Why Small-Town Electrician Vladimir Yegorov Had to Flee Russia

Vladimir Yegorov is still in quarantine and lives in a tent camp for refugees in Lithuania. Photo courtesy of Vladimir Yegorov and Radio Svoboda

“I realized that the country was over”: a “terrorist” electrician from Toropets flees to Lithuania
Radio Svoboda
Elizaveta Mayetnaya
June 28, 2021

Vladimir Yegorov, 54, from Toropets, Tver Region, was an ordinary electrician, but he has now become a political refugee in Lithuania. He fled there because in Russia he was threatened with up to ten years in prison on two criminal charges: “condoning terrorism” and “calling for extremism.” “I outfoxed the FSB: I lived under their nose for four months while they were looking for me everywhere,” Yegorov tells Radio Svoboda. “They can only steal, torture and invent criminal cases. They are no match for real terrorists.”

On June 27, Vladimir Yegorov posted these photos on his Facebook page, writing, “[My] final days in Russia. It’s a pity. It could be such a [great] country. But we are the people, and we fucked it all up. And it’s our fault that Putin exists here. Now all I can do is run. I did what I could.”

Yegorov says that he was not very interested in politics until the war in Ukraine began.

“My mother was seriously ill. She was a doctor, the head of the medical clinic, a respected person in the town. And then came the war, the seizure of foreign territory by Russia, the dead, the prisoners of war: my mother read all about it and could not believe that such a thing was even possible. And before that, holding her heart, almost crying, she told me how our entire healthcare system had been ruined,” Yegorov recalls. “Before the war with Ukraine, I still somehow hoped that all was not lost, but then I finally realized that the country was over.”

Yegorov worked at a sawmill and earned money on the side as an electrician. Then he joined the opposition Yabloko party and moderated (first at the party’s request, then on his own behest) Citizens of Toropets, a social media community page that was popular in the area.

“Of course, we have mass media there, but they only write what suits the authorities, while I, though I’m a simple electrician, was like an independent journalist. I wrote on the community page about our ‘crooks and thieves.’ In our wildest fantasies, we expected that three hundred people would read it, but the page was quite popular: we had more than a thousand subscribers, nearly every resident of the district read it! Sand was being stolen from quarries there by the tons and hauled out in KAMAZ trucks, but the local police and administration covered up the whole thing. After I wrote about this in May 2017, windows were broken in my house. A stone was thrown into the room where my little daughter was sleeping, and a canister of gasoline was found lying nearby.”

Yegorov was not intimidated and sent the evidence of theft at the sand quarry to Moscow. But instead of investigating the theft and the attack on his family, the authorities opened a criminal case against Yegorov himself over an old post on the social network VKontakte. In 2016, Yegorov had bluntly commented on a statement made by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who suggested that a teacher who had complained about a low salary “earn some more” and go into business if he wanted a high income. “We need to understand that all these ‘statements’ in public by these morons with zero popularity ratings, who occupy high-ranking posts, are nothing more than part of a special operation by the KGB to whitewash the main culprit of all the troubles and his closest cronies,” Yegorov wrote. His post was accompanied by a photo of President Vladimir Putin.

Police investigators interpreted the expressions used in the post as “extremist.” One of their forensic linguistic experts deemed it a call for the physical destruction of the Russian leadership, and a witness in court said that he read the post as an appeal to overthrow the government. Consequently, Yegorov was sentenced to two years of probation and forbidden from moderating websites. Memorial recognized him as a political prisoner.

Fearing criminal prosecution, Yegorov fled to Ukraine, where he applied for political asylum. The Ukrainian authorities denied him refugee status and took him to a neutral zone near the border with Russia. Yegorov left for Belarus, but he was detained there and sent back to Russia. He spent several months in jail before getting a suspended sentence.​

“My wife left me and took my daughter with. No one anywhere would hire me because I was immediately put on Rosfinmonitoring’s list of extremists; my bank accounts were blocked, and the house was also impounded. When I would go to the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) to check in, they mocked me, telling get a job! But no one anywhere would hire me. I went all over town many times, applying for all the vacancies, even the lousiest ones, which no one at the unemployment office would apply for, but I was turned down everywhere,” he says. “I, a healthy man who can do anything with my own hands, whom the whole town used to ask to fix things, was an outcast. I ate only potatoes and noodles for four years, and lived with boarded-up windows, because I had no money to replace the windows broken by those gangster. I didn’t go anywhere much: it was almost like being in prison, only at home. And the court had ruled that I could no longer moderate the community page, either.”

The patriarchal town of Toropets is, as it were, a dead end. Moscow is 400 kilometers away, and Tver is 350 kilometers away. Yegorov’s house stands almost in the center of the town, and is perfectly visible from the highway, where hundreds of cars pass every day. In March 2019, Yegorov hung a Ukrainian flag over his house, which he had ordered for 167 rubles on AliExpress. He posted a photo of it on social networks along with a list of political demands: “Putin, liberate the occupied territory of Ukraine! Release [Oleg] Sentsov, the [imprisoned Ukrainian] sailors and all prisoners of war! Don’t meddle in the affairs of a neighboring country! Take care of your own people! I am a simple Russian man, I don’t want my country to be like this.”

“The Ukrainian flag didn’t make [the local authorities] happy, of course, but according to the law, I can do what I want on my 2,200 square meters, and you can’t touch me. Basically, I made a nuisance of myself,” says Yegorov. “During that time, I figured out computers and learned how to use a VPN. When it comes to modern technology, those [FSB] field officers are just kids compared to me.”

Nor did the law enforcement agencies leave Yegorov alone: several times his home was searched, and in December 2019 and July 2020 his computer was seized. In December 2020, Yegorov was named the defendant in two new criminal cases: he was charged with “publicly condoning terrorism on the internet” (punishable under Article 205.2.2 of the Criminal Code) and “publicly calling for extremism” (punishable under Article 280.2 of the Criminal Code). This happened after the security forces had again searched his home on December 4.

“I supported Katya Muranova from Medvezhegorsk in Karelia on social networks. She is still very young, she has a sick child on her hands, and she was also convicted, fined and put on the Rosfinmonitoring list, allegedly for condoning terrorism [Ekaterina Muranova of Medvezhegorsk was accused of “condoning terrorism” in 2019. For commenting on a social media post about the suicide bombing at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices by the 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky on November 4, 2018, she was sentenced to pay a fine of 350 thousand rubles. Several dozen people in Russia have also been convicted on the same charge for commenting on the bombing — Radio Svoboda.] I feel very sorry for Katya, who also can’t get a job anywhere because of this stigma. She and I became friends, and I wrote a post about the anarchist Zhlobitsky. According to the FSB, it contains ‘statements condoning terrorist activities and creating a positive image of terrorists,'” says Yegorov.

Ekaterina Muranova, convicted in 2019 of “condoning terrorism.” Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

Actually, it was this post that led to the charge of “condoning terrorism” against Yegorov. Law enforcement agencies detected “publicly calling for extremism” in another post, which Yegorov allegedly made on January 1, 2020, in the VK group Toropets Realities, referring to a news item published on Ura.Ru, “District head blown up near Voronezh.” There was a note under the news story: “All of them should be blown up.” The FSB believes that it was Egorov who posted this comment from someone else’s account, accessing the page from a virtual Ukrainian number.

“At first I denied everything, but then, during the search, they showed me some kind of knife. I had never had such a thing in my life, and they said that they could find something worse. Consequently, I dismissed my lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina and confessed to everything. In exchange, they promised to leave me on my own recognizance until the trial. I didn’t want to go to prison again,” says Egorov. “I was then actively corresponding on social networks with one person who promised to help me. He also had problems with his wife: it was our common ground. So I decided that I would let [the authorities] think that they had broken me, and I would hide and run away from them. On February 10, I left.”

In the evening, Yegorov lit a stove in his house and left his mobile phone there. Under cover of darkness, he got into the car of his new acquaintance, whom he had never seen before, and left with him for Moscow.

“I helped him with electrical work and did a lot of other things around the house, and then he took me to his dacha,” Yegorov recounts. “All those four months they were looking for me. They hassled my wife’s relatives: they thought that she was hiding me, but no one knew anything. And all that time we were reading everything we could about the border and the best places to cross it. We were on different online chat groups, carefully gathering information. Then we went to Belarus by car. My friend took his family along so the authorities would not suspect anything. We even went to a restaurant, like we were ordinary tourists. And then for seven thousand rubles illegal guides took us to the border. At the lake that divides the border in half, I jumped out of the car and immediately dove into the water. I was wearing swim fins, and had a hermetically sealed bag and sat nav with me. I was supposed to swim 400 meters under water, but I surface at the wrong spot: the water had risen, and there was grass and swamp all round. I ended up swimming 1,200 meters, paddling for a very long time along the Lithuanian shore. Nothing was visible, and I didn’t turn on the flashlight to avoid being detected. I got out on the shore: there was no one in sight. I quickly changed my clothes and went to the road to take a minibus to Vilnius. I came to the road and everywhere there were signs, in Russian, advertising houses for sale. I was afraid that I had come ashore in Russia.”

In Vilnius, Yegorov turned himself in to the police.

“I told them: you’d better me shoot here than hand me over to Russia! They would put me away for ten years for nothing, and then they would me kill me prison. They would hang me like Tesak, and then they say I did it myself,” Yegorov argues.

At first, Yegorov was housed in the transit zone at Vilnius Airport.

“I have never seen a Boeing, I have never flown anywhere on airplanes, only by helicopter when I was in the army. Basically, I haven’t been anywhere: I’ve been to Moscow, to Tver for interrogations, and to Velikiye Luki. I fled unsuccessfully to Ukraine, but they sent me back… So my whole life has been lived in Toropets: I have graves of relatives there that are 300 years old. I didn’t think that I would go on the run in my old age, but I didn’t have much choice, ” says Yegorov.

After several days in the transit zone, Yegorov was transferred to a quarantine camp. He now lives in a tent for twenty-two people.

“The food here is quite tasty: they give us cheese and pears. After my long life of semi-starvation in Toropets, I feel like I’m at a health spa now,” Yegorov says, smiling. “Most of the refugees here are Iraqis, Sri Lankans, and Arabs. The staff treat us well. All of them speak Russian, and I communicate with the other refugees using an online translator: somehow we understand each other. They are all in transit to Europe via Belarus, where it is now a well-established business. This, however, has turned out to be in my favor.”

On June 6, 2021, Agnė Bilotaitė, Lithuania’s interior minister, said that the situation with migrants in her country was getting worse.

“We live next door to an unpredictable terrorist regime,” she said. “After Lukashenko’s threats about unleashing an unprecedented flow of migrants, we are seeing an increase in illegal migrants. Four times a week, flights from Istanbul and Baghdad arrive Minsk, whence the migrants head for Lithuania. At least 600 people fly from these destinations every week. The price of transporting people illegally across the border is as much as 15 thousand euros per person, and 30 thousand euros per family.”

This year, over 400 illegal migrants have arrived in Lithuania from Belarus, which is five times more than during the whole of 2020.

A view of Vladimir Yegorov’s hometown of Toropets. Courtesy of Wikipedia

“The flow of refugees is huge, and they spend a lot of time vetting everyone. I was given [refugee] status five years ago after waiting a month and a half, but the folks who came after me waited for six months,” says Irina Kalmykova. Criminal charges were filed against Kalmykova in Moscow for her repeated participation in solo pickets and protest rallies, and she was fined 150 thousand rubles. Instead of waiting until she was arrested again and faced a second set of criminal charges, she and her son fled to Belarus in January 2016, and from there they went to Lithuania, where she was granted political asylum.

Kalmykova was one of the co-founders of the Russian European Movement, which was organized to bring together Russian political refugees in Lithuania.

“We have a very friendly Russian diaspora here now,” says Kalmykova. “We help each other out because, until recently, we ourselves were in the same situation: no money, no clothes, no documents, nothing at all. The guys have already found an apartment where Vladimir can stay, and they will help him find a job. Lithuania is considered one of the poorest countries in Europe, but, you know, people here are quite responsive and kind, and everyone knows Russian, so it is much easier to adapt here than in some other countries The main thing is that Vladimir already has support, because it is quite important that a person doesn’t feel unwanted in their new home. I have no doubt that Lithuania will grant him political asylum: criminal charges have been filed against him, and he has been persecuted for his political stance.”

Yegorov says that he really hopes that his life will finally get better in Lithuania.

“Maybe when I can work here, my wife and daughter will move here to join me. I would really like that,” he says.

Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. In my “real life” as a professional translator, I would have earned around 170 euros for translating a text of this length. Instead, I have provided translations of this and thousands of other compelling texts for free over the last fourteen years here and at Chtodelat News. So, please consider donating money via PayPal or Ko-Fi to help support this work and encourage me to continue it. You’ll find “Donate” and “Buy me a coffee” buttons in the sidebar on the left of this page. Click on one of them to make a donation. Thanks! ||| TRR

“Seven Years in Prison for Two Pages”: An Open Letter by Journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva

“Seven Years in Prison for Two Pages”: An Open Letter by Journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva
Republic
October 1, 2019

Pskov journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva faces up to seven years in prison for her published comments. In November of last year—first, in a broadcast on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov, then on the website Pskov Newswire—she discussed the reasons why a 17-year-old man blew himself up at the FSB office in Arkhangelsk. She has now been charged with publicly “condoning” terrorism, as punishable under Article 205.2.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

On October 1, Echo Moscow, Mediazona, Novaya Gazeta, TV Rain, Takie Dela, Snob, MBKh Media, 7×7, Pskovskaya Guberniya, MOKH, Wonderzine, and Meduza published an open letter by Prokopieva. We have joined them in this act of solidarity.

***********

My name (our name?) is Svetlana Prokopyeva. I am a journalist, and I could be sent to prison for seven years for “condoning” terrorism.

Nearly a year ago, there was a bomb blast in Arkhangelsk. It was unexpected and stunning: 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky blew himself up in the entrance to the FSB office there. Before he did this, he wrote he was blowing himself up because the FSB had become “brazen,” framing and torturing people.

The suicide bombing was the subject of my regular commentary on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov. “Acting intentionally,” I wrote a text entitled “Crackdowns for the State.” My commentary was aired on November 7 and then was published on the website Pskov Newswire.

Nearly a month passed before Pskov Newswire and Echo of Moscow received warnings from Roskomnadzor: Russia’s quasi-censor saw evidence I had “condoned” terrorism in my comments. In early December, administrative charges were filed against the two media outlets, costing them 350,000 rubles in fines when a justice of the peace found them guilty of the charges. Simultaneously, the Pskov office of the Russian Investigative Committee launched an inquiry into whether I had personally violated Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. Criminal prosecution loomed as a distinct possibility, but we laughed, thinking they must be crazy. What could they mean by “condoning” terrorism? In its warnings, Roskomnadzor failed to point to a single phrase or even word that would qualify as evidence that I had condoned terrorism. Nor could it point them out because they were not there. As it soon transpired, however, that did not matter.

On February 6, my doorbell rang. When I opened it, a dozen armed, helmeted men rushed in, pinning me to the wall in the far room with their shields. This was how I found out the authorities had, in fact, decided to file charges against me.

A police search is a disgusting, humiliating procedure. One group of strangers roots through your things while another group of strangers looks on indifferently. Old notes, receipts, and letters sent from other countries take on a suspicious, criminal tinge, demanding an explanation. The things you need the most, including your laptop and telephone, are turned into “physical evidence.” Your colleagues and family members are now liable to becoming “accomplices” without even trying.

I was robbed that day: the authorities confiscated three laptops, two telephones, a dictaphone, and flash drives. When they blocked my bank accounts six months later, they robbed me again: I was only a “suspect” when I was placed on Rosfinmonitoring’s list of “extremists” and “terrorists.” I am now unable to get a bank card in my own name, open a savings account or apply for a mortgage. The Russian state has made it impossible for me to exist financially.

All that remained for the authorities was to rob me of the last thing I had: my freedom. On September 20, I was officially charged with violating Article 205.2.2 of the criminal code: condoning terrorism via the mass media. If convicted, I could be fined up to one million rubles or sent to prison for up to seven years.

I deny any wrongdoing. I consider the charges against me petty revenge on the part of security services officers offended by my remarks. I claimed they were responsible for the blast in Arkhangelsk. I wrote that the state’s crackdowns had generated a backlash: brutal law enforcement policies had embittered people. Since legal means of protesting had been blocked, the desire to protest had been pushed into such socially dangerous channels.

Publish this quotation from my text if you are not afraid.

“A strong state. A strong president, a strong governor. A country in which power belongs to strongmen.

“The Arkhangelsk suicide bomber’s generation has grown up in this atmosphere. They know it is forbidden to attend protest rallies: police can break up rallies or, worse, they can beat up protesters and then convict them of crimes. This generation knows that solo pickets are a punishable offense. They see that you can belong only to certain political parties without suffering for it and that you can voice only a certain range of opinions without fearing for your safety. This generation has been taught that you cannot find justice in court: judges will return the verdicts the law enforcement agencies and prosecutors want them to return.

“The long-term restriction of political and civic freedoms has given rise in Russia to a state that is not only devoid of liberty but oppressive, a state with which it is unsafe and scary to deal.”

This is what I still think. Moreover, in my opinion, the Russian state has only confirmed my arguments by charging me with a crime.

“Their only task is to punish, to prove someone’s guilt and convict them. The merest formal excuse is enough to drag someone into the grindstone of the legal system,” I wrote.

I did not condone terrorism. I analyzed the causes of the attack. I tried to understand why a young man who had his whole life ahead of him decided to commit a crime and kill himself. Perhaps my reconstruction of his motives was mistaken. I would be glad to be mistaken, but no one has proven I was. It is rather primitive and crude to charge someone with a crime rather than engaging in a discussion. It is like punching someone in the face for something theyon said.

It is a punch in the face of every journalist in our country.

It is impossible to know in advance what words in what order will tick off the strongmen. They have labeled the opinion I voiced a crime. They have turned someone who was just doing her job into a criminal.

Using the same rationale, you can cook up a criminal case based on any more or less critical text. You merely need to find so-called experts who will sign an “expert opinion” for police investigators. If you know this can happen, will you tackle thorny subjects as a journalist? Will you ask questions that are certain to irritate the authorities? Will you accuse high-ranking officials of crimes?

The criminal case against me is an attempt to murder free speech. Remembering how the authorities made an example of me, dozens and hundreds of other journalists will not dare tell the truth when it needs to be told.

Post updated on July 3, 2020.; Translated by the Russian Reader

330ade17-0507-47f8-9211-3ab9b96f7809_w1023_r1_s.jpgSvetlana Prokopyeva outside the Pskov Regional Court in July 2020 by Ludmila Savitskaya (RFE/RL)

Anton Mukhachov: Life after Prison

anton mukhachov-facebookAnton Mukhachov. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page

Anton Mukhachov
Facebook
November 26, 2018

Life after Prison: Second-Class Citizens

I’ve already written about how a bank refused to exchange $100 for me.

Today, I was at notary’s office making out an ordinary power of attorney. The tired woman was typing my passport date into the computer when, suddenly, her eyes widened.

“It says here you’re on the list of terrorists!”

I corrected her.

“You probably mean the list of extremists. Rosfinmonitoring’s list and all that. What does it have to do with a power of attorney?” I asked.

“I can’t do anything for you,” she said, adding, “I’m obliged to report you!”

She did not issue me the power of attorney, ultimately. She said the program would not let her go any farther, and that all notaries used the same database.

I asked her what I should do. How can an adult get by in life without notarizing contracts and major transactions?

She shrugged.

Here are my preliminary conclusions. I did time for a crime to which I did not confess. I was released from prison. Now, seemingly, I am a free man, a citizen and taxpayer. But I cannot open an ordinary account in a bank. I cannot ask a notary to notarize a transaction, agreement or deed. Theoretically, I will have problems finding a job due to the fact that it will be impossible for an employer to open a payroll account for me.

What should we call this state of affairs? An incentive to recividism? Or an incentive to emigrate?

P.S. When I asked both the bank and the notary to give me written explanations for their rejections, they claimed they were having technical difficulties with their systems.

P.P.S. When I was in prison, I had no problems drawing up powers of attorney, and I had my own bank account.

Thanks to Vladimir Akimenkov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

I have published several articles in the past on Rosfinmonitoring’s list of “extremists” and its crippling effects on people’s lives:

Leonid Volkov: The List

list-2.jpegA screenshot of Rosfinmonitoring’s list of “extremists” (5 August 2018)

Leonid Volkov
Facebook
August 3, 2018

I hadn’t come across this subject before, but it’s completely hellish. It has to do with the conveyor belt of arrests in Barnaul of people who posted memes on social networks. By the by, you read that each of these people, who has been charged with “extremism” for posting funny pictures on VK, is placed on Rosfinmonitoring’s list of people who are, allegedly, accomplices to terrorists.

The list is no joke at all. All your bank accounts and bank cards are blocked, and you cannot open new accounts and get new bank cards. No one can transfer money to you. You cannot be employed anywhere. You cannot take out more than 10,000 rubles [approx. 136 euros] in cash per month from own bank account, so go ahead and live high on the hog.

The kicker is that people are placed on the list without a court order. So, you are charged with a crime and you wind up on the list.

I took a glance at the list: there are 8,507 people on it. Eight thousand five hundred and seven people.* The list really does include “5203. Motuznaya, Maria Sergeyevna, born 26.8.1994, Barnaul, Altai Territory.” Maria Motuznaya is the young woman who broke the story about the Center “E” officers and their informers in Altai Territory.

Of course, Rosfinmonitoring could definitely not care less about the laws on personal information. While you are tortured and fined, they quietly hang you out to dry on their list.

By the way, the list is called the “List of Persons about Whom There is Information of Their Involvement in Extremism or Terrorism,” and its URL is even more telling: http://www.fedsfm.ru/documents/terrorists-catalog-portal-act. So, a state agency, Rosfinmonitoring, labels 8,507 people “terrorists” just like that. It is obvious the majority of them have been placed on the list in the absence of a court ruling, because even when you take into account all the “terrorists” the FSB has dreamt up, actual terrorist cases have probably not amounted to a tenth of this number.

If you’ve been added to the list, there’s no going back. The web page containing the list also features a list of people who have been removed from the list: there are fourten such people.  I don’t know whether this is the number of people who have been removed from the list since it was established or over the last year. In any case, it is less than 0.2% of 8,507.

It’s probably no coincidence the number of acquittals in Russian courts is roughly the same percentage.

Anyone can end up on the list merely for posting a meme. There is no investigation, no trial, no explanations. Wham! Just like that you’re a “terrorist,” a lowlife excluded from modern society.

It’s a horrible thing.

* Since Mr. Volkov wrote this post, two days ago, Rosfinmonitoring seems to have added another nine people to the list.

Leonid Volkov is project manager at Navalny’s Team. Thanks to Yevegnia Litvinova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

You’ve Lost Control Again

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Black Lists and Total Monitoring: Agora’s New Report on the Surveillance of Russians
A person’s life is utterly transparent to the secret services
Damir Gainutdinov
Republic
August 22, 2017

The Agora International Human Rights Group has released a report entitled “Russia under Surveillance 2017: How the Authorities Are Setting Up a Total System for Monitoring Citizens.” Damir Gainutdinov, the report’s co-author, discusses its key points. The Russian state has been harvesting an unprecedented amount of information about its citizens and wants to collect other kinds of information. It maintains a system of black lists that categorize different types of citizens and has been engaged in a relentless assault on internet anonymity. (You can read the full report in Russian.)

In recent years, Russia has been assembling a complex system for monitoring grassroots activists, reporters, and members of the opposition, a system that encompasses at least several thousand people. Under the pretext of public safety, and fighting extremism and terrorism, the security forces have been monitoring people’s movements around the country and when they cross national borders, wiretapping their phone conversations, intercepting their SMS and email messages, staking them out and surveilling them with audio and video equipment, and analyzing and systematizing biometric information. They have made vigorous use of illegal methods, for example, hacking internet accounts.

The key problem is the absolute lack of control over the state’s invasion of our private lives. The courts rubber stamp decisions taken by the security services. There is almost no chance of successfully challenging the decisions in court. Hence, over the past ten years, the courts have on average approved 98.35% of motions by the state to limit a person’s privacy of correspondence. The upshot is that any law-abiding resident of Russia is now constantly exposed to the risk of arbitrary access to her private life through the internet, mobile telephones, video surveillance, random contacts with the police, when using money, pubic transportation, and driving her car, and applying for a job at a number of workplaces, as well as traveling abroad, carrying weapons, and exercising her other rights.

Privacy and the presumption of innocence are meaningless, and the intensity of the interference has been constantly increasing. The number of requests to eavesdrop on telephone conversations and intercept correspondence have alone more than tripled since 2007.  A person is faced with a choice: either accept total surveillance as a given or look for ways of guarding her privacy. The state, however, regards the latter as illegal, the attempt to hide something criminal.

Complusory Biometrics
The Russian authorities have been vigorously engaged in gathering biometric information: fingerprints, DNA samples, and photographs. By law, this can be done without the individual’s consent if it is a matter of national security, for example. Aside from voluntary fingerprinting (anyone can go to a police and submit his fingerprints), the procedure is obligatory for a large number of people ranging from security services officers to people applying to work as private detectives, from suspects in criminal cases to people who have only committed administrative offenses if there is no other way to identify them, from large numbers of foreigners to stateless persons. Since 2015, anyone over the age of twelve who applies for a biometric foreign travel passport must also submit prints of two fingers. Meaning that, currently, we are talking about at least 25 million people. [Russia’s current population is approximately 143 million.]

Despite the clear list of grounds for compulsory biometric registration, there are regular reports of patently illegal attempts to fingerprint, photograph, and do saliva swipes for DNA tests. Participants of public events such as protest rallies, political activists, and reporters have been the victims of these attempts.

For example, on March 23, 2017, in Moscow, police detained supporters of Alexei Navalny who were handing out stickers in support of his campaign to be allowed to run in the 2018 presidential elections. The detainees were all taken to the Arbat Police Precinct for “preventive” discussions, during which the information in their internal passports was copied and they were fingerprinted. In another incident, which took place on April 6, 2017, at a market in Simferopol, around fifty people of “non-Slavic appearance” were detained, allegedly, because they were mixed up with Crimean Tatar activists in Crimea. Lawyer Edem Semedlyaev said all the detainees were forcibly fingerprinted, photographed, and swabbed for DNA samples.

Video Surveillance
As of 2015, the so-called Secure City complex has begun to be installed in all regions. Secure City is an extensive system of video surveillance and facial recognition. In Moscow alone, 184.6 billion rubles [approx. 2.6 billion euros] have been allocated on implementating the program until 2019. As of 2016, 86.3% of residential neighborhoods in Moscow were covered by CCTV systems. 128,590 cameras had been installed, 98,000 of them in stairwells. The Secure City video archive is stored for five days, and direct access to the recordings is enjoyed not only by the Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] but also by other state agencies.

Under the pretext of getting ready for international sports events, the authorities have improved their surveillance capacities. Sports complexes are equipped with CCTV systems featuring facial recognition functions, even in towns not hosting sporting events. Moscow’s railway stations have been expanding the areas covered by cameras that identify faces and record car license numbers. The Russian government has issued a decree ordering local authorities to draw up lists of places where more than fifty people can gather. They all must be equipped with CCTV systems. The recordings will be stored for thirty days.

Special systems for identifying people have been used at authorized public events [i.e., permitted protest rallies]. For example, officials have admitted they could have identified absolutely everyone who passed through the inspection line on June 12 on Sakharov Avenue.

Tracking Movements
When you buy a ticket, stay at a hotel or use public-access Wi-Fi in Russia, you are informing the regime about your whereabouts.

When you have anything to with with almost any form of long-distance public transportation, the authorities will at very least learn your name, date of birth, type and number of identity card, sex, nationality, departure and destination points, route, and other information using a round-the-clock interactive system.

The practice of scanning passports is widespread in hotels, since management is obliged to inform the Interior Ministry about the registration of guests within twenty-four hours.

The information obtained is sufficient to determine the whereabouts of a person of interest at any moment. The information is used, among other things, to track the movements of activists and human rights workers, and exert pressure on them. This was how Agora lawyer Alexander Popkov was followed when he arrived in one of the regional centers of Krasnodar Territory to take part in the trial of a police officer accused of rape and murder. Arrivign at the train station, Popkov was swiftly met by police investigators, who immediately informed him he was listed in a Russian Interior Ministry database, and so they wanted to know his purpose for visiting the city. The policemen knew his route and means of transportation, his place of residence, and the particulars of his documents.

Eight Years of Administrative Supervision
In May 2017, the use of administrative supervision for persons released from imprisonment increased. A court has ordered that an acknowledged political prisoner, Tatar activist Rafis Kashapov, will be placed under administrative supervision for eight years after being released from prison. In 2015, Kashapov was sentenced to three years in a prison colony for publishing texts critical of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Now, after he is released, Kashapov must register with the police within three days, inform them of all his travel plans and changes of places of residence and work, and report to a police station to give testimony when required by the police. Police officers can conduct individual preventive work with him, ask his employer about his behavior, freely enter his house, and forbid him from making short trips even, for example, when a relative dies.

In addition to administration supervision, which is on the record, there is also clandestine surveillance. Formally, putting someone on preventive registration is part of the beat cop’s routine work. In practice, it has turned into a means for surveilling “suspicious” people, which includes not only ex-cons and registered drug addicts but also people who have committed crimes against public safety at mass events [i.e., committed minor or wholly fictitious infractions at protest rallies], as well as members of “informal youth organizations.”

Lists of the Disloyal
Aside from putting people on preventive registration, the Russian authorities maintain a number of different lists and databases, chockablock with “unreliable” people and organizations. If you end up on one of these lists, you are guaranteed increased attention from law enforcement, including constant checks, detentions, and inspections. Here are only a few of these lists.

Rosfinmonitoring (Federal Financial Monitoring Service) publishes a list of organizations and peoples involved, allegedly, in extremism or terrorism. The list includes the names, dates and places of the birth of the people, and the relevant information about the organizations. A court order banning an organization or sentencing someone for a crime is not required for inclusion on the list. The list features not only people convicted of terrorism but also people suspected of terrorism. It suffices that a prosecutor or the Justice Ministry has suspended an organization’s work or brought charges or declared someone a suspect in the commission of one or more of twenty-two crimes listed in the Criminal Code, including the most “popular” anti-“extremist” crimes. Currently, the list includes 7,558 Russian citizens, 411 foreign nationals, and 182 organizations.

Inclusion in the list means the state has total control of your financial transactions and disposal of your property. All transactions to which a person on Rosfinmonitoring’s list is a party are subject to mandatory control by banks. If they fail to exercise this control, they will be punished by the Russian Central Bank. By default, all transactions are frozen, but you can spend 10,000 rubles per month per family member [approx. 143 euros]  from the wages you earn, and you can also spend the welfare payments you receive. It often happens that people placed on the list discover it after the fact, when they call the bank to find out why a transaction has not been completed.

Of course, there is also the list of NGOs declared “foreign agents,” which the Justice Ministry requires to submit additional reporting on property, expenditures, and management. The Justice Ministry also keeps lists of “undesirable” and “extremist” organizations (currently, there are 11 and 61 of these organizations, respectively). When they are accorded this status, the authorities are obliged to identify their rank-and-file members. When it is a matter of large organizations, thousands and, sometimes, hundreds of thousands of people find themselves targets of surveillance. Thus, in the wake of the banning and forced closure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia in 2017, up to 150,000 of its followers in Russia face the prospect of criminal investigations and criminal prosecutions.

Groups that used to be on the periphery of public life, for example, football fans, have also faced increased attention from the authorities. After a law was amended in 2016, the Interior Ministry began publishing lists of people banned from attending sporting events. The listed included 319 names at the the end of July.

Schoolchildren are yet another group that has faced increased police surveillance. Thus, in the Education Ministry’s recommendations on criminal subcultures [sic], schoolteachers are practically delegated the role of police investigators vis-à-vis minors. They are obliged to divulge information to the police about the private lives of their pupils and their families. This means that the children are entered into the record and put in various police databases.

The Attack on Anonymity
In 2016, the authorities launched a vigorous campaign against anonymity on the internet. The so-called Yarovaya anti-terrorist package of amendments to existing laws could have supplied the secret services with unsupervised access to all communication among users if it were not for the resistance of some providers and standard end-to-end encryption. The Yarovaya package continued the policy of nationalizing and deanonymizing the Runet, which could provide full control over the information flows inside Russia.

The next steps were the laws on messengers and anonymizers, signed by the president on July 30, 2017. The first law, in particular, stipulates the obligatory identification of users by mobile telephone numbers. The second law is essentially an attempt to establish total control over anonymizers and VPNs.

In August 2017, the Communications Ministry published draft requirements for internet providers, as listed in the register of information distribution companies. The draft includes a list of information that must be accessible to the FSB (Federal Security Service): the date and time the user was registered, and the latest update of the registration form; nickname, date of birth, address, full name, passport particulars, other identity documents, languages spoken, information about relatives, and accounts with other providers; the receipt, sending, and processing of messages, images, and sounds; recipients of messenges; financial transactions, including payees, amounts paid, currency, goods and services paid for; and client programs and geolocation information, among other things. Providers are required to store and transmit to the security services not only sent and received messages, but draft messages as well.

And yet public opinion polls show the majority of Russians are not terribbly worried about maintaining privacy for the time being. [Russian opinion polls are worthless as measures of real opinion—TRR.] For activists, reporters, and members of the opposition, however, the refusal of internet companies to cooperate with the authorities and the capacity to withstand hacking are the only guarantees of their security.

Without access to encrypted correspondence, the Russian state, apparently has had to resort to the services of hackers. Thus, on October 11, 2016, Google and Yandex warned several dozen activists, reporters, and NGO employees about an attempt by “pro-government hackers” to hack their accounts.

The Burden of Information
Despite establishing legal grounds for harvesting information about nearly everyone in Russia, there is a huge amount of evidence the regime is technologically and financially incapable of gathering, storing, and qualitatively processing it.

The most obvious example of this is, perhaps, the Yarovaya package itself. During an economic crisis, the authorities are clearly not willing to incur the huge expenses required to implement the entire range of e-surveillance of the populace, which, according to various estimates, could cost from 130 billion rubles [approx. 1.86 billion euros] to 10 trillion rubles [approx. 143 billion euros]. Consequently, the duties of collecting and saving traffic have been sloughed off onto the telecoms and internet providers, who are likewise not at all happy about such a “gift” and have already begun to raise their rates. Meaning that the surveilled themselves have been asked to pay for the ability of the secret services to read their correspondence and view their personal photographs, to pay a kind of “shadowing” tax. Meanwhile, since more than half the world’s internet traffic is already transmitted in encrypted form, the regime, even though it has access to exabytes of user correspondence, has been forced to demand that providers supply them with encryption keys.

Aware of its limited resources, the Russian state has focused on more diligent work with specific groups. Hence, the enthusiasm over different types of black lists, as well as the delegation of surveillance duties to telecoms, internet providers, banks, and transportation companies. On the one hand, they have access to the information; on the other hand, they depend on the state, make their money from government contracts or receive their licenses and permits from the state.

The authorities are willing to chuck the black lists, which have proved ineffective, just as they gave up on the bloggers register. This would enable them to focus resources on various risk groups. When necessary, they could include people of special interest in the groups while surveilling the populace as a whole.

Consequently, the security departments of many commercial organizations have been ratting on their clients to the security forces, headmasters have been forced to gather dirt on schoolchildren, and internet providers to monitor the traffic of users. Even as it stores this growing mountain of information on Russians, the authorities care little for their safety. Increasingly, user data has become publicly accessible, often deliberately.

Damir Gainutdinov is a legal analyst at Agora. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

No Poet Is Illegal, No Poem Is Extremist

Poet Alexander Byvshev. Photo courtesy of OVD Info
Poet Alexander Byvshev. Photo courtesy of OVD Info

New Criminal Charges Filed against Ex-Schoolteacher Alexander Byvshev
OVD Info
January 17, 2017

On January 17, 2017, police searched the house of ex-schoolteacher Alexander Byvshev in the village of Kromy, Oryol Region. During the search, law enforcement officers confiscated a computer and other information storage devices. After the search, the suspect was interrogated at the local office of the Russian Investigative Committee.

As Alexander Podrabinek wrote on his Facebook page, Byvshev has again been charged under Criminal Code Article 282 (inciting enmity or hostility, as well as humiliation of human dignity). The charges were filed in connection with Byvshev’s poem “On the Independence of Ukraine,” which was published in February 2015 in several Ukrainian periodicals. As Byvshev himself noted, the poem is a “polemical response” to Joseph Brodsky’s eponymous poem.

On July 13, 2015, the Kromy District Court found Byvshev guilty of inciting ethnic hatred (Criminal Code Article 282.1) and sentenced him to 300 hours of compulsory labor for writing poems supporting Ukraine. He was also forbidden to work as a schoolteacher for two years. In autumn 2014, after one of Byvshev’s poems was declared extremist, Rosfinmonitoring placed Byvshev on its list of terrorists and extremists, and his bank accounts were blocked.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Police Officers Are a “Social Group” in Russia

Activist Tsvetkova Sentenced to Year of Corrective Labor for Leaflet about Police 
Grani.ru
May 31, 2016

Elizaveta Tsvetkova. Photo on her personal page on Vkontakte
Elizaveta Tsvetkova. Photo from her personal page on Vkontakte

Taganrog City Court Judge Georgy Serebryanikov sentenced 31-year-old local resident Elizaveta Tsvetkova to a year of corrective labor for disseminating leaflets criticizing the police, reports Caucasian Knot. As published on the court’s website, the verdict stipulates that fifteen percent of Tsvetkova’s wages will be docked by the state for a year. The activist has also been charged 6,000 rubles in court costs.

Serebryanikov found the defendant guilty under Criminal Code Article 281.2 (incitement of hatred or enmity toward the social group “police officers”), which stipulates a maximum punishment of four years in a penal colony.

During closing arguments on May 16, Taganrog Deputy Chief Prosecutor Vadim Dikaryov asked that Tsetkova be sentenced to one year in a work-release colony. Serebryanikov thus imposed a lighter sentence than was requested by the prosecution.

The activist, however, pleaded not guilty. During her closing statement, on May 27, she stressed she had protested the illegal actions of law enforcement officers. She reminded Judge Serebryanikov of high-profile criminal cases against policemen, including the cases of Major Denis Yevsyukov and the Dalny police station in Kazan.

Lawyer Yuri Chupilkin had also asked the court to acquit his client.

Initially, the reading of the verdict in Tsvetkova’s trial had been scheduled for May 30. However, an hour before the scheduled hearing, the activist was called and informed it would be postponed. The reasons for the delay were not explained to the defendant.

It is unclear whether Tsvetkova would appeal the verdict.

Charges were filed against the activist in January 2015. According to investigators, Tsvetkova downloaded a leaflet criticizing the police from the Vkontakte social network, printed it out, and the day before Law Enforcement Officers Day, in November 2014, posted it at public transport stops and on street lamps.

The investigation was completed in August 2015. However, in September, the acting Taganrog city prosecutor uncovered numerous legal violations in the investigation, refused to confirm the indictment, and sent the case back to the Russian Investigative Committee. The indictment was confirmed the second time round, in November.

However, investigators ignored a sociological forensic study, carried out by Professor Vladimir Kozyrkov at Nizhny Novgorod University. Professor Kozyrkov rejected claims that police officers constitute a social group.

At preliminary hearings in December, Chupilkin insisted on striking a number of pieces of evidence from consideration, in particular, studies done by the regional interior ministry. Judge Serebryanikov, however, rejected the defense’s motions.

The hearing on the merits began on January 15, 2016. During the April 20 hearing, Viktor Chernous, a sociology professor at Southern Federal University in Rostov-on-Don, subpoenaed as an expert witness, also testified that police officers were not a social group, and consequently there had been nothing criminally culpable in the actions imputed to the defendant.

In turn, Elizaveta Koltunova, an assistant professor of linguistics at Nizhny Novgorod University, who was subpoenaed as an expert witness, noted that she could find nothing extremist about the leaflet that had led to the charges filed against Tsvetkova.

Rosfinmonitoring has included Tsvetkova in its list of terrorists and extremists and blocked her bank account.

* * *

An excerpt from the closing statement of activist Elizaveta Tsvetkova (Taganrog) at her trial on charges of extremism, May 27, 2016:

I still think that escapades like my own, the case in Stavropol involving the [alleged] offense to the feelings of religious believers, and other cases, have caused no real harm, but the outcome is that our law enforcement system acquires the image of a satrap for some reason. In addition, people are distracted from real dangers such as identifying terrorists. Perhaps I am an overly sensitive person, but it seems to me that one cannot remain indifferent after such high-profile cases as that of Major Yevsyukov, who gunned down civilians in a supermarket, and the case of torture at the Dalny police station, where a man died. These cases would cause anyone to have a negative attitude towards the illegal actions of police officers. I remain convinced that cases of bribery, torture, and murder must be stopped. People should not be afraid of police officers who break the law and engage in rough justice, but should put a stop to their actions, report their illegal activists, and publicly criticize police officers. Only then we will live in a country under the rule of law and be able to improve life in Russia. Cliquishness and special privileges are always abnormal and generally unfair, especially when it comes to such questions. A divided society cannot function normally. We must realize that if people are be unable to stand up for their rights in any area, if they are forced to put up with lawlessness in policing, housing, and health care, we will never live in a civilized, well-developed country.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Case of Ekaterina Vologzheninova: Watch What You “Like”

Click on the Button and Get a Sentence
Latest “Extremist” Reposting Case Goes to Court
Margarita Alyokhina
October 14, 2015
Novye Izvestia

Ekaterina Vologzheninova
Ekaterina Vologzheninova

The first hearing on the merits of the criminal case against Ekaterina Vologzheninova, who has been accused of extremism for reposts she made on the social network VKontakte, will take place on October 27. In addition to distributing “inflammatory” matter (consisting, in fact, of pictures and poems, supporting Ukraine, that are freely available on the Web), the 46-year-old single mother [from Yekaterinburg] has been accused of associating with “undesirable persons,” which included activists from Memorial and International Amnesty.

Vologzheninova has been charged under Article 282.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of human dignity”). The authorities began pursuing Vologzheninova after she shared several items on VKontakte. These items, we should note, have not been included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials.

Experts from the SOVA Information and Analysis Center have commented on the case against Vologzheninova on their website.

“The poem ‘Katsaps,’ whose main idea is that Ukraine’s ethnic Russians will defend it from Russia, contains accusations that the Russian authorities have attacked Ukraine, but there are no aggressive appeals in it. As for the poster, it obviously calls on Ukrainian citizens to defend the country from occupation.”

As usual, the preliminary hearing in the case was held in closed chambers.

“The prosecutor read out the indictment. But she read it out in an interesting way, omitting the most absurd paragraphs,” Vologzheninova’s attorney Roman Kachanov told Novye Izvestia.

During the hearing, the defense moved to send the case back to the prosecutor’s office, since, according to Kachanov, the indictment did not meet the requirements of the law. It did not make clear what the charges were.

“The conclusion states that [Vologzheninova] committed acts aimed at inciting hatred and enmity on the basis of race, ethnicity, and origin. As for race and origin, we did not understand that at all. But as for ethnicity, the indictment turns on the social group ‘Russians,’ although in the items at issue, ethnic Russians, on the contrary, are assessed positively; it is argued that it is wrong to oppose Russians to Ukrainians. In one text, Russians fighting in the Armed Forces of Ukraine are mentioned proudly,” Kachanov told Novye Izvestia.

According to Kachanov, the indictment accuses Vologzheninova of inciting hatred toward the social group “Moscow occupier” [sic]. It also features the phrase “ethnic hatred and enmity toward the public authorities.”

Earlier, during the investigation, Vologzheninova had also been reproached for associating with “undesirable persons,” human rights activists from Memorial and Amnesty International.

“Formally, such charges were not brought against her, because there is no such crime. At the very end of the investigation, however, [Vologzheninova was interrogated] by a FSB field officer by the name of Khudenkikh. And he, apparently wanting to generate a negative psychological atmosphere, accused her of having dealings with Memorial, which is a ‘foreign agent,’ and with Open Russia, which is funded from the west,” Kachanov told Novye Izvestia.

According to him, on the eve of the court hearing, it transpired that Vologzheninova’s bankcard had been blocked.

“The situation is this. By law, if a person is suspected of extremist or terrorist activities, his or her name is put on Rosfinmonitoring’s black list. A court sentence is not needed for this. But it does not always happen this way. I know people convicted of extremist crimes who have continue to have use of their bank accounts,” the lawyer explained.

According to him, a person who goes on the Rosfinmonitoring list stays there practically in perpetuity. For example, the slain terrorists Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev are still on it. And since the list is openly accessible, for “extremists” like Vologzheninova it is an additional humiliation. As Novye Izvestia ascertained, Ekaterina Vologzheninova is indeed listed among terrorists and extremists on Rosfinmonitoring’s website.

Svetlana Mochalova, a linguist with the FSB’s crime lab in Sverdlovsk Region, performed the forensic examination in the case. As Novye Izvestia reported earlier, a whole string of verdicts in controversial “extremism” cases in the Urals have been based on her findings. Among them is the verdict in the case of Pervouralsk resident Elvira Sultanakhmetova, who was sentenced to 120 hours of community service for calling on Muslims not to celebrate New Year’s because it was, in her opinion, a pagan holiday. Mochalova identified “incitement of hatred and enmity towards persons who do not celebrate New Year’s, whose customs and festivals are manifestations of a lack of faith” [sic] in what Sultanakhmetova had written. In 2010, Mochalova found “statements calling for social strife and the violent overthrow of the Russian Federation’s constitutional order an integrity” in the article “Patriotism as a Diagnosis,” written by the attorney Stanislav Markelov, who had been murdered [by Russian neo-Nazis] a year earlier. The article was examined as part of the proceedings against civic activist and Tyumen State University lecturer Andrei Kutuzov. He was prosecuted for, allegedly, handing out leaflets calling for an end to political crackdowns. According to Mochalova, these leaflets incited hatred against the authorities and aroused social discord. Mochalova refused to reveal her examination procedure to the court on that occasion, claiming that it was marked “for official use only.”

In July, teacher Alexander Byvshev, who had posted a pro-Ukrainian poem on a social network (unlike Vologzheninova Byvshev had written the poem himself), was sentenced to 300 hours of community service in the Oryol Region. Sentences for “likes” and reposts have practically become the norm this year. Thus, on September 28, Chelyabinsk blogger Konstantin Zharinov, who had reposted material from the banned Right Sector, was found guilty and immediately pardoned. On September 15, Krasnodar activist Sergei Titarenko was fined 100,000 rubles [approx. 1,400 euros] for reposting a political post. On September 17, the Lenin District Court in Cheboksary sentenced Parnas opposition party activist Dmitry Semyonov [and immediately pardoned] for reposting a caricature of Dmitry Medvedev.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

__________

A Currenttime.tv report about the criminal case at Yekaterinburg resident Ekaterina Vologzheninova, accused under Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code of inciting ethnic hatred and enmity against the Russian public authorities, residents of Southeast Ukraine who do not support modern Ukraine’s political course, volunteers from Russia fighting on the side of the Donetsk People’s Republic, and other absurd things. Posted on October 17, 2015. Thanks to Sergey Chernov for the heads-up

The “Gay Terrorist Underground” in Khabarovsk: The Case of Andrei Marchenko

Prosecutor Requests Two Years in Open Penal Settlement for Khabarovsk Blogger Marchenko
September 28, 2015
Grani.Ru

Prosecutor Olesya Demina has asked Khabarovsk’s Industrial District Court to sentence blogger and LGBT activist Andrei Marchenko to two years in an open penal settlement, as reported by Grani.Ru’s correspondent from the courtroom. Marchenko has been accused of extremism for posts he made on Facebook.

andrei marchenko
Andrei Marchenko outside of Industrial District Court in Khabarovsk. Photo by Alla Viktorova. Courtesy of Grani.Ru

During closing arguments, defense attorney Natalya Gladych drew the court’s attention to Marchenko’s positive character references, as well as the findings of a psychologist, who concluded that the defendant’s only purpose had been to draw attention to himself and to his position on the war in the east of Ukraine.

“Two years in an open penal settlement is an excessively severe punishment given that the evidence presented by the prosecution is insufficient. The prosecutor speaks of Marchenko as an out-and-out extremist, although the man was simply expressing his opinion. The harsh form in which he delivered it was due only to heightened emotionality,” said Gladych.

On Monday, the defendant was to make his closing statement, but Judge Galina Nikolayeva unexpectedly adjourned until Wednesday, September 30, when Marchenko will deliver his closing statement and the judge will return a verdict.

“I did not expect that the prosecution would request real prison time. There is not a single injured party in the case. There is only the one sentence on Facebook, which did not lead to any real consequences. And for this the representative of the state machine asks the court to sentence me to real prison time,” Marchenko commented to Grani.ru after the hearing.

Marchenko has pleaded not guilty and hopes for an acquittal.

On June 8, 2014, Trinity Sunday, Marchenko published a post on Facebook dealing with the events in the east of Ukraine.

“Impale all the terrorists!!!!!!!!” he wrote. “Kill all of them!! Blood Sunday! Free Ukraine from the fascist Russian terrorists on Trinity Sunday!”

The post was made visible only to Marchenko’s friends in the social network. Nevertheless, it was this publication that led to the blogger’s prosecution.

On August 28, 2014, FSB officers carried out a search at Marchenko’s home during which they seized all his office equipment and mobile phones. The following day, the blogger was charged at regional FSB headquarters under Article 280, Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public incitement to extremism)

andrei marchenko-2
Andrei Marchenko. Photo courtesy of amurburg.ru

A week before the raid, the blogger had also been summoned to regional FSB headquarters. There he was shown screenshots of a certain site according to which Marchenko and another Khabarovsk LGBT activist, Alexander Yermoshkin, were the founders and masterminds of a “gay terrorist underground” that were pursuing the goal of organizing an “orange revolution” in Khabarovsk. As Marchenko noted, the FSB investigator was “utterly serious.” Marchenko was then asked why he did not like “Novorossiya.” He was told that his numerous posts in support of Ukraine and criticizing the Kremlin were the reason for the FSB’s concern.

On September 11, 2014, another five phrases from Marchenko’s summertime posts were sent off for forensic examination.

“Including phrases in support of Poroshenko and phrases about the fact that prices are higher but Crimea is ours,” wrote the blogger.

Two weeks later, it transpired that Rosfinmonitoring had placed Marchenko on its list of terrorists and extremists. However, the blogger kept his bank accounts only for withdrawing money he earned through official freelance bureaus from the WebMoney system. For many years, these earnings had been Marchenko’s only source of income. Thus, Rosfinmonitoring’s decision left the activist penniless.

“Now I don’t even have money for groceries,” wrote Marchenko.

The blogger expressed bewilderment at his inclusion in the list, noting that the court had not yet deemed him either a terrorist or an extremist.

On December 30, 2014, final charges were filed against Marchenko.

Translated by the Russian Reader

NB. Grani.Ru, the opposition news and commentary website that published this article about Andrei Marchenko’s plight is itself banned in Russia as “extremist” and can only be viewed there through VPNs, anonymizers, and mirror sites.

Update. According to an article on the news website Vostok-Media, on October 1, 2015, the Industrial District Court in Khabarovsk found Andrei Marchenko guilty as charged and sentenced him to a fine of 100,000 rubles, but immediately amnestied him as part of a general amnesty celebrating the seventieth anniversary of victory in the Second World War.

Andrei Marchenko celebrating his virtual victory in court. Photo courtesy of Vostok-Media
Andrei Marchenko celebrating his virtual victory in court. Photo courtesy of Vostok-Media