suspicions he had a detached retina). The doctor for some reason prescribed him antibiotics.

Chernov smiles the most of all the defendants. If it were not for the fish tank, it would be impossible to tell him apart from his brother.

“My son is not guilty of anything. Sure, he played airsoft and studied survival skills, but lots of people are into that. I will fight for my son till the end of my days,” says Tatyana Chernova.

Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.

No one has come to the courtroom [sic] to support 25-year-old Arman Sagynbayev, transferred to Penza from Petersburg,** and yet he is cheerful and talkative.

Arman was born in Novosibirsk, where his mother, stepfather, ex-wife, and their five-year-old daughter still live.

He has spent the last several years in Petersburg, where he was convicted of petty theft (Article 158 Part 1 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to a fine of 6,000 rubles. When Sagynbayev’s room was searched, the security services allegedly found a bucket of aluminum powder, four kilograms of ammonium nitrate, two alarm clocks, and various radio components.

After his arrest, Sagynbayev fully acknowledged his guilt. He is still cooperating with investigators. He has no objections when Deputy Prosecutor Sergei Oskolkov moved to extend his arrest.

“He has no complaints. He has not claimed he was tortured. He cooperates with the investigators and gets privileges in return for his cooperation. He was now given the chance to speak with his mother. He spoke with her the entire recess [sic]. Arman has a separate cell,” says his lawyer, Rakhmanova [sic].

In the remand prison, her client, who suffers from a serious illness, receives timely medical care, she emphasizes, without specifying what the illness is

At the beginning of the week, Sagynbayev was sent under armed guard to Saratov, where he was examined at the St. Sophia Regional Clinical Psychiatric Hospital. He is the only suspect in the case who has been made to undergo an inpatient forensic examination.

“He said lots of things to our experts about anarchy and social revolution. They said he was deluded and refused to render an opinion, recommending he be hospitalized,” Rakhmanova explains.

According to the attorney, the doctors in Saratov concluded Sagynbayev was mentally competent.

Ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.

* The name of the airsoft team 5.11 had nothing to do with the revolution allegedly scheduled by nationalist Vyacheslav Maltsev for November 5, 2017. According to various sources, the name refers either to a popular brand of tactical clothing and equipment or to the date when seventeen-year-old Penza anarchist Nikolai Pchelintsev was hanged in 1907. Historians Alexander Kolpakidi and Gennady Potapov write that Pchelintsev took the blame for the murder of a gendarme during a shootout, counting on the court’s mercy towards him as a juvenile, but instead was sentenced to death. His burial site in the Abrekov Woods near Penza is marked by a monument to fallen revolutionaries. Mediazona has been unable to ascertain whether Dmitry Pchelintsev is a distant relative of Nikolai Pchelintsev.

** The FSB apprehended antifascists in Petersburrg late January 2018. According to the FSB, the city was home to two cells of The Network, code-named Jordan and Field of Mars. The investigation of the Petersburg case, Case No. 11807400001000004, is supervised by FSB investigator Gennady Belyayev. After they were detained, Igor Shishkin and Viktor Filinkov confessed their guilt. Filinkov soon recanted what he claimed had been rehearsed testimony and gave a detailed account of how FSB officers had tortured him with an electric shocker. Shishkin has said nothing about torture, but doctors recorded bruises, abrasions, and a fracture to the lower wall of his eye socket, while members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission found numerous traces on his body that resembled burns made by electric wires.

Translated by the Russian Reader

If you have not heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and the related crackdown against Russian grassroots and political activists on the eve of the March 18 Russian presidential election, you need to read the following articles and spread the word.

 

Arrested Penza Antifascists Talk about Torture in Remand Prison

“He Would Check My Pulse by Touching My Neck and Monitor My Condition.” Arrested Penza Antifascists Talk about Electric Shock Torture in Remand Prison Basement
Anna Kozkina and Yegor Skovoroda
Mediazona
February 9, 2018


Dmitry Pchelintsev. Photo courtesy of his relatives and Mediazona

Ilya Shakursky and Dmitry Pchelintsev, arrested in Penza and charged with involvement in a “terrorist community,” have told their attorneys that Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers tortured them in the basement of the city’s remand prison. Mediazona has decided to publish the story told by Shakursky’s defense counsel and the transcript of what Pchelintsev relayed to his lawyer.

••••••••••

In October 2017, the FSB  detained four antifascists in Penza: Yegor Zorin, Ilya Shakursky, Vasily Kuksov, and Dmitry Pchelintsev. In early November, they detained Andrei Chernov in Penza, and Arman Sagynbayev, who was in Petersburg at the time. All six young men have been accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” (a criminal offense under Article 205.4 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). According to the FSB, the six had established an organization, known as The Network (Set’). They planned a series of bomb blasts during the presidential election, in March, and the World Cup, in June and July, that would “sway the popular masses in order to subsequently destabilize the political situation [in Russia]” and set off an armed insurrection.

The Network allegedly had cells functioning in Moscow, Petersburg, Penza, and Belarus [an independent country]. On January 23, 2018, antifascist Viktor Filinkov was detained in Petersburg, followed two days later by Igor Shishkin. Friends and family could not find either of them for over a day. A court had remanded both of them in custody as members of the alleged “terrorist community.”

In Penza, relatives of the detained activists told how law enforcement officers had planted weapons in the men’s cars and flats, and subjected them to torture by shocking them with electrical wires and hanging them upside down. According to friends and loved ones, all the detained men had been airsoft enthusiasts.

“All they ever did was learn how to render first aid in field conditions and survive in the woods. Is that illegal?” Angelina Pchelintseva, Dmitry Pchelintsev’s wife, asked OVD Info.

Initially, all the men in custody, except Kuksov, who invoked his right not to incriminate himself, as stipulated by Article 51 of the Russian Constitution, confessed to their alleged crimes.

After he was detained, Viktor Filinkov said that siloviki had tortured him with an electric shocker and forced him to memorize the wording of his testimony in order to repeat it later to investigators. Ilya Kapustin, interrogated as a witness in the case, also spoke of torture. FSB officers had shocked him with an electric shocker and threatened to break his legs and abandon him in the woods.

Igor Shishkin has not said anything about torture. The case file contains a letter written by Shishkin after he was detained. It is addressed to Alexander Rodionov, head of the FSB’s Petersburg Office. In the letter, Shishkin explains he received all his injuries while playing sports. Doctors confirmed Shishkin suffered a fracture to the lower wall of one eye socket, as well as numerous bruises and abrasions. Members of the Public Monitoring Commission on Conditions in Places of Imprisonment who visited Shishkin in a remand prison made note of numerous traces on his body of what looked like burns from electrical wires. Recently, Shishkin sent a petition to the authorities asking to cooperate with the investigation and requesting a pretrial agreement.

A Letter by Igor Shishkin from the Remand Prison
Greetings to friends, relatives, acquaintances, and sympathizers! In my stupidity, I got caught up in a very serious and unpleasant situation. I’ll skip the details. I just want to advise everyone to think a hundred times about what you are doing and how the consequences do not affect just you. I also want to send my sincerest apologies to the people whom my problem has affected. Sorry, guys! […] I really ask everyone not to generate a media buzz. We don’t need that right now.

“He Said, ‘I Couldn’t Take It. I Broke Down.'”
Attorney Anatoly Vahterov, Ilya Shakursky’s defense counsel, has written the following. Mr. Vahterov visited Mr. Shakursky in Penza Remand Prison No. 1 on February 7, 2018.

It follows from my client’s statement that he was one of six people simultaneously detained on suspicion of violating Article 205.4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. The article refers literally to “organization of a terrorist community.” During my conversation with my client, I did not have the slightest doubt he had not been involved in these actions.

I said to him, “I know that you signed a confession. How could that be?” 

He wrote a note to me, “I was beaten.”

Later, he gave me a more detailed account of how he had been tortured in the remand prison.

He said the plan was to implicate them in the Maltsev case. He said this. I was surprised. What was the connection? In my view, this case was fabricated on formal grounds. They grabbed one comrade by the name of Zorin. He was the weakest of them and testified against all his friends. Moreover, his testimony is absolutely far-fetched. It was grounds for detaining the other guys on suspicion of having committed the particular crime.

This is where it gets interesting. According to my client, all of them were tortured in the basement of the remand prison. The torture was sophisticated. Officers in masks and camouflage uniforms would enter their cells. They took them to a room in the basement, forced them to strip, attached electrodes to their fingertips, and cranked up a so-called dynamo. 

He just said, “I couldn’t take it. I broke down.”

9df5e576b811a2658cced24c766cda70Ilya Shakursky. Photo from personal archive and courtesy of Mediazona

Torture was also used against Pchelintsev, according to my client. They talk to each other in the remand prison. Sagynbayev has also been tortured. This is savagery, you realize? As if the year now were 1937.

There can be no question of any terrorist activity whatsoever. I would venture to say that during the preliminary investigation and trial we will try and prove it. The guys only played role-playing games. They were into airsoft and running round the woods. Yes, the guys gave each other nicknames. It was just easier for them to address each other that way. None of this is anything other than child’s play. Yes, there were nicknames, yes, there were assigned roles. Why not? We played war when we were kids. We also pretended to be medics, sappers, and snipers. Each had a role to play. There were role-playing games and nothing more.

The had their own group and their own music. They were involved in the antifascist movement and environmentalism. The authorities have been trying to accuse them of espousing anarchism, but the thing is that my client and the other comrades are antifascists. A person who opposes Nazism cannot preach Nazi ideas and chauvinism, engage in any kind of propaganda, and advocate overthrowing the social order.

Ilya Shakursky is a totally sensible, regular guy. I would say he is the salt of the Russian earth. He’s a normal, genuine, good Russian lad, raised in our society’s best traditions. He is not a criminal, that is for sure. But when he speaks, you can see the pain and resentment on his face. It happens. But he is hanging in there and hoping for a good defense. His mother was immediately fired from her job when the first articles about Pchelintsev and so on were published.

In order to be involved in a group, especially a terrorist group, a strict conspiracy, as my client has been accused of, there must be exclusively friendly relations, based on mutual respect, decency, and the knowledge that your comrade will not turn you over to the relevant authorities. But Shakursky and Pchelintsev had a falling-out over a young woman. They had fought with each other, and one even spit in the other’s eye.When there were conflicts like this, what kind of tightly knit team can we speak of?

In order to justify what I regard as groundless detentions, criminal charges, and remands in police custody, the men were accused of committing another crime, possession of weapons and explosives, Article 222 in the Criminal Code. Law enforcement planted two grenades and a pistol under the back seat of Shakursky’s car. If he and his friends were such conspirators, he would not have done something as amateurish as leaving two grenades in his car.  

Ilya Shakursky’s letter to his girlfriend 

Ilya Shakursky’s Letter to His Girlfriend
Today is exactly three months since I’ve been in the remand prison. If I were on the outside I would definitely go to the event commemorating two great heroes, Nastya Baburova and Stas Markelov.

We now find ourselves in circumstances in which we miss these people like never before. They fought injustice and helped people who were in very difficult situations in life. I sincerely hope that with the help of friends, loved ones, and concerned citizens we can get out of this pickle, which is one enormous misunderstanding and injustice.

Goodness will triumph!

January 19, 2018

All my acquaintances and friends should see this text.

“My Mouth Was Full of Blood, and One of the Torturers Stuck My Sock in It”
On February 6, 2018, attorney Oleg Zaitsev visited Dmitry Pchelintsev and interviewed him. Like most of the defense attorneys in the case, the investigator made Zaitsev sign a non-disclosure agreement concerning evidence in the preliminary investigation. Zaitsev notes that, under the circumstances, he has not violated investigatory privileges, but nevertheless he felt obliged to discuss all the violations of rights his client has suffered. What follows is a transcript of his interview with Pchelintsev.

I can say the following. On October 27, 2017, I left the house at around six o’clock in the morning to meet my grandmother. Near the end wall of the building, as I was nearing my car, four men in plain clothes suddenly approached me. I was so surprised I put my hands up in front of me. These men immediately beat me up and threw me on the ground. Their faces were not covered. I could identify them. Later, some of them escorted me from the remand prison to the FSB office. One of them looked to be thirty-five years old. He had light-brown hair, was wearing a gray jacket, and had a stout face and thickset build. They asked me my surname and struck various parts of my body. They reproached me for having putting up my dukes when I was being detained by the FSB. They confiscated the keys to my flat and used them to enter the place when my girlfriend was sleeping and search the place.

On October 28, 2017, after the court had remanded me in custody to the remand prison on Karakozov Street, I was in solidarity confinement cell 5-1. It was around four o’clock in the afternoon when a special forces policeman, the senior shift officer, and a major from the local office of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service entered my cell. They told me to exit the cell and go to the nearby punishment cell, which I did. Six or seven men immediately entered the cell. Half of them were in MultiCam camouflage uniforms, while the other half were in plain clothes. But all of them wore balaclavas. Despite the headgear concealing their faces, I could identify some of these people by their voices, physique, and clothes. Subsequently, I recognized some of them when I was being transported and escorted.

They told me what to do, and I followed their orders. I stripped to my shorts, sat down on a bench, stretched my arms backwards, and put my head down. At first, I thought this was some examination everyone sent to the remand prison had to undergo, so I voluntarily submitted to it. Then they taped my hands behind me, tied one of my legs to the foot of the bench with more tape, and stuck a wad of gauze in my mouth.

One of the men was wearing white rubber medical gloves. He took out a dynamo and set it on a table. He stripped two wires with a boxcutter and told me to stick out my big toe. Another man checked my pulse by touching my neck. He would subsequently do this more than once: he was monitoring my condition. He was surprised my pulse was normal and I was not agitated. That was because I did not realize at first what was happening.

Then the man in gloves cranked the dynamo. The current flowed to my knees. My calf muscles contracted, and I was seized by paralytic pain. I screamed. My back and head convulsed against the wall. They put a jacket between my naked body and the stone wall. This went on for about ten seconds, but when it was happening, it felt like an eternity to me.

One of them spoke to me.

“I don’t know the word ‘no.’ I don’t remember it. You should forget it. You got me?” he said literally.

“Yes,” I replied.

“That’s the right answer. Attaboy, Dimochka,” he said.

The gauze was stuck in my mouth again, and I was shocked four times, three seconds each time. […] Then I was tossed onto the floor. Since one of my legs was tied to the foot of the bench, when I fell, I seriously banged up my knees, which bled profusely. My shorts were pulled off. I was lying on my stomach. They tried to attach the wires to my genitals. I screamed and asked them to stop brutalizing me.

“You’re the leader,” they repeated.

“Yes, I’m the leader,” I said to make them stop torturing me.

“You planned terrorist attacks.”

“Yes, we planned terrorist attacks,” I would reply.

One of the men who measured my pulse put his balaclava on me so I would not see them. At one point, I lost consciousness for awhile. […] After they left, a Federal Penitentiary Service officer entered the room and told me to get dressed. He took me back to my solitary confinement cell.

The next day, October 20, 2018, I broke the tank on the toilet and used the shards to slash my arms at the wrists and elbows, and my neck in order to stop the torture. There was a lot of blood from the cuts on my clothes and the floor, and I collapsed onto the floor. They probably saw what I did via the CCTV camera installed in the cell. Prison staffers entered my cell and gave me first aid. Then the prison’s psychologist, Vera Vladimirovna, paid me a visit.

As regards the video cameras installed in my cell, as well as in the punishment cell and the corridor, I can say that when FSB officers show up, the cameras either are turned off or the recording is later erased, or something is done with the sensors. The FSB officers completely control the local Federal Penitentiary Service officers.

On November 8, 2017, at around five o’clock in the afternoon, the senior shift officer was getting ready to leave.

“Will everything be alright with me?” I asked him.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be right back,” he replied.

I had connected his departure with the fact that the last time he left, the day before, Saginbayev’s scream was audible on the floor. I realized he was being tortured. Later, our paths crossed, and he apologized for testifying against me.

A lieutenant from the Federal Penitentiary Service then came to my door.

“Am I safe here?” I wrote on a piece of paper that I showed to him.

“Yes,” he replied in big letters.

After that I showed him the enormous bruise on my chest and stomach to let him know I had been tortured. After awhile he opened the cell door, and four men wearing prisoner’s uniforms dashed into the cell. Civilian clothes were visible under these uniforms, all of which were baggy. They were all wearing what looked like Buff masks, black tube scarves.

They beat and kicked me in the stomach, kidneys, and head. I had bruises from their blows, but they hit me like in a gym, so they would leave fewer visible traces. They informed me they were from the “underworld committee”: because of me they had been put on lockdown. They gave me a week to solve my problems with the “pigs.” If I didn’t solve them, they would punk me. One of them filmed the whole thing on a smartphone. The Federal Penitentiary Service officer was outside in the hallway the entire time. The four FSB guys from the “underworld committee” left. Later, I also recognized some of them when I was being escorted and transported.

Then the senior shift officer, a captain, returned.

“How can I believe you when FSB guys just came into my cell and beat me up?” I asked him.

He looked puzzled.

Afterwards, FSB agents have visited me many times in the remand prison. They wear no masks and chat with me in the visiting room. When they talk with me, they exert psychological pressure on me. They threaten, blackmail, and manipulate me. 

During an interrogation, the investigator told me it was he who gave the agents permission to visit me. They took their orders from him and they had their own work.

After I tried to commit suicide by slashing my veins open, I was put under special watch in the remand prison. The cuffs are not removed from my hands even when I am signing interrogation reports.

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

I was beaten so badly I had open wounds on my head.

••••••••••

According to Republic, which has seen the case file, the FSB has named Pchelintsev the organizer of The Network terrorist group. He met his accomplices at concerts and allegedly founded the organization in 2014. According to the FSB, since 2015, every member of The Network has had his own role. Investigators believe Pchelintsev is The Network’s leader and ideologue. He has a deputy, nicknamed Redhead, who recruits new members.

The case files indicate that, in the summer of 2016, several cells joined The Network. The Penza cell was dubbed 5.11 (November Fifth) or Sunrise; the Moscow cell, MSK (Moscow Standard Time); and the two Petersburg cells, Field of Mars and Jordan. In addition, investigators believe The Network has a branch in Belarus, and that the cells were managed out of Penza. The FSB refers to all the detainees as anarchists.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to NV and PK for the heads-up