“Goszakaz”: Crimean Tatar Activists Sentenced to Monstrous Prison Terms by Russian Occupation Regime


Reading of the sentence on 16.09.2020. The men are each wearing one letter each of the word ГОСЗАКАЗ (“commissioned by the state”). Photo by Crimean Solidarity. Courtesy of khpg.org

Acquittal and monstrous sentences in Russia’s offensive against Crimean Tatar civic journalists & activists
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Halya Coynash
September 17, 2020

In the last decades of the Soviet regime, dissidents received 7-10-year sentences for so-called ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’. Modern Russia, persecuting Ukrainian citizens on illegally occupied territory for their religious beliefs and political views, is doubling such sentences. Seven Crimean Tatar civic journalists and activists have received sentences of up to 19 years, without any crime. Justice had not been expected from a Russian court, however absurd the charges and flawed the ‘trial’, so the only – wonderful – surprise was the acquittal of Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and photographer Ernes Ametov. If Russia was hoping, in this way, to prove that these are real ‘trials’ before independent courts, there is no chance. All eight men have long been recognized as political prisoners, and all should have been acquitted.

The sentences passed on 16 September by judges Rizvan Zubairov (presiding); Roman Saprunov; and Maxim Nikitin from the Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia) were all lower than those demanded by the prosecutor Yevgeny Kolpikov, but still shocking.

Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Marlen (Suleyman) Asanov: 19 years

Crimean Solidarity activist Memet Belyalov: 18 years and 18 months restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Timur Ibragimov: 17 years and 18 months restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity Coordinator and journalist Server Mustafayev: 14 years and 1 year restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Seiran Saliyev: 16 years and 1 year restriction of liberty

Edem Smailov (the leader of a religious community): 13 years and 1 year restriction of liberty

Crimean Solidarity volunteer Server Zekiryaev: 13 years

In Soviet times, dissidents received a term of imprisonment, then one of exile. Now they add ‘restriction of liberty’ (ban on going outside Crimea and attending events, as well as having to register with the police). In all of the above cases, the sentences are for maximum security prison colonies, although not one of the men was even accused of an actual crime. They are also sentences that Russia, as occupying state, is prohibited by international law from imposing.

The armed searches and arrests of the men in October 2017 and May 2018 were the first major offensive against Crimean Solidarity. This important civic organization arose in April 2016 in response to the mounting persecution of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians in occupied Crimea. The initiative not only helped political prisoners and their families, but also ensured that information was streamed onto the Internet and in other ways circulated about armed searches, arrests, disappearances and other forms of repression. Given Russia’s crushing of independent media in occupied Crimea, the work that Crimean Solidarity activists and journalists do is absolutely invaluable. It has, however, subjected them to constant harassment, including administrative prosecutions, and, when that has not stopped them, to trumped-up criminal charges.

The charges
The men were essentially accused only of ‘involvement’ in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a peaceful Muslim organization which is legal in Ukraine. In declaring all Ukrainian Muslims arrested on such charges to be political prisoners, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has repeatedly pointed out that Russia is in breach of international law by applying its own legislation on occupied territory. It has, however, also noted that Russia is the only country in the world to have called Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist’ and the Russian Supreme Court did so in 2003 at a hearing which was deliberately kept secret until it was too late to lodge an appeal.

In occupied Crimea, the Russian FSB are increasingly using such prosecutions as a weapon against civic activists and journalists, particularly from Crimean Solidarity.

Initially, the FSB designated only Asanov as ‘organizer of a Hizb ut-Tahrir group’ under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code. The other men were all charged with ‘involvement in such an alleged ‘group’ (Article 205.5 § 2). Then suddenly in February 2019 it was announced that Belyalov and Ibragimov were now also facing the ‘organizer’ charge.  The essentially meaningless distinction is reflected in the sentences passed on 16 September, with the difference in sentence between Timur Ibragimov as supposed ‘organizer’ only one year longer than that passed on fellow civic journalist, Seiran Saliyev (accused of being a member of the so-called Hizb ut-Tahrir cell).

All eight men were also charged (under Article 278) with ‘planning to violently seize power’. This new charge also appeared only in February 2019, with no attempt ever made to explain how the men were planning such a ‘violent seizure’. The charge only highlights the shocking cynicism of any such ‘terrorism’ charges when the only things ‘found’ when armed searches were carried out of the men’s homes were books (not even Hizb ut-Tahrir books), no weapons, no evidence of plans to commit violence. Russian prosecutors simply claim that this follows from Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology. Memorial HRC notes that the extra charge is often laid where political prisoners refuse to ‘cooperate with the investigators’. Since all the Crimean Muslims prosecuted in these cases have stated that they are political prisoners and have refused to ‘cooperate’, the extra charge is becoming standard.

‘Evidence’
The prosecution’s case was based on the testimony of Nikolai Artykbayev, a Ukrainian turncoat, now working for the Russian FSB; two secret witnesses whose identity and motives for testifying are known, and the ‘expert assessments’ of three people with no expert knowledge of the subject.

Russia is now using so-called ‘secret witnesses’ in all politically-motivated trials of Crimeans and other Ukrainians. No good reason is ever provided for concealing the alleged witnesses’ identity, and the bad reason can easily be seen in this case where their identity was understood.  Konstantin Tumarevich (who used the pseudonym ‘Remzi Ismailov’) is a Latvian citizen and fugitive from justice who could not risk being sent back to Latvia after his passport expired. It is likely that the FSB realized this back in May 2016 and have used his vulnerable position as blackmail, getting him to testify both in the earlier trial of four Crimean Tatars from Bakhchysarai, and now in this case.

There is a similar situation with Narzulayev Salakhutdin (whose testimony was under the name ‘Ivan Bekirov’).  He is from Uzbekistan and does not have legal documents.

These men gave testimony that in many places was demonstrably false, yet ‘Judge’ Zubairov constantly blocked attempts by the defendants and their lawyers to ask questions demonstrating that the men were telling lies.

As mentioned, the main ‘material evidence’ was in the form of three illicitly taped conversations in a Crimean mosque. These were supposedly understood to be ‘incriminating’ by Artykbayev, although the latter does not know Crimean Tatar (or Arabic) [or] who transcribed them. That transcript, of highly questionable accuracy, was then sent to three supposed ‘experts’: Yulia Fomina and Yelena Khazimulina, and Timur Zakhirovich Urazumetov. Without any professional competence to back their assessments, all of the three ‘found’ what the FSB was looking for.

While the judges also lack such professional competence, they did hear the testimony of Dr Yelena Novozhilova, an independent and experienced forensic linguist, who gave an absolutely damning assessment of the linguistic analysis produced by Fomina and Khazimulina.

This was only one of the many pieces of testimony that the court ignored. Zubairov actually refused to allow a number of defence witnesses to appear and used punitive measures against the defendants and their lawyers.

All such infringements of the men’s rights will be raised at appeal level, although this will also be before a Russian court, with the charges of justice being minimal.

PLEASE WRITE TO THE MEN!
They are likely to be imprisoned at the addresses below until the appeal hearing and letters tell them they are not forgotten, and show Moscow that the ‘trial’ now underway is being followed.

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

Sample letter

Привет,

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

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

Addresses

Marlen  Asanov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Асанову, Марлену Рифатовичу, 1977 г. р

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Asanov, Marlen Rifatovich, b. 1977]

Memet Belyalov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Белялову, Мемету Решатовичу, 1989 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Belyalov, Memet Reshatovich, b. 1989]

Timur Ibragimov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Ибрагимову, Тимуру Изетовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Ibragimov, Timur Izetovich, b. 1985]

Server Mustafayev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Мустафаеву,  Серверу Рустемовичу, 1986 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Mustafayev, Server Rustemovich,  b. 1986]

Seiran Saliyev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Салиеву,  Сейрану Алимовичу, 1985 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Saliyev, Seiran Alimovich, b. 1985]

Edem Smailov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Смаилову,  Эдему Назимовичу, 1968 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Smailov, Edem Nazimovich, b. 1968]

Server Zekiryaev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Зекирьяеву, Серверу Зекиевичу, 1973 г.р.

[In English:  344010 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1

Zekiryaev, Server Zekievich, b. 1973]

Thanks to Comrades SP and RA for the heads-up. The text has been very lightly edited for readability. || TRR

New Greatness Trial Ends in Guilty Verdict and Harsh Sentences

New Greatness Members Get from Six to Seven Years in Prison
RBC
August 6, 2020

ngNew Greatness defendants Vyacheslav Kryukov, Ruslan Kostylenkov, and Pyotr Karamzin in the cage at the Lyublino District Court in Moscow. Photo by Sergei Ilnitsky for EPA/TASS. 

The Lyublino District Court in Moscow has sentenced members of the organization [sic] New Greatness, Vyacheslav Kryukov, Pyotr Karamzin, and Ruslan Kostylenkov to six, six and a half, and seven years in prison, respectively, reports our correspondent. According to the verdict, they will serve their sentence in a medium-security penal colony.

The other defendants in the case—Dmitry Poletayev, Maxim Roshchin, Maria Dubovik, and Anna Pavlikova—received suspended [i.e., probationary] sentences of four to six and a half years. They should be released from custody in the courtroom.

The judge found all the defendants guilty of “creating an extremist community” (punishable Article 282.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). At the same time, the court acknowledged that there were mitigating circumstances: the fact that the defendants had no criminal records, the positive character statements made on their behalf, and the fact that some of them suffered from chronic illnesses.

“She is very upset. Even though it’s a suspended sentence, you can only be away from home from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. She wanted to work the night shift at the Moscow Zoo, but she won’t be able to do that. They will have full-fledged live only when all of them are free: a suspended sentence is still a sentence,” Anastasia, Anna Pavlikova’s sister, told RBC.

According to her, Pavlikova plans to appeal the verdict.

Our correspondent reports that the people gathered outside the courthouse are chanting “Shame!”

“In terms of standards of proof, the incident of provocation [by FSB agents] was the hardest to prove. It’s very hard to prove anything under the auspices of the security services. We did a great deal, we asked lots of questions. [Our] most important argument has been that such crimes are committed with a specific motive, but no motive was specified in the indictment. Therefore, there is no evidence of a crime,” Maxim Pashkov, Maria Dubovik’s lawyer, told reporters.

Translated by the Russian Reader

An “Acquittal” (of Sorts) in the Yuri Dmitriev Case

yuri dmitriev
#YuriDmitriev

Yevgenia Litvinova reports that Karelian historian and human rights activist Yuri Dmitriev was found “guilty” by the court today and sentenced to three and half years in prison. She remarks that this is tantamount to an “acquittal” because the prosecution had requested a sentence of fifteen years for Dmitriev. With time already served (in remand prison, where he has been nearly continuously since the spring of 2017), Dmitriev should be released from police custody in November.

It’s pointless to discuss the “crimes” of which Dmitriev was convicted today, because the charges were trumped-up and the trial was a sham. The real reason that Dmitriev was arrested and put through this hell was that he unearthed a massive NKVD execution/burial ground in a wooded place called Sandarmokh, a place that in the years since it was discovered has become a memorial to the victims of Stalin’s Great Terror.

A state now “led” by people who happily let themselves be called “Chekists” and are most certainly “ex” KGB officers could never forgive Dmitriev for a crime like that.

You can read all about Dmitriev, his persecution, and Sandarmokh by clicking on this link. \\ TRR

Photo courtesy of Yevgenia Litvinova

Come As You Are

jenya viktor yuliPublic defender Jenya Kulakova (left) photographs Network Case defendants Viktor Filinkov (center) and Yuli Boyarshinov. Courtesy of Jenya Kulakova

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
June 21, 2020

The verdict is tomorrow June 22 at 12:00 p.m.

This is not the end, of course—neither of the struggle nor of this hell. In a sense, it is just the beginning. I really want the guys to feel tomorrow that all of us are behind them and in front of them as they head off on this stage of their lives.

Come to court if you can. The address is Kirochnaya, 35A.

(Of course, come only if your health permits, wear personal protective equipment, try to keep a distance from each other outside and inside the courthouse, and avoid coming into contact with people at risk. Damn covid!)

#NetworkCase

Translated by the Russian Reader. Learn all about the Network Case here.

The Network Trial in Petersburg: Closing Statements by Defendants

ter2-fil-joke

Network Trial defendant Viktor Filinkov tells a joke: “A programmer, a businessman, and an industrial climber planned to overthrow the government.”

The Penza Case in Petersburg: Closing Statements
Mediazona
June 18, 2020

The trial of the “Network terrorist community,” whose alleged members have been charged with violating Article 205.4.2 of the Criminal Code, is winding down in Petersburg. The Second Western Military District Court has heard the case made by the prosecution, who asked the court to sentence Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov to nine and six years in prison, respectively. The court has also heard the cases made by the defense teams for both defendants. Today, Filinkov and Boyarshinov made their closing statements.

10:48 a.m.
At the previous hearing, on June 17, the prosecution and the defense made their closing arguments. Prosecutor Alexander Vasilenko asked the court to sentence Filinkov to nine years in a medium security penal colony, and Boyarshinov to six years.

The defense team of Boyarshinov, who pleaded guilty, asked the court to make note of their client’s “inactive” role in the events described by the prosecution and sentence him to no more than four years and five months in prison and not impose a fine on him.

ter1-boyar lawyersA scene from the courtroom in Petersburg: Yuli Boyarshinov’s lawyers are in the foreground.

In line with their defendant, Filinkov’s defense team insisted that his guilt had not been proven by investigators, and the documents that formed the basis of the indictment against him had been falsified by FSB officers. Defense lawyer Vitaly Cherkasov reminded the court of the circumstances of the arrest of Filinkov, who spoke in detail about being tortured [by FSB officers].

11:20 a.m.
The three-judge panel [troika], led by Roman Muranov, enters the courtroom.

The court allows Filinkov to make a closing argument.

“I apologize in advance to everyone involved in the trial: I will be repeating the arguments of my defense lawyers,” he says.

Filinkov intends to “go through the indictment.” He begins by saying that none of the witnesses identified him as [the alleged Network’s] “signalman.”

“I assume this is yet another fantasy on the part of [Petersburg FSB investigator Gennady] Belyaev or [Petersburg FSB field officer Konstantin] Bondarev [who arrested and tortured Filinkov]. How I am supposed to defend myself from this?” Filinkov asks.

He says that he had not seen some of the documents in the case file before. He is probably referring to the documents identified as “The Network Code” and “Congress 2017.”

“Whom did I provide with means of communication? None of the witnesses said anything about it, and only the defense questioned the witnesses about it,” Filinkov says emotionally.

11:24 a.m.
“I didn’t vet anyone, I didn’t select anyone, I didn’t recruit anyone,” says Filinkov in response to the next charge in the indictment: that he had selected people for the “terrorist community.”

Filinkov quotes the indictment: “Filinkov, Boyarshinov, Pchelintsev, and Shishkin were directly involved in joint training sessions.” Filinkov says that Shishkov was not involved in the training sessions, and Boyarshinov participated in only two events. And in any case, they studied first aid, not capturing other people or storming buildings or shooting firearms.

11:31 a.m.
“‘Clandestine Security’—page 3 of the indictment. What did this ‘elaborate system of security’ consist of? Three methods are mentioned in the seventeen volumes of the criminal case file: aliases, PGP encryption, and Jabber,” says Filinkov.

Filinkov lists the aliases and says they were not means of conspiracy.

“‘Redhead’ [Penza Network defendant Maxim Ivankin]: I saw him, and he’s a redhead—that’s very conspiratorial. ‘Twin’: as far as know, he has a twin brother,” says Filinkov.

Filinkov moves on to PGP encryption. He explains that, in practice, the two or three keys used for such emails consist of a few “very, very large” numbers that cannot be memorized, so they are stored on the computer. Filinkov also notes that the message’s subject, sender and recipient are not encrypted—only the text of the message is encrypted.

ter3-fil-email

Viktor Filinkov gives a short primer on how email works—before the head judge cuts him off.

11:35 a.m.
Judge Muranov interrupts Filinkov.

“We don’t need a lecture about encryption programs,” he says.

The defendant tries to reply.

“The prosecutor doesn’t understand how it works—”

Another judge intervenes.

“Then you get together with him and explain it,” says the judge.

Filinkov continues.

“It provides privacy, but it doesn’t provide secrecy,” he says, now in reference to the Jabber protocol for messengers.

11:41 a.m.
“It’s built on fantasies—that’s exactly how the ‘Network terrorist community’ was created,” Filinkov continues. “And it was badly built to boot. There are incorrect dates [in the case file], and [Penza FSB investigator Vyacheslav] Shepelyov [tampered] with the [text] files.”

Filinkov recalls how he, Igor Shishkin, and Ilya Kapustin were tortured, and mentions the verdict and sentence in the Penza trial.

“I don’t understand the prosecutor’s position. I expected him to drop the charges,” Filinkov says. “He won’t look at me. I can’t expect a response from him, can I?”

11:42 a.m.
“Think a little before you speak,” Judge Muranov tells Filinkov.

“Choose your words carefully,” adds another judge.

“I don’t consider myself guilty, and I ask you to acquit me,” Filinkov concludes.

11:44 a.m.
Boyarshinov’s closing statement:

“I’ve been in jail for two and a half years now. I can’t say that this prison experience has been totally negative. Isolation has taught me to love people and freedom even more, to appreciate even more my loved ones, who have supported me all this time. So, I want to use my closing statement to thank the people who have supported me: my parents, my spouse, and all my close friends.

“I would like to underscore once more that I have never held terrorist views, neither t hen nor now. I am sorry for what I did, and I’m glad that my activities caused no actual harm to other people. I ask the court not to punish me harshly. That is all.”ter4-boyar-closingDefendant Yuli Boyarshinov’s closing statement was so short that artist Anna Tereshkina didn’t have time to finish her sketch.

11:49 a.m.
Filinkov’s closing statement:

“The nine years in prison the prosecutor has requested are probably a token of respect for what I’ve been doing. This is what occurred to me about [Yegor] Zorin’s testimony: five narcotic substances were found in his blood when he was examined, but only two narcotic substances were found on his person—MDMA and marijuana. Neither MDMA or marijuana was found in his blood, however, while the five substances that were found were other synthetic drugs. Due to my circumstances, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to drug lords, and they have told me that synthetic drugs are quickly flushed from the bloodstream, and if [Zorin] had used marijuana, it would have remained in his blood. I would guess that the FSB officers knew that Zorin was a drug user, so they planted MDMA and marijuana on his person, thinking they were popular drugs. But they guessed wrong: he was using neither the one nor the other. It’s hard to believe that he drove around for a year [with these drugs on his person] and didn’t use them, while using everything else in sight. In a situation like that, you have to have courage to turn yourself in.

“As for the other [suspects and defendants in the case] who confessed and testified—Yuli [Boyarshinov] and Igor [Shiskin]—they acted pragmatically. They didn’t believe that any other outcome was possible. I understand them.

ter5-guard

“I would like to mention everyone who has been exposed in this case. First of all were the Petersburg FSB, the Penza FSB, and the Interior Ministry [the regular police], which carried out the orders of FSB officers without hesitation, without asking any questions. Then there was the prosecutor’s office, which has only been good for giving me the runaround and bringing in a colonel [as trial prosecutor] to read aloud from a piece of paper, refuse to respond to me, and ask the court to sentence me to nine years. I don’t understand whether [the prosecutor’s office] is independent or not. What happened to the ten years I was promised? The FSB officers promised to send me down for ten years. It is unclear whose initiative this is [to sentence Filinkov to nine years]. Is the prosecutor’s office or the FSB behind it? It basically doesn’t matter.

“Then there was the Investigative Committee, whose employees sent [Filinkov’s complaints of torture] from one place to the next, losing all the evidence in the process. There were the employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service, who refused to document the injuries [suffered by Filinkov and other defendants when they were tortured by the FSB], who promised that video recordings would not be lost, but then it turned out they had been deleted. There were the courts that remanded us in custody and extended our arrests. There were the legislators who made up such laws. All of them have disgraced themselves. I don’t know what the solution to this situation is. That is all.”

11:50 a.m.
The verdict in the case will be announced at 12:00 p.m. on June 22.

ter6-kulak cherkasViktor Filinkov’s defense team: Yevgenia Kulakov and Vitaly Cherkasov

12:04 p.m.
After the hearing, Filinkov’s defense team, Vitaly Cherkasov and Yevgenia Kulakova, said that, during the closing arguments, the prosecutor cited documents that had not even been read out in court, which is forbidden by the criminal procedure code, and attributed statements to Filinkov that he had never made.

All illustrations by Anna Tereshkina, who writes, “Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov made their closing statements today, and before that Viktor took part in the closing arguments. His eloquent speech, which disarmed all the scoundrels, made an incredible impression. Everyone whom he listed really has disgraced themselves, and they stand before all of us dirty, confused, and unable to do anything about it.” Thanks for Ms. Tereshkina’s kind permission to reprint her drawings here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Svetlana Prokopyeva: My Day in Court

prokopA telegram informing Svetlana Prokopyeva that her criminal trial has been scheduled for one o’clock on June 16 at the Pskov Regional Court and, beneath it, a copy of the criminal indictment against her. Photo courtesy of her Facebook page

Svetlana Prokopyeva
Facebook
June 15, 2020

The trial in my criminal case begins at one o’clock tomorrow afternoon. After eighteen months of endless reminders about freedom of speech and the persecution of journalism as such, everyone is probably sick of my case. (And yet I’ll remind you that I’m being put on trial for voicing an opinion, for my work as as a professional journalist, and for trying to understand something and prevent it.) And then there’s the coronavirus, which is a whole different level of worry.

Yet I would still ask you to follow the trial. I think it’s important, not because it’s my life, but for the following reasons.

In the column “Crackdowns for the State” I argued that a powerful regime was using powerful instruments to restrict civil liberties. Since I wrote that

  • our twenty-year-vintage president has found a way to rule forever;
  • Russian National Guard soldiers have shot a man dead in his own apartment;
  • solo pickets can now get you arrested and thrown in jail on administrative charges;
  • you can be fined simply for leaving your house;
  • you can be handcuffed and taken to a police precinct for not wearing a mask (for the sake of your own health, of course);
  • and there have been innovations to electoral law: soon we will have a referendum in which our votes will decide nothing, even formally—but then you knew that.

In other words, the state has become harsher and more repressive, and criminal cases for “condoning” terrorism have been multiplying and multiplying. The reasons for them are more and more absurd. You now longer have to feel sorry for [suicide bomber Mikhail] Zhlobitsky or analyze the terrorist attack in detail. Nadezhda Belova is being persecuted for commenting on a news report; Lyudmila Stech, for reposting something without a adding a single word of her own commentary. The new Pskov case is really amazing, but I will write about it later. The craziest keeps on getting crazier.

The security forces really did detect a threat in this case, but decided that the threat was me, and that they had to take me on, not abstract “radicalization.”As if they think that if you don’t discuss a problem, it doesn’t exist. But there is a problem, and it won’t work itself out. The stronger and dumber the crackdown, the angrier the protest, especially if it’s driven deep inside. And the coil twists tighter.

Theoretically, it would take only one judge, making a ruling according to common sense and the spirit of the law, to put an end to all this nonsense. It would take only one prosecutor, refusing to pursue such absurd charges. Or even just one police investigator, dropping a case like mine for lack of evidence.

But now we’re talking science fiction, kids.

The reality is that a journalist is going on trial for doing her job. It is much more terrifying, of course, when journalists are killed or maimed. But those are crimes, and criminals are tracked down and punished. In my case, though, it’s all completely legal.

Svetlana Prokopyeva is among a long list of Russians who have been prosecuted for or charged with “exonerating” or “condoning” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. The others are Nadezhda Belova, Lyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan Lyubshin, Anton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. On June 13, Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda) reported that a 47-year-old Pskov man, Alexei Shibanov, had been arrested by the FSB on suspicion of “condemning terrorism” and “publicly calling for terrorism.” The Pskov City Court has remanded Shibanov in custody until August 10. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Rain Came Down

 

 

TV Rain, April 8, 2020. “Three years after the first terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, the court sent eleven people to prison—an entire terrorist network. We studied the evidence, talked to witnesses in Russia and Kyrgyzstan, and realized that there are too many secrets and questions left in the case. We assembled our own jury to decide whether the case should be reopened.”

People Freaked Out in a Good Way
Ilya Ershov spoke with TV Rain reporter Yevgenia Zobnina about her documentary film on the strange investigation of the April 3, 2017, terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway.
Open Space

Why did you decide to tackle this topic?

I was working as a correspondent for TV Rain in Petersburg and spent the whole day [of April 3, 2017] outside the Tekhnologicheskii Institut subway station. The most amazing thing was what happened afterward. The entire city raised money [for the victims and their families], government-organized rallies were held, and then somehow everyone abruptly forgot about it . Then there were fragmentary reports that the culprits had been caught. Next there was the trial. On the first day, reporters came running to film and photograph those eleven [defendants]. That was it. And then there was the verdict. There has been a good trend in journalism, on YouTube, of returning to the sore spots in our history. It seemed to me that this story should also be told.

Were there things you found out when shooting the film that didn’t end up in the film?

There was this thing with one of the relatives of the Azimov brothers, who had been corresponding on WhatsApp with unknown numbers. The investigation used some of them as evidence of [the brothers’] connection with terrorists. One of the relatives said, This is my number, I exist, I live in Ukraine, I am not a terrorist. If Ukraine had not gone into quarantine, we could have found more witnesses there.

How many people refused to talk to you?

It was a big problem for the relatives of the defendants to give their relatives’ contacts, because everyone is scared. None of the relatives turned us down. They were happy that someone was interested in their lives. They say that if their relatives were terrorists, the local security service would not have left them alone. But they came once, took their information, and never showed up again.

zobninaYevgenia Zobnina. Photo courtesy of her Facebook page

How openly were Kyrgyzstan’s human rights defenders ready to communicate with you? Were they and the relatives [of the defendants] under pressure from the local security services?

It was a great surprise for me to talk with Sardorbek, a lawyer at the [Kyrgyz] human rights organization Justice. He says that they know how to assert their rights. In Kyrgyzstan, there are laws that enable one to defend one’s rights. When they found out about the disappearance of their relatives, the Azimov family practically lived in the offices of the human rights defenders for several days, and no one came and tried to take them away. But we did not find any attempts by [the governments of] Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to stand up for their citizens.

Have the Russian authorities reacted to the film?

We made official inquiries even as we were making the film, but we didn’t get any answers. This film was made for society, not for the state.

What kind of reactions have their been to the film in general?

People have freaked out in a good way. Their reaction has been, “Wow, why is it like that in our country?”

You staged a jury trial in the film? Are such trials the future?

There should be jury trials at some stage. But there will never be a jury trial in this case. [On the day the verdict in the real trial was announced] Putin came to Petersburg: how could those people have not been convicted? In the film, the jury was there to keep us from turning into accusers of the FSB. We thought it vital to turn this into a conversation about what was wrong with the case. Jury trials are demonstrative. Every detail of a case is examined carefully, because both sides understand that they are facing people who do not understand anything about it. The verdict depends on how you explain the evidence. When we begin to explain what happened in the investigation of the terrorist attack, everything immediately becomes clear.

Thanks to Ilya Ershov for the heads-up and for permission to translate and publish this interview here. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the terrorist attack, the case against its alleged financiers and planners, its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking absence of local and international solidarity with the eleven people convicted and sentenced to long prison terms in the case:

 

#FreeAzat

free azat
Alexander Zamyatin
Facebook
March 21, 2020

Today is the birthday of Azat Miftakhov, a mathematics graduate student at Moscow State University. Since February of last year, the authorities have been terrorizing Azat by holding him in remand prison while trying to prove he was involved in an episode of vandalism by anarchists against a United Russia party office in Khovrino in 2018. The court recently extended his remand in custody for the eighth time. There are no victims in the case (except for the window of a goddamned party of billionaire usurpers), but there has been torture and endless secret witnesses. A huge number of people have been campaigning in support of Azat all this time.

This shameful repressive show trial alone is enough to warrant saying that there is no justice in the Russian Federation, and that the most dangerous people to any citizen currently are those who have privatized the judicial and law enforcement agencies, using them for their personal interests.

I would remind you that, this past summer, men in masks and no identifying marks on their uniforms beat up people by the hundreds in downtown Moscow. Some received fractures, other got bruises, but no criminal charges were filed against the men.

Unfortunately, very few people in Russia know about this. Today, activists involved in the solidarity campaigns for Azat and other political prisoners have focused their efforts on telling as many people as possible about the case. And I have joined them. Repost this message or post any link about Azat’s case with the hashtag #FreeAzat.

Alexander Zamyatin is a mathematics teacher and a member of the Zyuzino Municipal District Council in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia’s War on “Terrorists” and “Extremists” in Crimea and Syria

filatovPersecuted Crimean Jehovah’s Witness Sergei Filatov faces seven years in prison for “extremism.” Photo courtesy of Grati

Prosecutor Requests Seven Years in High-Security Prison for Jehovah’s Witness in Crimea
OVD Info
February 25, 2020

During closing arguments in the trial of local resident Sergei Filatov, who organized meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the prosecutor asked the Dzhankoy District Court to sentence Filatov to seven years in a high-security penal colony, according to the online publication Grati, which cited Filatov himself as its source.

Filatov, who is currently free on his own recognizance, is accused of “organizing the activities of an extremist organization,” punishable under Article 282.2.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. According to investigators, Filatov, as the head of a religious organization, “undermined the foundations of the constitutional system and the security of the state.” The case files include an audio recording, made by local FSB field officer Vladislav Stradetsky, in which Filatov and other believers can be heard discussing religious topics.

The prosecution claims that Filatov is a co-organizer of a Jehovah’s Witness organization called Sivash, which held gatherings and religious lectures at the defendant’s registered domicile.

The only witness at the previous hearings in Filatov’s trial was a man named Verbitsky, a computer science teacher at a rural school. In September 2019, he testified that he had gone to Jehovah’s Witness gatherings right up until the organization was banned in April 2017, and therefore was unaware of Filatov’s further actions. In November 2019, however, he changed his testimony, saying he had continued attending meetings of believers for another six months or so.

Verbitsky claimed the defendant was intimidating him, so the judge honored his request to hold the hearings in closed chambers. The website Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia reports that the “intimidation” in question was phone calls from strangers. The defense made several requests to hold the trial in open chambers, but to no avail.

Filatov has four children, two of whom are minors. He considers the trial biased,  and the whole case an instance of religious persecution.

“The prosecutor asked the judge to sentence me to seven years for extremist activity—seven years for religious convictions, for believing in God. There was no crime, no culpability. 1951 and 1937 are coming back. They happened in Russia and here [in Crimea]: there are people among us today who were persecuted and sent into exile. This is tyranny and genocide,” Grati reports Filatov as saying after the trial.

In November 2018, the security forces raided a number of homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Dzhankoy. Searches were conducted at several dozen addresses, but only Filatov was detained, allegedly because police found extremist literature and manuals on psychology and recruiting in his home.

On April 20, 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an “extremist organization,” disbanded it, and prohibited it from operating in Russia. In August 2017, all Jehovah’s Witness organizations were placed on the official list of banned organizations, sparking a subsequent wave of criminal cases against members of the confession.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Putin: Our Forces Stopped a Serious Threat to Russia in Syria
Asharq Al-Aswat
February 24, 2020

President Vladimir Putin has revealed a decisive Russian military attack last week to prevent Turkish-backed Syrian opposition factions from advancing towards Neirab city.

The Russian military has rooted out well-equipped terrorist groups in Syria and prevented major threats to Russia, Putin said at a gala on Defender of the Fatherland Day.

The attack was followed by intense airstrikes on militant sites in Idlib province.

Putin’s statements came in line with accusations launched by the Kremlin against Turkey on its violation of the Sochi Agreement.

According to Russian sources, the military sought to prevent Ankara from trying to impose a new fait accompli by controlling sites that have been recently occupied by the regime.

Russia “will not allow the return of the previous situation, when Idlib province and its surrounding areas were under the control of Syrian factions,” the sources added.

Putin, however, revealed on Sunday another aim for his country’s intervention in Syria.

Russia’s officers and soldiers have confidently confirmed their high professionalism and combat capabilities, the strength of spirit and their best qualities during the military operation in Syria, he said.

“They have wiped out large and well-equipped terrorist groups, thwarted major threats for our motherland at distant frontiers, and helped the Syrians save the sovereignty of their country,” he stressed, thanking all soldiers who have participated in the fight in Syria.

Putin’s remarks highlighted information circulated on Ankara supplying the Syrian factions with US mobile anti-air systems, which enabled them to shoot down two Syrian army helicopters last week.

The Ministry of Defense said these weapons could be used against Russian forces, slamming Ankara and Washington.

It said both sides “cannot predict how and when the terrorists will use these weapons.”

Putin affirmed Moscow’s intention to continue to enhance its military capabilities and provide its armed forces with the most advanced arms, including laser weapons, hypersonic systems and high-precision systems.

At the Network Trial in Petersburg

Jenya Kulakova writes: “The peculiarities of a small military garrison court and a high-profile political trial. A troika of military judges, flushed with irritation. They are three hours late for the hearing. Trying not to blow its cover, an FSB van transports them: three times it squeezes through a crowd of people shouting, ‘Freedom to political prisoners!’ and ‘Shame on the court!’ They peer fearfully from the courtroom, closing the door. On their second try, they are escorted by the bailiffs. We are like the buzzing of annoying mosquito to them. It will only make them angry, not appeal to their absent conscience. But what else can we do? Should we silently see off the people who in a few days will send our friends down for ten years or so? Yegor Ostapushchenko’s photo captures the moment when the judges peer from the courtroom, not daring to leave.

87514148_10216306409718439_2273106240202604544_o

Vlad Gagin writes: “Today I went to the trial of the Petersburg defendants in the Network Case, Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov. I stood outside for five hours and almost froze, because I had dressed so unforgivably lightly, but the important thing was that I felt part of a network, so to speak. It is a network of those whose texts I once read, those I loved, those whose activist projects I was interested in, those with whom I quarreled over ideological differences and everyday troubles, old friends and wonderful strangers, the red and black flag, and police officers who do not look you in the eyes. The city seemed like a city. The meaning of strange rituals like the secret removal of the defendants from the courtroom (as happened, I think, at the previous event in Penza) became clear: the space of struggle is quite small, but it is there. It is important to show the defendants that many people have come to support them. Bureaucracy (for example, the constant postponement of the start of the court hearing) is weaponized here. In fact, everything is weaponized. The next hearing is tomorrow morning at eleven o’clock at Ploshchad Truda, 1. Come if you can.”

Thanks to George Losev for the second link. Photo by Yegor Ostapushchenko; courtesy of Jenya Kulakova. Translated by the Russian Reader

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case aka the Network Case, and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and share the articles I have posted on these subjects.