Jenya Kulakova: In Orenburg

The Sokol (“Falcon”) Widescreen Movie Theater in Orenburg, as photographed by Jenya Kulakova on August 13, 2021. She reports that the American animated feature “The Boss Baby: Family Business” was playing there today.

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
August 13, 2021

Today I did manage to meet with Vitya [Viktor Filinkov] at Penal Colony No. 1 in Orenburg. I didn’t recognize him at first when they brought him out. He was wearing a baggy uniform that was too big, a small cap that didn’t fit on his head and, as he showed me later, huge size 45 shoes. (There all the new arrivals were given size 45 shoes. Another inmate commented on this fact as follows: “I’m trying to laugh hard about it so as not to be sad.”) My only glimpses of the usual Vitya were face (in a mask) and hands (in gloves).

He is in quarantine, where the conditions are indistinguishable from solitary confinement. All his things have been taken to the warehouse, and he has nothing to write on and nothing to read. The mattress is taken away during the day, but he can only sit on the bench when eating. They hadn’t yet taken him out for a walk during his first day there.

Upon his arrival at the penal colony, blood and urine tests were done, and an EKG was performed. Vitya is still ill, so they began giving him cough pills and antibiotics.

He is alone in the cell. He experienced no violence or threats during his first day in the penal colony.

He will be in quarantine for 14 days.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Here is a complete list of all the articles that I have published about Viktor Filinkov and the other defendants in the Network Case. Visit Rupression.com to find out how you can show your solidarity with them.

#NetworkCase #ДелоСети

 

The Crosses

Vadim F. Lurie | Facebook | May 24, 2021. In 2000, I was gathering material about the Crosses Prison. I went there several times and took pictures with a point-and-shoot film camera. The prison was then overcrowded: it was reported that it was simultaneously housing twelve thousand inmates, although it had a maximum capacity of two thousand. The people in the photos were standing in front of the prison, trying to catch sight of their loved ones. The sidewalk and part of the roadway was strewn with “arrows” — notes and scattered scraps of notes, which the prisoners launched from their cells in the hope that they would be picked up. St. Petersburg, 2000

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Political Prisoner Dmitry Pchelintsev: “Please Tell Mom That I’m Well”

“Please Tell Mom That I’m Well”: An Antifascist in the Vyatka Prison Castle
Ekaterina Loushnikova
Idel.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
January 7, 2021

Dmitry Pchelintsev. Archive photo courtesy of RFE/RL

In December 2020, Dmitry Pchelintsev was transferred to the Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 1 in Kirov aka the Vyatka Prison Castle, where he met with members of the Kirov Public Monitoring Commission.

Pchelintsev was detained in October 2017 in Penza by the FSB. Before his arrest, he worked as a shooting instructor for the Union of Paratroopers of Russia, a veterans organization, and played airsoft (a team sport involving the use of pneumatic weapons). Among young people in Penza, Dmitry was known as an antifascist, campaigning against neo-Nazism, chauvinism and social inequality.

According to FSB investigators, Pchelintsev and his comrades from Penza, St. Petersburg, Moscow and Belarus organized a “network” of “combat groups,” planning an armed seizure of power via attacks on military enlistment offices, police stations, armories, and United Russia party offices. Pchelintsev was charged with organizing a “terrorist community” and illegal possession of weapons. During interrogations at the Penza Pre-Trial Detention Center, the antifascist confessed that he was the “leader of a terrorist organization.” Later, Pchelintsev told lawyer Oleg Zaitsev that his “confessions” had been obtained under torture.

“They pulled off my underpants. I was lying down on my stomach, and they tried to attach the wires to my genitals. I shouted and asked them to stop tormenting me. They started saying, ‘You’re the leader.’ So that they would stop the torture, I would say, ‘Yes, I’m the leader.’ ‘You were going to commit terrorist acts.’ I would answer, ‘Yes, we were going to organize terrorist attacks.'”

Despite complaints from Pchelintsev and other defendants in the so-called Network Case about being tortured during the investigation, no criminal case on the matter was opened.

On February 10, 2020, the Volga District Military Court found Pchelintsev guilty of “creating a terrorist community” and sentenced him to eighteen years in prison in a high-security penal colony. The Memorial Human Rights Center said that the testimony in the Network Case had been obtained under torture, and recognized Pchelintsev and his comrades as political prisoners. The lawyers of the defendants in the Network Case have filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg.

The meeting at Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 1 in Kirov was held via video link: during the coronavirus pandemic , all visits, including with members of the PMC, have been prohibited at the prison. During the conversation with Pchelintsev, two employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service were present: Pchelintsev did not insist on “privacy.” He unexpectedly praised the Vyatka Prison Castle for obeying the law.

“The conditions of detention are excellent!” said the political prisoner. “Especially in comparison with the Penza Pre-Trial Detention Center. There is no pressure on me: they do not beat me, they do not intimidate me, they treat me politely.

“And how are they feeding you?” the human rights activists asked.

“The food is good, too, the food is delicious. But the problem is that I’m a vegetarian, and in keeping with my beliefs I don’t eat meat dishes. So, I’m looking forward to having money transferred to my account from Penza to Kirov so that I can buy my own food in the prison store. Also, I still have things and medicines in Penza. I was taking drugs to treat my joints, but none of this has been sent yet.”

“How is your health?”

“I’m an asthmatic. I got the condition during my imprisonment in the Penza Pre-Trial Detention Center, and now I constantly need a Seretide inhaler. I have a prescription from a doctor. By law, I should get Seretide at public expense. But when I submitted a request for an inhaler to he Kirov Pre-Trial Detention Center, I was told that all funds were going to fight covid, that there was no money for other drugs.”

“Are you being held in solitary confinement?”

“No, there are four people in my cell. I have good relations with everyone, there are no conflicts. Recently, I was transferred to the ‘quarantine’ wing, where I will stay for twenty-one days, after which I will be sent to the penal colony. However, I have already been told that when I arrive at the camp, I will most likely be placed in the ‘strict conditions’ wing since I have a terrorism conviction, and from the viewpoint of my jailers, I am an ‘extremist.’ No, I have not been charged with any rules violations in the Kirov Pre-Trial Detention Center. But I suspect that the ground is being prepared for putting the squeeze on me. For some reason, many people believe that I was convicted not only for terrorism, but also for murder. I think this bias toward me is based on hearsay.”

“You mean the article in Meduza about the murder of two young people, your comrades?”

“Yes, in the Kirov detention center, as it turned out, everyone had read this article or heard something. I really don’t want to be seen as a murderer when I arrive at the camp. I had no dealings with those guys (Ekaterina Levchenko and Artyom Dorofeyev), and I don’t know anything about their murder. I have deep sympathy for their relatives, but I’m not to blame for this tragedy. I think that it’s another provocation on the part of the FSB, which, nevertheless, many people believe is true.”

“Are you a believer? Do you have any religious problems?”

“Yes, I believe in God. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the Kirov detention center, I wasn’t allowed to read the Torah in the cell. Before that, I tried to devote the entire Sabbath to studying Holy Scriptures. But in the Kirov detention center, I have not had the opportunity, because I was told that prisoners, according to internal regulations, have the right to read only books from the prison library in their cells, books that have been vetted.

“In keeping with my complaint, they can commission a religious expert examination of the text, but I was told by the staff at the Federal Penitentiary Service that this would take a long time. I was advised to resolve the issue with the Torah when I got to the penal colony. But this is not some homemade book, it is a book from a synagogue!”

“Have you written complaints?”

“It is my impression that, in Russian prisons, complaints and even letters to and from relatives very often do not reach the addressee.”

“For example, when I was in the Penza Pre-Trial Detention Center, my complaints didn’t go anywhere, they were simply not sent. And even a letter from my grandmother, who congratulated me on my birthday, was destroyed by the staff at the detention center, because, according to my jailers, the letter contained a coded passage . . . The last letter I sent, from the Kirov detention center, I sent to my wife, who is both my public defender and representative at the ECtHR. I hope this letter is received. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, my wife cannot visit me, despite her status as my defender. In the Kirov detention center, there is basically no way to call relatives by phone, there is no FSIN-Pismo system for online correspondence, and when relatives and human rights defenders make inquiries by phone, prison officials usually tell them that they don’t have the right to disclose the ‘personal data’ of prisoners. Consequently, you are completely cut off from the world: no one knows where you are or what is happening to you. Please tell Mom that I’m well, and I will call her as soon as I am sent to the penal colony!”

Political prisoner Dmitry Pchelintsev will be transferred to a high-security colony in Kirov Region immediately after completing a twenty-one-day quarantine. In Kirov Region, there are five high-security penal colonies, and two of them are earmarked for first-time serious offenders. One of them is Correctional Colony No. 11 in Kirovo-Chepetsk, and the other is Correctional Colony No. 27 in the Verkhnekamsk District. This colony already has one political prisoner, Sergei Ozerov, who was convicted on charges of terrorism and sentenced to eight years in prison for involvement in Vyacheslav Maltsev’s “revolution” of 5 November 2017. The penal colony is located on the site of the former Stalinist prison camp Vyatlag.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the Network Case (see the list, below), and go to Rupression.com to find out how you can show your solidarity with the defendants in the case.

#NetworkCase 

“The FSB Are the Main Terrorists”: The Political Biography of Ivan Astashin

Ivan Astashin in prison. Photo by Maxim Pivovarov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

“The FSB Are the Main Terrorists”: The Political Biography of Ivan Astashin
Dmitry Volchek
Radio Svoboda
October 3, 2020

On the night of December 20, 2009, the eve of State Security Officers Day, a group of young people threw a Molotov cocktail into the FSB’s offices in Moscow’s Southwest District. No one was injured, and the room was slightly damaged: a windowsill and several chairs were burned. A video of the protest soon appeared on the internet, entitled “Happy Chekists Day, Bastards!” The author of the video was 17-year-old Ivan Astashin.

The arson sparked a large-scale, trumped-up criminal case against the so-called Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization (ABTO), which was headed, according to investigators, by Astashin. Initially, the alleged members of ABTO were charged with property damage, but soon they were also accused of disorderly conduct. The Investigative Committee later decided that the defendants in the case had wanted to impact state policy, so they should be tried for “terrorism”(as punishable under Article 205 of the criminal code). They were tortured into confessing.

Ten young people were involved in the ABTO Case. In 2012, they were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. Astashin received the longest sentence—13 years in a high-security penal colony, which was later reduced to 9 years and 9 months. Astashin was first sent to Krasnoyarsk Correctional Colony No. 17, but in 2014 he was transferred to Norilsk Correctional Colony No. 15. Lawyers and human rights activists argued that the case was political, pointing out that ABTO did not exist, and the members of the alleged “terrorist organization” did not even know each other.

“In Ivan’s case, the FSB took revenge on teenagers who dared to throw a bottle of petrol through their window. The case was a bellwether. It showed how the security forces had degenerated: why should they stake out real criminals and document their every move, if they could torture children until they lose consciousness, forcing them to sign a horseshit ‘confession’ that will then be called ‘evidence’ in the verdict?” said lawyer Igor Popovsky, who argued Astashin’s case before the Russian Supreme Court.

In recent years, Astashin has become known as an op-ed writer, penning articles about prison mores. On September 1, 2019, Radio Svoboda published his letter “Breaking Convicts Under the Law’s Cover,” which detailed the injustices at Krasnoyarsk CC 17, about the differences among castes of prisoners, their collaboration with wardens, and the psychological coercion employed on prisoners by correctional officers. We soon received a response from the penal colony’s wardens that Astashin had not written the letter and that no violations of the law were permitted in the colony. Although we knew that the letter had been written by Astashin, we took down the article, fearing for his safety.

On September 21, 2020, Astashin completed his sentence and was released. He is currently working on a book about his prison experience. He told Radio Svoboda about what happened to him on the outside and in prison.

Your comrade Alexei Makarov said that he became a revolutionary when he was 15 years old. When did you get interested in politics?

When I was about 14 years old. And it all started with a nationalist agenda. There were violent clashes between [ethnic] Russians and Caucasians in Kondopoga [in 2006]. I looked for information and in early 2007 I joined the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI).

When they called you a nationalist in court, were they right?

At first I was a nationalist, then my views expanded. I left DPNI and in 2009 joined The Other Russia coalition, which at that time was led by Eduard Limonov, Mikhail Kasyanov, and Garry Kasparov, and it included nationalists, liberals, communists, and anyone else you can think of. In the same year, 2009, I visited Ukraine, where I got acquainted with the movement of autonomous nationalists, and I thought that we should do something like it. At that time, there was a split in The Other Russia coalition, everything there came to a grinding halt. My radicalization occurred because there were no people organizing above ground. Then there was the movement of autonomists in Russia, both nationalists and left-wing anarchists. Direct action against the police began: police departments and police cars were torched. I also thought that we should do something like this. At that time, I felt like a revolutionary. I was 17 years old, and we decided to hold a protest action against the FSB.

You made a video of the action. It is still accessible on the internet, and there is a slogan “Russian action.” So, this was a nationalist protest?

Yes.

Do you regret it or recall it with pleasure?

Neither one nor the other. I don’t regret anything: what’s done is done. At the same time, I now believe that it was ineffective: the protest’s efficiency rating was negative. We had wanted to draw attention to the dictatorship of the Chekists, but [the video had] ten thousand views, which is a drop in the ocean. It did not spark a public discussion, it was all a big waste of time. Meanwhile, the people involved in the protest received long prison sentences. Of course, these were ineffective actions.

You were also accused of trying to blow up a Lexus. Whose car was it?

That was a stupid story. As a chemist, I experimented, I was interested in pyrotechnic devices and explosives. I built this thing and decided to test it. I found a Lexus: I thought it was probably insured. That’s another social subtext.

Attack the rich?

Yeah.

The investigators claimed that you were the leader of an organization that consisted of about ten people. Who were these people?

Guys I knew, but not all of them. They also carried out direct actions: seven arson attacks. The only thing we had in common was that we were acquainted. We were tortured into confessing that we had collaborated. If you read the verdict carefully, there are many inconsistencies. They write that the guys saw a police department and decided to torch it. But why do they then write that I was in charge of the action? Nevertheless, we were tried as an organized criminal group: everything those guys did I was charged with as well, and I was convicted as the organizer.

But did you know of ABTO’s existence? And did the organization even exist?

It was during the investigation that I found out that I was the head of the organization. And I saw the videos that they posted on the internet. Neither they nor we had any organization. The person who posted the videos just decided that it would be more interesting if he wrote that it was some kind of organization. It was four people going round setting fires.

Are the Network and New Greatness cases similar to what happened in the ABTO Case, or have the methods of the Chekists changed over the last ten years?

They are very similar, only worse. We were arrested for real actions. There was no terrorism in our case, but there were actions: they can be qualified as property damage or disorderly conduct. In the Network and New Greatness cases, there were no actions at all, that is, they were tried simply for belonging to mythical organizations. The laws that are now used to judge the defendants in those cases simply did not exist in our time. If we were tried now, we would probably be given twenty years in prison. All those articles [in the criminal code] are getting tougher and tougher, and the cases are now tried by special military courts. In addition, now there is the Rosfinmonitoring list [a financial stop list of “extremists” and “terrorists”], plus probation until your conviction has been expunged from your record. It’s easier for [the security services] to work in this way, because they don’t have to wait for someone to set something on fire, they can just take some guys who behave the wrong way, talk about the wrong things, or look the wrong way, and whip up a nice terrorism case, and get awards and promotions.

Ivan Astashin and comrades holding a rally on Chekists Day, on December 20, 2009, on Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow. Their banner reads, “The FSB are enemies of the people.” Courtesy of Ivan Astashin and RFE/RL

I read the article in which you write that the FSB are the only terrorists in Russia.

Yes, I wrote that, because terrorism is defined in the criminal code as various actions (not necessarily explosions and arson) intended to frighten and intimidate the populace. And who is intimidating the populace now, other than the FSB? We have other security services, but they are also dependent on the FSB. You know, when I carried out the action against the FSB, I really didn’t fully understand what kind of an organization it was. I understood that they had a lot of power, that the country was actually a Chekist dictatorship, but I had no idea how big it was. Even ordinary cops shake in their boots when FSBniks show up. The doors to all government institutions are open to the Chekists. All civil servants, judges, and MPs obey them unquestioningly. That’s why I called the FSB the main terrorists.

Did FSB officers visit you in the prison camp and threaten you?

Yes, that was in 2015. As usual, they did not introduce themselves, but only mentioned that they had flow in from Moscow: I was serving my sentence in Norilsk at the time. They were interested in what I was going to do after my release. I said that there were five more years until the end of my sentence, and I didn’t know yet what I would do after my release. They told me something to the effect that I shouldn’t get it into my head to engage in any political activity. Not that they directly threatened me, but they mentioned that even if I went abroad and mad trouble for them there, they would still get to me.

How did ordinary prisoners perceive you? As a hero or as a weirdo whose motives were impossible to understand?

Differently. There really were convicts who would say, Well done, cool, they need to be burned. There were also who thought it was odd: you’ve been sent down for ten years, what was the point?

Drawing by Stanislav Tanichev. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You said in an interview that you saw all of Russia in the Siberian prison camps. What have you learned about Russia? Is it ready for the revolution you dreamed of?

Many people living in Moscow have no idea what is happening beyond the Moscow Ring Road, how people survive on a salary of 5-10 thousand rubles [a month; meaning between 55 and 110 euros, approximately]. They often live on the outside according to the same concepts as they do in prison. As for whether they are ready for revolution, that is a difficult question. Many people just can’t imagine that things could be different. There is the famous question: who [will be president], if not Putin? Indeed, many people have this notion in their heads.

Did you meet Putin fans even in the camps?

Yes.

Were they outliers or were there many of them?

The ardent Putin supporters were outliers, of course, but I would often hear people say that Putin was doing a great job: he’d lifted up the economy, whereas in the nineties there had been nothing to eat at all. But now the situation is moving away from Putin. Meaning that, whereas in 2014 everyone got behind “Crimea is ours” and Novorossiya, and sometimes a couple of prisoners would argue with several dozen [Putin supporters], but now they mostly chew out Putin’s policies.

Even in the Siberian camps in 2014, there was a patriotic upsurge and people were happy about the annexation of the Crimea?

Yes, but then the situation changed, and the whole upsurge fizzled out.

Last year, we published your letter about the situation at the Krasnoyarsk colony, and then the wardens demanded that it be removed: allegedly, you were not the author. We took it down so you wouldn’t get hurt. What happened to you then?

It was unexpected. It is clear that if you are institutionalized and you write something negative about the institution, then, of course, there will be a reaction. I was in Norilsk, describing the general practices that had developed in the prison system, and I mentioned the Krasnoyarsk camp as an example. And they got so upset! They made threats, very clear threats. In Krasnoyarsk Territory, there is Remand Prison No. 1, known for its torture cells. There is a regional tuberculosis hospital where convicts are absolutely illegally injected with the strongest psychotropic drugs. And when I was summoned for a chat about the matter by the head of the prevention and enforcement department [of the penal colony], he made it clear what could happen to me in the future. I know such stories about how a person wrote complaints about the wardens, and then he was taken to these places of torture, and then the person recanted his testimony while being videotaped. I knew that something similar could be done to me. I had to write the document that your editors received. Of course, when I wrote it, I really hoped that they would understand the situation.

Of course, we understood, but we were afraid for your safety and took down the article.

I was hoping they wouldn’t remove it. Both there and through the convicts, they tried to get to me, and for some time the email server was disabled, and the warden, when he went on rounds, made it clear that it was all because of me. Then I found out that I was to be transferred. Initially, there was information that I would be taken to that hospital in Krasnoyarsk. I had already been given to understand via the convicts that they could take me through the torture remand prisons there. Consequently, everything followed a completely different scenario: I was transferred to CC 17, which I had just been writing about. I was transported without any untoward happening to me. I arrived at the transit and transfer prison, and everything was cool: not a word was said about the situation. I was there for four days before arriving at CC 17, where the deputy warden said to me on my first day, “I know why you have been brought here. I don’t care about that article. Let’s put it this way: you are now going to quietly finish out your sentence, and you’re not going to create problems for me, and I’m not going to create problems for you.”

Did your other articles about life in the prison zones go unnoticed?

The others were also noticed, but there was a fairly calm reaction to them. At one time, there was a special field officer in charge of working with “extremists” and “terrorists,” and he sometimes called me in to say he’d read my articles.

I’m sure you met other prisoners convicted on similar charges.

Yes, there a lot of people convicted in high-profile cases in Krasnoyarsk and Norilsk. When I arrived at CC 15 in Norilsk, there were quite a lot of people who had been convicted under Article 205, but mostly they were people who had been involved in the fighting in the North Caucasus. When you read their verdicts you find mentions of [Chechen rebel commanders] Maskhadov, Khattab, and Shamil. And when I was transferred to CC 17 in Krasnoyarsk a year ago, I also saw quite a lot of people who had been involved in combat or attacks on security forces in the North Caucasus over the years.

Drawing by Stanislav Tanichev. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You rubbed shoulders in the camps with people of different ethnic groups living in Russia. Have you reconsidered the beliefs that moved you to become a revolutionary at the age of seventeen?

Yes, my views have changed. When I joined DPNI, I saw migrants as the problem, but over time I began to see the state as the problem. Migrants are not to blame for anything: they come here out of desperation, because their home countries are even worse than here, just as many people are leaving Russia for Europe now. In other words, these processes are quite natural. People of different ethnic groups and faiths can easily get along with each other. We just need competent policy to avoid conflicts. All this xenophobia is largely groundless. While I was on the inside, I read Robert Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, which examines why people are often biased against those who belong to a different race or ethnic group. If you get to the root of the problem, there is no reason for it. We need to think about what unites us, not what divides us.

I noticed in your interview with the BBC a reference to Vladimir Sorokin. Did you find something in common in what he describes with what you saw in the camps?

Yes, I love Vladimir Sorokin. One of the things that clicked with me was the idea of the new Middle Ages, as described in his novel Tellurium. I can say for sure that the Russian penitentiary system is the new Middle Ages. Here, in each region, there is a special way of life, which is shaped both by prison officials and prisoners, despite the fact that the law seems to be the same, and the codes prisoners live by is the same everywhere. In some places, prisoners live free and easy, while in others the wardens set up a totalitarian regime in the camps through beatings and torture, as, for example, was the case in Omsk before the riot there in 2018. In yet other places, the wardens and the pseudo-kingpins from among the convicts converge. There are unwritten rules, procedures, and forms of interaction everywhere. It really is the new Middle Ages.

Ivan Astashin with the artist Stanislav Tanichev, who illustrated his articles. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You have now been released, but you remain under probation?

Yes. The law on probation was adopted in 2011. I was arrested in 2010, but in 2017, changes were made to the law such that all those convicted of terrorist charges must be placed on probation until their criminal record is expunged, which in my case is eight years. No one cares about you behaved in prison. Whereas earlier, repeat offenders and those who were deemed repeat violators of prison rules were put on probation, now everyone convicted on terrorist charges is put on probation, too. No one cares that I went to prison long before the law was passed. Logically, according to the Russian Constitution and international norms, the law should not apply to me. However, it applies not only to me, but also to other people in this situation. Restrictions are imposed on us: we have to check in at a police department between one to four times a month. (I’m required to check in twice a month.) You cannot leave your home between ten at night and six in the morning. I have filed an appeal against my probation and plan to bring the case to the European Court of Human Rights, as I believe that this practice violates the European Convention on Human Rights. A complaint on similar grounds, filed by one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case, Sergei Udaltsov, has already been communicated to the European Court of Human Rights.

You don’t want to leave Russia?

I don’t. Everything is bad in Russia nowadays, but there are a lot of areas where you can do something and change things for the better. Nor am I talking about politics in the literal sense. For example, there is human rights advocacy. In any case, no matter what the circumstances, no matter where I am, I will still do something to change society for the better.

• • • • •

This translation is dedicated to Vladimir Akimenkov, a former Russian political prisoner and prisoner rights activist who over the years persuaded me to pay attention to Ivan Astashin’s remarkable story. If you have the means and the opportunity, please consider donating to Vladimir’s fund for Russian political prisoners. You will find the details below. || TRR

Ivan Astashin and Vladimir Akimenkov, October 11, 2020, Moscow. Courtesy of Vladimir Akimenkov’s Facebook page

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
June 7, 2020

My Annual Birthday Fundraising Event for Political Prisoners

On June 10, it will be eight years since I was arrested as part of the Bolotnaya Square Case. Every year on this date I hold a fundraiser in support of the political prisoners with whom I am currently working.

Every year we meet live on my birthday to help political prisoners. This year, for obvious reasons, we will not be able to meet on June 10. We will definitely do this later, when we can get together without the obvious threat of getting sick. (The live fundraising event will be announced later, via a separate post and an update to this post.)

In the meantime, I am launching a remote fundraising event. In recent years, we have managed to find over 16.8 million rubles [approx. 186,000 euros] for people who have been politically repressed. Please chip in. We need to raise a lot of money. I don’t want to be broken record, but such are realities of Russian society.

Bank details:

— Yandex Money: https://money.yandex.ru/to/410012642526680

— Sberbank Visa Card: 4276 3801 0623 4433, Vladimir Georgievich Akimenkov

Bank details for ruble transfer:

Correspondence account 30101810400000000225
Bank BIC 044525225
Recipient’s account 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s Individual Tax Number 7707083893
Recipient’s full name AKIMENKOV VLADIMIR GEORGIEVICH

Bank details for foreign currency transfers:

SWIFT Code SABRRUMM
Recipient’s account 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s full name AKIMENKOV VLADIMIR GEORGIEVICH

You can send funds from one foreign currency account to another via the Western Union website.

If you send me a personal message, I can send you a final report on the funds collected.

Please share information about the fundraiser on different venues.

I’m worried about this fundraiser. But I believe in people.

Thanks.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Good Friday

Uprising in Penal Colony No. 15, Angarsk, Irkutsk Region (Updated)
Russian Behind Bars
April 10, 2020

92359227_217673739465831_1340309785270026240_n
Image of text message stating “Good evening. I am asking for your help, Penal Colony No. 15, Angarsk, Irkutsk Region. They are killing prisoners, shooting them with automatic weapons, gassing them. I called my son, he asked for help.”

There is an uprising in a penal colony. Relatives report that prisoners are being shot with automatic weapons and gassed. The press service of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) reports that the uprising has been put down, while photos of the burning colony have been posted to social media. The convicts are calling their relatives crying and asking for help. There are bodies.

Source: Approximately 300 injured in uprising at Penal Colony No. 15 in Irkutsk Region
Around 300 people have been injured in an uprising at Penal Colony No. 15 in Irkutsk Region, one of the prisoners has reported to MBKh Media. He also stated that around 200 people have injured themselves.

8:11 p.m., April 10
Audio recording of a mother of one of the prisoners in Penal Colony No. 15 in the Irkutsk Region, April 10. Posted by Russia Behind Bars

Translated transcript: “Hello, I’m calling from Anzhero-Sudzhensk, Kemerovo Region. My son is at Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region. He just called and said that the situation there is getting out of control. They’re killing them, shooting them with automatic weapons, and the whole colony is drenched in blood; they’re gassing them, beating them with batons, and he just says ‘they’re killing us all.’ He asked me to call and ask for some kind of help.”

7:19 p.m., April 10
Video recorded by a prisoner at Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, April 10. Published on the Facebook page of Pavel Glushenko, chairman of the Irkutsk branch of For Human Rights

Translated transcript: “People, this another appeal from Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region. The pigs are running riot. They’re beating everyone, everyone’s wrists are slashed, nothing’s helping. The whole prison’s burning. Look, help us somehow . . . As we speak, the special forces are beating us, they’re using grenades, they’re using pump-action guns. Look, the prisoners standing here have slit their wrists, we can’t do a thing. We’re asking for your help . . . Here everyone’s wrists are slashed. Right now, we’re located in the work area, the special forces can’t get to us, soon everything will burn down and we’ll be in trouble. [Other voice: “They’re going to kill us”]. People, help us please, we’re begging for your help.”

6:52 p.m., April 10

Photos from Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, April 10. Posted by Baza

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6:38 p.m., April 10

Penal Colony No. 15IK-15. Explosions are audible and bursts of flame visible at Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, April 10. Published by Baza

6:27 p.m., April 10

Video of burning buildings at Penal Colony No. 15 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region, April 10. Posted by Baza

5:57 p.m., April 10

Recording of a conversation between Russia Behind Bars director Olga Romanova with Penal Colony No. 15 inmate Andrei . Recorded April 10. Posted by Russia Behind Bars

Translated transcript
Andrei: They were wearing masks and had shields, naturally… They huddled up and came after us… What did we have to defend ourselves with? We didn’t have anything special. But they had batons, they had masks, they had . . . They started detonating flash grenades. They started just thrashing the prisoners they caught with batons. So, in a sign of protest we slashed our veins. I slashed mine, and I don’t know how many others did, but the majority did.
Olga Romanova: Andrei, so what is happening now in the prison colony?
A: What’s happening now? I don’t know what’s happening in the residential area. I don’t know what’s happening there. But we’re in the work area now, everything around us is burning. Every convict in the area, [inaudible] . . . everything’s on fire. All the utility yards, all the agricultural buildings, everything’s burning, everything’s just ablaze.
OR: It’s now 6 p.m. Moscow time?
A: Yes, Friday, 6 p.m. Moscow time.
OR: Can you tell us please, have people been killed or wounded? Have you seen them?
A: Well, so rumors have reached us that, yes, there’s a body . . . As for wounded, you could say everyone is, because we all slashed our veins, everyone who could.
OR: How many inmates are in the penal colony now?
A: There are 1,200 inmates in the colony, I think, at least.
OR: And 200 special forces officers have entered the colony, or is it 300?
A: Yeah, probably around 300.
OR: They came this morning?
A: No, this evening. Probably 7 p.m. Irkutsk time, 2 p.m., Moscow time.
OR: Can you tell me please, has the prison administration tried to enter into negotiations with you in some way?
A: No, they haven’t in any way . . . I have no idea where the administration is, no one has negotiated.
OR: Do I understand correctly—
A: The special forces are catching people and beating them up. What happens next, I don’t know.
OR: Do I understand correctly that the uprising happened because prison staff have been systematically beating prisoners?
A: Yes, systematically.
OR: And the prisoners—
A: —systematically beating prisoners, you got that correct, because the other day there was a similar situation, and as a sign of protest all the prisoners refused to go to morning exercise. That seemed like no big deal to them. They went back to their old tricks and started beating prisoners again.
OR: Andrei, have you been in touch with doctors? Have you been in touch with your relatives, maybe, or members of the PMC [Public Monitoring Commission; in every Russian region, these commissions monitor conditions in prisons and other places of imprisonment and confinement]?
A: No one has been in touch with us.
OR: No one ban in touch with you?
A: They say that the roads leading to the colony have been closed by the Federal Penitentiary Service’s special forces troops.
OR: But you can communicate for now?
A: I have this telephone, nothing else.
OR: Andrei, we’re getting messages from many prisoners’ relatives whose children, whose husbands, may be in your penal colony. What should we tell the families?
A: What to tell the families? Tell them hello, everything’s okay, or what? We’re hanging in there . . . Why the relatives? It would be better for you to get the attention of society, I don’t know, the mass media in Angarsk.
OR: Mm-hm. What kind of help do you need?
A: Well that’s what I’m telling you . . . We need . . . Our conditions are just that they leave here. Just that they leave. And we’ll go back to our cell blocks.
OR: You want the special forces troops to leave? And then you’ll go back to your cell blocks?
A: Of course. We don’t want to [inaudible] with them. They’re the ones who started this.
OR: Thank you, Andrey, hang in there. Thank you very much. This will be published right away.

1:50 p.m., April 10

“I was beaten by Duty Officer Krutynov.” A Video featuring Viktor Tirskikh, inmate at Penal Colony No. 15, Irkutsk Region. Posted by the Irkutsk Human Rights Council. The video was presumably made on April 9.

Translated transcript: “I was beaten by Duty Officer Krutynov, so I slashed my wrists, because this isn’t the first instance of mistreatment by the police. Look, I’ve been beaten here. They choked me. I don’t know how much one can take. The lawlessness that’s going on here . . . So I’m asking you to take action of some kind.

Translated by Comrade JS. A huge thanks to them for bringing this publication to my attention and doing the hard, important work of translating it. \\TRR

Reading the Signs (Team 29)

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Hi, this is Natasha Kurchenkova.

This week, everyone was wondering what the text of the new Russian constitution meant and, most importantly, how it would ultimately help one particular person remain in power. And here I had thought we were busy trying to divine such things all the time! When methods for making decisions are almost totally opaque, the art of reading the various signs and signals sent from the top is elevated into a cult. Some pundits show off their familiarity with sacred knowledge, while others hone their interpretive skills on national TV. What makes the process particularly crazy is that there is often no logic whatsoever in the way the system acts.

It is even harder for those whom the system has taken hostage—for example, Konstantin Kotov, sentenced to four years in prison for four peaceful (“unsanctioned”) protests. He was arrested on August 12 of last year. The criminal investigation of his case took a whole three days, while the trial took another two days, and after that Kotov was sent to prison. But this week the Second Court of Appeal overturned the Moscow City Court’s refusal to commute Kotov’s sentence and ordered a new trial in the case. What the hell does it all mean?

Team 29 lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov, a member of Kotov’s defense team, argues it is a good sign, despite the fact that the court could have immediately closed the criminal case, although it declined to do so.

“The court clearly indicated that Kotov would be released, given that the Moscow City Court had reduced his sentence to a year and the fact that, in a month and a half, under the revised rules for time served in custody, he will have been imprisoned for a year,” Smirnov wrote. “All of Konstantin’s defense lawyers insist on his complete innocence and will seek to have the criminal case quashed and their client exonerated. In view of the rulings made by the Russian Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and simple common sense, such a decision is the only possible outcome.”

We have also been picking up signals from the penal colonies, where we have been trying to locate one inmate. Almost nothing is known about his case, and the individual in question simply vanished a few years ago. It turns out that the official replies we have been receiving in response to a completely straightforward question also have to be interpreted. Just get a load of this:

“In accordance with Article 7 of Federal Law No. 152 on personal data, enacted 27 July 2006, persons who have received access to personal data are obliged not to disclose or distribute personal data to third parties without the consent of the person in question, unless otherwise stipulated by federal law. Given that the convicted man is not being held at [this penal colony], and it is not possible to obtain his consent, the information you have requested cannot be disclosed.”

How do you not go crazy when the state speaks to you in this language?

For the time being, trying to decipher the system’s signals is, alas, perhaps the most constructive way of communicating with it.

If you need a sign, this is it.

—Natasha and Team 29

* When I contacted Team 29 today, asking them for more details about the case in question, they replied that they would publish something about it after they had located the inmate in question. \\ TRR

Source: Team 29 weekly email newsletter, dated 7 March 2020. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Help Sergei Mokhnatkin!

41151284_296574164276341_7551592025892585472_oSergei Mokhnatkin. Photo courtesy of Julia Lorenz

Julia Lorenz
Facebook
September 7, 2018

Friends, I rarely ask you to help someone financially, so please pay attention this post.

Journalist and human rights activist Sergei Mokhnatkin needs our help. Mr. Mokhnatkin is sixty-four years old. While he has been serving time in a penal colony, he has been assaulted, had his back broken, had suffocating gas pumped into his cell, and had his personal effects and food stolen. Andrei Krekov, Mr. Mokhnatin’s social defender, arrived yesterday from visiting him in prison.

41116985_296574474276310_6849929476512415744_oMaximum Security Correctional Colony No. 21 in Iksa, Arkhangelsk Region. Photo by Andrei Krekov. Courtesy of Julia Lorenz

Mr. Krekov said the wardens at Maximum Security Correctional Colony No. 21 in the village of Iksa, Arkhangelsk Region, where Mr. Mokhnatkin has been serving the last four months of his sentence, have put the inmate on preventive watch as someone “prone to trespassing on sexual freedom and sexual inviolability” [per the wording in the letter reproduced below]. This is yet another humiliation.

41194480_296574800942944_747334011835121664_oLetter from a prison official informing Sergei Mokhnatkin that he had been placed on “preventive watch.” Photo by Andrei Krekov. Courtesy of Julia Lorenz

As of Monday, prison staff refused to give Mr. Mokhnatkin a pen, so he was unable to write anything.

In his letter to me, Mr. Mokhnatkin voiced concern about whether he would be able to pay Mr. Krekov’s trips to the prison as his social defender and, generally, a sense of insecurity about the future. I cannot discuss the particulars of his personal life without his say-so, but I can say that Mr. Mokhnatkin lacks many of the things you and I have.

The only way to protect the journalist and human rights activist from the abuse of prison staff is constant oversight on the social defender’s part. A single one-way trip to the penal colony costs 4,000 rubles [approx. 50 euros] and takes four hours. Nor would it hurt if we were able to raise a little money to see Mr. Mokhnatkin through for awhile after he is released from prison.

Evil cannot always prevail in this life. We won’t let it.

PayPal: krek29[at]mail.ru (Andrei Krekov)
Yandex Money: 410011870455797
Sberbank Card: 6390 0255 9033 7935 61

The last two accounts belong to Tatyana Pashkevich, who has raised money to support Sergei Mokhnatkin over the last four and a half years.

Thanks to Vladimir Akimenkov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yana Teplitskaya: Wonderland

welcome to russia

Yana Teplitskaya
Facebook
September 4, 2018

Emotions are weird. I write “hogtie,” “taser,” and “Liteiny 4” [FSB headquarters in Petersburg] without feeling anything.

I wrote “interrogation in the middle of the night” and the tips of my fingers went numb.

I don’t understand what remains when you’ve run out of hatred and fear has faded.

Navigating your way through fear gives you a lot of strength, but it doesn’t last long.

Love and solidarity.

However, their supply is probably limited, too, since I feel so little strength.

***

“I have the sense we live so well that we should [help others].”

“But I know now this sense doesn’t get you far. My human rights work started from an overabundance of well-being, but I think it has been spent, that it has bottomed out.”

“Oh! So, no matter how much I do for the kids, I’m giving them a finite, rather than an indefinite, supply?”

***

As for basic trust in the world, I have the general sense that if you really have to do it, you will do anything. The deaths of other people and one’s own ailments take away that feeling. Just like the torture of Igor.

***

“Officials who are directly accused of torture: […] born 1993.”

:(

***

Excerpts from a funny [and seemingly really lousy] interview about “why you do what you do.”

*

“Would you like to be written up in the history books?”

“Uh, well, I’d like these cases to be written up in the history books. That would mean this nightmare had ended [and a new one had begun].”

*

“I have generally always been interested in the human rights movement and the struggle for the rule of law in Russia. I read a good number of autobiographies [of human rights activists and dissidents] while I was at school.”

“And your interests didn’t look odd to the people at school?”

“No, I think everyone else was also into something ‘odd.'”

*

“But why this way? After all, you could save people by being a surgeon.”

“Because it’s simple, while being a surgeon is really complicated. What we do is really simple. You simply show up somewhere and write down everything as it happened. Anyone could do it.”

***

I remember thinking while I was at school that it was fortunate I was finishing school during a period of authoritarianism. Under democracy and totalitarianism, I would have found it too messy to advocate human rights. I wouldn’t have even given it a thought, for different reasons: it’s too messy in a democracy, while it’s too dangerous under totalitarianism. So, if I had finished school in 2018, I would have hardly taken up human rights advocacy.

***

I see the circumstances in both Russia and Petersburg completely differently from the way I saw them ten years ago. Roughly speaking, ten years ago, the prisons were a topsy-turvy world, a “wonderland,” while the outside world was almost normal. In these circumstances, it made sense to rupture the impervious world of prisons, because doing so would in itself improve conditions in prisons. Rupturing this impervious world was simple. It was enough to hang around, both inside and outside, and flap your gums. In the outside world, you would jabber about  what was happening on the inside, and vice versa.

I no longer see things this way. With its aggressive propaganda, wars, and insane laws, the outside world is about the same as the topsy-turvy world, as “wonderland.” Therefore, my goals and methods have changed a bit.

Nowadays, perhaps, the role of the outside world is played by hypothetical readers of our reports “from the normal world,” meaning decent people on the internet and on the street, future readers, the UN Committee against Torture. Due to the need to navigate temporal and geographical borders, everything has become a little stricter. It has become vital to accurately record what is happening.

Yana Teplitskaya is a member of the Petersburg Public Commission for Monitoring Conditions in Places of Incarceration (“Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission” or “PMC”). Ms. Teplitskaya and her fellow PMC member Yekaterina Kosarevskaya were instrumental in uncovering and publicizing the torture by the FSB of the suspects the security agency abducted as part of its alleged investigation of the so-called Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader. My thanks to Ms. Teplitskaya for her permission to publish her remarks in translation on this website. 

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

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

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

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

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

____________________

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

Why did you decide to visit prisons and police precincts?

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

What do you do for a living?

Yana: I’m a mathematician.

Are you a schoolteacher?

No, I don’t teach. I do research.

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

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

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

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

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

Who nominated you to the PMC?

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

Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina Kosarevskaya outside Penal Colony No. 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do with such reports?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have the accused in The Network case testified?

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

He told you this in the remand prison?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did the other members of the Petersburg PMC react?

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

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

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

Do you feel that you are being shadowed?

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

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

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

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

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

They aren’t political prisoners?

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

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

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

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

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

How often do you visit remand prisons?

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

Tell me about Petersburg’s remand prisons.

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

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

What about The New Crosses?

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

The New Crosses remand prison

Are Petersburg’s remand prisons overcrowded?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is jailed there?

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

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

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

“No, we didn’t,” I say.

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

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

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

What dragged you in?

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

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

Olga Romanova: Yevgeny Makarov’s Life Is in Danger

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Olga Romanova
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December 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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