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Azat Miftakhov is one of the many Russian political prisoners whom RosUznik by making it easier for people on the outside to correspond with them.

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
August 17, 2019

Thanks to the titanic work of only two RosUznik [Russian Political Prisoner] volunteers, if I’m not mistaken, many Russian political prisoners are now able to keep in touch with hundreds of people on the outside.

You can write to Russian prisoners via RosUznik anonymously and free of charge.

RosUznik is run entirely by volunteers, without any grants, despite the fact that printing and sending letters cost money, and sending letters electronically costs a lot of money. On average, if I send a letter with an attached reply form to an inmate via the Federal Penitentiary Service, it runs me 250 rubles [approx. $3.75].

Letters from the outside are incredibly important to inmates. Ask any inmate you know, read interviews with them or memoirs written by them.

If you don’t have time to write, but you want to support political prisoners, support RosUznik. They have run out of money, but the political crackdown continues.

[…]

Thanks, RosUznik!

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RosUznik
Facebook
August 17, 2019

As of today, we have received exactly 400 letters for all the people arrested in the Moscow case. We have dispatched nearly half of the letters.

We have enough money left only for 25 short letters and replies.

Help us so we can continue to send letters to political prisoners.

Send your donations to:
Sberbank Card No. 4817 7600 3252 4161 (The card belongs to our volunteer Nikita.)
Yandex Money Account No. 410011434636201
PayPal: post.rosuznik@gmail.com

Images courtesy of RosUznik. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Mark H. Teeter: Turn on the News

tumblr_m58pus9vFN1qz9qooo1_500Marilyn Monroe doing a spit-take.

And Now the News, With Somebody You Weren’t Expecting
Mark H. Teeter
Moscow TV Tonite
April 7, 2019

The accepted wisdom among high-dome media analysts here in Russia has been that Muscovites who checked on-the-hour radio news either tuned in Ekho Moskvy or Kommersant FM for actual news, in larger and smaller doses, respectively, plus commentary from sources who were relevant and informed or were supposed to be.

Or they got earfuls of untruths, half-truths or misrepresentations of the news from just about everywhere else on the dial, along with pseudo-commentary from various professional spokes-liars (presidential, ministerial, etc.) or professional dim bulbs (Russian MPs, selected idiots on the street, somebody’s cousin Vanya).

Whether or not you accept this accepted wisdom, there has been an interesting recent development you should note: an intriguing Third Way that you may have missed (as I did until recently) has opened up here in the New Muscovite ether for listeners keen on locally sourced radio news coverage. Its creators have given their project’s genre the highfalutin name Avtorskie Novosti, that is, Auteur News, by analogy with avtorskoe kino or auteur cinema.

You might, however, dub the genre The News from Somebody Noteworthy Who Doesn’t Do Radio News for a Living and Might Offer an Interesting Take on Today’s Edition of It.

Auteur News was the brainchild of the modest-sized NSN (Natsionalnaya Sluzhba Novostei), which described the project, as I discovered on its website, in alluring terms.

Auteur News from NSN is a radio program broadcast simultaneously by three stations (Nashe Radio, Rock FM, Radio Jazz) with a daily audience of 1.5 million people in Moscow and four million in Russia. The presenters of Auteur News are well known to listeners, as they are among the most famous people in the country. Currently, 200 contributors are involved in the project.

That thumbnail sketch should pique the interest of listeners numbed by Ekho’s necessary but wearisome good accounts of bad news and the embarrassing agitprop elsewhere on the dial: “President Vladimir Putin today signed another new law to make life better and happier.”

Question No. 1 in the minds of potential listeners would likely be, “Wait, just who are the Auteur 200?” And they would be right to ask. Nikita Mikhalkov is certainly a famous person, for example, but many people would feel more confident getting their news and commentary from a bag of doorknobs.

But let’s start with the glass half full: a brief retelling of how I came across Auteur News.

The wife and I often put on Radio Jazz quietly as background music to dinner, when the grandson, who hates jazz, isn’t joining us.

We were listening to it with one ear, as usual, when the news came on at 8:00 p.m. one recent evening.

Imagine my surprise when a measured female voice from the seemingly politics-free jazz station launched into a four-point litany of items-plus-commentary that seemed like something you’d call Real News with Real Attitude.

The Ministry of Finance, Radio Jazz told us, had “refused to provide the Russian Academy of Sciences funding for international scholarly and scientific cooperation,” which would result in Russia “finding itself in the backwaters of science again, the fruits of which we already know from the Soviet period.”

A repeat of that would be, the voice continued, a “very sad” prospect.

Hmm! My one-ear listening quickly ratcheted up to one-and-a-half-ear listening.

Radio Jazz continued on a more upbeat note.

“Kirill Serebrennikov’s ballet Nureyev was named Ballet of the Year by the jury of the professional music award BraVo,” with the presentation taking place at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.

This wouldn’t seem a particularly newsworthy story: the ballet had won a sizable basket of international awards since its premiere in 2017. Ah, but then you recalled the scandals surrounding the production here, including the arrest of the director, and the overall public attitude toward things artistic identified with “non-traditional orientations.”

But the announcement of the award was not the end of the item, as the presenter continued.

“I had the good fortune to see the ballet Nureyev It really is a wonderful ballet, striking from many points of view. And considering that Kirill Serebrennikov, in fact, staged the ballet by long distance, so to speak, the outcome is little short of a miracle. It is sad our national know-how is linked to creative events in ways that are not positive. But I would like to congratulate Serebrennikov on this well-deserved award. May he have the strength to overcome all his trials.”

Wow, just wow. It dawned on me what I was hearing was not only not The News in Putinese. It was news-plus-opinion that would make many Putinistas angry and hostile. I was beginning to wonder whether black sedans and a police van were heading toward Radio Jazz that very minute.

Next, Radio Jazz reported that an ominous institution called the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, which sounds even more ominous in Russian (Federalnaya Sluzhba Ispolneniya Nakazanii, or Federal Service for the Enforcement of Punishments) now “want[ed] to oblige its employees to apologize to prisoners in cases where their rights and freedoms have been violated.” As in, “Sorry for the rubber hoses and the knuckle sandwich there, Petrov, we didn’t mean to, y’know, violate your rights and freedoms and stuff.”

As absurd as it sounded to me, it sounded even worse to the Radio Jazz news commentator.

“What a Kafkaesque reality! We will torture people, but then apologize to them. I don’t really understand how these things go together. Lately, I’ve been seeing various features of the old utopian Soviet mindset in a great number of legislative acts. You get the feeling lawmakers don’t understand what is happening in reality at all and create an attractive little mockup of it for themselves, to placate their consciences. As in, ‘Go right ahead, citizens, demand an apology from your jailers for beating and torturing you.'”

Kafka and sarcasm are surely justified in passing along this news item, I agree, but it was still hard to believe my ears. At this point, I was experiencing a flashback impulse to close the kitchen door and huddle around the radio so the neighbors wouldn’t hear us listening to illegal “foreign voices”!

The final item Radio Jazz offered its evening listeners to ponder was a question about as philosophical as a news broadcast gets: How happy are you?

First, the context.

“Finland is the happiest country in the world,” Radio Jazz told us by way of summing up the annual World Happiness Report. “This ranking of global happiness takes into account GDP per capita, life expectancy, charitable contributions, social support, the level of freedom and the level of corruption in terms of their impact on residents ‘vital decisions.’”

Well, Miss Radio Jazz News gave the neighboring Finns plenty of credit.

“Frankly speaking, I am ready to agree right off with this award, because in Finland they do a huge number of social projects. The Finnish people try to be at the center of their own culture. For example, if a festival takes place in a large city in this country, the residents of the surrounding villages are brought there free of charge by bus so  they can be involved in culture. I won’t even mention many other important laws related to social status, support for the population, and so on. In sum, we should follow the path of Finland, and not, say, North Korea.”

The last time I heard a Russian newsreader say, “Let’s not be North Korea” was, let’s see here, carry the two, ah, that’s right: never. Which was why I almost lost a mouthful of after-dinner decaf doing a Danny Thomas spit-take over the kitchen table as the news ended. A little went up my nose, but it was still worth it.

After the shock wore off, a little laptop skating yielded some background on the presenter and commentator of that evening’s edition of Auteur News: “Irina Prokhorova, editor-in-chief of the publishing house New Literary Review, specially edited what she thought were the top stories of the day for NSN.”

All I could say was, Nice job, Irina, and here’s hoping you get another turn at Auteur News before unpleasant men in ill-fitting suits are sent to chat with you at your place of work.

A further bit of web surfing still did not yield what I wanted most: a list of the Auteur 200 and a schedule of their appearances for, say, the upcoming month. But I did dig up a little more background.

I discovered that Auteur News had been on the air for nearly five years, and over 200 presenters had contributed, including politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, politican and TV presenter Pyotr Tolstoy, football star Ruslan Nigmatullin, actor Sergey Bezrukov, rock musician Andrei Makarevich, writer Sergey Lukyanenko and other Russian celebrities.

This was clearly a very hit-and-miss kind of thing, I could tell. You can imagine setting a long jump record with a sudden vault across the kitchen to turn the radio off before “Auteur News with Vladimir Zhirinovsky” (or Pyotr Tolstoy) abused your eardrums, but if such leaps of faith were what it took to get the likes of Makarevich, long implicitly banned from state-controlled media as an “enemy of the people,” back in the public arena, then maybe it was worth it, I figured.

Yes, perhaps sharing the airwaves with the loud and confused was not too great a price to pay for getting a great unheard voice of reason heard again.

And that, it has long been assumed here, is the same devil’s bargain by which the majority Gazprom-owned Ekho Moskvy stays on the air: lowbrow types and state shills get air time so real news and sane views can reach millions who would otherwise have to scan the dial for “foreign voices” or, more likely, give up the dial altogether and simply glue their eyes and ears to social media.

Which doesn’t sound so bad at first blush, until you recall that social media were instrumental in blessing our brave new millennium with President Donald Trump, who has in turn introduced us to a new and apparently effective form of zombie-generating, masses-manipulating monologue that substitutes for press releases, news conferences, and indeed governance itself: the Auteur Tweet.

Yikes.

In any case, I was still bothered by one thing: how a longtime listener to Radio Jazz could have remained blissfully unaware of Auteur News for the first five years of its existence. Were the presenters less outspoken before? Or did my long-suffering ears simply click automatically to OFF for any radio news that happened to reach them from a station other than Ekho or Kommersant? Possibly both, but one more net search yielded a more likely answer.

This time, I turned up NSN’s original announcement of Auteur News, dated November 7, 2012, which noted the program would air only on weekdays, and only twice daily, at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. If you were merely a one-ear listener, and your dinner usually ended before eight, it obviously took a bracing shot of Irina Prokhorova to get your attention.

This last search also produced a much better picture of the fabled Auteur 200, as the original announcement named names that were big time; indeed, almost all of them, as the list ran to some 178 people (if my count was correct). And the Big Picture spectrum is a broad one: there are plenty of presenters an educated listener would definitely like to hear an earful from. Beyond Makarevich, the list included director Serebrennikov himself, historian and journalist Nikoai Svanidze, progressive politician Irina Khakamada, saxophone legend Igor Butman, political scientist Nikolai Zlobin, filmmaker Alexei Uchitel, theater director Konstantin Raikin, satirist Mikhail Kononenko, producer and composer Stas Namin, national elections commissioner Ella Pamfilova, and a bunch more.

That said, there are just as many (probably more, actually) who would make the same listener wish he had taken his high-school long jump practice more seriously. Beyond Zhirinovsky and Tolstoy, you find motorcycle gang leader Khirurg (The Surgeon), the “pranksters” Vovan and Leksus, dim Duma stalwarts such as . . . but why list the losers here, have a look for yourself.

And relax. While there are definitely some wildcard types, including several rock musicians who use a single name (ask your grandson), you won’t find Director Doorknobs on the list. At least not yet.

Which is a reminder that, while Auteur News is a real find, without an updated contributor list and a schedule for it, you’ll need to be wary.

Irina Prokhorova was a great way to start, but the next presenter you hear might well focus on Putinista bikers running amok in Crimea.

Be prepared to leap.

Mark H. Teeter, a former opinion page editor and media columnist for the Moscow Times and the Moscow News, is the editor of Moscow TV Tonite on Facebook. His original article was lightly edited to conform with TRR’s nonexistent style guide. My thanks to Mr. Teeter for letting him reprint his article here.

_________________________________

Russia Has Over a Million Slaves

Russia Plans to Fight Slavery: The Country Has More than a Million Slaves
Ivan Ovsyannikov
PROVED.RF
June 26, 2018

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.

slavery indexAn 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 PROVED discovered, 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.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE (July 24, 2018). The 2018 Global Slavery Index has updated the figures for modern slavery in Russia. It has this to say in particular about slavery in Russia and efforts to combat it. Continue reading “Russia Has Over a Million Slaves”

Zoya Svetova: Interview with Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission Members Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina Kosarevskaya

The Network Case: “He Was Tortured in the Woods for Six Hours to Force Him to Testify, and Then Some More So He Would Memorize the Right Wording”
Zoya Svetova
MBKh Media
April 20, 2018

Снимок-экрана-2018-04-20-в-11.19.46Viktor Filinkov. Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Mediazona

The Russian Federal Investigative Committee has refused to open a criminal case in connection with a complaint filed by Viktor Filinkov, one of the young antifascists accused in The Network case [aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case—TRR], who claims that Russian Federal Security Service officers tortured him. Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina (“Katya”) Kosarevyskaya, members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, were the first people Filinkov told he had been tortured. Now they are under police surveillance themselves.

The human rights activists talked to Zoya Svetova about why they decided to join the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, what goes on in Petersburg’s remand prisons and penal colonies, and how they have been harassed by reporters from Russian TV channel NTV.

____________________

Yana, Katya, and I talk in a cafe. They have come to Moscow for a day. They have many meetings scheduled, and the young women interrupt each while discussing what they have seen in remand prisons, but mostly they discuss the young men accused in The Network case, which has shaken them. It is not every day people tell you they have been brutally tortured and you see burns on their bodies left by tasers. As for me, this is my first meeting with these young and incredibly mature human rights defenders, who are only twenty-six years old.

Why did you decide to visit prisons and police precincts?

Yana: I wanted to join the Public Monitoring Commission (PMC) as soon was it was established, but you have to be at least twenty-five years old to join, so we didn’t end up on the previous commission. But we helped train other candidates and assisted them in their work. As soon as we turned twenty-five, we submitted our applications.

What do you do for a living?

Yana: I’m a mathematician.

Are you a schoolteacher?

No, I don’t teach. I do research.

Katya: I’m also a mathematician. I work at a school, but I also do research and teach math at a university, probability theory. We met before we studied at university, and then we went to university together. And we both decided to join the PMC.

How did you find out about the PMCs and public oversight?

Katya: I read Anna Karetnikova’s LiveJournal blog, I think. (Anna Karetnikova was a member of the Moscow PMC from 2009 to 2016 — ZS.)

Yana: When we got on the PMC, we already knew what it was, because we had been involved in shaping the PMC’s previous roster. We talked about the PMC to various people and organizations, and got them together.

Katya: And we worked with them when there were large-scale detentions at protest rallies. We found out who could visit detainees in police stations.

Who nominated you to the PMC?

Yana: We lucked out. We were nominated by Azaria, an organization of mothers against narcotics. Azaria is not on the list of “foreign agents” and looks completely innocent. In reality, it is a really cool organization. They are not afraid of anyone, and they really support and help us.

Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina Kosarevskaya outside Penal Colony No. 5

Until you found yourselves in the middle of the scandal surrounding The Network case defendants, was your work with the PMC completely routine?

Yana: We were not admitted to police stations seven times in a row, meaning that at some point the police just stopped letting us in to do inspections. The first time they didn’t let us in, they had detained young people coming home from a concert. Policemen stopped them and asked to see their papers. They refused to do that until the police had identified themselves by name and explained why they needed to see their papers. The policemen responded by pepper-spraying and detaining them. We were not let into the police precinct to see them. Subsequently, we were not let into police stations under different pretexts. Ultimately, we were able to overcome the problem. Fifteen Interior Ministry employees were brought to justice for not letting PMC members into police stations. We were not the only ones to file complaints. We posted our reports on the incidents, and our readers filed complains on the basis on this information.

Apparently, one of our readers on the social networks played a role. He filed complaints anywhere he could, and the authorities responded to his complaints, referring to him as “the PMC’s community volunteer.” The police officers who did the audit later told us that he had worn them down and asked us to tell him they would fix everything as long as he stopped complaining. Many other people helped out as well, including Human Rights Council member Andrei Babushkin. We also filed lots of detailed complaints ourselves. We managed to navigate around the problem, and this was a victory, of course, in whose wake our visits to police stations suddenly improved dramatically. The police were now afraid of us. Initially, we had good relations with the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN). The FSIN was inclined to cooperate, while the Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] was not. At our very first meeting with them, they told us we had to send notifications when we were planning to visit police stations only by fax, but we were not cool with that, of course. We ourselves had written the rules for how the PMC functioned. Our rules state that our rights as PMC members cannot be infringed. There is nothing in the rules about notifying a police station or remand prison by fax, as had been the case in the first two sittings of the PMC. Back then, only the PMC’s chair could notify penitentiary facilities about commission visits. He could do this only during business hours, because the fax was in his office.

How do you now notify the authorities you are coming to visit their facilities?

Yana: We give them five minutes’ warning. There is no need to notifiy the police ahead of time, whereas the FSIN does need to transfer staff to escort the PMC members around its prisons. We rarely need to catch the FSIN unawares with our visits, while the police often hide detainees from us, and try and take them out of precinct houses via emergency exits. Our latest conflict with them has to do with the fact that they must provide us with records of the people they detain and bring to their stations. They are convinced they do not need to show us these records.

How many people on the Petersburg PMC are on your side?

Katya: Four of the PMC’s twenty-five members.

Yana: It is not that they are all evil monsters. I think we have a fairly good working atmosphere in the commission. For example, there is one lovely lady. She doesn’t always feel well, but she goes out with us on inspections when she can.

When you met the young men accused in The Network case, was it the first time you had dealt with complaints of torture by people in police custody?

Katya: We had usually received really old reports about torture. We would go to a remand prison, where the inmates told us they had been tortured at a police station. There have been many such complaints, around twenty, concerning various police precincts.

What do you do with such reports?

Katya: If the individual is willing, which is not always the case, we publicize them. We try and describe the circumstances on our group page on Facebook, we write down the detainee’s full testimony in an official report, we file a criminal complaint, and send it off. But we don’t have the manpower to keep track of the complaint and file another complaint, about the lack of an official response, when the time comes. We usually try and find lawyers to take over the case, and we always find them.

Yana: So far, we have no criminal cases pending against police officers. On the contrary, the Interior Ministry’s Central District Petersburg office has filed suit against me. They were miffed when I published the story of a woman who claimed she was tortured at the 78th Police Precinct in Petersburg. The woman was pregnant, and police officers abused her. The lawsuit against me claims I published “information that undermines the reputation” or “discredits” the precinct. We published the women’s complaint on the social networks without revealing her last name. The news website Moi Rayon [My Neighborhood] reprinted it. The Interior Ministry mixed everything up, filing suit against me because they thought I’d written the article. In fact, we are involved in lots of lawsuits. We are usually the ones on the attack, and Team 29 helps us out with this.

You won the right to bring recording equipment into a penal colony in court, yes?

Katya: Yes. Recently, Petersburg City Court took the penal colony’s appeal of this ruling under consideration. We have not been let into the penal colony with recording equipment a single time even after the court’s decision came into force. The court ruled that the actions of a specific staff member of the penal colony who had not let us bring recording devices into the colony had been illegal, but this does not mean they have to let us and our equipment into the colony the next time round, although the FSIN’s public stance was originally that they would let us in if we informed them in advance that we planned to bring equipment. But then they changed their minds. We were not allowed to bring recording equipment into the remand prisons from the get-go.

Where are the young men accused in The Network case currently located?

KatyaSix of the accused in The Network case are in Penza, while the other three are in Petersburg and Leningrad Region. Two of them were originally jailed in Remand Prison No. 3 in Petersburg, a place we visit all the time. On March 15, Viktor Filinkov, who was the first person charged in the case to complain of torture, was transferred to a remand prison in Leningrad Region, which is considered a torture chamber. Immediately after he was detained, Filinkov himself was tortured in the wood for six hours, first to force him to testify, and then to make him memorize the right wording. Before his custody hearing, he was told that if he dared to recant his testimony, he would be sent to Remand Prison No. 6 in Gorelovo.

That is the torture chamber remand prison where he is currently in custody?

Yes, he was transferred after he was shown an “optimization” order, although there is room for fifty inmates in Remand Prison No. 3, and there are vacant spots in the cells. Gorelovo, on the other hand, is horribly overcrowded. The cells are meant for one hundred inmates, but there are one hundred and fifty inmates living in them. What kind of “optimization” are we talking about? Yuli Boyarshinov, the third Petersburg man charged in the case, is also being held in Gorelovo.

We cannot visit the remand prison in Gorelovo. The Leningrad Region PMC goes there. When we arrived in Remand Prison No. 3 on March 16, we were suddenly told Filinkov had been transferred to Remand Prison No. 6 in Gorelovo. We asked the Leningrad Region PMC to go out there. They made the trip and told us everything was okay, that Viktor was not being tortured. But they cannot visit him as often as we could.

Do you think he was transferred there so you would be unable to visit him?

That was not the only reason. First, Remand Prison No. 6 is the worst pretrial detention facility in Petersburg and Leningrad Region. Second, he refused to testfiy, so what use was he to the FSB? He had to be sent somewhere where we could not visit him.

Of the men charged in the case, which of them have been tortured, according to your evidence?

Viktor Filinkov and Igor Shishkin, whom we saw, were brutally tortured. Compared to the accounts from Penza, it would appear this was not the worst FSB operatives were capable of. According to testimony given to one of the defense attorneys, one of the accused men in Penza was tortured with electrical shocks for a month. In Penza, the FSB does not even bother to hide what they are doing. The FSB officers show up at the remand prison there, and take their man to another room, where they have a generator and electrical wires set up, and they torture the guy right in a cell in the remand prison. Defense attorney Olga Dinze said there was a secret prison in Moscow where inmates were constantly tortured with electrical shocks for a week. Why? Because they had to be forced to testify.

Have the accused in The Network case testified?

Katya: Yes. Viktor was tortured for six hours, but he agreed to confess after ten minutes. But then he was tortured simply so he would memorize his testimony. It was like animal training.

He told you this in the remand prison?

Yes, he told us, and then he provided a detailed written account of the first forty-eight hours after he was detained. He wrote us a letter and sent it to us by mail. When he was taken to the remand prison, the torture stopped. He had forty taser burns on his body, tiny spots on his thigh and around his groin. And on his chest. We didn’t see his groin area.

Traces of tasers burns on Ilya Kapustin’s body. Photo courtesy of his attorney and Mediazona

How did the staff at Remand Prison No. 3 react to the stories of torture?

Igor Shishkin had taser burns all over his back, buthe burns are listed as “bruises” in the prison’s medical journal.

One staff member forbade Igor from lifting his trousers and showing us the wounds he suffered when tortured. But we documented the injuries anyway. First, we examined Viktor’s taser burns, writing them down by hand, and then we drew pictures for each day, seeing as how the FSB investigators were in no hurry to show up. We documented all the injuries with the remand prison’s physician and warden present.

What was the reaction when you you went public with it?

Yana: Unfortunately, when Igor Shishkin was being tortured, there was not enough public pressure to stop the torture or get into the FSB building and see Igor. After we published our findings, we received support, and lots of it. (Igor Shiskin has not filed a complaint that he was tortured. He claims not to remember how he got the burn marks— ZS.)

How did the other members of the Petersburg PMC react?

The question was whether the PMC would interfere with our work or not. The commission members have not interfered in any way. A month after Shishkin and Filinkov were detained, the Petersburg human rights ombudsman and the chair of the Petersburg PMC visited them in the remand prison and wrote a very carefully worded report that did not gainsay our report. Of course, all traces of their injuries had vanished by that time.

What was the outcome of the Investigative Committee’s review of Filinkov’s torture complaint?

YanaOn Thursday, April 19, it transpired that the investigator refused to file criminal charges. His report says that not all the videos were preserved, the report by PMC members cannot be admitted into evidence, and Viktor was tasered, but only two times in order to prevent him from falling out of the vehicle and “escaping.”

Do you feel that you are being shadowed?

Yana: Yes, I have some notion the police have opened a dossier on us. We have the sense our telephones are tapped and we are being followed. There was a time when the surveillance was demonstrative. It was not a huge inconvenience.

On Friday, NTV will show a film about The Network case. Apparently, you are central characters in this film.

YanaAn NTV crew ambushed me on Sunday, and they ambushed Yekaterina on Saturday.

Katya, the NTV crew ambushed you during a scheduled visit to the Doctor Haass Prison Hospital. NTV asked two questions. Why do you defend terrorists? Why do you defend Ukrainians? Why do think that interested NTV?

Katya: The Ukrainian consul general in Petersburg visited Ukrainian prisoners with me and we wrote about it on Facebook. We visited an inmate in a penal colony who was convicted on drugs charges. He had not been receiving anti-retroviral therapy for a while.

They aren’t political prisoners?

No. Maybe they wanted to make a connection between The Network case and Ukraine? Or maybe they just took a gander at my Facebook page and read that I had spoken to the Ukrainian consul.

They started filming in Penza. There are many parents of the young men accused in the case there, and they have teamed up to defend their children.

An investigator with the Penza FSB summoned one of the mothers to his office and spent two and a half hours persuading her she would help her son out by going on camera and saying the right words, saying the young men were practicing to blow up the Lenin Mausoleum. When she left the FSB building, her husband was waiting for her, but she was put in a vehicle with the NTV crew, and the FSB officer got in with her. They took her to her house and taped the interview there. That was on April 11, I think, and I basically already guessed NTV had begun shooting a film, but I didn’t think I’d be in it.

Yana: They ambushed me at the exit of a house where I don’t spend much time, but where I’m officially registered as living. I had it a bit easier, because they taped Katya after a difficult visit to a hospital. She was tired, but I was rested. Besides, I was ready, because I knew about Katya’s so-called interview. So my time with them was much easier and shorter. The questions were literally the very same ones. There was no individual approach: they could not really tell me and Katya apart, nor could I tell them apart. I accused the young woman questioning me that yesterday she was Maria, and today she was Alexandra, because they looked a lot alike. She show me her ID, but she did not me show me her editorial assignment or tell me the name of the program. I heard the same thing Katya had heard: “You defend terrorists. Ukraine. Right Sector. You prey on the sorrow of parents.”

Yana runs off to catch a train to Petersburg, but Katya and I continue the conversation. I wanted to ask her about Petersburg’s prisons. There is much less known about them than about Moscow’s prisons.

How often do you visit remand prisons?

Katya: I sometimes don’t have the strength. On Saturday, I visited the Doctor Haass Prison Hospital, chatted with NTV, and went to Remand Prison No. 3. Previously, I had visited Remand Prison No. 5, but before that there had been a long break, because it didn’t work out. Sometimes it happens we don’t do any visits for several weeks, but then we do visits. For The Network case we were going to Remand Prison No. 3 on a daily basis. On average, we do around two visits a week.

Tell me about Petersburg’s remand prisons.

We have separate PMCs for Petersburg and Leningrad Region, although the FSIN has one office in charge of the city and the region. The very worst remand prison in Leningrad Region is in Gorelovo, but we are not allowed to visit it.

In Petersburg, there is the renowned remand prison The Crosses on the Arsenal Embankment. It is a historic landmark, and it has been closed. A work-release penal colony from the region was temporarily transferred there. There is talk the local FSIN office will move its headquarters there.

What about The New Crosses?

That remand prison was built to house 4,000 inmates, but something went wrong. Corruption charges have been filed, and so one of the two crosses (wings), designed to hold 2,000 inmates, is the subject of court battles, and it cannot be accessed. There are no inmates there. If it were opened, the inmates from Gorelovo would be transferred there.

The New Crosses remand prison

Are Petersburg’s remand prisons overcrowded?

The Old Crosses was overcrowded. Eight square meters per four inmates, which was two times less space than necessary, but there were always enough beds. There had bunk beds there.

Besides torture, what are the most egregious human rights violations in Petersburg’s remand prisons and penal colonies?

There is a penal colony in which a suspiciously high number of inmates die from cardiac arrest and a suspiciously high number of inmates are a brought injured to hospital and die from their injuries. There is a psychiatric ward in a remand prison that the PMC is not allowed to visit. Complaints about torture and abusive treatment came from the psychiatric ward of The Crosses.

Why are you not allowed into the remand prison’s psychiatric ward?

We are currently fighting a court battle over just this issue. The staff read the law on the provision of psychiatric care, which says individual members of public organizations can enter psychiatric wards only when accompanied by medical personnel. Then they incorrectly read the law on public oversight and decided PMC members are members of public organizations, so we also should be escorted by medical personnel. We get there and are told no medical staff are on duty. We have to wait a while, because they won’t let us in just like that. We are let in only during working hours and only in the company of a physician. We are allowed into the intensive care units only when the attending physician allows it. I appealed our not being admitted to the ward in court. A district court said it was fine we were not being allowed into the ward. Look at the Azaria website, said the judge: Yekaterina Kosarevskya is a member of a public organization. I’ve filed an appeal.

Have you dealt with the case of businessman Valery Pshenichny, who died in Remand Prison No. 4 in Petersburg? Have you heard about his death?

Yana and Roma, the chair of our PMC, went to the prison after the suicide. But they had no contact with the relatives, so it was impossible to do anything. The Investigative Committee had already confiscated the CCTV tapes, which was all the evidence there was, and the only hting Yana and Roma could do was talk with remand prison staff, and try and understand whether the story Pshenichny had committed suicide could be trusted. But they could not understand a thing.

But now, after the article in Novaya Gazeta, which claims that, according to the forensic examination, Pshenichny was murdered and raped, will you conduct a public investigation?

Probably. But it’s not very clear what we can do as PMC members. It is doubtful whether there is any evidence left in the remand prison.

Do you feel any danger due to the fact that you and Yana were the first people to to talk about Filinkov’s torture at the hands of the FSB?

At first, I probably felt danger, because I didn’t know how the FSB would react, and it didn’t know how to react. My nerves were on edge. But now? Everything is a source of danger, probably. NTV has shown its face.

Do you continue to keep track of Filinkov’s plight?

Yes. We continue to file various appeals. I write letters to Viktor, and we visit Igor Shishkin in Remand Prison No. 3.

What is Remand Prison No. 3 like? It probably resembles Lefortvo Remand Prison in Moscow.

It’s a tiny historical building. The warden once boasted of the various famous people who were jailed there. Various wings of the building are under repair all the time. The cells are eight measures square and have bunks for two people. The toilet is separated by a low wooden partition.

Who is jailed there?

There are people accused of treason. One just went to trial in Sevastopol. He lived in Crimea, where he had an interesting job. He was accused of spying for China against Russia, although the evidence in the case relates to 2013, when Crimea was part of Ukraine.

How do prisoners treat you? How do they react to the fact you are so young?

I listen to them carefully, and some PMC members get angry at me that I talk with the prisoners for so long. As for my youth, sometimes it can be an advantage, because certain inmates tell me a lot: a nice young lady has paid them a visit and they feel they can talk with me. So it is not as if these inmates are complaining, they are just having a chat with a nice young woman. When we are able to help them, they say the PMC is a good thing. When we are unable to help them, they complain they turned to us for help and we didn’t help them.

“No, we didn’t,” I say.

It is amazing that both you and Yana are mathematicians, and suddenly you’re inspecting prisons. Why such interest in human rights?

My parents, the books I read. Books about the Decembrists, the Harry Potter books. Grandfather consistently refused to join the Party. But I learned the KGB was a bad thing when I was nine years old, in 2000.

It is the first black hole that has sucked me in. I planned to join the PMC, because I had always been interested (the Peter and Paul Fortress was nearby), but it was one interest among others. I was interested in the rights of migrant workers, in books about social organization. I was certain that, at most, I would spend a third of my free time on the PMC, but then it dragged me in all on its own.

What dragged you in?

Prisons suck me in. It’s bad, of course. I was once driving from the Arsenal Embankment to the Sverdlovskaya Embankment, and I glanced at a building not far from the place where I grew up. I thought I should probably stop my involvement in this nonsense. I should earn money and buy a flat in that building, because it was a beautiful red-brick building, wonderfully designed, with a view of the Neva River. But then I realized that the building merele reminded me of The Crosses.

Thanks to Vladimir Akimenov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, the case of the mysterious death in custody of Petersburg businessman Valery Pshenichny, and related cases involving alleged frame-ups and torture by the Russian police and secret services, please have a look at some of the recent articles I have published on these subjects.

Tortured Petersburg Antifascist Viktor Filinkov Transferred to Remand Prison in Leningrad Region

Staff at Remand Prison No. 6 (Gorelovo, Leningrad Region) celebrating Fatherland Defenders Day, 23 February 2018. Photo courtesy of the prison’s website.

Yana Teplitskaya
Facebook
March 16, 2018

We just visted Russian Federal Penitentiary Service Remand Prison No. 3 and learned that Viktor Filinkov was transferred to Remand Prison No. 6 the day before yesterday. Members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission have no access to this prison, because it is located in Leningrad Region.

There are one hundred inmates per cell in Remand Prison No. 6, and there have been many complaints that “pressure cookers” are employed there.*

There are reasons to believe that Viktor may be tortured again.

UPDATE. Alexander Gennenbereg and Anna Osnach, wonderful members of the Leningrad Region PMC, have been to Remand Prison No. 6. Viktor is still in “quarantine,” a cell for sixteen inmates. There were no signs he had been beaten, nor did he say he had been beaten. Prison staff told the PMC members Viktor would be transferred from the quarantine cell on Monday.

We do not know the formal grounds for his transfer to another remand prison.

At Remand Prison No. 3, members of the Petersburg PMC were told that the papers for the transfer (“a decision by the court or the investigator”) were located at Remand Prison No. 6, but when the members of the Leningrad Region PMC visited Remand Prison No. 6 they were told the transfer was due to “optimization” and the directive for the transfer was located at Remand Prison No. 3.

In fact, Viktor was transferred yesterday morning, not the day before yesterday.

Unlike Remand Prison No. 3, it is impossible to protect inmates in Remand Prison No. 6. In Remand Prison No. 3, the cells are designed for two inmates and there are CCTV cameras everywhere, while Remand Prison No. 6 contains barracks designed for one hundred inmates. (Incidentally, unlike Petersburg’s remand prisons, there are often more inmates in Remand Prison No. 6 than there are beds, and the inmates take it in turns to sleep.) We get a large number of complaints of beatings,  hazings,** and so forth from Remand Prison No. 6. It is impossible to monitor the place.

We have to get Viktor out of there.

* My translation for the Russian prison slang term press-khata. According to Wiktionary, a press-khata is a “prison cell in which the wardens, with the help of cooperating prisoners, create intolerable conditions for inmates they do not like. ◆ ‘Cell No. 45 was considered a pressure cooker. The most notorious, murderous “bitches” were locked up there. If it was necessary to break someone’s spirit or just kill him, they were the people to turn to, since it was inexpensive. Often, a few packets of tea sufficed.’ Yevgeny Sartinov, The Last Empire, I: The Coup.”

** My translation for the Russian prison slang term propiska, literally, “registration.” Various Russian prison hazing rituals are described in the relevant article in Alexander Kuchinsky, A Prison Encyclopedia (1998).

Translated by the Russian Reader

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

Olga Romanova: Yevgeny Makarov’s Life Is in Danger

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Olga Romanova
Facebook
December 15, 2017

I have to write this so you’ll read it, so as many people as possible will read it, because a man’s life depends on it. So repost this, please, and maybe we’ll save his life.

His name is Yevgeny Makarov. Ivan Nepomnyashchikh has written a lot about him, because they were in prison together. There were three of them: Ivan, Ruslan Vakhapov, and Yevgeny Makarov. Of the fifteen hundred inmates in Penal Colony No. 1 in Yaroslavl, the three of them stubbornly stood up to the sadism, bullying, and humiliation meted out by wardens and guards. For their pains, they were beaten, held in solitary confinement, and issued leaky dishes, and they went on hunger strike.

They were not allowed to see their lawyers, but the prison’s special forces team would be dispatched to deal with them.

When Ivan was released, he immediately left the country. He has now enrolled at a university in the US. Ruslan and Yevgeny still have to serve out their sentences.

It was Yevgeny who has borne the brunt of the wardens’ anger. On December 5, he was transferred to Penal Colony No. 8.  The prison guards stripped Makarov naked, sat him in a chair, and beat him with a wet rag knotted on the end. They then poured water over him and shocked him with a cattle prod. Afterwards, guards attempted to plunge Makarov’s head in a toilet. (This is one method of “punking” an inmate.) Makarov resisted, and his head was slammed against the toilet bowl. His torturers stopped at this point and put Makarov in solitary confinement for fifteen days. He has also been sentenced to eight months in a single-cell room (abbreviated EPKT in Russian), a prison within a prison.

Our friends the lawyers at the Public Verdict Foundation have filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The ECHR has ordered the Russian Federation government to ensure that Makarov has been given a medical exam within 48 hours by physicians independent of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service and provide the court with a report on the results of the exam. The Russian goverment must also ensure Makarov’s safety and that he has unhindered access to legal counsel representing his interests. The EHCR drew the Russian government’s attention to the fact that it has taken urgent measures on behalf of Yevgeny Makarov. The complaint has been given priority status.

But the wardens in Russian prisons could not care less about the ECHR. They don’t understand. And human life there is worthless.

Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Dmitry Buchenkov, Last Bolotnaya Square Defendant, Flees Russia

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Last Bolotnaya Square Defendant Flees Russia
RBC
November 9, 2017

In an interview with Current Time TV, Bolotnaya Square defendant Dmitry Buchenkov said he has left Russia for a European Union country.

He said he has applied for political asylum in this country. Buchenkov failed to say exactly where he had gone.

“I’m calm about the fact I won’t be returning to the motherland soon. I won’t say leaving was easy. Psychologically, of course, I didn’t want to leave,” he noted. “The regime and the entire justice system forced me to take this step.”

He added he was currently not in touch with relatives.

When asked how he managed to cross the Russian border, the Bolotnaya Square defendant said he was “neither the first nor the last person to do it in such circumstances.”

According to Buchenkov, the Bolotnaya Square Case was “political” from the onset. He said that, after he was put under house arrest, “for six months [he] observed how the case was unfolding personally for [him]” and was convinced a guilty verdict lay in store. He said he was transferred from a pretrial detention facility to house arrest during a “brief thaw.” He was not outfitted with an electronic tracking bracelet, because the Naro-Fominsky division of the Federal Penitentiary Service had run out of them.

“I think the police investigators have long known they nabbed the wrong guy. But it was too late for them to back out,” said Buchenkov.

On the morning of November 9, Buchenkov did not show up to the Zamoskvorechye District Court for the latest hearing in his case, in which he stood accused of involvement in rioting. The Federal Penitentiary Service has accused him of fleeing, writes Current Time. Federal Penitentiary Service spokeswoman Natalya Bakharina said the defendant had “absconded,” since he was not to be found in his flat. She noted another family had been living there since November 5, and they were given keys to the flat in late October.

Buchenkov’s attorney Ilya Novikov wrote that he would refrain from commenting for the time being. In turn, Buchenkov’s other attorney, Svetlana Sidorkina, told RBC she did not know about her client’s departure from Russia.

“I don’t know about it. I do know he did not come to today’s hearing, during which the matter of whether to continue the forensic investigation or not was to have been ajudicated,” said Sidorkina.

According to her, the court decided to postpone the hearing since Buchenkov was not in attendance.

In April, at a hearing in the Zamoskvorechye District Court, Buchenkov declared himself not guilty of involvement in rioting and fighting with policemen. He was accused of violence against six Interiory Ministry officers and causing damage in the amount of 73,800 rubles to a commercial firm that set up porta-potties near Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.

Buchenkov, a 38-year-old anarchist and history teacher, was detained and remanded to custody in December 2015, thus becoming the thirty-fourth defendant in the Bolotnaya Square Case. Later, the Moscow City Court released him from custody and put him under house arrest. Buchenkov’s lawyers insisted the activist was not in Moscow during the events of May 6, 2012. The claim was corroborated by Buchenkov’s relatives in Nizhny Novgorod.

According to the defense, the police investigators who, allegedly, identified Buchenkov on video recordings of the May 6, 2012, protest rally mixed him up with another person. The defense lawyers sought to enter higher resolution photographs into evidence, but police investigators refused to take them into account.

Translated by the Russian Reader