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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Out Through the In Door, or, The Victim Is Always the Guilty Party

yevgeny kurakinYevgeny Kurakin. Courtesy of Facebook and Daily Storm

Journalist Yevgeny Kurakin Detained after Release from Special Detention Facility 
Mediazona
September 30, 2018

Journalist Yevgeny Kurakin has been detained in the Moscow Region city of Elektrostal. Kurakin was scheduled to be released from a special detention facility after ten days in jail for an administrative violation, Vera Makarova, who had planned to meet Kurakin when he left the facility, told OVD Info.

According to Makarova, the journalist was scheduled to be released at 5:30 p.m. At 5:30 p.m., five people in plain clothes entered the facility, soon emerging with Kurakin in their custody. They put him in an unmarked car and drove away.

Kurakin managed to tell Makarov that three of the people in plain clothes were police officers, while the other two were official witnesss. The people detaining Kurakin told him they had an order to take him into custody without giving him any of the details. Makarova thought Kurakin may have been taken to the police station in Balishikha.

On September 21, a court in Reutov sentenced Kurakin to ten days in jail after finding him guilty of failure to pay a fine (Administrative Offenses Code 20.25 Part 1), which he had been ordered to pay in June after he was found guilty of violating Administrative Offense Code 6.1.1 (battery).* In addition to the fine, he was then also sentenced to fifteen days in jail. According to Kurakin, he paid the fine immediately.

*“Kurakin was detained on his way to a public meeting with Moscow Region Governor Andrei Vorobyov. Kurakin said the cause of his arrest was an incident that had taken place at the Territorial Electoral Commission during the March 2018 presidential election. According to Kurakin, who was involved in the commission, he discovered “systematic blockage of telephone and internet connection at polling stations in the city in order to hinder election observers.” When Kurakin attempted to switch off a blocking device, a member of the electoral commission at Polling Station No. 2639 assaulted him. The man subsequently filed charges against Kurakin with the police.” Source: Mediazona

Translated by the Russian Reader

A Mass Grave for Journalists and Journalism?

"A dirty word!" Central District, Petersburg, July 18, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader
“A dirty word!” Central District, Petersburg, July 18, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

Moscow. July 20. Interfax.Ru. Official Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has commented on the death of journalist Pavel Sheremet in Kiev.

“A car in which Pavel Sheremet was located has exploded in Kiev. [He was] a professional unafraid to speak his mind to power, to different regimes at different times. Ukraine (not the country, but the system) has become a mass grave for journalists and journalism,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

As if Russia itself weren’t a “mass grave for journalists and journalism.” It takes a lot of the wrong kind of chutzpah to lie and gangbang the truth like these blood monkeys do every single day of their lives.

And Ms. Zakharova’s unspoken implication that Russia, unlike Ukraine, is a “system” that encourages “telling truth to power” is really beyond perverse.

Let us take a tiny peak into the mass grave for journalists and journalism mighty Russia has dug over the past couple of decades.

In 2009, the International Federation of Journalists and the Russian Union of Journalist issued a report, entitled Partial Justice, “to gather evidence surrounding the 300 deaths and disappearances of journalists in Russia between 1993 and 2009.”

When it comes to media freedom more generally, Russia has also been going downhill on a trolley with no brakes over the past decade, and things are bound to get worse with the recent passage into law of the so-called Yarovaya package, which cracks down on individual privacy, privacy of correspondence and communication, freedom of speech, the right not to rat on one’s friends and acquaintances, the ability to speak one’s mind freely to power on social media, and lots of other things.

So what was Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zakharova crowing about? She was actually celebrating Pavel Sheremet’s death by pretending to speak from a place where such violence against journalists and journalism is impossible and unthinkable. But we all know that is a bald-faced lie, and she knows it too.

Why couldn’t she just keep her mouth shut? Isn’t that what the Russian government wants its subjects to do from now until kingdom come anyway? Why can’t the powers that be here also practice some tactful silence now and then?