FSB and Russian Interior Ministry Oppose Criminalizing Torture Mediazona
January 29, 2019
The FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) and Russian Interior Ministry have opposed amending the Russian Criminal Code to define torture as a discrete instance of official criminal misconduct, arguing it would be “superfluous,” according to the security service’s published response to a recommendation made by the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights.
According to the FSB, torture was covered by Russian Criminal Code Articles 117.2.d (“maltreatment involving torture”) and 286.3.a (“abuse of authority involving torture”).
The Interior Ministry voiced a similar opinion, listing the articles of the Criminal Code that, in its opinion, “fully” treat actions meeting the definition of torture.
The FSB has also opposed establishing a single database of detainees that would enable loved ones of criminal suspects and people charged with crimes, as well as lawyers and members of the Public Monitoring Commissions, to discover their whereabouts.
The FSB argued this would enable people not involved in criminal investigations but who had a stake in their outcome, including criminal accomplices, to access information. It noted a database of this sort could threaten national security when cases of treason and espionage were investigated.
In September 2018, the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights held a special sixty-fourth session dealing with observation of the principles of openness and legality in penal institutions.
The UN Committee against Torture has on several occasions recommended that Russia explicitly criminalize torture, but Russian authorities have ignored the recommendations, citing the articles in the Russian Criminal Code dealing with “maltreatment.”
The Russian government has tabled a law bill in the State Duma that would ratify the protocol to the convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) outlawing forced labor. Russian officials claim ratifying the protocol is a formality, because there is no slavery in Russia. However, the government itself employs forced labor. PROVED has written about how the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) sells the labor of inmates to commercial companies, although it is forbidden by the convention. The Walk Free Foundation (WFF), an international human rights advocacy group, estimates there are over one million slaves in Russia.
The Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (No. 29) was adopted by the ILO in Geneva in 1930. The Soviet Union signed it only at the dawn of the Khrushchev Thaw in 1956. In 2014, the convention was supplemented with a protocol introducing new restrictions on the use of forced labor. In particular, the original convention had stipulated people could be forced to work for public purposes. Such voluntary forced labor was widely practiced in the Soviet Union. Blue- and white-collar workers spent their weekends laboring at so-called subbotniks, while university students were sent to the fields of collective farms to harvest potatoes, carrots, and cabbages. The protocol to ILO Convention No. 29 deems this coerced labor a criminal offense.
Post-Soviet Russia has not ratified either the first or second versions of the convention. The Russian Labor Ministry has decided to correct the omission and tabled a law bill in the State Duma approving the statutes in the protocol to the convention.
The protocol requires signatories to take vigorous measures for eliminating slavery. They must pay compensation to victims of compulsory labor, educate law enforcement officers and employers about prohibited labor practices, and develop strategies for combating the slave trade.
The Labor Ministry’s draft bill says slavery has been banned in Russia as it is, and so it does not suggest any special measures for combating compulsory labor nor does it amend existing laws.
Seventh Place in Terms of Slavery
Experts claim, however, that Russian officials are disingenuous. In fact, in its 2016 survey, the WFF estimated there are least one million people in Russia subjected to some form of slavery, i.e., 0.73% of the country’s total population. Russia was thus ranked seventh in the WFF’s 2016 Global Slavery Index of 167 countries in terms of absolute number of people subjected to modern slavery. According to the index, only India (over 18 million), China (approx. 3.4 million), Pakistan (approx. 2.1 million), Bangladesh (approx. 1.5 million), Uzbekistan (approx. 1.2 million), and North Korea (1.1 million) had more slaves than Russia did.
An excerpt from the 2016 Global Slavery Index
Russian officials have not analyzed slave labor in Russia and do not acknowledge the problem. In their way of thinking, the president has not given them any instructions on the matter and nothing needs to be done, explains Yelena Gerasimova, director of the Center for Social and Labor Rights.
“I cannot say the government is a party to the scheme, but it closes its eyes on it. Russian Criminal Code Articles 127.1 (Human Trafficking) and 127.2 (Use of Slave Labor) are vaguely worded. While the ILO has a clear definition of slavery, the Russian police often do not understand what we are talking about. They ask us, ‘What slaves? Where are the shackles?’ But no one has ever kept slaves in shackles, for they have to work,” adds Oleg Melnikov, head of the grassroots organization Alternative.
The Government Protection Racket
Slavery includes forced marriages in which women are used as domestic servants, prostitutes forced to work in brothels, and migrant workers whose passports are confiscated by employers. As Gerasimova notes, however, Russian police, prosecutors, and labor inspectors refuse to acknowledge the problem and do nothing to identify people subjected to slavery.
She cites the example of the slaves of Golyanovo, twelve men and women freed from the basement of a grocery story on the outskirts of Moscow in 2012.
“The police were running protection for the store, which had kept people in bondage for years. They had their papers confiscated and were not paid for their work. Golyanovo is the tip of the iceberg,” argues Gerasimova.
The Russian government is willing to sell the manpower of inmates to commercial clients. For example, as PROVEDdiscovered, Arkhangelsk Commercial Seaport LLC, a subsidiary of Evraz, purchased “workers from the inmate population” at the local penal colony for 860 rubles a day per person [approx. €12 a day]. The contract was posted on the government procurements website, although Arkhangelsk Regional Governor Igor Orlov hotly denied the deal. Now it is clear why. The ILO convention permits courts to impose work as a punishment, but it forbids leasing inmates to private companies.
Russian convicts usually work within the FSIN’s own system. Thus, the FSIN’s Main Industrial and Construction Department used inmates to build an entire residential complex for penitentiary service employees on the outskirts of Krasnoyarsk. Ironically, the complex is located on Work Safety Street.
However, the temptation to pursue public-private partnerships in the field of hard labor is too great. For example, FISN officials in Krasnodar Territory not only make no bones about their cooperation with business, but even brag about it. Inmates there sew uniforms for regular police and the Russian National Guard, cobble shoes, produce construction material, and are employed in woodworking and animal husbandry. Krasnodar Territory subsidizes businessmen who buy the goods produced by convicts. The entire enterprise is part of the territory’s official industrial development program for 2017–2020.
The Slave International
Forced labor is popular not only in the Russian penitentiary system but also in the outside world.
Melnikov describes a typical path to slavery.
“People from the hinterlands who go to Moscow and other major cities to improve their lot can end up as slaves. Someone approaches them on the streets, offering them a job in another region working on a rotational basis. He offers them a drink. Two days later, they wake up as they are arriving in Dagestan, Kalmykia or Stavropol Territory. Usually, the slaves work in cottage industries. The victims are told they have been bought. When they try and escape, they are captured and given a beating in front of everyone,” he says.
Moscow has recently been deluged with young women from Nigeria. Allegedly, they have come to study, but ultimately they are forced into prostitution. The farther workers are from home, the more vulnerable they are, adds Melnikov.
Fly-by-night firms, registered in Russia, recruit laborers in the rural regions of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. So-called foremen act as intermediaries between the firms and the local populace.
“They are often ethnic Russians from Central Asia or elders of the local communities, the mahallahs. They bring young men and women from the villages and hand them over to the managers of the companies that operate as agents. From the viewpoint of the UN and international law, this is human trafficking. But the migrant workers themselves do not see it that way. Many of them regard it as the natural order of things, an act of initiation. If you have not worked as a migrant laborer, you’re not a real man,” notes Andrei Yakimov, an expert on migrant workers.
People who are employed in this manner usually sign no work contracts with their employers. They do not know the names of the companies where they work or the names of their supervisors.
“A female cleaner from Uzbekistan knows only that she works for someone named Feruz. Feruz is her foreman or her foreman’s manager. At most, she will have heard that somewhere at the top of the food chain her work is supervised by someone named Andrei Nikolayevich, say. If I am an unskilled worker named Abdullo who has not been paid his wages, I am going to find it hard to figure where my money is. The foreman, the manager, his managers or contractor could be holding on to it. The chain of command can consist of dozens of links, especially in the construction business,” Yakimov explains.
There is no one to whom the migrant work can complain. If the migrant worker’s ID papers have also been confiscated, his or her enslavement is complete.
Slave labor is employed in different sectors of the economy. In Dagestan, slaves are sent to work at brick factories, while in Moscow they are employed as shop clerks, beggars, and prostitutes. In Novy Urengoy, they work in construction, while in Tver Region they are employed in sawmills.
Employment Off the Books
Yakimov argues that slavery in Russia is one of the shapes taken by undocumented employment. Russian nationals are fine with the fact that foreigners from Central Asia do the dirty, poorly paid jobs. These workers never turn to the authorities for help, fearing they will be punished for not having residency papers and work permits.
Russian nationals sometimes also avoid turning to the authorities, since many of them are employed on the black market and have not signed employment contracts, either. State Duma MP Oleg Shein has calculated that 34 million able-bodied Russians are employed in the illegal labor market, earning 10 trillion rubles [approx. €136 billion] annually. They constitute 40% of Russia’s entire workforce, says Shein. Such workers risk ending up as forced laborers, according to the wording of ILO Convention No. 29.
Mediazona’s Petersburg Correspondent Accused of Disobeying Court Bailiffs Mediazona
June 19, 2018
David Frenkel, a Mediazona correspondent, has informed us that bailiffs at Petersburg’s Dzerzhinsky District Court have cited him for violating Article 17.3 of the Administrative Code (“failure to comply with the orders of a judge or court bailiff”).
Frenkel attended the custody extension hearing of Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case suspect Viktor Filinkov. Journalists and the public were not admitted to the courtroom during the hearing and the judge’s ruling. When the hearing was over, and Filinkov was escorted from the courtroom, the public, around forty people, applauded him.
It was then that court clerk Yelena Krasotkina, outraged the public supported the prisoner, ordered the bailiffs to detain Frenkel, who at the time was standing in the corridor and not applauding.
Yekaterina Kosarevskya, a member of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, said she heard Krasotkina say to the bailiffs, “Write somebody up for something.”
One of the bailiffs suggested detaining Frenkel. Ten minutes later, another bailiff threatened to detain Kosarevskaya.
When the bailiffs detained Frenkel, they broke his glasses. They claimed he screamed.
The bailiffs cited him Frenkel for violating Adminstrative Code Article 17.3 Part 2 (“Failure to obey the lawful request of a court bailiff for establishing order in the court and stopping actions violating court rules”).
Frenkel sent a photo of the citation to his Mediazona colleagues: he was unable to read it, since a bailiff, surnamed Vikulov, had broken his glasses. The citation claimed Frenkel “made noise, clapped, shouted, and urged the crowd to take illegal actions.”
Frenkel was then taken to the 78th Police Precinct. The policemen swore when they found out why Frenkel had been brought to the police station. He was released after approximately fifteen minutes.
Viktor Filinkov’s term in remand prison was extended four months, until October 22, 2018.
When Frenkel was escorted from the corridor, it transpired the bailiffs had run out of blank arrest sheets.
Around forty people had gathered before the hearing in the second-floor corridor of the courthouse. They included the parents of Yuli Boyarshinov, another suspect in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, whose remand to police custody was extended later in the day. No member of the public was able to attend the hearing. Before escorting Filinkov from the holding cell, the guards and bailiffs ordered the public to go down to the first floor. They claimed their request had to do with “safely escorting” their prisoner.
The members of the public were reluctant to leave the second floor. Court clerk Yelena Krasotkina emerged from the office of the Dzerzhinsky District Court’s presiding judge. Krasotkina announced the decision to hold both hearings in closed chambers had been made earlier and ordered the public to leave the courthouse.
David Frenkel (@merr1k): “I get the sense the brass has taken the Dzerzhinsky District Court to task, and so they are avoiding the use of force. They are swearing and getting mad, but they’re putting up with us. 11: 12 a.m., July 19, 2018.”
The bailiffs placed a bench at the entrance of the corridor to courtroom, forbidding members of the public from going around the bench. Krasotkina reprimanded the bailiffs, complaining , “They’re all still here,” meaning the members of the public. Armed guards in masks escorted Filinkov into the courtroom as this was happening.
Inside the Dzerzhinsky District Court, June 19, 2018. Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Mediazona
Members of the public and the bailiffs argued with each other. A man who was possibly in charge of the armed guard joined them. He warned the public they would not be admitted to the courtroom to hear the judge’s ruling in the cases of Filinkov and Boyarshinov.
“How is that?” asked a member of the public.
“Well, if the judge permits it, the public gets in. If the judge doesn’t, they don’t,” replied the man.
“How do we find that out?” asked perplexed members of the public.
“When the hearing is over, they’ll come out and tell you,” he concluded.
Krasotkina periodically emerged from the presiding judge’s office, taking a photograph of the members of the public on one such occasion.
Filinkov’s defense counsel, Vitaly Cherkasov, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group, then emerged from the courtroom, telling the crowd the defense had asked the judge to transfer Filinkov to house arrest.
Finally, after the court had rendered its ruling, Frenkel was detained by the bailiffs.
Armed guards escort Viktor Filinkov at the Dzerzhinsky District Court. Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Mediazona
This was not the first time a member of the press has been cited for violating Article 17.3 at the Dzerzhinsky District Court. On March 22, 2018, bailiff Ivan Lozovsky cited journalist Sasha Bogino for violating the administrative law. He ordered her to stop “live streaming,” although the Mediazona correspondent was sitting in the courtroom with her laptop open and not filming anything. In late May, a court ordered Bogino to pay a fine of 500 rubles.
Filinkov and Boyarshinov have been in police custody since January of this year. On June 18, 2018, the Dzherzhinsky District court extended the term in custody of the third Petersburg suspect in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, Igor Shishkin. Another six young men are in police custody in Penza as suspects in the same case.
According to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the members of the alleged “terrorist community” known as “The Network” had planned “to stir up the popular masses in order to destabilize the political circumstances” in Russia on the eve of March’s presidential election and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which is currently underway. In addition, on June 15, 2018, it transpired that three new charges had been added to the case.
Three of the suspects, who have been charged with violating Article 205.4 of the Russian Criminal Code (“involvement in a terrorist community”), Viktor Filinkov, Ilya Shakursky, and Dmitry Pchelintsev, have claimed they were tortured into confessing after they were detained by FSB field officers. In addition, Alexei Poltavets, an acquaintance of the suspects, has claimed he was tortured into testifying against them.
The Russian Investigative Committee has so far refused to refuse to file abuse of authority charges against any FSB officers. In the case of Ilya Kapustin, who was tortured during his interrogation by the FSB as a witness, the Investigative Committee decided Kapustin’s taser burns were “consistent with injuries caused by skin diseases or insect bites.”
The suspects’ loved ones have formed a Parents Network. In April 2018, the group held a press conference in Moscow.
Translated by the Russian Reader
What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?
Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (email@example.com). Make sure to specify that your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
Spread the word about The Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find downloadable, printable posters and flyers. You can also read more about the case there.
If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandize, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You canfind the addresses of the prisoners here.
Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed out and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to email@example.com.
Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to email@example.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are reviewed, the Russian government will be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.
If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and repost the recent articles the Russian Reader has translated and published on these subjects.
The other day, a friend of mine who works with kids complained to me that kids in Russia had no real heroes. Like kids most everywhere, they are in love with the wretched, hyper-commercialized Spider-Man and Harry Potter, not with homegrown heroes.
It might be a bit of a reach (because how do you explain this stuff to kids?), but from where I sit there are lots of heroes in modern Russia. Prominent among them are all the people convicted as part of the shameful sham known as the Bolotnaya Square case.
One of those heroes is Sergei Krivov, recently released after serving over four years in prison for the nonexistent crimes of being beaten over the head with a truncheon by a policeman and attempting nonviolently to prevent policemen from doing the same to other peaceable demonstrators in Moscow on May 6, 2012.
In the country I would like to live in, I would go outside and see dozens of people wearing t-shirts with Krivov’s totally ordinary but heroic face emblazoned on them. Krivov’s birthday would be a minor holiday, celebrated with a rousing march down every town’s main thoroughfare, followed by hearty little picnics, to celebrate the fact that Krivov undertook two hunger strikes, nearly dying in the attempt, in order to defend the freedom of speech and assembly in Russia.
Needless to say, Krivov’s would be a household name. Kids would read comics about the adventures of Sergei Krivov, where the hard facts would be mixed with a light helping of fantasy to make them more palatable to childish fancy.
If you have never heard of Sergei Krivov or don’t understand why he is a modern-day Russian hero, you need to read this interview with him. TRR
“It Is Not Recommended to Live in This Country”
Natalia Dzhanpoladova and Nikita Tatarsky Radio Svoboda
July 26, 2016
Yet another person convicted in the so-called Bolotnaya Square case, Sergei Krivov, a 54-year-old with a Ph.D. in physics and mathematics, has been released. Krivov was released from a prison colony in Bryansk Region, having served his sentence in full. In 2014, a court found him guilty of involvement in rioting and using force against police officers during a May 6, 2012, opposition rally on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.
Krivov received one of the harshest sentences in the case, three years and nine months imprisonment.
His allies explained this was because the authorities avenged Krivov for the uncompromising stand he had taken throughout the trial. Krivov went on two lengthy hunger strikes. The first, to protest his arrest, lasted over forty days. During the second, he did not eat for sixty days in order to secure transcripts of the court proceedings. Krivov suffered two heart attacks during the second hunger strike.
Krivov was arrested as part of the Bolotnaya Square investigation several months after the events, in October 2012. According to police investigators, on May 6, 2012, when the crowd broke through police lines, Krivov seized a rubber truncheon from a policeman and used it to deliver several blows to police officers. Krivov himself repeatedly claimed he had been beaten by police on Bolotnaya Square, but the Investigative Committee refused to investigate his complaint.
Krivov served his sentence in two penal colonies in Bryansk Region, first at a correctional facility in Starodub. He was then transferred to a penal colony in Klintsy. The wardens put him in solitary, because they felt his life was in danger.
In an interview with Radio Svoboda, Kriov admitted his sentence might have been shorter had he “kept [his] mouth shut.” He spoke in detail about the reasons for his uncompromising stance, what happened on Bolotnaya Square, and how much Russia has changed since 2012.
The changes have been quite huge, and for the worse, although I still cannot say I have figured out what is what. I had been gradually following these changes by watching TV and reading Novaya Gazeta newspaper and New Times magazine, so they did not happen all at once for me and were not news. Nevertheless, I am perfectly aware the country as it was in 2012 and the country as it is in 2016 are two fundamentally different countries. There are far fewer freedoms, naturally, and It is nearly impossible to do anything within this framework.
Do you feel you have changed over these years?
In fact, after I got out, changed my clothes, and bathed, I had the feeling everything was as it had been. Although I did have big problems during the middle of my sentence: lots of things happened. But when it is all behind me, when I have come back to the “free” world, I cannot say I have changed. I think I am the same person I was.
Have you managed to meet with friends and relatives since your release? What are your impressions from these meetings and conversations?
Of course I have managed to meet with them. Let me put it is this way: almost no has chewed me out, except my wife, of course. In general, the feelings have been positive, because everyone has been friendly. They all congratulate me and wish me the best.
Naturally, anyone would find this pleasant. I want to say thank you to all the people who wrote me letters, held pickets, and collected money through the Internet, and to the leaders of the PARNAS Party, who paid my lawyers and sent me care packages: Boris Nemtsov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Vladimir Ryzhkov, and Ilya Yashin. In addition, Lyudmila Alexeyeva was involved. Despite her age, she attended the court hearings. A big thank-you to everyone for their support.
Last Wednesday, you also met with activists in Sokolniki Park. You mentioned you had no hope of being paroled. [In March, the court turned down Krivov’s parole application — Radio Svoboda.] Did you pin any hopes on the court in this case, that is, the trial court that heard the Bolotnaya Square case?
No. We had no chance from the get-go. What would have been the point of cooking all this up and then releasing us later? Obviously, the authorities conceived a quite definite plan, and they have been carrying it out. From my point of view, there was no reason to change anything, and nothing changed. I had been detained on misdemeanor charges several times., and I knew perfectly well how such matters were decided. There were no doubts in this case.
And yet your tactics in court were quite different from those of the other fellows. You were one of the most active participants in all the court proceedings.
Yes, I was, because I felt it could not make things any worse. That is how it happened, if you look at the sentences handed down. Naturally, my sentence would have been shorter if I had kept my mouth shut. But here, you know, six months more, six months less do not matter. Naturally, we had to defend ourselves to the hilt. After all, we did not take to the streets only to snitch on the protest movement, to put it crudely. We did not do what we did to make the court rule in our favor. It was a continuation of the protest. Pavlensky said it: court is a continuation of my protest action. For me, it was simply a continuation of the opposition’s fight. It can happen anywhere: in court, outside of court, on Bolotnaya, away from Bolotnaya. It is like a way of thinking. It is as Solzhenitsyn put it: “Not living a lie.” Every single moment you do what you think is right. The situation changes, but the individual does not change in the situation.
Were your fairly long, serious hunger strikes also a continuation of this same story?
What prompted you to do it? Do you remember what you felt when you decided there were no other methods left?
During both hunger strikes, I was perfectly aware my demands would not be met. I got carried away with the second hunger strike: let’s put it that way. But retreating? Chapayev never retreated. So the only way was forward. The main objective was to attract attention, to shake up the situation somehow. Because getting results, especially in the first case, when it was a matter of custody measures, was totally unrealistic. All I was charged with (not what I did, but what I was charged with) was causing the bruise on the back of the hand of a policeman who in fact assaulted me. The policeman’s name is Alexander Ivanovich Algunov. He completely flagrantly hit me over the head with a truncheon. I had three lumps on my head, one of which clearly visible on my temple. It was both videotaped and photographed. And there were eyewitnesses who saw everything.
But when it was matter of conducting a judicial review or investigatining this conflict… The bruise I allegedly caused the policeman was investigated by the Investigative Committee of Russia, meaning the country’s top investigative body. But what he did to me (and they believe that these actions took place at the same time) has been investigated by another committee. When I filed a written complaint against the officer, the case was not just dropped down to the municipal level, but to a neighborhood precinct, where an investigator wrote there was nothing to investigate. The bruise on the policeman’s hand was investigated by the Investigative Committee of Russia, while beating a person with a truncheon was investigated by a completely different division, the lowest on the totem pole, and it said there was nothing to investigate. I am simply a victim in the Bolotnaya Square case. But I was really visible in the video footage. I was in a confrontation with a policeman who was assaulting me. I grabbed the truncheon with which he was beating me, because at one point I nearly fainted. He hit me so hard on the head it felt like I had been hit with a sharp nail, not a truncheon.
You were not the only victim on Bolotnaya Square, and yet the authorities investigated these incidents so unfairly. How do you explain this?
In the trial documents, for example, there is this bit of evidence. There were two ambulance crews on duty on Bolotnaya Square. They kept a record of injuries in which they wrote down the names and addresses of everyone whom they examined. As far as I remember, there are forty-eight civilians in this list, who suffered something like seventeen concussions and thirteen head injuries and injuries to the soft part of the skull, meaning they had mainly been beaten on the head. There were three policemen who sought medical attention on the square. Of the forty-eight civilians, only two people were deemed injured parties by the authorities. One was hit in the back with a stone, while the other person’s trousers caught fire, and he suffered burns on his leg from a Molotov cocktail. We do not know who threw the bottle or the stone. The authorities assume it was the protesters, so only two individuals were deemed victims. The rest were not recognized as victims, because these forty-six individuals were victims of the police. Who the heck is going to investigate injuries caused by the police? That is not how things are done.
The public commission who investigated the events on Bolotnaya Square came to the conclusion it was the Moscow authorities and police who provoked the confrontation? Do you share this point of view?
I also came to the same conclusion. Only I think it was not the Moscow authorities, but the federal authorities [who provoked the conflict]. Moscow, in this case, did not have the authority to decide these questions. There were provocateurs there. I saw a man in a mask step forward, chunks of asphalt in both hands. At the time, I wondered what was so black, because I was looking into the light. At first, I thought he was throwing black earth, because the asphalt everywhere was so clean. This guy stepped forward and tossed one stone. Then he shifted a second stone [to his throwing hand] and threw the second stone. A policeman was standing there. I was standing there looking back and forth between the two. Either I should have said, “Why are you tossing stones?” or I should have gone up to the policeman and said, “Why are you just standing and watching?” The policeman saw what he did, and then turned around and walked away. The police were completely uninterested in the people who were actually throwing stones, just as the people throwing the stones knew the police were not going to do anything to them.
Yes, and the most interesting thing is the authorities alleged the protesters shouted things about attacking the Kremlin and Red Square, and overthrowing someone. I was there. I heard no such cries. There are twenty-six hours of video footage in the case file. There are no such appeals in that footage. When the police cordon fell apart, people did not run to the bridge. This is clearly visible in the footage. People who were squeezed out of the crowd ran ten or fifteen meters away, because there was a crowd behind them and the danger of being crushed. Then, at a leisurely place, these people fixed their clothes or tied their shoelaces or something, and headed towards the square. This, too, is visible in the footage. Yet the investigators continue to claim, and the courts have not refuted it, but take it as a proven fact, that people were shouting to run across the bridge somewhere and were, allegedly, trying to escape.
So it transpires the whole thing was a planned provocation. How do you explain it? What goals was the regime pursuing via this case? Has it achieved them?
It was the first [opposition] rally after the elections. All the major protest rallies had taken place between the December [parliamentary] elections and the March [presidential] election. May 6, 2012, was the eve of the presidential inauguration: the regime no longer had anything to fear. If they had used force before the elections, naturally, it could have turned against them. But there was nothing to fear after the elections, so they were going to put the heat on people and arrest them. This was followed by the adoption of a series of repressive laws and amendments to the laws on elections, and pickets and demonstrations, not to mention the fact they introduced Criminal Code Article 212.1, which they used to put away [Ildar] Dadin.
You were not detained immediately after the events of May, but around five months later. Did you follow what was happening to the guys who were arrested first? Were you afraid you might become a defendant in the case?
Of course, I followed what was happening. I went and picketed outside the Investigative Committee building. I had this routine: one evening at home with the family, the next evening I would go picketing, and so on. At first, I did not take it very seriously. Why did they take so long to arrest me? First, they checked out everyone who had been detained on Bolotnaya. Despite the fact I had been detained, there was no arrest sheet on me; I had refused to sign some of the pages. They tossed out my arrest documents, and so it turned out I had not been detained. So, apparently, this was the reason it took so long to track me down. But the problem was that I was all over the footage. Despite the fact I inflicted no blows—I would like to emphasize I inflicted no blows, and I am absolutely certain I caused no physical pain to any policeman—I did try and prevent them from assaulting other people. I used my hands to restrain the police. Afterwards, when I found footage of myself on the Internet, I thought to myself: yeah, that was me in action. My emotional sense was that I had prevented beatings without resorting to violence. But when I watched the videos, I did think I had reasons to be worried. But I decided what was the point of worrying now? I should have thought about it then.
Four years have passed, but the authorities are still prosecuting people [as part of the Bolotnaya Square case], people whose cases have not even gone to trial, for example, Dmitry Buchenkov and Maxim Panfilov. Do you think this will go on for a long time?
No, I don’t think it will go on for long. They are just running on momentum. The case is not so interesting nowadays. There are many new, interesting articles [that have been added to the Criminal Code]. The authorities can charge people to their heart’s content: for slander, for incitement to hatred. The amended laws have now given them such possibilities they can put away any person who says anything the least bit negative or critical.
Basically, the alternatives are this: either just one opposition party will be seated in the parliament or it won’t. There are also the single-mandate districts, which also helps. A party might not get its list into parliament, but someone can get into the Duma by winning a single-mandate district. I have read that [Alexei] Navalny is inclined to boycott the elections. I understand his resentment: his party was not registered, and he himself was not admitted as a candidate. But there are other parties besides his, and they are also opposition parties. I think all fourteen percent [of Russians who, according to the country’s extremely problematic opinion polls, disapprove of President Putin’s performance] definitely have to go and vote. Anyone who can do it should be an election observer, because it is not enough just to go and vote; we also have to monitor the vote. In the current circumstances, the authorities just cannot do without electoral fraud. Maybe we have few opportunities to stop the fraud, but we have to record the incidents and talk about them. Of course, it is very unpleasant the Democratic Coalition was not able to pull it together, but the law is such that for this to happen, people would have had to join another party. Unforunately, the majority was unwilling to do this. I think they should have come to an agreement whatever the conditions, but they didn’t.
As I understand it, this is part of the old conversation about attempts to unite democratic forces, which have been going on since the 1990s.
First, the law is wrong, because it does not allow electoral coalitions. Second, in my opinion, there should be no minimum barrier [for being seated in the Duma] at all. Democracy is a regime in which decisions are taken by the majority, but the problem is the majority is quite often mistaken. For example, on the stock exchange, the majority always lets the big money get away. The minority turns out to be on the money. The majority differs from minorities in the sense that there is one majority, but there can be two, three, four, five minorities, and so on. The minority has to be allowed to speak its mind, and then, perhaps, the majority will reorient itself. So there should be no barriers. The only barrier should be each physical person. The current laws, naturally, are designed to monopolize power, which is convenient to those currently in power. So they have no need of any competitors. Competitors are harassed, persecuted, and forced off the road.
As far as I know, you were educated as a physicist and worked in science for a long time. How did it happen that you switched from science to grassroots activism and began following political events? What prompted you to do this?
A profession is a profession, but one’s own opinion is something else. I first served as an elections observer in 1989. I was still working at MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute) then. One thing did not interfere with the other, and it even helped. I left science, because salaries in the field had completely dried up, and I completely lost interest in what I was working on at the time. There was no future in it. In 1989, I was a member of an election commission for the first time. I went and found the election commission myself. It was perestroika. People had serious doubts and asked what perestroika was all about. They said perestroika would rearrange everything, but everything would be the same, [the Soviet Communist Party] would again get 99.9% of the vote, and so on. Those were the first actual elections, when Sakharov was elected [to the All-Union Congress of People’s Deputies].
What pleasantly surprised me was that there was no electoral fraud at all. In the evening, MEPhI’s Communist Party organizer came to check out the polling station, to see how we were doing. I tensed up, thinking that now they would come up with something. Nothing of the sort! I kept my eyes peeled. Everything was clean. But in 2011, when I also worked as an observer, everything was dirty, beyond dirty. It so dirty that, for example, there was an old woman, an observer from United Russia, working at our polling station. She did not get up to any tricks herself, but she would come up to us and say, “What is she doing?! Imagine the insolence!” She was referring to the woman who chaired our election commission. The old woman was indignant, her blood was boiling, but it did not go beyond that. She was already quite old, but [the electoral fraud] itself was too much for her. I was very glad a United Russia party member was outraged by our chairwoman’s behavior.
During the four years you spent in custody, how hard was it to get information about what was happening in Russia? How did you find out about events? What events during this time amazed you the most?
I was given subscriptions to Novaya Gazeta and New Times, although they only started to come regularly when I was in the penal colony. I would read these periodicals and try and watch the news. In some places, this was easier; in some places, harder. For example, the last three months, I was basically without TV, because the guys did not want to watch any news. They would turn on MUZ-TV, which would be spinning a popular music video for the hundredth time. I could not stand to listen to it. But the TV, as you know, is a biased source of information. As for events, of course, the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass. Incidentally, there were lots of Ukrainians in the penal colony, because the border is nearby. There was a guy in there who was himself from Russia, but his wife was from over there: he had got married in Ukraine. There was fighting in Kramatorsk. I asked him, “When were you there last?” He said, “Five years ago. Everything there was fine.” “Are Russians harassed there?” I asked. “Are you kidding?” he said, “Everyone lived in perfect peace. There were no problems at all.” Meaning no one discriminated against anyone, neither Russians nor Ukrainians. Where did this all come from? Why does the TV tell us that certain people are in danger there, that there is hostility? Russian TV has been kindling hostility between two sister nations. You cannot just go to war for their “bright future,” if everything in their country is okay. They have to say that everything there is bad.
You served your sentence in two penal colonies. Is it true that there are totally different rules depending on the colony?
The rules are different. That is why they say there are “red” colonies and “black” colonies. But those are the extremes, as it were, because the spectrum is continuous. The penal code is one thing, the laws are another, and if they were all obeyed, then it would make no difference where you did your time, but in reality the differences are fundamental. There is constant trench warfare between the convicts and the wardens over wrestling themselves more rights or forbidding more things. Figuratively speaking, for example, in one colony, the convicts march in formation, while in another they don’t. Even on this primitive level, marching in formation or not, there is constant conflict. The convicts try not to march in formation, while the wardens try to force them to march. It turns out different in every colony. And that applies to everything else.
Considering you were convicted as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, how were you treated in these colonies? Was there any talk about the fact you were basically a political prisoner?
The majority could care less. But some talked about it, especially in the pretrial detention facility, where I would come across sensible people. We would talk about who had been convicted and was doing time for no reason at all. When I was in the pretrial detention facility, it seemed there were many such prisoners. First, this was Moscow. Second, I was told, roughly speaking, that the accountants were on that floor, members of some other profession were on some other floor, and so on. Seemingly around thirty percent of the prisoners were in there for nothing. But when I got to Bryansk Region, this figure was no longer thirty percent, but much lower, somewhere between five and ten percent. A lot of guys were in for petty theft and drugs. Over a third were doing time for drugs. Realistically, a maximum of ten percent were doing time for nothing, or even five percent. As for how I was treated, well, I was repeatedly on the verge of a conflict. There were conflicts.
With the convicts or the wardens?
With both the wardens and the convicts. It is just that the wardens foist their rules on you, and the convicts foist theirs. You are a free man, and you realize you cannot abide by either set of rule.s So you don’t want to carry out either set of orders, and you start weaving and dodging. I was involved in several conflicts of that sort. My age was my salvation. Basically, there are all sorts of kids in there, and they could not bring themselves to hurt old people. Or rather, they could: I saw sixty-year-olds get beaten up in there, but it was still much more complicated. They also look at what you have been sent down for, although I cannot say it is so meaningful. But in this case it was a factor that worked in my favor; it was meaningful. I did not conceal the fact I had not assaulted any policemen, but a conviction is a conviction.
Now you are free and in Moscow. What are your plans? Do you see a future for yourself in Russia? Have you had thoughts of leaving the country?
By and large, I realize it is not recommended to live in this country. If a person has the opportunity and the desire, it is in his or interests to emigrate. But I somehow feel inherently Russian. I am afraid in any other country I would feel like an immigrant, an alien, if not like a guest worker. I cannot imagine living somewhere else. I feel it is okay to emigrate, and some people should emigrate, but I am afraid I am incapable of it.
Sergei Krivov is the twelfth person convicted in the Bolotnaya Square case to have been released from prison. A total of thirty-five people were prosecuted as part of the case. Thirteen of them were amnestied. Eight people remain in prison or under investigation.
This past Sunday, “Irina Yarovaya” shred the Russian Constitution on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg. The people’s deputy was joined by characters from her package of “anti-terrorist” laws, who had come to life for the occasion: a postal worker vetting packages, a secret policeman wiretapping a light-minded young lady’s telephone conversations, and an involved ordinary citizen encouraging passersby to write denunciations on their friends, neighbors, and coworkers.
The activists of the Spring Movement thus attempted to draw the attention of their fellow Petersburgers to the flagrantly repressive amendments to the Russian Criminal Code, tabled by a group of MPs led by Irina Yarovaya and now approved by both houses of the Russian parliament, the State Duma and the Federation Council.
The package of amendments will not only deal a blow to our country’s constitutional foundations but will also require huge financial subsidies during tough economic times. The screws will be tightened at our expense, at the price of impassable roads, hospitals and kindergartens that will never be built, and pension savings that the state has been confiscating once again. No scientific progress, no innovations, and no quality education are in the cards for our country: only Yarovaya and her hardcore approach to lawmaking.
If the president signs the Yarovaya package into law, “non-informing” will be criminalized, “inducing, recruiting or otherwise involving” others in the “organization of mass disturbances” will be punishable by prison terms, punishment for “extremist” posts on the web and monitoring of personal correspondence will become harsher, and postal workers will be obliged to vigorously vet parcels for prohibited items.
Translated by the Russian Reader. All photos by David Frenkel
As you know, the so-called Yarovaya package, a series of flagrantly repressive amendments to the Russian Federal Criminal Code, whose official aim is combating terrorism, was passed today by the State Duma in its third and final reading.
Aleksandra Ermilova and I summarized the worst things about these amendments and went to Nevsky Prospect to hand out leaflets. Or rather, I handed out the leaflets, while Sasha stood holding a remarkable autobiographical placard [pictured, above].
This is what we wrote in the leaflets:
IF YOU DON’T INFORM YOU’LL GO TO JAIL
An article on non-informing has been added to the Criminal Code. “Failure to report a crime” will entail a sentence of up to one year in prison. This law applies to such crimes as terrorism, seizure of power, and attempts on the life of a public official.
ALL YOUR COMMUNICATIONS WILL BE SAVED AND READ
Monitoring of correspondence has been toughened. Records of all your telephone calls, SMS messages, and emails will be saved for six months, and the security forces will be provided with the means to decode encrypted communications.
YOUR PACKAGES WILL BE VETTED
Postal workers will now be obliged to search vigorously for prohibited items in our packages: money, narcotics, weapons, explosives, and “other devices that pose a threat to human life and health.”
YOU INVITED A FRIEND TO A PROTEST RALLY, YOU GO TO JAIL
The Criminal Code will now include an article on “inducing, recruiting or otherwise involving” someone in organizing a “riot.” The law stipulates a penalty of 300,000 to 700,000 rubles or a prison sentence of five to ten years.
YOU REPOST THE “WRONG” THING, YOU GO TO JAIL
The punishments for “extremist” entries, reposts, and comments on the web have been toughened. Despite the fact that freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, you can now be fined from 300,000 to 500,000 rubles or sent to prison for two to five years for making certain statements. By the way, 369 people were convicted of “enciting hatred by means of the Internet” in 2015.
YOU’RE STILL A KID? YOU’RE GOING TO JAIL ANYWAY
14-year-olds will now be tried as adults not only for serious crimes but also for involvement in riots and non-informing.
Women in Petersburg Celebrated February 23 by Paving the Way to a Church with “Dead” Bodies Rosbalt
February 24, 2016
A protest action against discrimination and the [proposed decriminalization of] battery and homicide threats took place outside St. Nicholas Maritime Cathedral in Petersburg. Feminists thus marked Fatherland Defenders Day.
During the performance, two men laid out young women, who depicted the fatal victims of beatings, on the steps leading to the church. At the end of the protest action, the protesters raised placards bearing slogans such as “My man made threats, my man killed me,” “Who will defend us from the defenders of the fatherlands?” “I said no: he broke my arm,” “97% of abuse cases never make it to court,” and “Thank you, legislators, for our happy deaths.”
The organizers told Rosbalt they were protesting against the [proposed] removal of battery and homicide threats from the Russian Criminal Code.
“The decision as to whether women can find protection from law enforcement agencies or not is being made by legislators and priests who do not suffer from beatings by their partners. How is this possible? Do the lives and health of the country’s citizens not interest the government? Every fourth woman in Russia faces domestic violence,” the organizers noted.
According to them, it is extremely difficult for women to file battery complaints. And most often the perpetrator is not duly published: the charges are limited to a misdemeanor.
Whereas “women put up with violence their whole lives and often die at the hands of their partners.”
“We believe such a law is a crime,” noted the organizers.
The Way to the Church
Russian women marked February 23 by paving the way to a church with dead bodies.
The women were thus protesting the [proposed] exclusion of battery and homicide threats from the Criminal Code, a measure actively lobbied by the Russian Orthodox Church.
[President Putin] urged [lawmakers] not to delay passage of the law, which would decriminalize such articles of the Criminal Code as battery, homicide threats, and willful failure to pay alimony. (Kommersant, February 16, 2016)
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade SJ and the Nihilist for the heads-up
Russian Supreme Court proposes to decriminalize minor offences RAPSI
July 31, 2015
MOSCOW, July 31 (RAPSI) – Russia’s Supreme Court suggested decriminalizing minor offenses such as battery, the threat of homicide, failure to pay alimony or child support, RAPSI learnt in the court on Friday.
In a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev proposed that minor crimes such as battery and petty theft be decriminalized and classified as administrative offenses [misdemeanors]. He said this would reduce the number of cases sent to court by 300,000 annually.
A bill, which the Supreme Court has drafted, would decriminalize petty crimes such as battery, the use of forged documents, the threat of homicide and failure to pay alimony or child support. Penalties for these offenses would only include fines, correctional labor or community service.
Justice Vladimir Davydov said at the plenary meeting that this would free up half of all investigators to deal with serious crimes and would help over 300,000 people avoid criminal penalties and negative consequences for employment, education and the issuance of passports or loans.
A deputy prosecutor general said he supported the idea, adding that approval would allow investigators, who claim to be too busy with petty crimes, to investigate more serious crimes.
Petty crimes accounted for 46 percent of all cases sent to court last year.
Putin suggests decriminalization of Russian Penal Code TASS
December 3, 2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked Russian lawmakers to support a proposal to decriminalize a number of articles of the Russian Penal Code.
“I am asking the Russian State Duma to support the proposal of the Russian Supreme Court to decriminalize some articles of the Russian Penal Code and transfer some of the crimes that pose no great threat to the public or society to the category of administrative offenses but with one major reservation: the offense will be classified as a crime if it is committed for a second time,” Putin said in the annual state of the nation address to the Russian Federal Assembly (parliament) on Thursday.
The head of state clarified that practically every second criminal case, which is taken to court today, is linked to minor and inconsiderable offenses while people, including youth, are sent to prison.
“The confinement and the fact of criminal conviction affect their future fate and often encourage them to commit further crimes,” the president concluded.
Russian penitentiaries have around 660,000 inmates. According to the Federal Penitentiary Service, 55% of them are recidivists. Approximately 25% of the offenders serve prison sentences for minor offenses and crimes of medium gravity; 1,800 people have been convicted for terrorism and extremism.
Excessive acts of law enforcement agencies destroy business climate in Russia
Putin said excessive acts of law enforcement agencies destroy the business climate in Russia.
“That is a direct destruction of the business climate. I am asking the investigation and prosecution authorities to pay a special attention to it,” he said.
The President said that in 2014 nearly 200,000 criminal cases on economic crimes were initiated in Russia. Of this number 46,000 reached the court and 15,000 cases “collapsed” in courts.
“It turns out that only 15% of cases ended with verdicts,” Putin said.
He added that most of the defendants in these cases – about 83% – fully or partially lost their businesses.
“That means that there were bullied, robbed and released,” the head of state said.
He called on prosecutors to make a wider use of their authorities to monitor the quality of the investigation.
The president also recalled the discussions on additional powers of prosecutors.
Today, a supervisory authority has the authority to cancel decisions on initiation of criminal proceedings, to dismiss indictments or not to uphold the charges in court.
“We need to use what we have more intensively. After that we will be able to analyze what is happening in practice,” he said.
According to Putin, detention at the stage of investigation of economic crimes should be used as a last resort and preference should be given to such methods as pledge, subscription on parole and house arrest.