“Telephone Terrorism”

Alexander Petrosyan, “Today on Sennaya Square [in Petersburg],” Facebook, 24 September 2022

In Petersburg, police have searched the homes of activists, as well as the home of Sota journalist Victoria Arefieva. The security forces broke down the door to Arefieva’s apartment, seized electronic devices belonging to the journalist and her sister, and detained her for forty-eight hours on suspicion of making a phoney bomb threat to the St. Petersburg City Court, Sota wrote on Saturday, September 24.

In addition, searches were conducted at the homes of persons implicated in the case of the Vesna Movement activists Yevgeny Fateyev and Valentin Khoroshenin, whom a court has banned from “engaging in certain activities.” The security forces also visited the home of activist Pallada Bashurova, against whom two “telephone terrorism” investigations have been launched, OVD Info reports. Yevgenia Litvinova, a member of the Petersburg Human Rights Council, was also detained in connection with a “telephone terrorism” case.

New protests against mobilization scheduled for September 24

According to Sota, the searches are connected with protests, scheduled for September 24, against the “partial mobilization”; law enforcement agencies thereby are attempting to prevent their coverage in the press. Vesna, a democratic youth movement, called on Russians to engage in a new round of protests in the wake of the first wave that occurred on the day Russian President Vladimir Putin made the announcement. “Mogilization [“grave-ization”] is actively going on all over the country. Soon thousands of our men could go to the front. We can and must oppose it!” Vesna said in a statement issued on September 22.

According to the online human rights project OVD Info, on September 21, the police detained more than 1,300 protesters in thirty-nine cities across Russia. Most of the arrests occurred in Moscow and Petersburg. In some police departments, the detainees were handed summonses to the military enlistment office right on the spot.

Source: Olga Lebedeva, “Homes of activists and journalists searched in Petersburg,” DW, 24 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

“No Future”: Popular Reactions to Putin’s Mobilization

Outside Gostiny Dvor [metro station and shopping center, in downtown Petersburg]. The police are plucking out the protesters one by one and dragging them away.

Passersby ask, “What happened?”

Most either don’t read the news or support the mobilization.

They look at us like we’re idiots.

I asked a middle-aged woman whether she had any children.

“Two sons, so what?” she answered me defiantly.

Today I thought for the first time that there is no future.

[Comments]

Natalia Vvedenskaya

Just for balance. Today, in the supermarket, I quietly eavesdropped on the conversations among the saleswomen (these were two different conversations). Irritated and indignant, these middle-aged women said that the members of parliament [who quickly passed laws enforcing Putin’s mobilization] should go to war themselves.

Source: Galina Artemenko, Facebook, 21 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


On the bus. A middle-aged woman in the front seat yells into the phone, not mincing her words. She says that there is a panic at work, that they have seven days to keep the guys from getting drafted. This was followed by instructions for direct action. The young fellow sitting with his back to her listened attentively, while the girls opposite him could not have cared less.

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a trusted source and occasional contributor to this website, identified here as “AR” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader


This hurts a lot. I console myself with the fact that, as in private life, the most vital and beautiful thing is the process itself, when you are initially in a hole, but you fight to make things better. But can I please go back to the time when I have to confront myself, and not a crazy autocrat with a nuclear button?

I try to shift my focus from irritation towards Russians who support the war, and the collective Europe playing along [sic], to endless love. First of all, to people who are in Russia and are not afraid to speak out against the war. I am glad that I am living at the same time as you. Of course, we are far from being Iran, where people take deadly risks for their beliefs. But we’re cool, too. We’re doing what we can. If everyone in Russia were like us, the war would have ended today. Now, when it is important to support myself, I console myself with this thought, and I advise you to do the same.

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a grassroots activist in Petersburg, identified here as “JA” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader


On the evening of September 21, in Petersburg, as in other cities, a protest was held against the mobilization of Russians for the war in Ukraine. The protest was called by the Vesna Movement. The protesters gathered at 7 p.m. on St. Isaac’s Square.

Riot police vigorously detained protesters, beat them with batons, dragged them on the ground, and put them on their knees. According to OVD Info, at least 444 people were detained in St. Petersburg.

Bumaga has put together a photo chronicle of the first popular protest in the city in the last six months.

Source: “How an anti-mobilization rally — the first mass protest in six months — took place in Petersburg,” Bumaga, 21 September 2022. There are several more photographs of the protest rally at the link, including photos from a second, separate protest the same evening outside Gostiny Dvor (as described by Galina Artemenko, above). Translated by the Russian Reader


Conscription Notice Russia. This channel was created to inform the residents of Russia about the delivery of conscription notices in our city! [sic] Write here with information about which addresses conscription notices in Russia are being sent — @maks_ge

“Prospect Mira. A conscription notice was just served to a man approximately 40-45 years of age. He was strolling with his wife and dog. Then they [the police?] went up to some young guys sitting on a bench and had a chat with them.”

“They’ve already started handing out conscription notices at the factories in the town of Gatchina in Leningrad Region.”

“The Gazpromneft filling station at Amurskaya 15A. Two men got into a scrap, and the attendant called the police. The cops came and gave them tickets. They threatened the men, saying that tomorrow, other people in uniform would come visit them at home — I think they meant the military conscription office.”

Source: Screenshot of the Telegram channel Where Draft Papers Are Being Handed Out — Russia. The channel was created on August 13, but only started posting on September 21. It already has over ten thousand subscribers. Thanks to VL for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader


Well, my prognosis was mistaken. I underestimated the regime’s vileness and meanness. As the supreme ruler declared a partial mobilization, the local military enlistment offices issued decrees concerning all reservists without exception.

This is totally fucked up. For example, “temporary residents must depart for their legal place of residence.” Accordingly, millions of unregistered men or men registered at their temporary residences in large cities must leave for their hometowns or home regions. Accordingly, all these millions of men are “lawbreakers” — they can be seized in dragnets, blackmailed with prison terms, locked up, beaten up, and anything else that our cops do with our citizens. When [the cops] are faced with passive resistance, they will indiscriminately rake in whomever they catch.

These people will certainly “engage in combat,” but that will happen later. What matters now is filling the quotas.

Source: George Losev, Facebook, 21 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Putin has announced a “partial mobilization.” Only time will tell how “partial” it is, but it is already clear that the mobilization will affect many people. What options do those whom the Kremlin wants to mobilize have?

  1. Become cannon fodder.
  2. Go to jail.
  3. Illegally flee the country. If you fail, you go to jail.
  4. Go underground. If you fail, you go to jail.
  5. Go underground and become a guerrilla. You could also go to jail.

I do not consider legal ways to avoid mobilization, since the rules of the game can change at any moment, and those who were not subject to mobilization yesterday will be subject to it tomorrow.

The choice isn’t great, but there is a choice.

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 21 September. Mr. Astashin is a former political prisoner and human rights activist who now seems to be living in exile in Berlin. Translated by the Russian Reader


In the kitchen of a communal flat:

— Soooo, you live closer to the front door, don’t open it to anyone. If they come, tell them there are no men living here.

— I’ve been dodging the draft for so long I don’t even remember how to do it anymore. I’ve had so many chronic illnesses since then. Do you think it will help?

— At my work, a friend of a friend of a friend of a colleague is offering to drive [men] to Finland for 50 thousand rubles [approx. 855 euros]. Any takers?

— He’s definitely going to Finland? That’s too cheap somehow. What if he takes you to the military enlistment office?

— My pop says that he would volunteer himself, but he’s already sixty-seven, they won’t take him. But he’s weird that way. He never goes to the welfare office, because he believes you have to have pride: he didn’t work all his life to ask the state for something in his old age! His pension is 25 thousand rubles a month [approx. 440 euros].

— Maybe he is also one of those people who have nothing, and who donates money to buy socks for soldiers?

— No, he believes that we have the strongest army and does not give them a kopeck. He says the people asking for that money are scammers.

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a veteran human rights activist in Petersburg, identified here as “NN” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yashar Shikhametov: 11 Years in Maximum Security for “Kitchen Conversations”

Yashar Shikhametov

⚡️ Another sentence: 11 years in a maximum security penal colony for a 52-year-old cook from Crimea

Today, the Southern District Military Court [of Russia] announced the verdict in the trial of Yashar Shikhametov, a Crimean Tatar, a cook from Sevastopol, and a political prisoner. He was charged with membership of the Islamist political party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been banned in Russia since 2003. In Ukraine and most countries of the world, however, the organization operates without any restrictions in terms of national legislation.

According to the case file, the accused had no weapons, explosives, or ammunition, did not plan to commit a terrorist act and did not call on others to carry out terrorist acts. There is no evidence that he was planning to overthrow the constitutional order of the Russian Federation and seize power. The case materials contain audio recordings on which religion and politics are discussed. In fact, this was the only evidence presented by investigators, along with the testimony of secret witnesses, which cannot be corroborated.

Shikhametov was was arrested on 17 February 2021, and then spent over a year and a half in a pre-trial detention center, where he suffered from many ailments. In July of the same year, his case was submitted to the military court of Rostov-on-Don. The trial of the case on the merits took place over the course of twenty-four hearings.

On August 14, 2022, Prosecutor Sergei Aidinov asked the court to sentence Shikhametov to eleven years of imprisonment in a maximum security penal colony, with the first four years of the sentence to be served in a closed prison.

The verdict issued by the Russian court today gave the prosecutor exactly what he had asked.

At yesterday’s court hearing, the political prisoner complained of feeling unwell. When the court suggested that he take part in the closing arguments, Shikhametov insisted on the need for a recess.

The court turned down the defense’s request to declare a recess.

Judge Alexei Magomadov deemed Shekhametov’s inability to take part in the closing arguments as a voluntary refusal to testify, despite the fact that the defendant had written a twenty-one-page-long closing statement for the hearing. He also turned down [defense] lawyer Alexei Larin’s request to postpone the hearing.

“Did we have a choice in 2014? I will tell you that it’s all true. Ethnically, we are Crimean Tatars; we are Muslim in terms of religion and culture, and we are citizens of Ukraine. Is this proof of my guilt? We do not hide, we do not hide it, but we declare it directly and everywhere. Is that a crime? But the FSB investigator cooks up this whole [case] with remarks made around the kitchen table, and by tormenting people and intimidating them with searches,” Shikhametov wrote in the [closing statement], which he was unable to deliver in court.

Source: Mumine Saliyeva, Facebook, 9 September. Photo courtesy of Crimean Solidarity. Thanks to Natalia Sivohina for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader


Shikhametov is from Orlinoye on the outskirts of occupied Sevastopol.  He earlier appeared as a defence witness in the political trial of Enver Seitosmanov, which may have been the reason that the Russian FSB turned their attention to him.  They added him, six years after the earlier arrests in 2015, to Russia’s first conveyor belt ‘trial’ of Crimean Muslims on charges of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. The latter is a peaceful, transnational Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine, and which is not known to have committed any acts of terrorism anywhere in the world.  Russia’s prosecutions, under ‘terrorism’ legislation, are based solely on an extremely secretive Russian Supreme Court ruling from February 2003, which declared the organization ‘terrorist’ without providing any grounds or explanation. Russia is increasingly using these charges as a weapon against Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists, with men who have committed no recognizable crime being sentenced to up to 20 years’ imprisonment. The charges are a favourite with the FSB and their decision to arrest any particular person is a near 100% guarantee that their victim will be imprisoned and receive a huge sentence.

Shikhametov was charged under Article 205.5 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code with ‘involvement’ in a Hizb ut-Tahrir group.  This was seemingly the same fictitious ‘group’ which the FSB claimed that Ruslan Zeytullaev had ‘organized’ (a more serious charge) and that Ferat Saifullaev, Yury Primov and Rustem Vaitov were supposed to have been members of. Russia was still ‘testing the ground’ (and international reaction) in that case and all of the men initially received much lower sentences than required by legislation. The prosecution (or, more likely, the FSB) challenged the sentence against Zeytullaev until they got a 15-year sentence but did not appeal against the other three sentences (more details here). One difference now is that the prosecution almost invariably adds the charge (under Article 278) of trying to overthrow the Russian state. This charge is even more nonsensical, as not one of the men has ever been found to have any weapons, but does enable them to increase the sentence.

Both the earlier ‘trials’ and that against Shikhametov were, as the latter said, based on ‘conversations in the kitchen’ on religious and political subjects. These were sent to FSB-loyal ‘experts’ (from the Kazan Inter-Regional Centre for Analysis and Assessments) who provide the opinion demanded of them.

Russia’s FSB have, however, discovered that such prosecutions do not go to plan, primarily because of committed lawyers who insist on demonstrating the flawed nature of both the charges and the alleged ‘evidence’.  Although the convictions remain essentially predetermined, the men’s lawyers, as well as the important Crimean Solidarity human rights initiative, provide important publicity about the shocking methods used to fabricate huge sentences.

Armed and masked enforcement officers burst into Shikhametov’s home on 17 February 2021 and carried out ‘a search’, before taking the father of three away and imprisoning him. As in all such cases, lawyers were illegally prevented from being present. The officers claimed to have found three ‘prohibited religious books’. The books, which did not have any fingerprints on them, were in a cupboard holding coats and shoes which was a place, as Shikhametov himself told the court, that no practising Muslim would hold religious literature.

During one of the hearings, Shikhametov stated that he considered the real criminals to be those who planted ‘prohibited books’ in his home. Typically, the only outcome of this was that Shikhametov himself was removed from the courtroom. Shikhametov has been open in calling those involved in this prosecution and others “accomplices and criminals” and this was not the only time he was removed from the courtroom.

In July 2021, the FSB carried out an armed search and interrogation of Ferat Saifullayev (who had been released after serving his sentence).They threatened “to come back and find prohibited literature” if he did not give false testimony against Yashar Shikhametov.  During this interrogation, he was neither informed of his rights, nor told what his status (suspect, witness, etc.) was. Saifullayev signed the document thrust in front of him, but later stated publicly that he had only done so because of the pressure and threats against him. He insisted that this supposed ‘testimony’ should be excluded as having been obtained with infringements of the law and issued a formal complaint to the FSB in Sevastopol, naming senior ‘investigator’ Yury Andreyev. 

Prosecutor Sergei Aidinov was never able to explain how Shikhametov, working as a café chef was supposed to have ‘carried out ideological work’ or what such ‘work’ was.

All of this was ignored by presiding judge Alexei Magamadov, together with Kirill Krivtsov and V.Y. Tsybulik who actively took the side of the prosecution. Such bias was seen here, as in all other political trials of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians, in the use of ‘secret witnesses’. The only real ‘evidence’ in this ‘trial’ came from people whose identity was not known, and whose supposed testimony could not be verified. In all these trials, the judges invariably disallow questions aimed at demonstrating that the person is lying and that he does not in fact even know the defendant.  

Please write to Yashar Shikhametov! 

He will almost certainly remain imprisoned in Rostov until his appeal hearing. Letters tell him that he is not forgotten and send an important message to Moscow that their persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian political prisoners is under scrutiny.

Letters need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects. If that is a problem, use the sample letter below (copying it by hand), perhaps adding a picture or photo. Do add a return address so that the men can answer.

The addresses below can be written in either Russian or in English transcription. The particular addressee’s name and year of birth need to be given.

Sample letter

Привет,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.

[Hi.  I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten.] 

Address

344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1

Шихаметову, Яшару Рустемовичу, г.р. 1970

[In English:  344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Shikhametov, Yashar Rustemovich, b. 1970 ]

Source: Halya Coynash, “Crimean Tatar sentenced by ‘accomplices and criminals’ to 11 years in Russian captivity,” 9 September 2022, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Ilya Yashin: Life Is Everywhere

I spent almost a month in Pretrial Detention Center No. 7 in Kapotnya. But on Sunday the order came down to transfer me, and I was met by the legendary Butyrka Prison. What an interesting place this is, friends! Oak gates, ancient walls, every brick here is steeped in history. A genuine Russian prison with its own unique flavor.

Ilya Yashin in happier times. This was the photo included in his original post on Facebook.

Moving here from Kapotnya, where a “red” regime is strictly observed, you feel the strong contrast. A “black” flag flies over Butyrka, and its units have their own rules.

Life comes to a standstill in Pretrial Detention Center No. 7 after lights out. One of my cellmates was sent to solitary for getting out of bed at night and making himself tea. In Butyrka, life is just beginning when darkness comes. “The roads” — a communication system of ropes connecting the windows — run between the cells. Information is exchanged instantly. The senior inmates in the wings give instructions and bring their juniors “up to speed.” Prisoners make entries in a house book, recording the movement of people around the prison. Prisoners locate acquaintances, exchange malyava [letters and notes] sweets, and cigarettes, and get the news. “The roads” function like a social network.

Butyrka has its own currency — cigarettes. For a pack of Parliament you can get a good pillow or a plate of cottage cheese for breakfast. For four packs — a soft new mattress. Almost everyone smokes, and a thick tobacco smog is found in most cells.

The prison is overcrowded and simply teeming with people: the “overload” amounts to about a thousand people. Thirty prisoners share twenty beds in the large cells. I wound up a small cell in the special unit: four prisoners are crammed into nine square meters. Some time ago, the prosecutor’s office decided to restore order and launched an inspection of Butyrka after getting complaints about the conditions. On the eve of the prosecutors’ visit, several hundred prisoners were promptly scattered to other Moscow detention facilities. As soon as the inspection was over, everyone was brought back to Butyrka.

The most amazing thing in Butyrka Prison is the cats. There are a lot of them here, and they feel like the real proprietors of the place. They calmly stroll the corridors, lounge on the duffel bags of prisoners awaiting assignment at the assembly point, and solicit food with an absolutely imperturbable look.

If the duty guard leaves the food hatch in your cell open, the cats can then jump through it freely and pay you a visit.

Imagine my surprise when, waking up in the morning, I found a purring lump at my feet. It stretched out, asked me to scratch it behind the ear and went to the table, wondering what we were having for breakfast that day.

Life is everywhere.

Source: Ilya Yashin, Facebook, 17 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Ilya Yashin Is Standing His Ground

Ilya Yashin (center), at a recent court hearing. Photo: Alexandra Astakhova

Every morning, Radio Russia turns on in my cell at the temporary detention center. At 6 a.m., the national anthem plays, and then the brainwashing begins.

The news items don’t differ much from one another. Russian troops have inflicted another “surgically precise strike” on the positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, destroying more than three hundred “nationalists” and about a hundred pieces of military equipment. The Ukrainian butchers responded by once again shelling residential neighborhoods in the DPR with American (emphasis on “American”) weapons. A rocket hit a kindergarten. Miraculously, there were no casualties.

Audio letters to the editor then come on the air. “Maria from Saratov” or “Elena Nikolayevna from Kirov” read out their original poems dedicated to our heroes who, fighting in Ukraine, have put themselves on a par with the “veterans of the Great Victory.” For dessert, there are “songs of the Russian spring” — amateur ensembles twanging about Mariupol’s return to its “home port” or about the crimes of the Maidan.

And so on — wash, rinse, repeat — every single day. Sometimes I feel like the character in the movie A Clockwork Orange who is seated in front of a screen, his eyes held wide open with clamps. It seems to me that the UN should deems forced listening to such broadcasts a form of torture.

But seriously, my observations suggest that fewer and fewer people are taking this brainwashing at face value. Surprisingly, despite the aggressive war propaganda, I haven’t encountered any manifestations of hatred on this side of the bars at all. Quite the opposite. A detainee escort guard, snapping the handcuffs on me, whispers “Hang in there, Ilya.” The woman on duty at the temporary detention center gives me an extra blanket, “so that at least you can sleep more comfortably.” A bailiff in court thanks me for my video about Kadyrov. Such moments reinforce one’s sense of being morally right.

Even now, sitting in a cell facing the threat of a ten-year prison sentence, I understand that my decision to stay in Russia was the right one, although it was a very difficult decision. Because it knocks out Putin’s main trump card about the opposition’s foreign affiliations and that we would all flee at the first sign of danger. But now people see that we are not fleeing, that we are standing our ground and sharing our country’s fate. This makes our words weightier and our arguments stronger. But the bottom line is that it leaves us a chance to get back our homeland.

After all, the winner is not the person who is stronger right now, but the person who is willing to go all the way to the end.

Source: Ilya Yashin, Facebook, 26 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


“Opposing Putin but Staying in Russia”
Yuri Dud’s interview with Ilya Yashin was posted on YouTube on 16 June 2022. With English subtitles.
As of today (26 July 2022), the video has been viewed over 8.5 million times.

Russian authorities have launched a criminal case against Ilya Yashin, one of the last [prominent] opposition figures remaining in the country, for allegedly spreading false information about the army, his lawyer said Tuesday.

“I got a call from an investigator — they are beginning to search his home,” lawyer Vadim Prokhorov said on Facebook.

Prokhorov was later quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the probe was launched because his client spoke of “the murder of civilians in Bucha” on his YouTube channel on April 7.

Russian forces have been accused of committing war crimes in the Kyiv suburb after civilian bodies were discovered there following their withdrawal.

Another of Yashin’s lawyers, Mikhail Biriukov, said a search had been carried out at his home and that Yashin was taken out of prison to attend.

In June, Yashin, who is a Moscow [municipal district] councillor, was sentenced to 15 days in jail for disobeying police. He was set to be released in the early hours of Wednesday. 

Yashin has been a prominent opposition figure in Russia since the mass protests against President Vladimir Putin in 2011-2012. He has denounced Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

He is an ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and was close to Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician assassinated near the Kremlin in 2015.

After Putin sent troops to Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russia introduced legislation imposing prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading information about the military deemed false by the Russian government.

Writing on social media earlier Tuesday, Yashin, who turned 39 in jail, said he was supposed to be released at 1:20 a.m. Wednesday (22:20 GMT Tuesday).

“Maybe they will let me out. Maybe not,” he said. “What do you think?”

[…]

Source: Moscow Times (AFP), “Russia Opens Criminal Case Against Activist Yashin,” 13 July 2022

The Denounced and Their Denouncers

This is my detailed summary — for the Russian-impaired — of Proekt’s grim but poignant short new documentary about Russians denounced to the police for their anti-war actions and statements in the last month and the people who denounced them (neighbors, relatives, pupils, etc.). It’s worth watching and reading, I think, especially because it humanizes the whole ugly business in a very moving, personal and easy to grasp way. While I wouldn’t say that it gives me hope, it is inspiring to see how such seemingly different people in terms of their backgrounds (businessman, artist, university student and blogger, district council deputy, ex-policeman and teacher) behave bravely in harrowing circumstances that have silenced many other people, or worse. It’s also to Proekt’s credit that in the case of several of the film’s protagonists they interviewed them where they live, including in public (which leads in two cases to run-ins with the powers that be). It goes to show that however frightening things have become, Russia is not yet “North Korea.”  ||| TRR

Proekt, “How the war in Ukraine has triggered a wave of denunciations in Russia,” 24 April 2022.
Published on Proekt’s website on 25 April 2022 under the title “Your denunciation is very important to us”

  1. Mikhail Zheltonozhsky, a businessman and “extreme travel” enthusiast from Bryansk, was denounced by a neighbor lady for flying Ukrainian pennants from his window. His denouncer, Elena Ruchkina, a midwife at a local outpatient clinic, wrote in her complaint to police, “[The pennants] seemed suspicious in light of recent events.” That was grounds for sending three police cruisers and a high-ranking police colonel to their apartment building to detain Zheltonozhsky.
  2. Elmira Khalitova, a university student and political blogger from Moscow, was denounced by her father, Timur, who telephoned police and demanded that they bust down the door to her flat to detain her. He claimed that his daughter had been urging her readers to “murder Russians.” His denunciation was captured on tape. Elmira claims that her father has extreme pro-Putinist views. Among them are his view that Ukraine is “one big fiction” and that it should be merged with Russia. A heavy drinker, Timur is a fan of the rabid pro-Putin TV talk show host Vladimir Solovyov. Fortunately, Elmira was able to convince police (for the time being?) that she had not urged anyone to “murder Russians.”
  3. Sasha Skochilenko, an artist from Petersburg, was arrested and remanded in custody for replacing price tags with anti-war messages at a Perekrestok chain supermarket in Petersburg. Her friend Alexei shows Proekt’s film crew around the store as he talks about the circumstances of her arrest. They are confronted by a store employee, who angrily orders them to leave the premises, explaining that she doesn’t want to be “imprisoned and murdered” like Skochilenko. Alexei explains that the Perekrestok customer who reported Sasha was a woman from the neighborhood born in 1947, whom the voice-over narrator claims is the target audience of this particular anti-war campaign because, supposedly, they peruse supermarket price tags more intently than younger shoppers.
  4. Alexandra Arkhipova is an anthropologist. She explains that the authorities have three methods for ferreting out anti-war dissidents. First, so-called Center “E” (the federal “anti-extremism” police, established by the “liberal” Dmitry Medvedev during his term as president) monitor social media for “extremism” posts. Second, the authorities cook up such charges against well-known activists who are in their sights, such as Vladimir Kara-Murza, recently arrested in Moscow on the same criminal charges as Skochilenko. Third, “alert” citizens among the general public report such dissidents to the police. This segment features clips from a recent speech made on TV by President Putin in which he warned the Russian public that a “fifth column” and “national traitors,” as puppets of the west, would oppose his invasion of Ukraine.
  5. Sonya is Sasha Skochilenko’s live-in girlfriend in Petersburg. She explains that they met two and a half years on a dating website and fell in love almost immediately. They live together in Parnas, a neighborhood in Petersburg’s far north, on the border with the Leningrad Region. The voice-over narrator explains that Sonya and her friends are now focused on making sure Skochilenko survives her ordeal in remand prison, where she will be held at least until the end of May. Sonya explains that since Skochilenko is her “family” and closest friend she now feels lost and desperate. We see Sonya on an escalator in the Petersburg subway, which is festooned with Zwastikas. Sonya says that it’s strange that people pretend not to notice them, although the city is covered with them. The voice-over narrator cites the human rights organization Agora, which has recorded one hundred anti-war-related criminal cases launched by the Russian authorities between February 24 and April 20. He goes on to explain that the number of administrative cases filed during this same period would be hard to tally since over 15,000 people have been arrested at anti-war demonstrations since the war began on February 24. The anthropologist Arkhipova returns to explain that denunciations played a role in the prosecution of dissidents and demonstrators in previous years, but now the practice was been gaining more notice because everyone is paying attention.
  6. Andrei Shestakov is an ex-police officer and, now, ex-history teacher in the town of Neryungri (Sakha Republic). Shestakov was forced to quit the police after he publicly supported Alexei Navalny’s “smart voting” campaign. Now he has been forced to quit his teaching position for having “anti-war conversations” during class with his pupils. He was denounced to the authorities either by one or more of them or their parents. Shestakov says that he doesn’t even want to know who informed on him. 
  7. Elena Kotenochkina is a deputy on the Krasnoselsky District Council in Moscow. Kotenochkina called Russia a “fascist state” during a recent council meeting, which was videotaped and posted on YouTube. The video came to the attention of Russian State Duma deputy Oleg Leonov, who denounced Kotenochkina to the authorities. The security forces have also included in her case file a video for draft-age young men that she made in her capacity as district council chair and co-chair of the district’s draft board. In the video, she explained that conscripts were being sent into combat in Ukraine, but by law they were not required to sign the contracts that made their combat deployment there possible. Although she has not been formally charged with any crime (an official “inquiry” into her actions is underway), loyalist politicians like Leonov are making a fuss that might be lead to her being charged, especially as she is well-known opposition politician in Moscow. The nationally known opposition stalwart Ilya Yashin, shown in the footage, is a deputy of the same district council and her ally. He has pointedly chosen to stay in Russia and speak out publicly against the war.
  8. Zheltonozhsky compares the top-down campaign of support in Russia for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to a “general psychosis.” The voice-over narrator explains that Zheltonozhsky has had trouble with the authorities since Soviet times, when he refused to join the (Communist) Party. The business he started in the nineties — a network of kiosks — was destroyed in the 2010s when Bryansk city hall carried out a “beautification” campaign that outlawed such commercial outlets. As he is explaining how one of his kiosks was torched as part of this municipal campaign, police officers approach him and Proekt’s film crew and ask him to go with them to a nearby police box (in the Bryansk city center). On their way, they pass a banner, featuring the Zwastika as its key graphic element, that reads, “For peace! For Russia! For the president!” At the police box, the officers ask Zheltonozhsky why his (blue and yellow) clothes are that color (he claims he ordered orange pants, but was sent yellow instead), and they ask to see his cellphone. The voice-over narrator explains that the authorities have placed Bryansk and other Russian cities near the Ukrainian border on high-level terrorism alert. The narrator then talks on the phone with Elena Ruchkina, the midwife and neighbor lady who denounced Zheltonozhsky to the police, asking her why she did it. She responds by asking whether the narrator thinks that Zheltonozhsky’s actions were “normal.”
  9. Khalitova says that while she had always been aware of the danger of being persecuted for her political outspokenness, she was now acutely aware of the threat. She has broken off all contact with her family after her father turned her in. She says he did it because he wanted to feel “important.” In a recorded phone conversation, Timur Khalitov claims to the narrator that he panicked when he got an “anonymous” phone call about his daughter’s alleged extremist activities. Walking through a park, Elmira tells Proekt that she has been thoroughly disappointed by the Russian public’s reaction to the invasion because she had been convinced that the widespread notion that there was a “Putinist majority” in Russia who supported the president was a “myth.” Now, she says, she understands that most people are willing to let young men die in battle as long as nothing else changes in their lives.
  10. Sonya reads aloud the first letter that Sasha Skochilenko wrote from remand prison. In the letter she says that while her accuser might get a “miserable reward” for denouncing her, Skochilenko herself will gain “immortality.” Sonya claims that none of the letters that she and other friends have sent to the remand prison have been delivered to Sasha, nor has she received the food care packages that she needs as someone who suffers from celiac disease. Her friend Alexei explains that patients with this diagnosis must not eat bread and pasta, but since the disease is not officially recognized by the authorities as a “serious” ailment, they are not obliged to meet her dietary requirements. Sonya explains that, when celiac disease is not managed properly, it can lead to cancer, osteoporosis and other life-threatening ailments. 
  11. Arkhipova argues that the practice of denunciation that has now come to the fore in Russia is “for art’s sake” in the sense that it is motivated neither by the need to protect oneself nor by the prospect of monetary gain. On the contrary, Russia’s new-model denouncers are “exercising their civic muscles” because they feel “needed.” The narrator says that the number of denunciations in wartime “civil society” will only grow, citing the United Russia party’s launching of a special bot for filing denunciations, which Rostelecom has promised to support by passing the denunciations on to the authorities. Elmira Khalitova says that she feels she is surrounded by people who, although they behave normal in everyday life, are quite willing to “condone a crime.” She says that because of this new sense of what her society has become, she feels “empty inside” and that the country has no future. Shestakov says that he has become more careful about what he says to whom. Zheltonozhsky says that he also no longer talks about political topics to certain people. Sonya says that everything has been changed by the war, but that this wasn’t clear at first. She says that Skochilenko loves Russia, is a “genuine Russian patriot,” and had hoped that things could be changed for the better. Kotenochkina says that although people are afraid, such a war in the twenty-first century is so wrong that they have no choice but to act. As she begins crying, the screen fades to black and the message “No war” appears on the screen.
“‘Your denunciation is very important to us.’ A film about how the war in Ukraine has revived the fashion of denouncing people in Russia.” A screenshot of the documentary film’s page on the Proekt website.

The Black Square

An Open Letter from Russian Culture and Art Workers

Art and culture workers across Russia have been signing an open letter for peace in Ukraine.

This page once contained an open letter from culture and art workers, stating their opinion on the “special military operation,”* which had been signed by more than 18,000 people. On March 4, 2022, the “law on fakes” was adopted, stipulating a fine or a term of imprisonment [for publicly speaking the truth about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine]. The process of collecting signatures has now been suspended, and the text of the letter and signatures have been concealed for the safety of all signatories.


* The government forbids us from using any other term for the “special military operation.”

We remind you that according to Article 54 of the Russian Federal Constitution, “[a] law introducing or aggravating responsibility shall not have retrospective effect,” and “[n]o one may bear responsibility for [an] action which was not regarded as a crime when it was committed.”

Source: Spectate.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

Demonstrators in Moscow: “Hands Off Ukraine!”

 

Six people involved in solo pickets against war with Ukraine were detained on Pushkin Square [in Moscow earlier today, 20 February 2022]: Lev Ponomaryov, Mikhail Krieger, Nikolai Rekubratsky, Yuri Samodurov, Mikhail Udimov, and Olga Mazurova.

The picketers held placards that read: “Schools and hospitals instead of bombs and shells,” “Hands off Ukraine,” “Down with the regime of the Chekists,” “Russia, do not touch Ukraine,” “No war with Ukraine”, and “Freedom for Ukrainian political prisoners.”

Ponomaryov, Krieger, and Udimov have been taken to the police department in the Tverskoy district. Ilya Utkin, a lawyer from OVD Info, is heading to see them. Samodurov, Rekubratsky, and Mazurova have been taken to the police department in the Meshchansky district.

Anna Krechetova and Alexander Matskevich were detained later on Pushkin Square. Matskevich held up a placard that read, “There is no excuse for war.”

Video: Valeria Merkulova

Source: Darya Kornilova/Facebook. Thanks to Yigal Levin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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