School Daze

olimpiada_po_himii(21)Moscow schoolchildren were smart enough to win the All-Russian Chemistry Olympiad in 2017, but the Moscow police department thinks they are not smart enough to know and speak their own minds when it comes to politics. Photo courtesy of Mos.ru, the official website of the Moscow mayor’s office

Policewoman Tells Moscow Schoolchildren “You Are Kaput” and Threatens Criminal Charges If They Attend Protest Rallies
Mediazona
September 6, 2019

​On condition of anonymity, a pupil at a school in Moscow has told Mediazona that today, during a lesson, a woman in a police uniform who identified herself as an inspector for minors came to his class. She threatened the schoolchildren with criminal charges if they attended protest rallies and said they would be unable to go to university.

Our source recorded the policewoman’s monologue on his telephone.

“As you know, protest rallies have been going on here in Moscow. People who attend them face administrative charges for this and then criminal charges. When people say they just happened to be in the same place, it makes no impression on me. I just put them on the watch list, and they get visits not only from beat cops but also from detectives,” she says at the beginning of her speech.

The policewoman then says she plans to put children on the watch list without bothering to figure out what happened.

“I do not care whether you there or not there, whether you went to a rally or were on a ‘stroll,’ whether you were just going to the toilet or not. I am going to put you on the watch list and that is that: you are kaput,” she says.

On a second recording, made in a parallel class at the same school, the policewoman goes into more detail about the dangers of being placed on the watch list of the police’s commission for the affairs of minors.

“When you are put on the watch list you can forget about your future and your plans for the future because you will not be able to get into any university. I am not talking about not being able to buy cigarettes or [inaudible] on a park bench. This is really serious. [. . .] I think your parents could also have a rough time at work. And basically, it is no fun being on the watch list, something everyone finds out later. Because we alert everyone that their employee’s child has been put on the watch list for this reason and that,” she says.

The school’s deputy headmaster then addresses the pupils.

“The main thing you have to understand is that the people who try to get you involved in this are just manipulating you. They could not care less about your civic stance. You are just numbers to them. They count you up and say that a hundred people, a thousand people came out for the rally. During the war, people like this were called ‘cannon fodder,'” he says.

“Remember that every so-called stroll in quotation marks—because, unfortunately, all children say they were strolling there—can bounce back on you in the sense that your entire educational trajectory and all your plans can be ruined very bitterly. We just worked together to try and save a pupil in the eleventh form after this situation because he was planning to go to a higher education institution connected with the law enforcement authorities. A lawyer was hired to defend him and he managed to get the charges dropped because the kid really had participated in so many academic competitions that it played a decisive role. But I would not wish what he went through on anyone. So don’t do it. Be smart and realize that the money they [inaudible] will later turn into tears of blood shed by your parents in the form of heavy fines,” he says.

According to our anonymous source, the preventive talks took place in the ninth and tenth forms at his school. He speculated they had probably taken place in other forms, too.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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The Crimea Lesson

history of crimeaSchoolchildren animatedly perusing a textbook entitled The History of Crimea, 5–6, Part 1. Photo courtesy of Viktor Korotayev and Kommersant

Schoolchildren Encouraged to Discuss Crimea
Ministry of Enlightenment Recommends Thematic Lessons on the Peninsula’s Accession 
Ksenia Mironova
Kommersant
March 19, 2019

The Russian Federal Ministry of Enlightenment has drafted a set of recommendations for thematic lessons dealing with “Crimea’s reunification with Russia” in schools. The ministry stressed  its recommendations are just that: recommendations. In particular, they suggest choosing the lesson’s format depending on the age of children. Depending on their ages, the ministry suggest the children play games and have contests or holding conferences, seminars, and debates involving parents and civil society stakeholders. Experts, on the contrary, argue schools should not risk debating the subject.

On Sunday, the ministry’s press service reported Crimea’s accession [sic] to Russia  had been included in the calendar of educational events occasioned by state and national holidays. In this connection, the ministry drafted recommendations for holding “thematic lessons, round tables, class assemblies, concerts, events, and contests” in connection with March 18, “the day Crimea was reunified with Russia.”

According to the ministry, its methodological suggestions are only recommendations meant to “help teachers select the right information and hold thematic lessons, special events, meetings, and other interventions.” By way of enlightening schoolchildren about the issues surrounding “Crimea’s reunification with Russia,” the ministry has recommended hold different events depending on the ages of children. It has suggested telling them about Crimea via games, contests, drawing competitions, conferences, seminars, and debates. In addition, the ministry has suggested involving parents and civil society stakeholders. The ministry’s press service said the recommendations were based on the practical know-how of teachers, but it refused to answer our questions about what exactly the ministry had recommended telling schoolchildren about “Crimea’s reunification with Russia.”

According to Olga Miryasova, secretary of the trade union Teacher, she was especially intrigued by the ministry’s recommendation to hold “debates among high school students.”

“It’s not worth risking debates on the subject. High school students read the internet and know how to argue. God forbid some of them accidentally voiced the ‘wrong’ viewpoint. The homeroom teacher would be left to pick up the pieces. Either the event, as recommended by the ministry, would be a failure or teachers and students would be forced to try and prove the legality of the ‘reunification,’ and there is no guarantee they would be able to do that. And so, again, some children would be threatened with expulsion or bad marks. That is what debates would boil down to,” argued Miryasova.

Lawmakers do not agree with her. According to Boris Chernyshov, an LDPR MP and deputy chair of the Duma’s education and science committee, such recommendations were signs of “proper management.”

“The Minister of Enlightenment was simply obliged to draft these recommendations. Crimea is a vital historical milestone. We only need the psychologists to tell us what age groups can be told what,” Mr. Chernyshov told us.

As we have written earlier, the fifth anniversary of the peninsula’s accession to the Russian Federation has been celebrated on a large scale only in Crimea, Sevastopol, and Moscow, where concerts, exhibitions, and thematic festivals were scheduled.

On March 15, a special citywide lesson dealing with Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation was taught in all of Simferopol’s schools.

Commenting earlier on the Crimean Spring Festival, political scientist Konstantin Kalachev told us the celebration had been depoliticized as much as possible. It had been turned into a mainly cultural event.

“Crimea’s mobilizing effect has petered out,” he said. “The explanation is simple. Some people are a bit tired of the subject of Crimea, and some even find it irritating.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

[sic]

sledkom-stampsA set of four 27-ruble stamps, celebrating the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, purchased at the Petersburg Central Post Office for 108 rubles on November 12, 2017.

After Dark, They Gonna Blow Up [sic]
Police Looking for Gang of Teenage Anarchists in Moscow
Yuri Syun
Kommersant
November 10, 2018

Kommersant has learned that FSB and police in Moscow are looking for a dozen young anarchists who could be involved in planning terrorist attacks and illegal trafficking of explosives. The chekists [sic] were made aware of the alleged underground organization as part of the investigation of the suicide bombing carried out by a second-year vocational school student [sic] at the FSB’s regional office in Arkhangelsk.

While checking the contacts of the vocational school student [sic], whose suicide bombing injured three FSB officers, investigators became aware of 14-year-old Kirill K., a student in the eighth form at School No. 1571 in Moscow. According to the chekists [sic], Kirill K. and the suicide bomber communicated by mobile phone over a long period and corresponded via Telegram, including the day the terrorist attack occurred in Arkhangelsk. Obviously [sic], it was his older comrade who had told Kirill one could manufacture explosives from ordinary household chemicals, including fertilizers, easily obtainable in hardware stores. During a search of the flat of the schoolboy’s parents, on Freedom Street, police discovered [sic] an improvised explosive device (IED) manufactured from ammonium nitrate, smokeless gunpowder, and bomb parts [sic]. According to investigators, the schoolboy could have assembled the IED for an attack during celebrations [sic] of National Unity and Harmony Day [sic].

The schoolboy was detained on November 2. Yesterday, the violent crimes and public safety case squad in the Russian Investigative Committee‘s Moscow office charged him with crimes under Articles 222.1 Part 3 and 223.1 Part of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (illegal purchase and possession of explosives or explosive devices, and illegal manufacture of explosives).

According to investigators, the suspect committed both crimes as part of an organized group. The group could have included the Arkhangelsk suicide bomber, as well as other, unidentifed persons. There could have been as many as ten people in this group, sources in law enforcement say. However, they have so far been unable to identify the vocational school student and schoolboy’s alleged accomplices. This may partly be due to the fact that Kirill, citing Article 51 of the Constitution, refused to testify and admit he manufactured explosives.

However, his lawyer, Sergei Ashanin, claims law enforcers did not find any explosive devices or parts of explosive devices at the flat of Kirill’s parents.

“Except for ten grams of saltpeter and gunpowder that fit in a glass yogurt jar, there was nothing else,” added the lawyer, refusing to comment on the case.

Ashanin plans to appeals the decision of the Presnya District Court, which remanded the schoolboy in custody. We should note the court’s decision was challenged not only by the suspect, his lawyer, and his legal guardian but also by the prosecutor. Consequently, the defense plans to insist in Moscow City Court that the schoolboy be placed under house arrest instead.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Kids Are (Not) Alright, Part 3: Are You Ready to Defend the Motherland?

30707960_10156005294207203_9089823561300341523_nThe third page of a questionnaire focusing on “patriotism” and “extremism,” allegedly administered to schoolchildren in Petersburg’s Moscow District. Photo courtesy of Daniel Alexandrov, Jr.

Daniel Alexandrov, Jr.
Facebook
April 20, 2018

The most monstrous thing currently in the works is the forthcoming ban on imported drugs. Much has been written about it, emotions have flared, and I have nothing to add. I would imagine we have seen nothing like it in recent Russian history. People are cynicallly willing to sacrifice tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of lives, by sending medical care forty or fifty years back in time, in order to increase the profits of several Russian companies.

But what kicked off the other day in Petersburg’s schools is no less vicious, although it is not such an obvious case of cannibalism. As Marina Tkachova, on whose page I saw the link, wrote correctly, a witch hunt has been launched.

In violation of Article 29 of the Russian Consitution,* which directly prohibits forcing people to voice their political views, the Moscow District Administration, assisted by the Center for Psychological, Pedagogical, Medical, and Social Aid, made schoolchildren fill out a questionnaire.

The questionnaire asked the schoolchildren, for example, to voice the extent to which they agreed with the following statements.

  • Russia’s interests are greater than my own.
  • I am ready to defend the Motherland and the people [narod = das Volk].
  • I feel proud of Russia’s current political influence.
  • I am proud of Russia’s culture and traditions.
  • I live in Russia and I do not plan to emigrate to another country.

31068869_10156005294157203_338838680958886823_nPart 12 of the questionnaire reads, “I don’t consider a person a patriot if . . . ” 1) He experiences no feelings for his country; 2) Believes the interests of ordinary people are more significant than the state’s interests; 3) The historic past of his people makes him ashamed; 4) The policies of our state towards its own citizens abolish patriot sentiments; 5) he want to leave Russia; 6) Other (specify).” Students could chose more than one answer. Photo courtesy of Daniel Alexandrov, Jr.

In addition, the pupils were asked to determine what social phenomena and psychological traits (!) generate nationalist or extremists moods among young people. The people who compiled the questionnaire openly provoked teenagers into violating Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code [which forbids “inciting the hatred and enmity” against other people based on ethnicity, religion, etc.] by asking them, “Are their religions or ethnic groups you dislike?” and “When faced with people different from you in appearance, ethniicity or religion, you usually . . .” One of the possible answers was, “I act aggressively.”

30742559_10156005294177203_1430095687740250696_nThe fourth and final page of the questionnaire focuses on the attitude of students toward different ethnic, religious, and social groups, thus encouraging them to violate Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, as Mr. Alexandrov points out. Photo courtesy of Daniel Alexandrov, Jr.

The Education Committee at Petersburg City Hall explained to Fontanka.ru that the questionnaire was part of a “comprehensive plan for preventing juvenile delinquency among minors during the 2017–2018 academic year.” It is a program for monitoring and identifying potential “extremists” among schoolchildren.

I have the sense these people either do not realize what they are saying or they do realize it, which is even worse.

Even the Soviet Union was bereft of such idiocy and meanness, as when minors were asked to fill out questionnaires with questions like, “How much do you love the Motherland on a scale from one to five?” or “Whom do you love more, the Motherland or Mom?”

I have learned the schools on Vasilyevsky Island have not administered the questionnaire—yet—but since the Education Committee has adopted the plan, it means the questionnaire will be administered, if not now, then in September.

This cannot be ignored. We cannot stay silent about this. Interrogating schoolchildren about their love of the Motherland and their willingness to sacrifice themselves, and suggesting they should rat on themselves are real manifestations of fascism, and there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Friends, city council members, human rights activists, public figures, and local journalists: do something about it.

Article 29 of the Russian Constitution:

1. Everyone shall be guaranteed freedom of ideas and speech.

2. Propaganda or agitation instigating social, racial, national or religious hatred and strife shall not be allowed. Propaganda of social, racial, national, religious or linguistic supremacy shall be banned.

3. No one may be forced to express his views and convictions or eject them.

4. Everyone shall have the right to freely look for, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information by any legal means. The list of data comprising state secrets shall be determined by federal law.

5. The freedom of mass communication shall be guaranteed. Censorship shall be banned.

Thanks to Valery Dymshits for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. I slightly edited the excerpted quotation from the Russian Constitution to make it more readable.

Free and Fair, or, The All-Russian University of Justice

Tests on Protest Rallies and Compulsory Voting in Workplaces: What Is Happening in Petersburg’s Public Sector Institutions as the Election Nears
Vladislav Chirin and Sofia Volyanova
Bumaga
March 7, 2018

In early March, a test about the law on protest rallies was distributed to lecturers in Petersburg’s tertiary educational institutions. Pupils at Petersburg schools have been forced to take the same test, while employees of schools and hospitals report they have been forced to apply for absentee ballots and vote at different polling stations under threat of punishment.

Bumaga has been monitoring the goings-on in Petersburg’s public sector institutions in the run-up to the March 18 presidential ballot. In the following article, we discuss what violations have already surfaced.

Schoolchildren Required to Pass Test about Law on Protest Rallies 
Pupils at a school in the Vyborg District told Bumaga that on March 6 all groups had been excused from classes in order to take a test on protest rallies. In particular, the pupils were quizzed on whether participants of public events had the right to bear arms and under what circumstances demonstrations could be held on Palace Square and Nevsky Prospect.

test“Tests like this have been handed out in Petersburg schools. This is only the second page of the test, featuring questions about the Field of Mars, invitations to protest rallies via the internet from persons unknown, etc.” Post courtesy of Telegram channel Somebody Else

According to senior pupils at the school, teachers removed them from their second period classes and made them stay during the break to familiarize them with the test. In the event, the teachers explained to the pupils what the right answers were.

When the pupils asked whether the test was connected with protest rallies organized by opposition politican Alexei Navalny, the teahers replied the test was being administered since a pupil at the school had been detained at one such rally and fined.

Central District School Headmaster and Vocational School Employee Talk about Compulsory Test
Svetlana Lebedeva, headmaster of Gymnasium No. 168 in Petersburg, also talked about the test. According to her, the prosecutor’s office had sent them the test, demanding it be administered to upperclassmen.

“It was by order of the district prosecutor’s office. The order was sent to Nelly Simakova, head of the Central District education department. They sent it to us. All the schools did it. The test was on Saturday, and today the pupils who were absent on Saturday took the test,” Ms. Lebedeva told MR7.ru.

On March 6, the same test was administered to students at all the city’s vocational schools, an employee at one of them told Bumaga.

MR7.ru also published a screenshot of the letter sent to educational institutions.  The letter makes it clear the testing had been administered at the behest of the city’s education committee after an urgent request from the Petersburg prosecutor’s office.

A pupil at Lyceum No. 126 has also told Bumaga that, during an event for war veterans on March 6, one of the guests took to the stage and urged attendees to vote for Vladimir Putin.

The prosecutor’s office and the education committee did not return our telephone calls.

Council of Rectors Sent Test on Protest Rallies to Lecturers at Tertiary Educational Institutions
Lecturers at Petersburg’s tertiary educational institutions allegedly received the same test about the law on protest rallies, only electronically.

Echo of Moscow reporter and Higher School of Economics graduate student Valery Nechay published a letter allegedly sent to Petersburg’s tertiary educational institutions. The letter asks university employees to take the test online “at the request of the Council of Rectors.”

letter“Dear colleagues! At the request of the Council of Rectors, staff at all educational organizations in St. Petersburg, including the Higher School of Economics, are being tested in order to determine the level of their knowledge of the laws on rules for holding and attending large-scale public events and the penalties for violating them. We strongly encourage to take ten minutes from your busy schedules and answer the questions before March 12, 2018. The correct answers will be provided immediately after you complete the test. To take the test, follow this link.” Post courtesy of Telegram channel Unexpected Joy.

The test, a link to which Nechay has published, features questions about the rights of people attending protest rallies and punishment for extremism. Some of the questions describe particular circumstances, for example, “You have been invited on the internet to attend a protest rally on the Field of Mars. The rally in question has not been authorized by the relevant executive authorities for the exact time or day listed. You are curious, however, and so you go to the rally. Have you violated the law?”

Students at Petersburg University Say They Have Been Forced to Monitor Elections 
First-year students at the Petersburg campus of the All-Russian State University of Justice have been assigned “compulsory on-the-job training” on March 18: they must attend the presidental election as grassroots monitors. They told the organization Petersburg Observers about their plight.

The correspondence published by Petersburg Observers makes it clear that if the students fail to report for duty they have been threatened with administrative punishments and bad marks in their permanent record. But if they show up for duty, they allegedly will have a day off on Monday, March 19, and be sent official thank-you letters.

observerss“Where do the fake election observers come from? On March 4, 2012 [the date of the previous presidential election] grassroots oversight was usually portrayed by pensioners and state employees. Over the past six years, however, the fake election observers movement has mastered the streams of financing, gone large scale, and become much younger. For example, first-year students at the Petersburg campus of the All-Russian University of Justice received this message from their class leader: ‘March 18 is a school day, compulsory on-the-job training, meaning that everyone will be a grassroots election observer at the polls. Sponsored by the Association of Lawyers, our university is officially taking part in the Observers Corps for Clean Elections event, so if you do not show up you face administrative penalties and a bad mark in your permanent record.’ In addition to free food and transportation on voting day, letters of gratitude and a day off from classes on March 19 have been promised to the students. Basically, this is how correct public opinion is forged: in return for a day off, free grub, and a certificate of [political] trustworthiness.” Screenshot of a post on the VK community page of Petersburg Observers for Fair Elections 

A student at the Petersburg campus of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) has told Bumaga that out-of-town students at the academy are going to be forced to vote in the presidential election. However, he was unaware of whether the students would be encouraged for turning out or punished for failing to vote.

ranepa“Very Important Information! In the next 30 minutes ALL out-of-two students need to shoot back the following information: what resources you will use to vote in the March 18 Russian presidential election; where you will vote (at what polling station); how you will register to vote. Send it to https://vk.com/%5Bdeleted]. […] Basically, we have been asked by [illegible] to register as many people living in each section as possible to vote. Meaning that each manager is responsible for his section and, subsequently, for sending everyone off to vote. The section in which the most people vote will get the Prize Sector [a reference to the “prize” section on the spinning wheel in the Russian version of Wheel of Fortune]. Ideally, you could assemble your entire section and all go together to the district voting commission. This is a mandatory request that concerns everyone. I think it is in our interest to give our vote . . .” Screenshoots of correspondence among RANEPA students. Courtesy of Bumaga

Schoolteachers and State Employees in Petersburg Say They Are Being Forced to Apply for Absentee Ballots and Vote Somewhere Other than Their Own Polling Stations
A teacher at a school in the Central District has told Bumaga that the school’s headmaster has obliged the entire teaching staff to report to the polling station in School No. 183 [an English-language magnet school on Kirochnaya Street in downtown Petersburg] on voting day. According to her, the teachers in all Central District schools have been given the same orders.

According to the teacher, if staff fail to vote as instructed, they will be given extra work during the spring holidays, from March 26 to April 1. When the voting is over, the headmasters of the Central District’s schools will receive lists of teachers who reported to the polling station in School No. 183, the teacher said. Her headmaster added, however, the orders were “not his whim,” but that all school headmeasters had received the same orders from the “top brass.”

Instances in which the heads of state-sector institutions have tried to force staff and students to apply for absentee ballots and vote at other polling stations have been reported by Petersburgers claiming to be employed at the Center for the Social Rehabilitation of Disabled People and Disabled Children in the Krasnoye Selo District, the Center for Social Assistance to Families and Children in the Central District, the Alexander Hospital, Children’s Health Clinic No. 68, Children’s Health Clinic No. 71, the Leningrad Regional School for Culture and Art, School No. 684 [a kindergarten and grammar school in the Kirov District in the city’s south], and the Municipal Monitoring Center.

Violations Reported by Members of Several Petersburg Election Commissions 
Member of Precinct Election Commission No. 1164, located in City Hospital No. 15, have reported that Irina Nikolich, the polling station’s deputy chair, had drawn up absentee ballot declarations, based on photocopies of four voters’ internal passports, although the voters themselves were not present at the polling station, and Nikolich came to the polling station when it was not her shift.

The polling station was visited by police officers, who interviewed witnesses and submitted the evidence to the Investigative Committee.

Members of Territorial Election Commissions No. 1 and No. 14 have reported to Bumaga that in their electoral districts, precinct commissions had in several instances approved four ballot boxes for at-home voting, although only three ballot boxes are legally required. The extra ballot boxes could lead to vote rigging and ballot box stuffing.

UPDATE
On the evening of March 7, Territorial Election Commission No. 1 reduced the number of mobile ballot boxes in its district to three.

Students at St. Petersburg State University of Film and Television Complain They Have Been Forced to Vote (Updated March 10, 2018) 
A student at the University of Film and Television told Bumaga he and his classmates in the Screen Arts Department had received a message from the student leader of second-year students.

The message made it clear that the master of the filmmaking course had informed the student leader that students who did not vote would be threatened with explusion, said the source. The dean’s office had allegedly issued the orders, and all students were required to register to vote at the same polling station.

Another student at the university told Bumaga she and her classmates had received messages containing a list of five polling stations at which they had to register to vote. Information about whether a student had registered to vote or not would allegedly be reported to their department. The students were promised they would be given postcards at the polling stations that could be used to get into a private screening of the film Dovlatov, the young woman told us.

Translated by the Russian Reader

You’ve Lost Control Again

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Black Lists and Total Monitoring: Agora’s New Report on the Surveillance of Russians
A person’s life is utterly transparent to the secret services
Damir Gainutdinov
Republic
August 22, 2017

The Agora International Human Rights Group has released a report entitled “Russia under Surveillance 2017: How the Authorities Are Setting Up a Total System for Monitoring Citizens.” Damir Gainutdinov, the report’s co-author, discusses its key points. The Russian state has been harvesting an unprecedented amount of information about its citizens and wants to collect other kinds of information. It maintains a system of black lists that categorize different types of citizens and has been engaged in a relentless assault on internet anonymity. (You can read the full report in Russian.)

In recent years, Russia has been assembling a complex system for monitoring grassroots activists, reporters, and members of the opposition, a system that encompasses at least several thousand people. Under the pretext of public safety, and fighting extremism and terrorism, the security forces have been monitoring people’s movements around the country and when they cross national borders, wiretapping their phone conversations, intercepting their SMS and email messages, staking them out and surveilling them with audio and video equipment, and analyzing and systematizing biometric information. They have made vigorous use of illegal methods, for example, hacking internet accounts.

The key problem is the absolute lack of control over the state’s invasion of our private lives. The courts rubber stamp decisions taken by the security services. There is almost no chance of successfully challenging the decisions in court. Hence, over the past ten years, the courts have on average approved 98.35% of motions by the state to limit a person’s privacy of correspondence. The upshot is that any law-abiding resident of Russia is now constantly exposed to the risk of arbitrary access to her private life through the internet, mobile telephones, video surveillance, random contacts with the police, when using money, pubic transportation, and driving her car, and applying for a job at a number of workplaces, as well as traveling abroad, carrying weapons, and exercising her other rights.

Privacy and the presumption of innocence are meaningless, and the intensity of the interference has been constantly increasing. The number of requests to eavesdrop on telephone conversations and intercept correspondence have alone more than tripled since 2007.  A person is faced with a choice: either accept total surveillance as a given or look for ways of guarding her privacy. The state, however, regards the latter as illegal, the attempt to hide something criminal.

Complusory Biometrics
The Russian authorities have been vigorously engaged in gathering biometric information: fingerprints, DNA samples, and photographs. By law, this can be done without the individual’s consent if it is a matter of national security, for example. Aside from voluntary fingerprinting (anyone can go to a police and submit his fingerprints), the procedure is obligatory for a large number of people ranging from security services officers to people applying to work as private detectives, from suspects in criminal cases to people who have only committed administrative offenses if there is no other way to identify them, from large numbers of foreigners to stateless persons. Since 2015, anyone over the age of twelve who applies for a biometric foreign travel passport must also submit prints of two fingers. Meaning that, currently, we are talking about at least 25 million people. [Russia’s current population is approximately 143 million.]

Despite the clear list of grounds for compulsory biometric registration, there are regular reports of patently illegal attempts to fingerprint, photograph, and do saliva swipes for DNA tests. Participants of public events such as protest rallies, political activists, and reporters have been the victims of these attempts.

For example, on March 23, 2017, in Moscow, police detained supporters of Alexei Navalny who were handing out stickers in support of his campaign to be allowed to run in the 2018 presidential elections. The detainees were all taken to the Arbat Police Precinct for “preventive” discussions, during which the information in their internal passports was copied and they were fingerprinted. In another incident, which took place on April 6, 2017, at a market in Simferopol, around fifty people of “non-Slavic appearance” were detained, allegedly, because they were mixed up with Crimean Tatar activists in Crimea. Lawyer Edem Semedlyaev said all the detainees were forcibly fingerprinted, photographed, and swabbed for DNA samples.

Video Surveillance
As of 2015, the so-called Secure City complex has begun to be installed in all regions. Secure City is an extensive system of video surveillance and facial recognition. In Moscow alone, 184.6 billion rubles [approx. 2.6 billion euros] have been allocated on implementating the program until 2019. As of 2016, 86.3% of residential neighborhoods in Moscow were covered by CCTV systems. 128,590 cameras had been installed, 98,000 of them in stairwells. The Secure City video archive is stored for five days, and direct access to the recordings is enjoyed not only by the Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] but also by other state agencies.

Under the pretext of getting ready for international sports events, the authorities have improved their surveillance capacities. Sports complexes are equipped with CCTV systems featuring facial recognition functions, even in towns not hosting sporting events. Moscow’s railway stations have been expanding the areas covered by cameras that identify faces and record car license numbers. The Russian government has issued a decree ordering local authorities to draw up lists of places where more than fifty people can gather. They all must be equipped with CCTV systems. The recordings will be stored for thirty days.

Special systems for identifying people have been used at authorized public events [i.e., permitted protest rallies]. For example, officials have admitted they could have identified absolutely everyone who passed through the inspection line on June 12 on Sakharov Avenue.

Tracking Movements
When you buy a ticket, stay at a hotel or use public-access Wi-Fi in Russia, you are informing the regime about your whereabouts.

When you have anything to with with almost any form of long-distance public transportation, the authorities will at very least learn your name, date of birth, type and number of identity card, sex, nationality, departure and destination points, route, and other information using a round-the-clock interactive system.

The practice of scanning passports is widespread in hotels, since management is obliged to inform the Interior Ministry about the registration of guests within twenty-four hours.

The information obtained is sufficient to determine the whereabouts of a person of interest at any moment. The information is used, among other things, to track the movements of activists and human rights workers, and exert pressure on them. This was how Agora lawyer Alexander Popkov was followed when he arrived in one of the regional centers of Krasnodar Territory to take part in the trial of a police officer accused of rape and murder. Arrivign at the train station, Popkov was swiftly met by police investigators, who immediately informed him he was listed in a Russian Interior Ministry database, and so they wanted to know his purpose for visiting the city. The policemen knew his route and means of transportation, his place of residence, and the particulars of his documents.

Eight Years of Administrative Supervision
In May 2017, the use of administrative supervision for persons released from imprisonment increased. A court has ordered that an acknowledged political prisoner, Tatar activist Rafis Kashapov, will be placed under administrative supervision for eight years after being released from prison. In 2015, Kashapov was sentenced to three years in a prison colony for publishing texts critical of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Now, after he is released, Kashapov must register with the police within three days, inform them of all his travel plans and changes of places of residence and work, and report to a police station to give testimony when required by the police. Police officers can conduct individual preventive work with him, ask his employer about his behavior, freely enter his house, and forbid him from making short trips even, for example, when a relative dies.

In addition to administration supervision, which is on the record, there is also clandestine surveillance. Formally, putting someone on preventive registration is part of the beat cop’s routine work. In practice, it has turned into a means for surveilling “suspicious” people, which includes not only ex-cons and registered drug addicts but also people who have committed crimes against public safety at mass events [i.e., committed minor or wholly fictitious infractions at protest rallies], as well as members of “informal youth organizations.”

Lists of the Disloyal
Aside from putting people on preventive registration, the Russian authorities maintain a number of different lists and databases, chockablock with “unreliable” people and organizations. If you end up on one of these lists, you are guaranteed increased attention from law enforcement, including constant checks, detentions, and inspections. Here are only a few of these lists.

Rosfinmonitoring (Federal Financial Monitoring Service) publishes a list of organizations and peoples involved, allegedly, in extremism or terrorism. The list includes the names, dates and places of the birth of the people, and the relevant information about the organizations. A court order banning an organization or sentencing someone for a crime is not required for inclusion on the list. The list features not only people convicted of terrorism but also people suspected of terrorism. It suffices that a prosecutor or the Justice Ministry has suspended an organization’s work or brought charges or declared someone a suspect in the commission of one or more of twenty-two crimes listed in the Criminal Code, including the most “popular” anti-“extremist” crimes. Currently, the list includes 7,558 Russian citizens, 411 foreign nationals, and 182 organizations.

Inclusion in the list means the state has total control of your financial transactions and disposal of your property. All transactions to which a person on Rosfinmonitoring’s list is a party are subject to mandatory control by banks. If they fail to exercise this control, they will be punished by the Russian Central Bank. By default, all transactions are frozen, but you can spend 10,000 rubles per month per family member [approx. 143 euros]  from the wages you earn, and you can also spend the welfare payments you receive. It often happens that people placed on the list discover it after the fact, when they call the bank to find out why a transaction has not been completed.

Of course, there is also the list of NGOs declared “foreign agents,” which the Justice Ministry requires to submit additional reporting on property, expenditures, and management. The Justice Ministry also keeps lists of “undesirable” and “extremist” organizations (currently, there are 11 and 61 of these organizations, respectively). When they are accorded this status, the authorities are obliged to identify their rank-and-file members. When it is a matter of large organizations, thousands and, sometimes, hundreds of thousands of people find themselves targets of surveillance. Thus, in the wake of the banning and forced closure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia in 2017, up to 150,000 of its followers in Russia face the prospect of criminal investigations and criminal prosecutions.

Groups that used to be on the periphery of public life, for example, football fans, have also faced increased attention from the authorities. After a law was amended in 2016, the Interior Ministry began publishing lists of people banned from attending sporting events. The listed included 319 names at the the end of July.

Schoolchildren are yet another group that has faced increased police surveillance. Thus, in the Education Ministry’s recommendations on criminal subcultures [sic], schoolteachers are practically delegated the role of police investigators vis-à-vis minors. They are obliged to divulge information to the police about the private lives of their pupils and their families. This means that the children are entered into the record and put in various police databases.

The Attack on Anonymity
In 2016, the authorities launched a vigorous campaign against anonymity on the internet. The so-called Yarovaya anti-terrorist package of amendments to existing laws could have supplied the secret services with unsupervised access to all communication among users if it were not for the resistance of some providers and standard end-to-end encryption. The Yarovaya package continued the policy of nationalizing and deanonymizing the Runet, which could provide full control over the information flows inside Russia.

The next steps were the laws on messengers and anonymizers, signed by the president on July 30, 2017. The first law, in particular, stipulates the obligatory identification of users by mobile telephone numbers. The second law is essentially an attempt to establish total control over anonymizers and VPNs.

In August 2017, the Communications Ministry published draft requirements for internet providers, as listed in the register of information distribution companies. The draft includes a list of information that must be accessible to the FSB (Federal Security Service): the date and time the user was registered, and the latest update of the registration form; nickname, date of birth, address, full name, passport particulars, other identity documents, languages spoken, information about relatives, and accounts with other providers; the receipt, sending, and processing of messages, images, and sounds; recipients of messenges; financial transactions, including payees, amounts paid, currency, goods and services paid for; and client programs and geolocation information, among other things. Providers are required to store and transmit to the security services not only sent and received messages, but draft messages as well.

And yet public opinion polls show the majority of Russians are not terribbly worried about maintaining privacy for the time being. [Russian opinion polls are worthless as measures of real opinion—TRR.] For activists, reporters, and members of the opposition, however, the refusal of internet companies to cooperate with the authorities and the capacity to withstand hacking are the only guarantees of their security.

Without access to encrypted correspondence, the Russian state, apparently has had to resort to the services of hackers. Thus, on October 11, 2016, Google and Yandex warned several dozen activists, reporters, and NGO employees about an attempt by “pro-government hackers” to hack their accounts.

The Burden of Information
Despite establishing legal grounds for harvesting information about nearly everyone in Russia, there is a huge amount of evidence the regime is technologically and financially incapable of gathering, storing, and qualitatively processing it.

The most obvious example of this is, perhaps, the Yarovaya package itself. During an economic crisis, the authorities are clearly not willing to incur the huge expenses required to implement the entire range of e-surveillance of the populace, which, according to various estimates, could cost from 130 billion rubles [approx. 1.86 billion euros] to 10 trillion rubles [approx. 143 billion euros]. Consequently, the duties of collecting and saving traffic have been sloughed off onto the telecoms and internet providers, who are likewise not at all happy about such a “gift” and have already begun to raise their rates. Meaning that the surveilled themselves have been asked to pay for the ability of the secret services to read their correspondence and view their personal photographs, to pay a kind of “shadowing” tax. Meanwhile, since more than half the world’s internet traffic is already transmitted in encrypted form, the regime, even though it has access to exabytes of user correspondence, has been forced to demand that providers supply them with encryption keys.

Aware of its limited resources, the Russian state has focused on more diligent work with specific groups. Hence, the enthusiasm over different types of black lists, as well as the delegation of surveillance duties to telecoms, internet providers, banks, and transportation companies. On the one hand, they have access to the information; on the other hand, they depend on the state, make their money from government contracts or receive their licenses and permits from the state.

The authorities are willing to chuck the black lists, which have proved ineffective, just as they gave up on the bloggers register. This would enable them to focus resources on various risk groups. When necessary, they could include people of special interest in the groups while surveilling the populace as a whole.

Consequently, the security departments of many commercial organizations have been ratting on their clients to the security forces, headmasters have been forced to gather dirt on schoolchildren, and internet providers to monitor the traffic of users. Even as it stores this growing mountain of information on Russians, the authorities care little for their safety. Increasingly, user data has become publicly accessible, often deliberately.

Damir Gainutdinov is a legal analyst at Agora. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Back to School Daze: Non-Russian Surnames Spark Racist Social Media Panic

List of “Non-Russian” First Formers in Suburban Moscow Provokes Nationalist Brouhaha
Commentators Divided on Issue of Assimilating Migrant Workers
Moskovsky Komsomolets
September 1, 2016

Publication of a list of pupils in a first form class at Kotelniki Comprehensive School No. 3, in suburban Moscow, most of whom have “non-Russian” names and surnames, has set off a row on the web.

Screenshot of facebook.com/adagamov
The photo of the list, as reproduced on facebook.com/adagamov.

The photograph quickly spread among top bloggers and various socio-political discussion groups, garnering a slew of nationalistic comments.

The children’s names, such as Habiba, Medina, Malak, Idris, Yufusjon, Muhammadyor, and Beghod (there are a total of twenty-eight children in the class) goaded users into making nationalist statements.

However, [the Twitter account] Decadent West, for example, which ironically passes off Russian realities as foreign, commented on the photograph as follows: “A school in the German city of Cologne. Thank you, Angela Merkel, for your excellent refugee policy. Cologne, Germany.”

Screenshot of "Decadent West" (Zagnivaiushchii Zapad) Twitter account entry
Screenshot of Twitter account entry on the topic by Zagnivayushchii Zapad (Decadent West)

Nor all user, however, supported the nationalist rhetoric. Thus, Mitya Aleshkovskiy, director of the website Takie Dela, wrote that “people who are outraged children of migrant workers go to school are animals and a real shame to our country and society.”

He reminded his readers that schooling the children of migrant workers was the best means of assimilating them and claimed that Russia was a country where fascism had emerged victorious.

This prompted users to deluge Aleshkovskiy with nationalist comments.

Commenting on the photograph as posted on blogger Rustem Adagamov’s Facebook page, other users noted that Adagamov himself did not sport a “Russian” surname.

In 2013, residents of Kotelniki wrote and distributed a letter, complaining to the president, prosecutor general, and governor of Moscow Region that their town had “turned into a ghetto of illegal migrant workers from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and other CIS countries, as well as Vietnam and China,” due to the fact it was close to the Sadovod Market.

Translated by the Russian Reader