Monetizing Russia’s Migration Maze?

DSCN5633.jpg“Help is like hell, only it’s help.”

Punishment Minus Expulsion
Interior Ministry Develops Individual Approach to Migrant Workers
Anna Pushkarskaya
Kommersant
April 27, 2018

The Russian Interior Ministry has published draft amendments to the Administrative Offenses Code that would permit judges not to expel people from Russia who violated immigration regulations by allow them to take into account mitigating circumstances and substitute monetary fines for expulsion. The individual approach has already been enshrined in several articles of the Administrative Offenses Code by decision of the Russian Constitutional Court, but the police are willing to make it the “general rule for the assignment of administrative penalties.” Meanwhile, the Russian Justice Ministry has reported to the Council of Europe on measures it has taken in response to the complaints of stateless persons, although the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) and the Russian Constitutional Court on these cases have not yet been implemented, experts have noted.

The draft amendments to the Administrative Offenses Code, which would give judges the ability to replace administrative punishment with less harsh penalties, depending on the specific circumstances of the case, have been posted by the Interior Ministry for public discussion until May 4. The police drafted them on the basis of a February 17, 2016, ruling by the Constitutional Court. The ruling was rendered in the case of Moldovan national Mihai Țurcan, who was expelled from Russia for failing to notify the Federal Migration Service he was registered in Moscow Region. (This requirement is stipulated by Article 18.8 Part 3 of the Administrative Offenses Code, and it also applies to stays in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Leningrad Region.)

Expulsion entails a five-year ban on entering the Russian Federation and reapplying for a residence permit. Courts did not consider the complainant’s work experience and payment of taxes as grounds for mitigating his punishment. The Constitutional Court ruled that these immigration regulations were unconstitutional and obliged legislators to individualize penalties for single violations of the controversial regulation by taking into account the length of an alien’s stay in the country, whether or not s/he has family in Russia, payment of taxes, and law-abiding behavior. Since December 2016, Article 18.8 Part 3 has allowed authorities to avoid explusion except in cases in which the documents confirming the alien’s right to stay have been lost or are lacking. In April 2017, the Constitutional Court’s approach was enshrined in the “General Rules for the Assignment of Administrative Penalties” (Article 4.1 of the Administrative Offenses Code), which deals with violations at official sporting events, for which foreign fans can get off, under mitigating circumstances, with a fine of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles and a ban on visiting stadiums for a period of one to seven years.

In October 2017, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov instructed authorities to extend the approach to all cases of compulsory explusion. If the court concludes that expulsion is an excessive stricture on the right to a private life and is disproportionate to the objectives of administrative penalties, it can be substituted by a fine of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles [approx. 530 euros to 660 euros]. Courts may already opt not to order expulsion in accordance with the clarifications issued by the Russian Supreme Court and Russian Constitutional Court, but now the factors courts should take into account are supposed to be incorporated in the wording of the law, noted lawyer Sergei Golubok. Lawyer Olga Tseitlina told Kommersant the draft amendments are quite important, because courts have, in practice, ignored marital status and other vital circumstances.

At the same time, the Russian Justice Ministry has sent a letter to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, asking it to recognize that the EHCR’s rulings on complaints filed by stateless persons have been implemented. The virtually indefinite detention of complainants in special Russian Interior Ministry facilities on the basis of rulings by Russian courts and the conditions of their detention in custody were ruled violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Justice Ministry reported that compensation had been paid to the complainants. They are now no longer subject to expulsion and deportation, and can “fix their migration status.” Moreover, the State Duma has passed, in their first reading, the admendments to the Administrative Offenses Code drafted by the Interior Ministry to settle the problem, the Justice Ministry reported four years after the ECHR issued its ruling. The Justice Ministry referred to the Constitutional Court’s ruling in the Mskhiladze case. In May 2017, the court also ordered that the Administrative Offenses Code be amended.

The ruling has not been implemented, noted Golubok and Tseitlin, who represented Mr. Mskhiladze. The ECHR’s decision in the case of another of Tseitlina’s clients, Roman Kim, has not been implemented, either, she told Kommersant.

“He has no legal status and de facto cannot apply for [Russian] citizenship or a [Russian] residence permit, since he cannot expunge his conviction due to his unemployment, but he is unemployed because legally no one can hire him,” said Tseitlina.

She stressed the general measures required by the ECHR and the Constitutional Court have not been implemented, either, since no changes have been made to Russian federal laws.

Thanks to anatrrra for the heads-up. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

The Strange Investigation of a Strange Terrorist Attack

The Strange Investigation of a Strange Terrorist Attack
Leonid Martynyuk
Radio Svoboda
February 3, 2018

The investigation of the April 2017 terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway continues. We have assembled thirteen facts that provoke questions and leave us bewildered.

Last year witnessed two major terrorist attacks in Russia’s so-called second capital: in the subway in April, and in a Perekrostok supermarket in late December. They claimed 16 lives and injured another 126 people. In addition, in December, two weeks before the New Year, a joint operation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Interior Ministry apprehended seven persons who, according to the security services, were planning a whole series of terrorist attacks in Petersburg, including a blast in Kazan Cathedral. According to the same sources, the CIA had assisted the Russian security services in uncovering the terrorists and their plans.

On December 17, “Vladimir Putin thanked Donald Trump for the intelligence shared by the CIA, which had assisted in detaining terrorists planning blasts in Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral and other sites in the city. The intelligence received from the CIA was enough to track down and apprehend the criminals.”

Given the fact that last year no similar terrorist attacks or attempted terrorist attacks took place anywhere else in Russia, the activeness of terrorists in Petersburg was especially shocking. Why was Petersburg chosen by terrorists as the only target? However, the security services should first answer not this question, which is, perhaps, rhetorical, but questions about the ongoing investigation and its findings. While little time has passed since the December terrorist attack, and there has been little news about its investigation, it has been nearly nine months since the April attack in the Petersburg subway, and so we can sum up and analyze the available information.

Thus, on April 3, 2017, at 2:33 p.m., a terrorist attack occurred in the Petersburg subway that left 16 people dead and 49 people hospitalized. From the very first minutes, reports about the attack contradicted each other.

1. Fake Terrorists

The first person whom the media, citing law enforcement agencies, named as the possible terrorist was Ilyas Nikitin, a truck driver from Bashkortostan, who was returning home that day from St. Petersburg’s central mosque.

fontanka+fake

“A photo of the man whom the CID are seeking in connection with the blast.” Screenshot from the Twitter account of popular Petersburg news website Fontanka.ru

A few hours later, however, Nikitin himself went to the police to prove his innocence. He had planned to fly from Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport to Orenburg. He had gone through the security check, but the flight crew of the Rossiya Airlines plane refused to let him board the plane due to the protests of frightened fellow passengers, who had “identified” him from his photograph in the press.

In the early hours of April 4, the media, citing the security services, identified Maxim Arishev, who was “in the epicenter of the blast in the subway car” and “could be the alleged suicide bomber.” cit

“Channel Five has published photos of the person who allegedly planted the second bomb at Ploshchad Vosstaniya.” Screenshot from Twitter account of the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT)

Arishev was identified as a “22-year-old Kazakhstani national.” An hour later, the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of investigators, published a message stating Arishev was a victim of the terrorist attack, not the man who carried it out. cit2

“We have concluded that Maxim Aryshev [sic] was among the victims of the terrorist attack, not a suicide bomber.” Screenshot from Twitter account of the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT)

The third and final hypothesis as to the perpetrator’s identity during the immediate aftermath of the attack was that it was 22-year-old Russian national Akbarjon Jalilov, who also died in the blast. The Investigative Committee’s guess was based on genetic evidence and CCTV footage.

Фотография Акбаржона Джалилова на его страничке в

A photograph of Akbarjon Jalilov on his page on the Russian social media website Odnoklassniki (“Classmates”)

 

Djalilov’s neighbors in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, where he lived until 2011, described his family as secular.

“His family is not religious. Akbarjon did not pray five times a day or grow a beard. On the contrary, he liked wearing ripped bluejeans. He knew Russian well.”

2. Reports of Two Blasts

In the first hour after the terrorist attack, Russian media reported that two blasts had occurred. They cited what they regarded as very reliable, informed sources: the Emergency Situations Ministry, the Investigative Committee, and the National Anti-Terrorist Committee.

An hour later, the concept had changed, and the Russian security services informed the public through the media there had been one blast, while a second explosive device, planted at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station, had been disarmed in time.

The news chronicle of the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway is still available on the internet news site Lenta.ru, which is now absolutely loyal to the regime.

Between 3:12 p.m. and 3:44 p.m., that is, over thirty minutes, Lenta.ru published several reports that two explosive devices had exploded at two subway stations.

3:12 p.m.: “There were two blasts. They thundered at Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologicheskii Institut stations.”

3:17 p.m.: “Putin has been informed of the explosions in the Petersburg subway.”

3:44 p.m: The media report that “all stations of the Petersburg subway have been closed due to the blasts.”

After 3:49 p.m., only one blast is mentioned in every single one of Lenta.ru‘s dispatches.

3:49 p.m.: “The number of victims of the blast in the Petersburg subway has grown to thirty, reports Interfax.”

But at 3:55 p.m. Lenta.ru publishes a report of a second unexploded bomb.

3:55 p.m.: “Fontanka.ru reports that another, unexploded bomb has been found at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya station.”

The media’s interpreters of information supplied by the Investigative Committee and Emergency Situations Ministry were offered the following explanation of the false report of two blasts at two stations.

“The explosion occurred on the stretch of track between Petersburg subway stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Teknologicheskii Institut. At the time of the explosion, the subway train had only set out from Sennaya Ploshchad, but it did not stop, braking only at Tekhnologicheskii Institut. Therefore, reports of a bomb exploding arrived from both stations. At one station, the explosion and smoke were seen, while the exploded subway car, and the injured and the dead were seen at the second station.”

But this account contradicts reports about the time of the explosion.

“The explosion occurred at 2:40 p.m. in the third car of an electric train traveling on the Petersburg subway’s Blue Line. It happened a few minutes after the train had left Sennaya Ploshchad for Tekhnologicheskii Institut.”

The average speed of a train traveling in the Petersburg subway is 40 kilometers an hour. The train left Sennaya Ploshchad and had been traveling a few minutes before an explosion occurred in one of the cars. Let us assume that train had been under speed for a minimum of two minutes, and during the first minute the train traveled slowly due to the need to pick up speed. During the second minute, the train was already traveling at around 30 kilometers an hour. In one minute, an object moving at a speed of 30 kilometers an hour travels half a kilometer.

This means that at the time of the explosion the train was at least half a kilometer from the departure station. Most likely, however, the train was much farther than half a kilometer from Sennaya Ploshchad. Eyewitnesses reported that the “train was flying along” when the explosion occurred, that is, it was traveling at a good speed.

As TV Rain reported, “According to eyewitnesses, the explosion in the car occurred on the approach to Tekhnologicheskii Institut.”

Under the circumstances, the smoke seen by eyewitnesses, and the noise of the blast, which could be heard at Sennaya Ploshchad, could not have been perceived by witnesses and, much less, by Emergency Situations Ministry and Investigative Committee officers as a “blast at Sennaya Ploshchad station.” It could be identified, for example, as an “explosion in the tunnel” or “smoke on the stretch of track between the stations.”

Another explanation is that reporters mixed everything up. The Emergency Situations Ministry and Investigative Committee never reported an explosion at Sennaya Ploshchad subway station. This hypothesis is easily refuted by the stories filed by news agencies and TV channels, for example, the Federal News Agency. They clearly show that, within an hour of the blast, there were emergency vehicles, firefighters, Emergency Situations Ministry officers, seventeen ambulance brigades, and even an medevac helicopter outside the station. The entrance to the station was cordoned off, and police herded passersby away from the station.

У станции метро Outside Sennaya Ploshchad subway station, April 3, 2017

Questions arise in this regard. How could professionals from the security services, whom many media quoted, confuse an explosion and a disarmed bomb? How could the Investigative Committee and Emergency Situations Ministry have known there should have been two explosions?

3. Confusion about the Time When the Explosive Device Was Found at Ploshchad Vosstaniya Station

The first report that an explosive device had been discovered at Ploshchad Vosstaniya station was filed at 2:21 p.m. on Motor Vehicle Accidents and Emergencies | Saint Petersburg | Peter Online | SPB, a popular page on the VK social network. (It has 800,000 subscribers.)

“A bag has been left at Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway. An inspector with a sniffing device has arrived. No police. The area has not been cordoned off.”

The post was read 509,000 times.

The post was published at 2:21 p.m, but a photograph was uploaded to VK even earlier, at 2:06 p.m. Reporters from the local business daily Delovoi Peterburg called the man who had taken the picture, Denis Chebykin, and asked him to check the exact time on his telephone when he snapped the photo.

“At 2:01 p.m. At any rate, my telephone displays more or less the right time,” he told them.

But in its official report, sent to all media, the FSB’s Petersburg and Leningrad Region Office said the bomb in the Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station was found fifty-nine minutes later.

“Around 3:00 p.m., a homemade explosive device armed with projectiles was found in the Ploshchad Vosstaniya subway station. The device was promptly disarmed by explosives experts.”

Why did the Federal Security Service (FSB) not want to tell the truth: that the explosive device at Ploshchad Vosstaniya had been discovered at least 32 minutes before the explosion in the train headed to Tekhnologicheskii Institut? Are the security services concealing their own sluggishness?

4. Who Disarmed the Second Bomb?

The media supplied two completely different accounts of who prevented the second explosion. According to the account given at 12:10 p.m., April 4, on the website of Zvezda, the Defense Ministry’s TV channel, the bomb was disarmed by a Russian National Guard officer who happened to be in the subway at the time, was quite familiar with the particular type of explosive device, and thus quickly disarmed the bomb. This was also reported by Ren TV and Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.

Another account emerged later, after three o’clock on the afternoon of April 5.

“The explosive device in the Ploshchad Vosstaniya station of the Petersburg subway was defused by officers of the engineering and technical branch of the Russian National Guard’s riot police (OMON).”

The same day, April 5, NTV, known for its close ties to the Russian security services, aired a special report, in which a riot policeman, identified in the captions as “Maxim, senior explosives engineer,” says the riot police (OMON) discovered a black bag, containing a explosive device, which he and his colleagues defused.

The second account of how the bomb was defused was heavily spun by the media, while the original account, of the Russian National Guard officer who happened to be in the subway and defused the bomb, was dropped after April 4.

5. The Terrorist Attack Happened after Massive Opposition Protests 

Eight days before the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, on March 26, 2017, one of the biggest protest rallies in the past five years took place in Moscow. The protesters, who had not coordinated the event with the mayor’s office, demanded the authorities respond to the charges made against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s investigative report “Don’t Call Him Dimon.”

The protest led to numerous arrests. According to official sources, over 600 people were packed into paddy wagons. Human rights defenders claim that over a thousand people were apprehended. Protests took place not only in Moscow but also in other Russian cities. A total of between 32,359 and 92,861 people [sic] took to the streets nationwide on March 26, 2017, and between 1,666 and 1,805 people were detained.

The terrorist attack took place in Petersburg on April 3. The very next day, President Putin’s office recommended that regional governments hold rallies against terrorism on April 8. In keeping with the Kremlin’s instructions, all political parties represented in the Russian parliament were involved in the rallies, which were held in major cities nationwide.

“The governors are getting called and told to make everyone go to the rallies,” a source close to the Kremlin told the newspaper Kommersant.

This information was also confirmed by a source in United Russia, the country’s ruling party.

6. Islamic State Did Not Claim Responsibility for the Terrorist Attack

At the outset of the investigation, the FSB claimed Jalilov had been a member of an Islamic State commando group. At first, it made this claim anonymously.

“According to Kommersant‘s trustworthy source, the security services knew an attack was planned in Petersburg, but their intelligence was incomplete. It was provided by a Russian national who had collaborated with Islamic State, an organization banned in our country, and detained after returning from Syria. The man knew several members of a commando group dispatched to Russia.”

Subsequently, its claims were more specific.

“The terrorist attack in Petersburg was carried out by an Islamic State suicide bomber. […] FSB officers […] found out he had entered Russia via Turkey in 2014. Currently, the security services have been in contact with their colleagues in neighboring countries to find out the exact itinerary of Jalilov’s journey, but they are certain he visited Syria or, rather, Islamic State-controlled Syria.”

More than eight months have passed since the terrorist attack, but Islamic State never did claim responsibility for the explosion in the Petersburg subway, although Islamic State militants had claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack that happened ten days before the Petersburg attack: an attack on a Russian military base in Chechnya. The attack occurred in the early hours of March 24, 2017, leaving six Russian servicemen dead.

Islamic State also claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack carried out less than twenty-four hours after the attack in Petersburg: the murder of two policemen in Astrakhan in the early hours of April 4, 2017.

7. An Unknown Group Claimed Responsibility for the Terrorist Attack Only Three Weeks Later

On April 25, 2017, Russian and international media reported that an unknown group calling itself Katibat al-Imam Shamil, allegedly linked to Al Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for the attack in the Petersburg subway twenty-two days after the attack. However, there is no information about the group in public sources, and experts have never heard of it.

The long period of time that elapsed between the terrorist attack and this “confession” also raises doubts that the statement was really made by Islamic fundamentalists, rather than by people passing themselves off as Islamists.

8. The Terrorist’s Suspected Accomplices Kept a Bomb in Their Home for Two Days after the Attack

On the morning of April 6, 2017, FSB and Interiory Ministry officers detained six men in Petersburg, claiming they had been involved in the terrorist attack. All the detainees lived in a flat on Tovarishchesky Avenue, where, according to police investigators, a homemade explosive device was discovered during a search. It was similar in design to the devices used by the terrorist in the subway. Investigators had located the suspects by studying telephone calls made by Akbarjon Jalilov.

Let us assume that the suspects really were accomplices in planning the terrorist attack. In that case, it transpires that two days after the attack they were keeping an explosive device in their home. Moreover, they made no attempt to leave Petersburg, knowing that investigators would check people the suspected terrorist had called, and so they would definitely track them down. Meaning that either the arrested men are quite stupid people or, as they have claimed themselves, the FSB planted the bomb in their flat.

9. The Accused Were Provided with State-Appointed Defense Attorneys Who Worked for the Prosecution

A total of ten people were arrested as part of the terrorist attack investigation in Petersburg. All of them were provided with state-appointed attorneys, who have a very bad reputation among human rights activists in Russia. Many of them perform their duties in such a way that no prosecutor is necessary. Meaning they do not need his help to send their defendants to prison faraway and for a long time. This has been borne out in full in the Petersburg terrorist attack case.

Thus, on April 7, 2017, the court considered a motion, made by investigators and supported by the prosecutor, to remand Mahamadusuf Mirzaalimov in custody. The accused plainly stated he did not want to go to a remand prison.

“I object to the investigation’s motion to remand me in custody. I never saw this explosive device,” he said in the courtroom.

However, the defendant’s position was not supported by his lawyer, Nina Vilkina, who left the question of custody to the court’s discretion. Consequently, the court remanded Mirzaalimov in custody until June 2, 2018.

6Mahamadusuf Mirzaalimov. Photo by Sergei Mihailichenko. Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

During suspect Abror Azimov’s remand hearing, which took place on April 18, 2017, in Moscow’s Basmanny District Court, his state-appointed defense lawyer cheerfully reported to the judge, “He pleads guilty in fully.”

The lawyere made this statement before the investigation was completed and before any trial had taken place.

The father of the accused brothers Abror and Akram Azimov would later say about the state-appointed lawyers, “These lawyers do not call me and do not say anything. They hide everything. It was only from the press I heard my sons had been detained.”

10. Police Reports and Videos of the Azimovs’ Detention Were Falsified

Since mid April 2017, investigators have regarded brothers Abror and Akram Azimov as the principal suspects in the Petersburg terrorist attack.

According to a statement issued by the FSB, Akram Azimov was detained in New Moscow on April 19. A RGD-5 combat grenade was allegedly found on his person when he was apprehended.

Акрам и Аброр Азимовы с отцом Ахролом. Фото со страницы Ахрола Азимова в ФейсбукеAkram and Abror Azimov, and their father Ahrol Azimov. Photo taken from Ahrol Azimov’s Facebook page

 

According to Akram Azimov’s mother Vazira Azimova, law enforcement officers snatched her son from a hospital in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on April 15, the day after he had undergone an operation, and took him to an undisclosed location. The video recording released by the FSB on April 19, in which Akram Azimov is detained at a bus stop in New Moscow, was staged, she claims.

“He had no money for a ticket. He did not have his passport. It was obviously staged. I want justice,” Vazira Azimova said in a statement.

Akram’s father Ahrol Azimov provided RBC with a photo of his son’s boarding pass for an S7 flight from Domodedovo Airport in Moscow to Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on March 27, 2017. The senior Azimov is convinced his son could not have traveled to Russia on his own: when he was hospitalized he had no money with him to buy a ticket.

The fact that Akram Azimov was snatched from a hospital in Osh by officers of the Kyrgyzstan State Committee for National Security (GKNB) on April 15, 2017, has been confirmed in writing by Zina Karimova, head doctor of the Hosiyat Clinic, a private facility, and Sanzharbek Tohtashev, the attending physician.

According to lawyer Anna Stavitskaya, illegal detentions are a common practice in the CIS countries.

“The security services in a number of post-Soviet countries cheerfully cooperate with the FSB when it comes to ‘unofficial’ exchanges of detainees. Practically speaking, it is often a matter of kidnapping. In my practice, there have been several cases when people were apprehended in Russia. The issue of whether to extradite them to Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, for example, was being decided, but the European Court of Human Rights forbade extradition. As soon as the people were released from custody, they were kidnapped with the assistance of the Russian security services and transported to these foreign countries. In this case, it is the other way round.”

Akram Azimov was transported by FSB officers from Kyrgyzstan to Moscow, where, his lawyer Olga Dinze claims, he was held for four days in an illegal prison, after which the FSB staged his apprehension.

“On April 19, the suspect, wearing a blindfold, was taken somewhere in a vehicle. He was told how to behave. He should sit with his hands in his pockets and keep quiet. The ‘officers’ would come up to him and take him to a car. This was the same staged video we all would see later on the internet. After his apprehension was staged, he was placed in the car. His hands were cuffed behind his back and a grenade was placed in his hand. He was ordered to squeeze it so he would leave his fingerprints on it.”

Something similar happened to Akram’s brother Abror Azimov. He was apprehended by FSB officers on April 4. After thirteen days in a secret FSB prison, he was apprehended a second time, for the video cameras, on April 17.

 

Abror Azimov claims that on April 17 he was taken from his cell, and a hood was pulled over his head and wrapped round with adhesive tape. His capture was then staged. Afterwards, he was put in a car, forced to leave fingerprints on a Makarov pistol, and taken to an investigator, who had already printed out his interrogation transcript.

Before Abror Azimov was officially apprehended on April 17, the house where he lived in Lesnoi Gorodok, Moscow Region, was searched. Investigators carried out the search without a judge’s warrant due to the urgency of the matter, as they explained. It was during this search that the Makarov pistol was allegedly found.

11. The Azimov Brothers Were Tortured After They Were Apprehended

The Azimov brothers were apprehended twice: first with no cameras present, and then for the cameras, so that FSB officers would have several days to illegally interrogate the accused men. The Azimovs claim they were tortured during these interrogations.

According to Olga Dinze, Akram Azimov’s attorney, her client was tortured with electrical shocks.

“He was brutally tortured. He was standing practically naked on a concrete floor. He was not fed or given any water. He was forced to memorize the testimony he would later give to the investigator. When he would give the wrong answer, they would shock him with an electrical current, counting to ten. Periodically, he fainted. He would be brought back to his senses and the torture would resume. The torture not only involved memorizing his testimony but also threats of violence against his wife and children. They threatened to rape his wife. Since Akram knows of such cases in his homeland, he took the threats seriously.”

After he was tortured, Akram Azimov was taken to the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, where he was interrogated in the presence of a state-appointed defense attorney. The FSB officers who had earlier tortured him told him what answers to give, but his state-appointed counsel said nothing, allowing the FSB officers and the investigator to coerce Azimov mentally.

The circumstances faced by the second accused man, Abror Azimov, have been similar. His defense attorney said his client was apprehended and jailed in a secret prison, where he was repeatedly tortured with electric shocks, dunked in water, humiliated in every possible way, and subjected to mental coercion. FSB officers spent two weeks forcing him to admit involvement in terrorist activities.

On April 18, 2017, during his custody hearing, Abror Azimov’s testimony was confused. At first, he stated he was not involved in the explosion, but after an Investigative Committee officer reminded him that he had earlier signed a confession, Azimov said, “I’m involved in this, but not directly.” When the judge asked whether the suspect wanted the court to assign non-custodial pretrial restrictions, Azimov answered in the negative. The question is what kind of person, if he has not been subjected beforehand to physical and mental coercion (torture and threats), would voluntarily agree to be jailed?

12. Their Lawyers Were Not Admitted to the Azimov Brothers

According to lawyers Olga and Dmitry Dinze, they could not begin defending the Azimov brothers for over a week.

“We could not start working on this criminal case, because neither the remand prison nor the investigator would let us see our clients, using whatever trick they could.”

The investigators from the Investigative Committee ignored the lawyers’ calls and conducted the investigation only in the presence of the state-appointed lawyers.

Investigators thus had nearly a month after the official arrest to pressure the accused without being distracted by the legitimate requests of real lawyers.

The Azimov brothers’ problems did not end with the refusal of authorities to let their lawyers see their clients. Since late June, according to their father, the Azimovs have been paid visits by FSB officers who have demanded they renounce their defense lawyers and employ the services of state-appointed lawyers.

13. The Justice Ministry Has Been Pressuring Olga Dinze, Akram Azimov’s Lawyer

On August 3, 2017, officials of Lefortovo Remand Prison in Moscow detained Olga Dinze, Akram Azimov’s lawyer, for three hours, demanding she hand over the notes she received from Azimov concerning the case of the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway.

The prison wardens wanted to get their hands on documents Azimov had given to his lawyer. The wardens suggested Olga Dinze could sit in a cell for awhile, while her client was threatened with time in a punishment cell. According to Dinze, she had not done anything illegal. Before the visit, guards had searched Azimov and not found anything that could not be taken out of the prison.

In November 2017, the Justice Ministry requested Olga Dinze be barred from the case due to the conflict over obtaining her client’s written testimony. Ramil Akhmetgaliyev, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group, believes this was obvious coercion of the lawyer.

“Correspondence is one thing, but communication with your lawyer, including written communication, is something else altogether. Usually, the guards do not have a problem with it, but the FSB got involved. They are trying to establish total control over the accused.”

The current Russian regime, conceived in September 1999 amidst the smoke from the exploded residential buildings in Buynaksk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk, has a bad reputation when it comes to terrorist attacks. Any doubts, as a rule, are chalked up by independent observers as strikes against the authorities.

Taken separately, each of these thirteen points cannot serve as proof that the account of the explosion in the Petersburg subway on April 3, 2017, offered by state investigators, is falsified. Taken together, however, these facts do generate serious suspicions.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Report to UN on Racial Discrimination in Russia Banned

Report to UN on Racial Discrimination in Russia Banned
Takie Dela
August 17, 2017

Russian federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor has placed a report to the UN on racial discrimation in Russia on its list of banned information, reports the SOVA Center.

The alternative report in question is entitled “The Russian Federation’s Observance of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination” and covers the period 1996–2001. The report has been published on several websites, including the Kharkov-based human rights website Human Rights in Ukraine.

doklad screen shotScreenshot from Roskomnadzor website

In June 2015, the Yelniki District Court in Mordovia ruled the report information prohibited for dissemination. On August 11, the page on the Human Rights in Ukraine website containing the report was registered on Roskomnadzor’s list of banned materials, reports SOVA.

“The ruling itself has not been published, and we are unaware of the court’s arguments. In order for a court to rule information prohibited for dissemination in Russia, it must contain matter previously deemed extremist by a court.  Of course, the report on racial discrimination contained no such matter, so it is completely unclear in this case what triggered the lawsuit and the court’s ruling,” SOVA’s press service commented.

The report was compiled by the Memorial Human Rights Center with the assistance of twenty-five Russian NGOs involved in counteracting racism and discrimination. It was submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The report discusses the discrimination or promotion of discrimination against Meskhetian Turks, Chechens, and Romani. It also criticizes Russian authorities for insufficient efforts to counteract discrimination and creating appropriate mechanisms for counteracting discrimination.

In 2016, the Russian Federal Justice Ministry declared SOVA Center a “foreign agent.” SOVA Center staff do not consider their work political, the alleged determining criterion for ruling a Russian NGO receiving foreign funding a “foreign agent.”

Thanks to Maria Turovets and Mari Davtyan for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Nikolay Mitrokhin: God-Given “Extremists”

God-Given “Extremists”
Nikolay Mitrokhin
Takie Dela
April 26, 2017

I met Jehovah’s Witnesses in the mid 1990s in the former Soviet Central Asian republics. I was researching the region’s religious life. When I arrived at each regional capital, I would survey all the prominent communities in turn. The Witnesses were different in one respect from other western-inspired Christian communities. There were lots of them and they were everywhere.

Like now, many were certain back then the Witnesses were a product of the perestroika era’s freedoms. This, however, was not the case. The Witnesses were a legacy of the Soviet Union.

An American Salesman’s Religion

The Witnesses are a typical American eschatological religious group. Put crudely, they believe the world will end soon, during their lifetimes. They believe in one God, Jehovah, a name used during Christianity’s first century. On Judgment Day, Jehovah will destroy sinners and save the elect. The Witnesses reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit). They do not consider Christ God, but they revere him. The day of his death is the only holiday they celebrate.

“A History of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia,” a display in the museum at the Administrative Center of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, located in St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

A completely and regularly revised theology has produced a set of permissions and prohibitions aimed at maintaining the way of life and behavior of a decent traveling salesman from the lower middle classes.

The Witnesses are allowed the moderate use of alcohol (immoderate use is cause for expulsion) and the use of contraceptives. Premarital sex and smoking are forbidden. The Witnesses must not “rend to Caesar what is Caesar’s”: they are forbidden from being involved in elections, engaging in politics, honoring state symbols, and serving in the army. They are most roundly criticized by outsiders for forbidding blood transfusions and organ transplants. The Witnesses suddenly had something to say when the AIDS epidemic kicked off. They support blood substitutes.

Something like family monasteries—”administrative centers”—have been organized for the most ardent followers. The schedule in the centers is strict, but the conditions are relatively comfortable. The Witnesses can live and work in them, practically for free, for as little as a year or as along as their entire lives.

Waiting for the world’s imminent end is an occupation common to many religious groups, from Russian Old Believers to the Mayan Indians. Such groups isolate themselves from a sinful world, some by retreating into the wilderness, others, by restricting their contact with outsiders.

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The cover of a 1928 Russian-language edition of The Watchtower. When the Russian edition was founded in 1925, it was originally entitled The Guard Tower, but in 1964 the name was changed to The Watchtower. Photo courtesy of Boris Alexeyevich/Wikipedia

The Witnesses differ from similar movements in terms of how they disseminate and maintain their doctrine. The method is based on the commercial practice of distributing magazines in the nineteenth century. Essentially, the entire organization meets twice weekly to read its main journal, The Watchtower, which is produced by church elders in Brooklyn and then translated and disseminated in dozens of languages. Members pay a nominal fee for subscribing to and reading the journal, fees that are scrupulously collected and sent along the chain: from local groups to the regional office, then to the national headquarter and, finally, to the head office in Brooklyn. Free distribution of the magazine and going door to door asking people whether they want to talk about God are aimed at the same thing: increasing the audience who subscribes to and collectively reads the magazine.

Ninety-five percent of today’s public find these religious activities strange and ridiculous, although from a sociological viewpoint they barely differ from going to political party meetings, networked sales of cosmetics, visiting sports clubs, getting a tattoo, the Russian Healthy Lifestyle Movement (ZOZh) or stamp collecting.

If you believe the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own figures, they operate in 240 countries, which is more than belong to the UN.  At the same time, the organization is numerically quite compact, albeit growing rapidly. It has a total of 8.3 million members.

A Religion for Soviet Individuals

The story of how the Witnesses took root in the Soviet Union has been well told in a book published three years ago by Emily Baran, Dissent on the Margins: How Soviet Jehovah’s Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach About It. Polish and Romanian peasants and market traders adopted the doctrine of the Witnesses at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s, and before the war they unexpectedly were made Soviet citizens when the Soviet Union occupied parts of Poland and Romania.

The Soviet authorities did not tolerate large groups who maintained constant links with foreign countries, so it decided to send the core group of Witnesses, five thousand people, to Siberia. A considerable number were sent to the camps, while the rest were exiled. The crackdown was a misfortune for the victims, but it was a godsend for the exotic doctrine.

The Moscow Jehovah’s Witness community worshiping at the velodrome in the city’s Krylatskoye District, 2000. Photo courtesy of Alexander Fomin/PhotoXPress.ru

As early as the 1950s, the largest communities of Witnesses had emerged in the main place of exile, Irkutsk Region. In the 2000s, the official websites of Irkutsk Region and the neighboring Republic of Buryatia claimed the Jehovah’s Witnesses were a traditional religious community in the region. Irkipedia provides the following figures for 2011: “Around 5,500 people in Irkutsk Region are members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization. Around 50 of their assemblies operate in Irkutsk Region, each of them featuring 80 to 150 members. The assemblies are united into three districts: Usolye-Sibirskoye, Irkutsk, and Bratsk.”

The camps proved a suitable place for proselytizing, the radically minded youth, especially Ukrainian speakers, eager listeners, and the half-baked amnesty of political prisoners, an excellent means of disseminating the doctrine nationwide. As early as the late 1950s, all over northern Kazakhstan, former members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), who were banned from returning home, and former Russian criminals, who had taken jobs as farm machinery operators and welders, were digging dugouts in the steppes to hide DIY printing presses for printing The Watchtower.

Why did peasants, traders, brawny lads from the working classes, graduates of provincial technical schools, mothers of large families, and pensioners need to become Jehovah’s Witnesses? I have the same explanation as the preachers do: to radically change their selves and their lifestyles. The everyday frustrations of ordinary people, their perpetually predetermined lives, and their uselessness to anyone outside their narrow family circle (in which there is so often so little happiness) are things that torment many people. Prescriptions for effectively transfiguring oneself are always popular. However, they usually don’t work, because it is hard to stick to the program.

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Minsk, 2015. Photo courtesy of Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters/Pixstream

Like other religious groups, the Witnesses offer their members a disciplinary model for joint action. You can sit at home, chewing through your miserly pension, and watching TV, or you can feel like a “pioneer” again (the title given to missionaries who proselytize on the streets and door to door), do the right thing, hang out with other enthusiastic people like yourself, and make friends with young people. You are a young bricklayer. You are facing a lifetime of laying bricks, but your soul yearns for change and career growth. After spending six months in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, our bricklayer might be leading a grassroots group, and two years later he might have made a decent career in the organization. His wife is satisfied. Her husband doesn’t drink, their circle of friends has expanded, and during holidays the whole family can go visit other Witnesses in other parts of Russia. The children grown up in a circle of fellow believers with a sense of their own uniqueness. Free evenings are spent on the work of the organization, but that is better than drunken quarrels, and better than what most “ordinary” Soviet and post-Soviet folks are up to in the evenings.

Wholehearted Atheists

In 2006, I interviewed Vladimir Saprykin, a former employee of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee’s Propaganda Department. His career had kicked off with a vigorous campaign against the Witnesses in Karaganda Region. I was able to get a glimpse into a period when the Party was on the warpath against the Witnesses. In the early 1960s, literally hundreds of people were sent to the camps as part of the campaign against religion per se.

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The Jehovah’s Witness Congress Hall in St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy of PhotoXPress

Saprykin had campaigned against the Witnesses wholeheartedly and passionately, and that passion still burned in him fifty years after the events in question. He had dreamed of making them “completely free,” of “returning them to their essence.” He was backed up then by a whole group of provincial demiurges from among the local intelligentsia. They had collectively tried to re-educate the local group of Witnesses through debate, and then they had intimated them and pressured their relatives. Subsequently, they had tried to buy them off before finally sending the group’s core to prison with the KGB’s backing.

Their rhetoric is surprisingly similar to the declarations made by the Witnesses’ current antagonists.

“We stand for individual freedom of choice in all domains, including religion. […] So read, compare, think, disagree, and argue! Critical thinking is in inalienable sign of a person’s freedom. Let’s not abandon our freedom so easily.”

This is not an excerpt from a statement by a libertarian group, but an excerpt from a declaration published by a group of Russian Orthodox clergymen attached to the Holy Martyr Irenaeus of Lyons Center for Religious Studies. It was these clergymen who have now got the Jehovah’s Witnesses banned.

In the early 1960s, the KGB and such local enthusiasts managed to deliver several serious blows to the infrastructure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union. Successive leaders of the organization and hundreds of grassroots leaders and activists were arrested and convicted, and archives, correspondence, and printing presses were seized.

“Is there an end to your suffering? Take a copy for free in your own language.” Tuchkovo, Moscow Region. Photo courtesy of Alexander Artemenkov/TASS

This, however, did not lead to the eradication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Besides the three regions where they had constantly been active—Western Ukraine, Moldova, and Irkutsk Region—groups and organizations emerged in the sixties and seventies throughout nearly the entire Soviet Union from Arkhangelsk Region to the Maritime Territory, and from Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan.

The movement was spread by ex-camp convicts, labor migrants from regions where the doctrine was strongly espoused, and missionaries.

Soviet construction sites, new cities, and workers’ dorms were propitious environments for the spread of new religious doctrines. The young people who arrived to work there were cut off from their usual lifestyles, family ties, and interests. They wanted something new, including self-education and self-transfiguration—to gad about in suits and have their heads in the clouds. Most of these cadres were promoted through the ranks by the Communist Youth League and other authorities, but there were plenty of pickings for the religious organizations.

By the way, in 1962, Saprykin campaigned to get not just anyone to leave the Witnesses, but Maria Dosukova, a chevalier of the Order of Lenin, a longtime Party member, a plasterer, and an ethnic Kazakh. During an assembly at her construction company, Dosukova had refused to support a resolution condemning the religious organization in which several people in her work team were members.

Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sochi, 2007. Photo courtesy of Natalya Kolesnikova/PhotoXPress

After Krushchev’s resignation, the systematic arrests of the Witnesses stopped, although some were sent to prison as a warning to the others.  Everyone else was subject to the decree, issued by the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, on March 18, 1966, “On Administrative Responsibility for Violating the Legislation on Religious Cults.” You could be fined fifty rubles—a week’s pay for a skilled worker—for holding a religious circle meeting in your home. In his book About People Who Never Part with the Bible, religious studies scholar Sergei Ivanenko records that, during the seventies and eighties, attempts to combat the Witnesses by fining them and tongue-lashing them at assemblies were just as useless. 

Wholehearted Anticultists

Perestroika legalized the Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the post-Soviet space. This freedom did not last for long, however. The new states of Central Asia and the Transcaucasia followed the Soviet Union’s path in their treatment of the Witnesses, achieving similar outcomes.

In Russia, the Witnesses were officially registered in March 1991 and had no serious problems for a long time. They built their central headquarters, Bethel, in the village of Solnechnoye near St. Petersburg, as well as several dozen buildings for prayer meetings.  Of course, due to their activity, relative openness, and American connections, the Witnesses (along with the Hare Krishna, the Mormons, the Scientologists, and the Pentecostals) were targeted by the various hate organizations that emerged in Russia in the late 1990s, including the Cossacks, neo-Nazis, and professional anticultists.

Protest rally against the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, 1997. Photo courtesy of TASS

Anticultism was imported to Russia by the ex-Moscow hippie Alexander Dvorkin, who emigrated to the US in the 1970s and got mixed up in Orthodox émigré circles there. In the early 1990s, he left his job at Radio Liberty and returned to Russia, where he made a successful career at the point where the interests of the Moscow Patriarchate and Russian law enforcement agencies intersect. The above-mentioned Irenaeus of Lyons Center is, basically, Dvorkin himself.

Professor Dvorkin has worked for several years at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University of the Humanities. Until 2012, he was head of the department of sectology. In 2009, he headed the council for religious studies forensic expertise at the Russian Federal Justice Ministry. (He now holds the post of deputy chair). It is curious that Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov is also a St. Tikhon’s alumnus and is quite proud of that fact.

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Professor Alexander Dvorkin. Photo courtesy of Yevgeny Mukhtarov/Wikipedia

By supporting the Justice Ministry’s campaign to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Russian Supreme Court has not only put the “sectarians” in a difficult position but also the Russian authorities. In Russia, the Witnesses have over 400 local organizations and around 168,000 registered members. Only full-fledged members are counted during registration, but a fair number of sympathizers are also usually involved in Bible readings, The Watchtower, and other religious events. We can confidently say the ban will affect at least 300,000 to 400,000 Russian citizens. Labeling them “extremists” does not simply insult them and provoke conflicts with their relatives, loved ones, and acquaintances. In fact, this means abruptly increasing the workload of the entire “anti-extremism” system the Russian authorities have been setting up the past twenty years.  The soldiers of the Russian National Guard will find it easy to raid prayer meetings and spread-eagle these “extremists” on the floor. However, given the scale of the organization, they will have to do this a lot and often. And, as experience shows,  there won’t be much point to what they are doing.

Not a single country in the world has forcibly dissolved the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it is hard to imagine that these 400,000 people will all emigrate or otherwise disappear. Even now, as news of the ban has spread, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have received completely unexpected support from all manner media and numerous public figures, including Russian Orthodox priests. Given these circumstances, the successful state campaign to discredit, dissolve, and brush a major religious community under the rug is doomed to failure.

Marquee being taken down from the Surgut office of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in connection with their ban in Russia, April 24, 2017. Photo courtesy of Alexei Andronov/Ura.Ru/TASS

The authorities will have to decide. Either they will sanction the mass arrests of the organizations leaders and activists and send hundreds and thousands of people to the camps, which ultimately will facilitate the growth of the movement’s reputation and dissemination, as in Soviet times, or they will pinpoint those who, according to the Interior Ministry and the FSB, are “especially dangerous” while turning a blind eye to the actual continuation of the organization’s work.

I would like the country’s leadership to have second thoughts and find a legal way to rescind the Supreme Court’s decision. There is little hope of that, however.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Extremism” Ruling Against Jehovah’s Witnesses: The Popular Will?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Was it the “popular will” that 500 hectares of land be reclaimed in the Neva Bay right off Petersburg’s Vasiliyevsky Island and developed into densely built high-rise estates, causing untold amounts of environmental and aesthetic damage? No, it wasn’t. In fact, locals were bitterly opposed to the project and they mounted a loud resistance back in the day. But their will was roundly ignored by Petersburg city hall and developers. Under the present authoritarian regime, “popular will” is a friendly phantom, at best, an irritant, at worst. Photo by the Russian Reader

The Russian Supreme Court has gone ahead and banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses and ordered their property confiscated. This is a colossal insult to hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Russian citizens. A huge new underground has been generated. Massive crackdowns for their faith, new political prisoners, and mass immigration are around the corner. The Russian authorities and Moscow Patriarch Kirill, who is personally responsible for this operation, have curious ideas about the joy of Easter.
—Nikolay Mitrokhin, Facebook, April 21, 2017

Perhaps this is what is most disheartening about the recent legal battle. The state may be the central actor, but its actions reflect the popular will of Russians who, by and large, have decided that Witnesses have no place in their society.
—Emily Baran, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Spells End for Russia’s Religious Diversity,” Moscow Times, April 24, 2017

When did Russians decide this? Did they hold a referendum recently? Are most Russians even aware of how the Justice Ministry has used the Russian Supreme Court to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses “extremists,” allegedly, at the insistence of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch Kirill? I very much doubt it.

Professor Baran only mentions actions by state or quasi-state actors, such as the central press in Soviet and post-Soviet times. Yet they were and have been somehow acting on behalf of the “popular will,” a symbiosis she makes no real attempt to prove in her op-ed piece for the Moscow Times, as quoted above.

As for real popular sentiment, I imagine there are as many Americans as Russians who have reflexively negative attitudes toward Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just think of all the jokes about JWs you have heard in your lifetime that cast them in a negative or ridiculous light, or how many times you have seen their likenesses figuring as the villains on TV medical dramas who refuse proper care for desperately sick children? Then why aren’t they banned in the US? At worst, the American “popular will” sees them as outsiders and obscurantists, at best, as an annoyance.

I can imagine that tenure-track professors in the US have a hard time understanding how disempowered and disconnected the grassroots are in a country that now has the world’s largest income inequality gap, and a long, brutal history of minorities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, getting hammered by the powers that be while putative “majority” either did not mind, looked the other way or did not even notice.

But does Tennessee, where Professor Baran teaches, have an utterly different history when it comes to protecting the rights of its minorities?

The Russian Supreme Court’s decision to declare the Jehovah’s Witnesses extremist is completely despicable in every possible way, but Russians who bother to care about minorities and “minority” interests (like the environment, civil and social rights, corruption, labor rights, migrant rights, and historical preservation and sound urban planning) are often too few and far between to fight every battle and put out every fire. And many of those fighters are themselves currently under the state’s gun. The same Justice Ministry that has gone after Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses like a pit bull has also been branding NGOs, research institutes, and grassroots organizations “foreign agents” like it was at a fire sale.

That is no excuse for the judicial execution the Russian state has just performed on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it was a decision made at the top by the political, ecclesiastical and judicial elites, including the ROC’s Patriarch Kirill. It was not the state’s response to a nonexistent, utterly imaginary “popular will.” {TRR}

Russian Supreme Court Looks Set to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses

Hearing of the Justice Ministry’s case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Russia in Russian Supreme Court, April 5, 2017, Moscow. Photo courtesy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Russia

Supreme Court Refuses to Recognize Jehovah’s Witnesses as Victims of Political Repression
Court Examining Justice Ministry’s Suit to Have Organized Declared “Extremist”
Yelena Mukhametshina
Vedomosti
April 5, 2017

The Supreme Court has begun its consideration of the Justice Ministry’s suit against the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The ministry has asked the organization to be declared extremist, to ban its work, and to close it.

The Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia had tried to file a counterclaim, asking that the Justice Ministry’s actions be declared illegal. It also asked the court to rule that the ministry’s actions against the Jehovah’s Witnesses were political repression and to throw out the Justice Ministry’s suit. However, the judge refused to take the counterclaim into consideration.

The Justice Ministry has filed its suit to close not only the Administrative Center but also all of the religious organization’s branches and affiliates in Russia.

“The true goal is political repression against religious organizations, in particular, the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” said a defense counsellor.

He recalled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were also banned in Soviet times. In the early 1990s, however, the authorities admitted that members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been victims of political repression, and they were subsequently rehabilitated.

Three hundred and ninety-five local chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have asked to be named co-defendants, since their work would be stopped if the Administrative Center were deemed an “extremist” organization. Each of these chapters, which could be deemed “extremist,” has the right to ask Justice Ministry officials why they want to ban them, said a defense counsellor. The court turned down the request. They also requested the case files from administrative cases, in particular, cases in which the authorities claimed to have seized “extremist” matter. A defense counsellor said there were witnesses who had seen matter that had previously been recognized as “extremist” planted in places where searches had taken place. This motion was also denied. The next hearing in the case will be on Thursday.

In October of last year, Moscow’s Tverskaya District Court issued a warning to the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia for “extremist” activity. In January of this year, Moscow City Court upheld the legality of the warning. In March, the Justice Ministry filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court asking that the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia be recognized as an “extreme” organization and that its activities be banned after inspections allegedly revealed violations of anti-“extremist” laws. At the same time, an order was issued to suspend the work of both the Administrative Center and all local chapters until the court had made its final decision. In turn, the Jehovah’s Witnesses indicated the ban would affect four hundred registered local religious organizations and 2,777 religious groups in Russia, amounting to 175,000 followers. The Supreme Court had already upheld the closure of local chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oryol, Belgorod, Samara, and other cities.

___________________

Nikolay Mitrokhin
Facebook
April 5, 2017

Today, a trial began whereby the Russian authorities intend to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The whole world understands it is shameful to persecute people for religious beliefs, but not the Russian authorities, who habitually could not care less about their reputation. If we speak in terms of the “public good,” then in the coming years, as terrorist attacks continue, crime rates remain high, and corruption has become total, law enforcement agencies will be busy “interdicting” the religious activities of the organization’s 170,000 active members. (This figure does not included the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of sympathizers, family members, and people involved in some way.)

There is no doubt the entire attack on the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been undertaken by Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov to curry favor with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. It could be stopped with a single phone call. And yet this ban won’t really help the ROC in any way. Moreover, it will cause it serious problems, which even part of the church leadership understands. However, Kirill and his ideological confederates, having long ago taken the bit between their teeth, are speeding the church’s carriage over bumps and gullies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg Enviromental Rights Center Bellona Declared “Foreign Agent”

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Petersburg Environmental Center Bellona Declared Foreign Agent 
Interfax
January 16, 2017

On Monday, the Russian Federal Justice Ministry placed the Petersburg enviromental organization Bellona on its list of “foreign agents,” according to the ministry’s website.

“The fact that the organization bears the hallmarks of a non-profit organization, performing the functions of a foreign agent, was established during an unscheduled site inspection carried out by the Justice Ministry’s St. Petersburg office,” read the message on the website.

In March 2015, the Justice Ministry placed the non-profit public environmental organization Bellona Murmansk on the list of “foreign agents.” Six months later, the organization closed.

The non-profit public organization Bellona was formed in 1986. Its central office is in Oslo. Two branches of the environmental organization operated in Russia, in Murmansk and St. Petersburg.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader; the emphasis is mine

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Environmental Rights Center Bellona called a ‘foreign agent’ by Russian government
Charles Digges
Bellona
January 16, 2017

In a troubling development for international ecological groups that deal with questions of Russia’s Cold War nuclear legacy, Moscow’s Justice Ministry on Monday named the Environmental Rights Center Bellona as a “foreign agent.”

ERC Bellona, founded by Alexander Nikitin in 1998, became the 158th organization tarred with the foreign agent label since the restrictive 2012 Law on NGOs came into effect.

Nikitin said the group had been undergoing a so-called unplanned check since before the New Year, and had been told it would receive written notification about its status from the Justice Ministry by December 25.

But that date came and went with no notice. Nikitin first learned of the new designation Monday, when Russia’s state newswire TASS began reporting on the organization’s designation as a foreign agent.

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ERC Bellona Chairman Alexander Nikitin (Photo: Bellona)

Nikitin was undeterred by the news.

“We expected this decision,” said Nikitin. But he also said it would not impede the organization’s mission.

“This means that we will continue working,” Nikitin said.

“We won’t throw aside our very important work over such small change,” he said. “All of our projects remain, all of our people will remain, and we will find ways to continue our work.”

The group has long had a turbulent relationship with officialdom. When it was founded, Nikitin was on trial for supposedly revealing state secrets in a Bellona report on the decrepit state of Russia’s northern nuclear fleet.

In 2000, Nikitin was fully acquitted by the Russian Supreme Court and became the only individual to ever be cleared of treason charges leveled by Russian or Soviet security services.

The report he and Bellona wrote then became a guidepost document for western governments that wanted to invest in helping Russia secure its Cold War legacy of decommissioned nuclear submarines and military nuclear waste, programs that continue successfully to this day.

ERC Bellona has helped target more than $3 billion worth of international funding to dismantle 200 derelict submarines and other floating nuclear hazards in the Arctic region, like the Lepse nuclear service ship.

The group has also been instrumental in decades-long joint efforts between Norway and Russia to clean up the notorious submarine maintenance base at Andreyeva Bay.

Bellona’s efforts were jeopardized in 2012 when the Russian government passed its NGO law stipulating that non-profits operating in whole or in part on foreign funding must register themselves as “foreign agents” with the Justice Ministry if they engage in broadly defined “political activity.”

The Ministry in 2014 was given broad powers to name foreign agents on its own.

The law has shuttered more than a third of NGOs in the country, one of which was Bellona’s oldest Russian office, Bellona Murmansk.

That group decided to disband itself rather than undertake considerable legal costs to have its name removed from the foreign agent registry.

The decision by the Justice Ministry to list ERC Bellona as a foreign agent dashes considerable recent hopes that the government might cease targeting environmental groups with the foreign agent label.

The Justice Ministry’s report said ERC Bellona was engaged in political activity for “publishing, including via contemporary informational technologies, opinions on decisions taken by the government and policies that it has adopted,” apparently a reference to Bellona’s Russian website, Bellona.ru.

The Justice Ministry also accused ERC Bellona of attempting to “form socio-political opinions and convictions.”

Nikitin has long said ERC Bellona has nothing to do with any kind of political activity. But amendments to the NGO law last year impossibly broadened the notion of political activity.

Those amendments, which were signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in June, “maximally restricted” what NGOs could do, said Nikitin.

Among the more exotic interpretations of what political activity is are the popular practice of sending open letters to Russian politicians at any level of government; participating in gatherings or demonstrations; criticizing laws passed by any level of government; using websites to air opinions about any decision made by the government, and any attempts to influence the drafting of legislation.

The police department in St. Petersburg had recently launched a campaign of demanding financial information from the city’s 158 nonprofits that accept some amount of funding from foreign sources.