The Police

This is the first thing that pops up when you do an image search for “the Russian police.” The caption reads: “A Russian police officer detains a teenager during rally in St Petersburg protesting against retirement age increases. Photograph: Roman Pimenov/AP.” Courtesy of the Guardian

There is no “politics” in Russia anymore, only “police” (per Jacques Rancière’s distinction). And this is what “police” in Russia are up to, 24/7, 365 days a year:

University student Miloslava Malyarova and her boyfriend were detained on the streets of Moscow in August. They were held at the police station overnight without explanation, and their personal belongings, internal passports and mobile phones were confiscated. During the night, Miloslava says, a drunk police officer came into her cell and raped her. The young woman tried to slash her wrists with a razor in order to force the police to release her, but she was held until morning.

The Investigative Committee, with whom she lodged a complaint the next day, has refused to launch a criminal case. They decided that the young woman entered into sexual contact with the policeman voluntarily. After all, no injuries characteristic of rape were found on her body. “She did not resist enough,” they concluded.

Source: “Locals” Facebook page, which cites a proper article on the incident published in Takie Dela (who in turn refer to a post on Russian MP Sergei Shargunov’s Telegram channel). Thanks to Maria Mila for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Doppelganger

“It’s kind of a dystopia. In some respects. Of course, it has nothing to do with reality. The world is shrinking and becoming cramped. Something or someone is always offended in close quarters. And there’s always someone pointing a gun at your head. Sometimes it’s you.”

Masyanya, Episode 152: “Doppelganger.” (Toggle the “CC” button for English subtitles)

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The caste of those deprived of their civil rights — foreign agents, undesirable organizations, extremists of all stripes — will constantly expand. Social stigmatization will be strongly encouraged. The number of persons on different registries and lists, and under police watch will grow exponentially. Legal restrictions — bans on participating in elections, serving on various public councils, founding mass media, attending football matches, working in certain areas, and so on — will be supplemented by defamation campaigns. The separation of the estates in terms of legal and social status will be vigorously encouraged by the authorities.

Source: Pavel Chikov, “Not a Tyranny Yet: A Prognosis for the Rest of Putin’s Fourth Term,” Republic, 19 October 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Artist unknown, Russian National Guardsmen in Their Free Time. Posted by Dmitry Vrubel on Facebook. Thanks to Sergei Damberg for the heads-up

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Security forces raided a gathering to write letters to political prisoners at the Vogel Bar. They showed up along with Rospotrebnadzor officials for a surprise inspection on the evening of October 24. After managing to tally forty-five people on the premises and not find markings on the floor mats, the officials sealed the establishment prior to a court hearing. The bar’s management fears bankruptcy and plans to open a new bar in a new location.

The latest gathering to letters to political prisoners at the Vogel this time ended with a visit by regulatory authorities. The police officers who arrived twenty minutes after the event started immediately stated that the 76th police precinct had received a complaint alleging that the bar was not in compliance with the mask mandate. At that moment, the gathering, at which attendees were to write letters to the performance artist Pavel Krisevich, jailed on charges of disorderly conduct after a performance on Red Square in which he pretended to shoot himself, had just begun. That evening, Krisevich’s friends and acquaintances, as well as former political prisoners, were to speak to the guests. One of the bar’s co-founders, Valentin Khoroshenin, told Zaks.Ru that the complaint claimed that a “meeting of anti-covidniks” was planned for that evening at the Vogel. He believes that this was just an excuse to find non-existent violations and close the bar.

The inspection report indicated that more than forty-five people were present in the room at the time. The bar’s management are adamant that this was not the case. The Vogel’s owners have already studied surveillance camera tapes and counted less than forty people on the premises, including the police officers.

Other violations included the absence of markings on floor mats and an insufficient supply of medical masks. According to regulations, such establishments should have a five days’ supply of personal protective equipment. The available supply was only enough for one day. Rospotrebnadzor officials did not enter the kitchen. According to Khoroshenin, they claimed they were too tired to do so.

Vogel Bar has been in business since March 2021. From the very beginning it advertised itself as a venue for activists: political lectures, discussions and debates were held there. During this entire time, Rospotrebnadzor never carried out inspections. But the Interior Ministry regularly sent its people there. For example, Center “E” officers attended the debates. The security forces showed up for other letter-writing gatherings, but everything had ended without trouble.

Text & photos: Konstantin Lenkov, Zaks.ru, 25 October 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

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We have been preparing an investigation into torture in Russian prisons for almost a year. It took a lot of time to track down, earn the trust of, and obtain testimonies from former inmates of the penal colony in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia, thousands of kilometers from central Russia. Simultaneously with The Insider’s investigation, Russian human rights activists published an archive of video footage depicting torture being inflicted on prisoners across Russia. The clips, obtained from the FSB and FSIN secret archive, show prisoners from Irkutsk, Saratov, Belgorod, Rostov and other Russian regions being raped, beaten and humiliated. Torture victims explain their torturers’ motives by their desire to break their will in order to obtain material for blackmailing other prisoners, make them confess to crimes, pay tribute, or even to start torturing other prisoners themselves. This all takes place in the modern world, in a country where there is no war, where torturers are not tasked with extracting valuable military information from prisoners at any cost. Torture is rampant in Russia, a country that has signed a number of human rights and anti-torture conventions and seems to enjoy a peaceful life. We have long known that in Russia, prison is not a place of correction, but rather a strange world separate from everything else, where guards and inmates resurrect on a daily basis the practices of the Stalinist Gulag. This has not always been the case. As early as ten years ago there was serious talk in Russia about the need to reform and humanize the penitentiary system. Now things are different. The authorities have been clearly and unambiguously showing how they prefer to rule the country. That is mainly by fear. Investigations into torture have hardly been a revelation, but in a split instant, they made it impossible to ignore torture and pretend it only concerns those behind bars. Of course, the situation will not change overnight, but one thing is certain – this knowledge has now become an integral part of our society. In the following article, we bring you the raw testimony of people who have experienced torture in Russian prisons. They share their thoughts on why it is used, the impact on them, and recount the involvement even of doctors in their ordeal.

Source: The Insider, 19 October 2021. Thanks to Antti Rautiainen for the heads-up

Ilya Pershin: The Ice Under the Major’s Feet

Russian political prisoner and artist Ilya Pershin. Photo courtesy of Anton Yupanov, OVID Info, and Kseniia Sonnaya’s Facebook page

The Ice Under the Major’s Feet: A Petersburg Man Has Been in Jail for More Than Six Months Because a Policeman Fell Down
Kseniia Sonnaya
OVD Info
September 2, 2021

Petersburg artist Ilya Pershin has been in jail for more than six months, accused of kicking a riot police officer in the leg and elbowing him in the chest when he tried to detain him at the January 31 protests. Pershin’s girlfriend, who witnessed the incident, claims that the policeman fell and bruised himself. This is our account of the Pershin case, along with excerpts from his prison diary.

On January 31,  2021, 26-year-old artist Ilya Pershin left work at lunchtime to pick up the house keys from his girlfriend Erzheni. She was going to a rally in support of Alexei Navalny and invited Ilya to go with her. They traveled to St. Isaac’s Square together.

“When we were at the parking lot, there was an attack by the so-called titushky. A young man who was most likely a protester was assaulted. It was just that, at some point, a fight started: two men in their forties began beating the young man. At first, I didn’t even understand what was happening,” says Erzheni.

She realized that it was titushky who were beating the young man when the police arrived at the scene of the fight and the instigators showed them their IDs. “The police didn’t even detain them, although they had beaten the young man until he bled,” says Erzheni. After that, according to her, “some kind of commotion began, the law enforcement officers got their act together, and at some point the crowd ran in the direction of St.  Isaac’s.” Ilya ran, too. According to Erzheni, he was afraid that he would be beaten. Erzheni followed him at a brisk pace.

“At that moment, a man in uniform in front of me grabbed [Ilya]. [The officer] was kitted out in in full battle armor: helmet, face mask and shields. He grabbed [Ilya] from behind. Ilya was running away from him, and the man was running right behind him — and grabbed him. By inertia Ilya continued moving, taking literally two steps, with the officer in tow. The monument to Nicholas the First, which is under repair, was nearby, and there was a mound of snow. I didn’t see any struggle. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he slipped, maybe he stumbled, but the officer just fell on his left side, while Ilya kept running. That was it,” recalls Erzheni.

According to police investigators, it was at this moment that Pershin kicked Ivan Alexeyev, an officer in the operational platoon of the riot police’s 5th Operational Battalion, in the left leg with his left foot. Alexeyev claims that he was kicked in his popliteal fossa (the space behind the knee joint). The victim also said that when Pershin was trying to escape, he struck him at least two blows in the chest with his elbow.

According to attorney Alexei Kalugin, who works with OVD Info, a medical examination recorded only a bruise on the riot policeman’s left knee joint. Pershin’s defense team say that there is no evidence of such blows in the case — there is not a single witness or video confirming the riot policeman’s testimony. When questioned by a police investigator, the victim himself said about the alleged blows to his chest that “due to the fact that I was wearing a bulletproof vest, I was not caused any injuries or physical pain.”

Investigative Ballet
The video of the investigative experiment shows that the stand-in for Ilya Pershin was able to touch the leg of the injured riot police officer close to the popliteal fossa area only on the fifth attempt. During the other attempts, despite the victim’s prompting, the stand-in struck the posterior region of the man’s left thigh, located much higher than the popliteal fossa. At the same time, it is noticeable that when trying to kick the victim with his left foot, the stand-in loses his balance and repositions his right leg to achieve aa more stable position. “It was thus established that, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left leg, namely in the area of the knee joint from behind,” a police investigator concluded after the experiment.

When the stand-in tried to perform the same actions while in motion, he again failed to strike the victim’s popliteal fossa, kicking his calf instead. “Thus, when moving in this way, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left knee joint, from which it can be concluded that this area of the left leg is reachable given this height,” the investigator again concluded.

At the request of the defense team, the Independent Expertise Center compared the video of the investigative experiment and the protocol and pointed out the inconsistencies: “The protocol of the investigative experiment contains information that does not correspond to the actions in the supplied video.” Pershin’s lawyer Anton Yupanov, who works with OVD Info, says that an independent examination was ordered because “a blow of the stated trajectory and force was not possible at all.”

There is a video recording in the case file in which the silhouettes of Pershin and the alleged victim, Alexeyev, are visible. When viewed in slow motion, “it is clearly visible that there was no impact,” says Yupanov. However, the investigator has cited the same video as proof that Pershin kicked the riot policeman.

When questioned, the victim’s colleagues said that they had also not seen Pershin kicking the officer. “Some of them heard their colleague cry out in pain, and then they helped him. But no one saw the moment when he fell, except for Ilya’s girlfriend, who said that the riot policeman slipped, ” the lawyer says.

In her dispatch on the court hearing in the Pershin case, Zaks.ru correspondent Sofia Sattarova wrote that Alexeyev testified that he himself did not see the moment of the blow, but “only felt pain that caused his leg to ‘give out’ and make him ‘slide off’ the accused.” In court, Alexeev also said that Pershin had “already served a real sentence in full.” He asked for a lenient sentence and said he would have “ended the whole thing peacefully.”

Pershin denies any wrongdoing. In reply to a letter from OVD Info, he noted, “I think the ‘victim’ just lost his balance and fell. The individual attacked me from behind. I didn’t see anything.” According to Pershin’s defense lawyer, Pershin regrets that the riot police officer was injured, but does not believe that he was to blame for this.

Detention and Arrest
Pershin was detained on the afternoon of February 17, 2021, at the hotel where he worked as a desk clerk. Yupanov surmises that the detention occurred only two weeks after the protest rally because law enforcement officers examined video footage from the rally and identified Pershin before putting him under surveillance. “I was on another case at the police department in Otradnoye, and there was a photo of Ilya hanging on the stand of those wanted by the police. The accompanying text said that they were looking for this person for assaulting a police officer,” the lawyer adds.

Pershin himself says that none of the people who detained him introduced themself nor did they explain the reason for his arrest. “When they were taking me to the GSU [the Main Investigative Department], they did a good cop-bad cop-style interrogation. Now I smile when I remember it, of course, but at the time I was not laughing. In the vehicle, they told me why I had been detained, politely adding, ‘If you so much as budge, we’ll shoot you in the knee.’ As we approached the GSU, they said, ‘It used to be easier. We would just take you into the countryside and beat the shit out of you.’ I don’t think I need to describe my feelings [at that moment],” Pershin wrote.

In the evening of the same day, February 17, the apartment where Erzheni and Ilya lived was searched. Pershin was not taken to the search, only Erzheni was present. According to the search report (OVD Info has a copy of the report), the two Center “E” officers who carried out the search did not confiscate anything from the apartment. On the morning of the following day, a preventive measures hearing was held at the October District Court in Petersburg. Erzheni, as the owner of the apartment, was ready to vouch formally for Pershin so that he could be placed under house arrest in her apartment, but she was not summoned to the hearing.

On its Telegram channel, the Consolidated Press Service of the Courts of St. Petersburg reported the court hearing as follows: “Pershin was detained on 17.02.2021. A native of Magadan, registered in Salsk, he has no registration in St. Petersburg, and works as an on-duty hotel clerk. He said that he has a child, but the father is not named in the [child’s] birth certificate, because he overslept the registration. He requested house arrest at the home of his current live-in girlfriend, but could only remember the girl’s first name.”

Pershin does in fact have a son, who is only two years old. Yupanov, who was with Pershin at the preventive measures hearing, said that the remark that Pershin had overslept the child’s registration is a fantasy on the part of the press secretary. “He merely said that by agreement with the child’s mother, they decided not to record [Pershin as father] in the birth certificate. But he communicates with the child regularly and has provided for him financially,” the lawyer explained. According to Erzheni, the child’s mother, Pershin’s ex-girlfriend, supports Pershin and even has gone to visit him at the pre-trial detention center.

“From the first day [since his arrest], Ilya has been worried about the child. He has been thinking not about himself, but about the child — how his potential criminal record would affect his future. Although they don’t live together, [Ilya and the child’s mother] maintain very warm personal relations, which is quite rare at the present time,” says Yupanov. In his letter, Ilya also told us about his son. He wrote that he first thing he would like to do after his release is to go play with him “to make up for the moments lost during this time in the baby’s growth.”

At first, Erzheni was quite worried about her boyfriend, “because after all, it was me who was initially going [to the protest rally]. He is an adult and makes his own decisions, but still.” In the spring, when the young woman was questioned as a witness in the case, the investigator, after reading their correspondence on Telegram, pressured her into feeling guilty, she says. “He said all sorts of things about how the whole thing was my fault, almost that I should go to jail. He behaved personally in a way that was ugly. I don’t know, maybe that’s how they’re used to doing things. Work is work, but we must remain human beings. I also worked in a government job for a long time,” says Erzheni. Pershin and Erzheni correspond, and the young woman helps his family to deliver care packages to the the pre-trial detention center.

Eight [sic] months have passed since Pershin’s arrest. “They’re pickling [Ilya]. He is already tired of being jailed in the Crosses,” says Yupanov. When asked how Ilya is enduring the arrest, Erzheni answers that it has been difficult. “It has been happening to him in waves: first there was shock and, well, all the stages of acceptance. He has had mood swings and bouts of depression. For him, as an artist, this has not been an inspiring story,” the young woman claims. Pershin himself said that because of his arrest, his “physical and mental state leaves much to be desired.” When asked how his experience of eight [sic] months in jail had changed him, the artist replied that it was not for him to judge, but he hoped that he had “gleaned only the best things.” Pershin wrote about the outcome he expects: “I hope for an acquittal. But I’m preparing for the worst.”

Ilya Pershin’s Diary, 25 March—10 April 2021
In the pre-trial detention center, Pershin has been keeping a diary, in which he writes about his feelings, everyday life and the people he meets. He gave part of his diary to OVD Info through his lawyer. We have published excerpts from it below. Some parts of the diary have been blurred at Pershin’s request. The original spelling and punctuation have been preserved.

25.03.21 There was a cell toss in the second block of the Crosses on all four floors. After the toss, I was moved from the third wing to the second. My cellmates are older, which means they are quieter. Bliss. Oh, I almost forgot: today is Thursday.

26.03.21 Fri. Remember that I said that my new cellmates were calmer? They’re so tactful… For the first time since my arrest, I had a good night’s sleep.

27.03.31 Sat. It was such a sunny morning today that for a second I forgot where I was. Being in prison heightens the senses. The slightest bad joke can lead to dismaying consequences. During internal inspection you leave the cell dressed to the waist (your pants are rolled up). During a cell inspection, you stand “on the galley” (in the corridor) facing the wall. One of the block wardens examined my tattoos and came to a brilliant conclusion: “Soon the theme of tattoos will change. Domes and stars will be the new thing.” That specifically made me lose my cool. So I said, “First I’ll make a picture of you on my pubis.” I almost wound up in the punishment cell.

28.03.21 Sun. I went out for a walk. […] You go to a walking cell about five by two and a half meters. It’s four walls and a cage with a grid that separates you from the clear sky. And the crimson dawn woke me up.

29.03.21 Mon. I didn’t sleep last night. It wasn’t possible to sleep during the day, because of the “bath.” This is bliss. […] Tomorrow I’m expecting visitors: [my] lawyers and the police investigator. I’ll be going for a stroll. I’m going to bed.

30.03.21 Tue. Today I read the case file. Well, it’s all over but the shouting. We are halfway to a verdict. While I was at the investigative department, they conducted another cell toss. They built something like a mountain of junk out of my things and my bunk. It’s good that letters have arrived.

31.03.21 Wed. Tomorrow is the court hearing on extending my arrest. Just the thought of it makes me sweat. The chances of getting the terms of my arrest changed [to house arrest or release on one’s own recognizance, for example] are zero, and I have to get up at five in the morning, otherwise it’s the punishment cell for me. I got a care package from Erzheni. My pussycat xD

1.04.21 Thur. I was woken up at 5:00. At 6:00 they took me out of the cell and took me down to the first floor. After that, all those who are sent to the courts (and there are hundreds of them from all over the prison) are sorted into “glasses” [holding cells]. A “glass” is a room 5 by 2 m., in which people are stuffed chockablock. The air comes through a small crack in the window. Everyone smokes. And they light up at the same time. It is in such an environment that you wait for your last name to be called to be shipped out.

2.04.21 Fri. The morning is repeated, since the hearing was postponed. Why? It’s not clear. After I arrive from the court, they throw me into a “glass” again. In a few hours you go for an inspection. After the inspection, you go to another “glass.” In the “glass” you wait hopefully for your section to be called. The waiting is accompanied by noise and “exhaust” from cigarettes. You have to wait hours for your section to be called.

3.04.21 Sat. — 4.04.21 Sun. After such travels, it takes you at least two days to recover! So, apart from sleeping and eating, nothing happened to me.

5.04.21 Mon. Around lunchtime, I was summoned for a telephone call for the first time during my stay. I had written and submitted the application about 15 days ago. It’s always like this here. Some [inmates] are taken out of their cells every day without applications or permissions, while others have to wait two weeks.

10.04.21 Sat. All of the past five days I carried out “orders” for my cellmates and prisoners from other cells. N. told me a “flat-out fucked” level story. When he was on the outside, he witnessed an accident in which two GAZelles burned to a crisp after a head-on collision, and a minibus was pulled out of a ditch. N. later met the driver of that selfsame minibus in the “glass” here in the Crosses. The driver was in the joint because a woman was killed in that minibus. The people you meet in the “glass”!

You can support Ilya by writing him a letter via FSIN Pismo [the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s electronic messaging system] or by regular mail, to the following address:

Russia 196655 St. Petersburg, Kolpino
Kolpinskaya St., 9, FKU SIZO-1 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region
Pershin Ilya Aleksandrovich, DOB 17.06.1994

You can read our guide to writing letters to political prisoners.

All images courtesy of OVD Info. Translated by the Russian Reader

Important Stories

A screen shot of the front page of the IStories website

Telegram banned Roman Anin’s account the day before journalist was labeled “foreign agent media outlet”
Maria Efimova
Novaya Gazeta
August 20, 2021

Telegram has banned the account of Roman Anin,* editor-in-chief of iStories [in Russian, Vazhnye istorii — “Important Stories”].* He reported the incident to Novaya Gazeta himself.

“I couldn’t log in to Telegram yesterday, because my account was deleted, and it says in English that my account is banned. I haven’t been able to restore it yet,” Anin said.

Anin doesn’t know why his account was deleted. Although he has contacted the messenger service’s support team, they have not replied.

Today, the Russian Justice Ministry placed iStories, Anin and several of the publication’s journalists on its register of “foreign agent media outlets.” TV Rain* and the journalist Stepan Petrov* were also added to the list.

Earlier this week, iStories journalists Irina Dolinina* and Alesya Marokhovskaya* reported that persons unknown had mounted a spam attack on their phone numbers. “SMS messages from shops, banks and other places with different codes [were] being sent non-stop,” Dolinina said, also complaining about the incessant “dead calls.” Before that, persons unknown tried to hack and organize a spam attack on the phone of Irina Pankratova, a journalist with The Bell.

Late last year, after iStories published an investigative report about businessman Kirill Shamalov, Vladimir Putin’s [former son-in-law], there were attempts to hack the Telegram accounts of Anin and the other authors of the report. There were attempts to hack their Facebook accounts as well.

* Placed by the Russian Justice Ministry on its register of mass media outlets functioning as foreign agents.

Translated by the Russian Reader. As I just discovered, you can easily support iStories by going to the donations page on their website. I was able to donate 3,000 rubles (approx. 35 euros) in a matter of seconds. And you can read some of their investigative reports in English while you’re at it.

“On the evening of April 9, 2021, the FSB searched the home of iStories editor-in-chief Roman Anin. The search lasted almost seven hours. At the same time, a search was also carried out in the publication’s editorial offices.”

Opposition Activist Couple in Pskov Gets 22 Years in Prison for “Drug Dealing”

Liya and Artyom Milushkin in 2019. Courtesy of Open Russia

In January 2019, I posted a brief report about a Pskov couple, Liya and Artyom Milushkin, opposition political activists who had been charged with drug dealing. In fact, the local police had threatened that they would plant drugs on the couple and frame them after they attempted to stage a protest on Putin’s birthday. The cops made good on their threat.

Today, August 12, 2021, the court sentenced Artyom to 11 years in a maximum-security prison, and Liya to 10 years and 6 months in a penal colony. Liya will begin serving her sentence only after their children turn fourteen.

During the reading of the verdict, Artyom had a nervous breakdown and smashed the bench in his cage in the courtroom.

Source: “Woman, Prison, Society” Facebook page

No Placards

“While you’re celebrating and watching football, the prisons are filling up with political prisoners.”

Woman, Prison, Society
Facebook
June 26, 2021

NO PLACARDS ALLOWED
While its hospitals are overflowing with covid-19 patients, and photos of mass events and celebration in Petersburg are making the rounds of the media, solo pickets are still prohibited in the city. Marina Shiryaeva and Yevgenia Smetankina were taken to a police station yesterday for violating health restrictions, that is, for placards demanding the release of political prisoners.

According to MBKh Media, the young women held up pieces of cardboard containing the messages “I’m not waiting for a prince at Crimson Sails, I’m waiting for all political prisoners to be released,” and “While you’re celebrating and watching football, the prisons are filling up with political prisoners.”

Based on an article at m.123ru.net. Photo courtesy of m.123.ru.net. Thanks to Maria Mila for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Pavlov: Thanks!

Russian human rights lawyer outside the Basmanny District Court in Moscow yesterday. Photo courtesy of his Telegram channel

Dear friends, colleagues, and allies!

This is Ivan Pavlov.

Yesterday was not an easy day for me, my family and the team. At 6 a.m., my friend Igor Dorfman had his door broken down. His apartment was searched for eight hours, and he was interrogated by the FSB. The Team 29 office was searched until nightfall.

But despite the fact that I have been restricted in my access to all means of communication, I am still with you.

My Facebook page has been temporarily blocked for security reasons. My Telegram channel will be run by my team. And this message has been written by Yevgeny Smirnov, who spent the whole day alongside me.

The team’s media resources will continue to function, publishing the latest news and features, because openness to the press and freedom of information have always been a priority for us. This, by the way, has always irritated our opponents a great deal.

The attack on me and my team is, of course, revenge for our work, for our principled stance, for our involvement in high-profile criminal cases run by the Russian FSB’s investigative department. And, of course, revenge for defending the Anti-Corruption Foundation, founded by Alexei Navalny, in court. But we are not going to stop. We will keep on working and fighting. Let’s not fall to the ground before shots are fired.

Especially since my team and I felt extraordinarily strong support from journalists, human rights defenders and the public on this day. And, most importantly, from our colleagues in the legal community, who came to the rescue without unnecessary formalities.

I am grateful for this difficult day because I learned how many people support me and Team 29. This inspires an optimism that cannot be diminished by interrogations, searches and court hearings.

Thanks!
Ivan Pavlov
(via Yevgeny Smirnov)

Source: weekly Team 29 emailing. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Russia targets lawyer over media comments on treason case
Daria Litvinova
Associated Press
April 30, 2021

Russian authorities have launched a criminal probe against a lawyer representing a former Russian journalist accused of treason and the team of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accusing him of disclosing information related to a police investigation.

St. Petersburg-based lawyer Ivan Pavlov told reporters Friday he was formally charged with the criminal offense, punishable by a fine, community service or detention of up to three months, after his Moscow hotel room was raided on Friday morning and he was summoned to Russia’s Investigative Committee for interrogation.

Pavlov appeared in court later Friday and was ordered not to contact witnesses in the case or to use the Internet or a cellphone.

Pavlov’s colleague, Yevgeny Smirnov, had reported that the lawyer was detained. But Pavlov’s spokesperson, Yelizaveta Alexandrova-Zorina, later clarified to the Associated Press that Pavlov formally wasn’t arrested even though he was de-facto detained in his hotel room during the search.

The Team 29 association of lawyers that Pavlov heads said on social media that its office in St. Petersburg, the apartments of one of its employees and of Pavlov’s wife, and Pavlov’s house in the countryside were also raided Friday.

Opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists have been facing increasing government pressure in Russia. Raids targeting Pavlov and his team elicited outrage in the Russian legal and human rights community, with prominent lawyers and legal aid groups calling on authorities to stop “using the law as a tool of pressure on lawyers.”

Pavlov said the accusations against him were connected to his defense of Ivan Safronov, a former Russian journalist charged with treason in a case that has been widely seen as retribution for his journalistic work. He said he was targeted because he shared information about the case with the media.

“The investigators maintain that I committed a crime when I told you, reporters, that your colleague is being unlawfully held in Lefortovo (pre-trial detention center) on absurd accusations,” the lawyer said.

Safronov, who wrote about military and security issues for a decade before becoming an adviser to Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, was detained last year and accused of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence. Many journalists questioned the charges, and his former newspaper rejected them as “absurd.”

Safronov’s former colleagues alleged that authorities may have sought revenge for his reporting that exposed Russian military incidents and opaque arms trade deals. Safronov has remained in pre-trial detention since July.

Pavlov had been due to appear in a Moscow court on Friday at a hearing about extending Safronov’s pre-trial detention. The lawyer said police unlawfully seized “almost the entire dossier” of documents related to the case during the hotel raid, including those subject to attorney-client privilege.

According to his colleague Smirnov, Pavlov frequently received threats from investigators at Russia’s Security Service, or FSB, with an investigator involved in the case against the former journalist allegedly saying to the lawyer, “We’re going to do everything to put you behind bars.”

Pavlov maintained his innocence and said he considered the case against him “revenge” for his work on cases investigated by the FSB.

Smirnov told the AP that persecution of Pavlov sends a signal to all lawyers: “Don’t even think about working effectively on criminal cases. Don’t even think about speaking out. Don’t even think about defending people.”

In August, Russian media reported the FSB had lodged a complaint against Pavlov over his refusal to sign a non-disclosure statement in Safronov’s case. Pavlov said he had signed a statement not to disclose state secrets in connection with the case, but no one had asked him to sign a broader non-disclosure statement.

The case against Pavlov was opened shortly after he started representing the [Anti-Corruption Foundation], founded by President Vladimir Putin’s longtime foe, opposition leader Navalny.

This month, the Moscow prosecutor’s office petitioned the Moscow City Court to outlaw Navalny’s foundation and his network of regional offices as extremist groups. The case, expected to be heard May 17, is part of a sweeping crackdown on Navalny, his allies and his political infrastructure.

On Friday, the Rosfinmonitoring agency, which analyzes financial transactions to combat money laundering and terrorism financing, added “Public Movement of Navalny’s Headquarters” to its list of organizations involved in extremist activities or terrorism.

However, Navalny’s top strategist Leonid Volkov said no such organization exists. Rosfinmonitoring can freeze access to bank accounts and it is not clear how Friday’s move would affect Navalny’s foundation or other operations.

Navalny is currently serving time in a penal colony outside Moscow. He was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a Soviet nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. Russian officials have rejected the accusations. European labs have confirmed he was poisoned.

The Rammstein Offense

Yan Shenkman
Facebook
April 29, 2021

Help me figure this out — I don’t understand. Anyone could go crazy thinking about it. I opened my news feed and read the following two items with barely a gap between them.

In Arkhangelsk, Andrei Borovikov was sentenced to two and a half years for reposting the video for Rammstein’s “Pussy” (2009).

I scrolled down the screen a bit and saw that a video by Rammstein’s leader [Till Lindemann], “Lubimy Gorod” (“Beloved Town”) had garnered almost two million views. Now it’s up two and a half (million), the same number as Borovikov’s prison sentence [of two and half years]. Most of the viewers are probably from Russia.

Till Lindemann performs “Beloved Town”

This is the classic Soviet song “Your Beloved Town Can Sleep in Peace”: many people remember it as performed by Mark Bernes. It is featured in Timur Bemkakbetov’s film V2. Escape from Hell, about the heroic Soviet fighter pilot Mikhail Devyatayev, which has just been shown at Moscow Film Festival, and everyone liked it. Till Lindemann himself attended the film’s premiere.

Mark Bernes performs “Beloved Town” 

Now correct me if I’m wrong. While Borovikov was being sentenced to prison in Arkhangelsk for sharing Rammstein, Rammstein’s lead singer was living it up at a film festival in the Russian capital, and thousands of Russians were enjoying his work. Did I get that right?

When I scrolled down even further I read that Till Lindemann had starred in a video for the anniversary of the Moscow State Circus. Meanwhile, as they say.

I’m not saying that we should put Till in jail now, along with the entire Moscow circus and the animals in it, since the party’s already started and you can’t stop it. I’m just surprised at life’s variety.

Our beloved town can sleep well, of course.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Andrei Borovikov kisses his wife outside the courthouse. Photo: Dima Shvets/Mediazona

Russian Man Gets Prison Sentence For Sharing Rammstein Video
RFE/RL
April 29, 2021

A court in northwestern Russia has sentenced a former associate of jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny to 2 1/2 years in prison for “distributing pornography” after he shared a video by the German rock band Rammstein in 2014, in a case Amnesty International described as “utterly absurd.”

The Lomonosovsky District Court in Arkhangelsk handed down its verdict against Andrei Borovikov, his lawyer told Russian independent media on April 29.

Amnesty International said Borovikov — a former coordinator of Navalny’s Arkhangelsk regional headquarters — was being “punished solely for his activism, not his musical taste.”

Describing Borovikov’s prosecution as “a mockery of justice,” the London-based human rights group’s Moscow office director, Natalia Zviagina, called for all charges against him to be dropped.

“The Russian authorities should be focusing on turning around the spiraling human rights crisis they have created, not devising ludicrous new ways of prosecuting and silencing their critics,” Zviagina said in a statement ahead of the verdict.

“This is not the first time the Russian authorities have used an overbroad definition of ‘pornography’ as a pretext for locking up their critics,” Zviagina said, citing the case of Yulia Tsvetkova, an LGBT activist from Russia’s Far East who stood trial earlier this month on pornography charges over her drawings of women’s bodies.

“It is astonishing that cases like this even make it to court,” Zviagina said.

The music video posted by Borovikov came to the authorities’ attention six months ago when a former volunteer at his office informed the police. Amnesty International said it suspected the volunteer was employed as an agent provocateur to help fabricate the case.

The prosecution said the video had been seen by “not fewer than two people” and ordered “a sexological and cultural examination” of the clip, before experts found it to be of “pornographic nature” and “not containing artistic value.”

Rammstein is no stranger to controversy.

In Belarus, the Council for Public Morals in 2010 protested against Rammstein’s concerts in the country that year, saying the band’s shows were “open propaganda of homosexuality, masochism, and other forms of perversions, violence, cruelty, and vulgarism.”

In 2019, a man in Belarus was charged with producing and distributing pornographic materials for posting a clip in 2014 of the band’s video Pussy, which showed graphic sex scenes.

That same year, a video for the group’s song Deutschland showed band members dressed as concentration camp prisoners, sparking outrage, especially among Jewish groups.

Yefim Khazanov: One Repost Too Many?


Yefim Khazanov. Photo: Roman Yarovitsyn/Kommersant

Yefim Khazanov, Academician of Russian Academy of Sciences, Detained in Nizhny Novgorod
Roman Ryskal
Kommersant
April 21, 2021

Yefim Khazanov, an academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences and laureate of the State Prize in Science and Technology was detained in Nizhny Novgorod on Tuesday, April 20. Presumably, the reason was his reposts of information about Alexei Navalny on Facebook.

As Mr. Khazanov reported to Kommersant, he was taken to the police department in the city’s Kanavinsky district. “I was detained in the afternoon at work and brought to the police station. They said that I had written [something] about Navalny on Facebook, but I believe that I did not write [anything],” the scientist said. He added that, for the time being, he was in the lobby of the station, and the police officers had not gone through any procedures with him. Lawyer Mikhail Lipkin had gone to the department to represent the physicist.

Mr. Khazanov’s page on the social network contains reposts of information from Alexei Navalny from the [penal] colony, an appeal by human rights defenders to Vladimir Putin about the convicted person’s [sic] condition, as well as posts by Leonid Volkov about the state of health of the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK, entered in the register of foreign agents). The police have not yet commented on Khazanov’s detention.

Yefim Khazanov is a Russian experimental physicist who specializes in creating laser systems. In 2008, he was elected a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the Department of Physical Sciences. In 2012, he was awarded the Russian Federation Government Prize for his work creating a petawatt laser system. In 2018, he was awarded the Russian Federation State Prize for establishing the basic foundations of and devising instrumental solutions to the problem of registering gravitational waves.

Thanks to EZ and others for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Our Thaw

Sergei Yolkin, “Thaw.” Courtesy of RFE/RL via Radikal.ru

Our Thaw: a fair court decision as evidence of a catastrophe
The cautionary tale of an “extremist” comment
Ivan Davydov
Republic
April 11, 2021

Let’s start with the good news: “The Kalinin District Court of St. Petersburg refused to grant investigators their request to place under house arrest a local resident accused of exonerating terrorism. This was reported on Friday by the joint press service of the city’s courts. The court imposed a preventive measure against the defendant, Alexander Ovchinnikov, by forbidding him from doing certain things until June 6. In particular, Ovchinnikov is not allowed to leave his apartment between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, to be in places where mass public events are held and to use the internet.”

We should make it clear that we are talking about a terrible state criminal: “The 48-year-old Ovchinnikov was detained on April 7. Law enforcement agencies believe that in August 2020 he posted ‘comments justifying terrorism’ on the RT News in Russian community page on VKontakte.”

First, let us note the uncharacteristic humanity exhibited by the investigators in the case. They could have tried to get Ovchinnikov remanded in custody for such actions, but no, they reined themselves in and only sought house arrest for the perp. Second, this really is good news. The court refused to put Citizen Ovchinnikov under house arrest, deigning instead only to slightly complicate his life. Staying at home at night is much better than staying at home all the time. And sitting around with no internet is incomparably better than sitting in jail.

The court did not make a cannibalistic ruling at all – another reason to rejoice!

When hearing such news, it is customary to joke, “It’s the Thaw all over again.” And also to say (just as jocularly), “Another victory for civil society!” But in this particular case, the second joke is not particularly appropriate. Civil society was not interested in Ovchinnikov’s plight, and no one made any effort to fight for his freedom.

This does not mean that the criminal will escape punishment: the investigators are working, and the court is waiting. There is a good possibility that for his terrible acts (“committed using the media or electronic or information and telecommunications networks, including the internet”), Ovchinnikov could face a heavy fine measuring in the millions of rubles (it’s the going thing nowadays: the big bosses would do not agree to less — times are difficult, the state coffers are empty, people are the new petroleum) or even a stint in prison.

The price of meekness
To be honest, I don’t know what kind of comment Citizen Ovchinnikov left on “RT’s official page.” It is quite possible that it was something stupid. And this is a telling aspect of the story: as part of my job, I have to keep track of trending news via feeds from the wire services. A few years ago, Ovchinnikov would have been a star. All the sane outlets would have written indignantly that a person was being tried for a social media comment. The insane outlets would have written something like, “A dangerous accomplice of terrorists was neutralized by valiant law enforcement officers in the president’s hometown.” We would know, perhaps, not only what exactly Alexander Ovchinnikov did to upset Margarita Simonyan’s underlings, but also all the details of his biography.

Nowadays, however, Ovchinnikov’s case is routine. There are dozens of such cases underway, and you can’t keep track of all of them. A story like this would only arouse interest if a more or less well-known person was under attack. Or the context would matter. We shouldn’t forget that among the criminal cases opened in the wake of January’s pro-Navalny protests, there are two that directly involve social network posts – the so-called Sanitary Case* and the “Involving Minors in Unauthorized Protests” Case. People will be put on trial, and they will be sentenced to prison, fines or probation.

The lack of public interest is understandable and even, perhaps, excusable. But it says a lot about how the Russian state and Russian society have mutated. Everyone regards cases like Ovchinnikov’s as commonplace. Meanwhile, the powers that be have usurped the right to punish people for their words, including words that are obviously insignificant. (Terrorism, of course, is a disgusting thing, but it is unlikely that a comment, even on the page of a propaganda TV channel, will somehow contribute particularly strongly to the success of world terrorism, and I assure you that those who are eager to jail people for social media comments also get this.) The authorities have come up with a lot of different reasons to punish people for their words. Thousands of specialists are busy searching for the wrong words, lives are broken, and careers are made.

But for us civilians it has also become commonplace. We have got used to it, recognized the right of the authorities to do as they like, and stopped being particularly indignant.

When the state is focused on lawlessness, norms are shaped not by deliberately repressive laws, but by our willingness to put up with how they are applied.

Norms and savagery
Fining or jailing people for the comments they make on social networks is savage, after all. Savage but normal. In a short while we’ll be telling ourselves that it’s always been like this. For the time being, however, searching the homes of opposition activists’ parents who have nothing to do with their children’s activism, interrogating journalists and political activists in the middle of the night, and torturing detainees after peaceful protests do not seem to be the norm. But it’s a matter of time — that is, a matter of habit. None of these things have sparked outsized outrage, so they too will become the norm.

But I have a sense that harsh crackdowns on peaceful protests have almost become the norm. What is surprising is when the security forces behave like human beings, as was the case during the Khabarovsk protests, for example. You mean the police didn’t break up the demo? What do you mean, they didn’t beat you? Was something the matter?

I remember how I was struck by a news item reported by state-controlled wire services after the first rally in support of Sergei Furgal: a little girl was lost in the crowd, and the National Guard helped her find her parents. The cops did their jobs, for a change, and that was amazing. The normal performance of their duties by the security forces looked like something completely crazy. Going back to the beginning of our conversation, we are now surprised when a court makes an utterly meaningless ruling that is not at all cannibalistic. It’s the Thaw all over again!

The norm looks wild, and wildness is the norm. So, perhaps, it is possible to describe where the Putinist state has arrived in its political devolution over the past few years. This is its supreme accomplishment.

If we follow the dictionary definitions, we should conclude there has been no state in Russia for some time. This is a different, new growth, and it is most likely malignant.

But this only works in one case – if society capitulates. A creepy monster like ours can only flourish in the ruins of society.

P.S. A trenchant critic might object: as if “they” do not have such a thing — putting people on trial for their words, and persecute for comments. Yes, it happens, of course, it happens. The most democratic of the democratic countries are not averse to biting off a little piece of their people’s freedoms, while grassroots activists, militants guided by the loftiest ideals, are happy to trample on other people’s freedom, and new centers of power, like the social networks, do not want to lag behind.

Recently, Facebook blocked a page run by a group of Moscow amateur historians who posted a text about the capital’s Khokhlovka district for a month for “hate speech.” Try to guess why. [Because “Khokhlovka” sounds similar to “khokhly,” a derogatory term for Ukrainians — TRR.]

Yes, in some sense, the Motherland, having made it a matter of policy to distance itself from the wider world, is following a global trend, however strange that may sound. Well, so much the worse for “them.” And for us. It is thus all the more important to remember how valuable freedom is.

* “The Sanitary Case is a series of criminal cases initiated for alleged violations sanitary and epidemiological norms during the January 23, 2021, protests in Moscow. It has been recognized by human rights defenders as part of the ongoing political crackdown in the Russian Federation. The defendants in the case are FBK (Anti-Corruption Foundation) employees Lyubov Sobol, Oleg Stepanov and Kira Yarmysh, municipal deputies Lyudmila Stein, Konstantin Yankauskas and Dmitry Baranovsky, Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina, Alexei Navalny’s brother Oleg, head of the trade union Alliance of Doctors Anastasia Vasilyeva, and former FBK employee Nikolai Lyaskin.”

Image courtesy of Radikal.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader