Mikola Dziadok: What We Can Learn from the Moscow Protests

riotgOlga Misik, 17, reading the Russian Constitution aloud to riot cops during a July 27 “unauthorized” opposition protest rally in Moscow at which nearly 1,400 protesters were detained by regular police and Russian National Guardsmen. Photo courtesy of the Independent

Mikola Dziadok
Facebook
August 4, 2019

Lessons of the Moscow Protests

Yesterday, Moscow witnessed one of the largest protest rallies in recent memory. There were huge numbers of arrests.

Estimates of the protesters range from 1,500 to 10,000. 1,001 of them were detained. Since Belarus and Russia constantly exchange know-how in crushing protests and, as genuine autocracies, invest huge resources in doing it, we really should study the methods used in Moscow to make our own subsequent uprising more effective.

The first thing that catches the eye is that the Russian authorities were seriously and thoroughly prepared. There are really smart people in high places who imagined what was going to happen and how to deal with it as effectively as possible. They did not just send a mob of riot cops onto the streets to beat up and disperse everyone. Instead, they employed a whole set of well-designed, complementary measures.

Here is a list of the lessons we can learn.

1. The cops are afraid of being deanonymized. During yesterday’s protest rally, unlike previous protests, the riot cops wore masks because cops who did not hide their faces on July 27 have been subsequently deanonymized in huge numbers and harassed on social media. They fear for their own safety, meaning the longer things drag on, the more they are cognizant of their own mortality and physical vulnerability. This is a good thing.

It was also curious that the agitprop cop using a bullhorn to persuade protesters to disperse appealed to national unity: “Citizens, do not disturb the peace. Russian National Guardsmen are on duty to ensure your safety. Most of them are your sons. Do not disturb the peace and break the law.”

In the future, we will hear tons of this kind of spiel in Minsk from the “moderate opposition,” from the negotiators and compromisers of all stripes who will pop up like earthworms from the moist soil as soon as Lukashenko’s throne goes wobbly. This is a separate issue, however.

2. The Russian authorities are not shy about employing the resources at their disposal. Helicopters were employed in addition to tens of thousands of personnel. Private companies were pressured into going over to the bad guys.

  • The car-sharing service YouDrive banned customers from leaving cars inside the Garden Ring.
  • Cell phone providers turned off mobile Internet services.
  • Wi-Fi was turned off in restaurants and cafes near the protest area.

3. The regime has deployed heavy forces on the digital front.

  • There have been DDOS attacks on the main opposition websites.
  • Pro-regime trolls have been mobilized on group pages and in comments on social media. They have been working overtime cobbling together battle scenes, the reactions of “ordinary citizens,” and so on.

4. As usual, the authorities want to prevent the protests from radicalizing. Random passersby had their bags checked: the police were looking for cans of mace and anything that could be used as a weapon. The high-risk category, from the police’s viewpoint, is middle-aged men, which speaks for itself.

5. When protesters are detained, their mobile phones are confiscated for two weeks under the pretext they are physical evidence in a criminal case. Later, the authorities try to hack them using equipment supplied to authoritarian countries by Israeli and Chinese companies. Encrypt your mobile devices! Update their operating systems before it is too late.

6. The authorities have been filing criminal charges against the protesters mercilessly and without hesitation. The only point is intimidating real and potential protesters. How I am going to move from my cozy home and family to a prison cell for many long years? they ask themselves.

Conclusions

Decentralized protests have been effective. Generally, despite facing equal numbers of people, the regime has to deploy more resources to crush such protests than it does to put paid to centralized protests.

But legal defenses have not been effective. Do you want to not give defense lawyers and children’s ombudsmen access to detainees? Do you want to beat up detainees who are not resisting, refuse them medical care, and forcibly fingerprint them? It is easy as pie. The dogs in uniform are not guardians of law and order. They guard the privileges of the elites along with their power and property. There are thus no obstacles to direct, flagrant, and sustained law-breaking.

The logical conclusion is it is stupid and short-sighted for protesters to try and keep themselves and their protests on the right side of the law,  appealing endlessly to the law as a supreme value and, moreover, outing protesters who break the law as “provocateurs,” one of the favorite hobbies of the legal opposition. It is like trying to win a fight without breaking rules drawn up by your enemy. So it is quite pretty to read the Russian Constitution out loud to riot policemen, but it is also naive, pretentious, and frivolous. They care a thousand times more about their discounted apartments and bonuses than they care about the Constitution.

This does not mean, of course, we should engage in violence left and right. We simply have to remember we have an a priori right to self-defense.

It is worth pointing out that Sergey Kusyuk, a former deputy commander in Ukraine’s Berkut riot police, who was noted for the extreme cruelty with which he treated protesters at the Euromaidan in Kyiv before fleeing the country, has been spotted among the police putting down the protest in Moscow. The Russian regime knows what it is doing: it hires people who have burned all their bridges. Kusyuk has nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. If the current Russian regime collapses, he and his kind can expect to be killed or imprisoned for life. So, he will claw and bite the regime’s enemies until the bitter end. Accordingly, people who are just as willing to fight to the bitter end, but for the good guys, can face these monsters down.

The conclusion is simple: get ready to fight.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Lie Still, Bitch!”

ammosov-1Anton Ammosov. Courtesy of OVD Info

Beaten, Sacked and Threatened with Torture: The Story of a Man Detained for Posting Comments about the FSB
OVD Info
April 24, 2019

In November 2018, libertarian Anton Ammosov was detained in Yakutsk by FSB officers. The officers beat him in their car and threatened to torture him. Then his home was searched, he was sacked from his job, and his home was searched a second time. Ammosov had warranted this treatment only because he had commented on news stories about the Network case and the suicide bombing at FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk in October 2018. Ammosov told OVD Info about what happened to him and how his life changed with the FSB’s advent.

I was then still employed as a systems administrator at the Ammosov Northeastern Federal University. My boss telephoned me on the evening of November 20, 2018. He told me I had to go to the personnel department at eight the following morning and bring my [internal] passport with me. I was really surprised, because the personnel department opened at nine. But my boss insisted I had to be there by eight and the matter was urgent.

The next day I arrived at the university at the scheduled time. I was seen by the deputy head of the personnel department. I wondered why he was personally handling the matter. He took my passport and left the office for five minutes. He said he had to make photocopies. He told me some rubbish about problems with the database. I realized he was doing what the FSB told him to do. I heard him talking to someone on the phone, but I did not put two and two together. I spent ten to fifteen minutes in the personnel department.

I went outside, planning to walk to the building where I worked. I had walked only a few meters when I heard a van’s side door opening. Armed, masked men threw me down on the snow.

“Lie still, bitch!” they screamed.

They beat me, cuffed my hands behind my back, and pulled my cap down to my nose. I could not see a thing. I was dragged into the van, which immediately took off.

I was placed in the front row of seats with my knees on the floor. My scarf and the cap pulled down over my face suffocated me. I was beaten on the back, kidneys, and buttocks. I was hit in the head several times, but when I screamed I was officially disabled and had glaucoma, they stopped hitting me in the head.

When I asked why I had been detained, the masked men responded by beating me harder. One of them either sat on my back or pressed it with his knee. He twisted my fingers, trying to unblock my phone, but there was no fingerprint sensor on my smartphone. The man twisted my little fingers. He said he would break them if I did not tell him the password to my telephone. Then he said they would take me straight to the right place for such things and torture me with electrical shocks by hooking me up to a generator. One of the FSB guys quoted what I had written in the comments section of the regional news website ykt.ru.

I had written there that FSB officers were cooking up criminal cases and torturing people with generators. I had written about the Network case. I wrote about the young man who had blown himself up in Arkhangelsk. There was also a news item about the FSB’s having detained someone for a post on the social network VK, and I had published an unflattering comment about them.

We drove for twenty minutes. They beat me the entire way, threatening to torture me with electrical shocks.

ammosov-2FSB headquarters in Yakutsk. Courtesy of Google Maps and OVD Info

The car stopped. They pulled me roughly to my feet and dragged me somewhere. Along the way, they constantly dropped me on the marble floor. I hit my knees on the floor several times. They also made a point of slamming my whole body against door jambs and columns. They joked about how clumsy they were. Every time they dropped me on the floor they told me to get up. When I was unable to get up on my own, they would jerk me to my feet by pulling me up by both arms. The handcuffs dug into my wrists.

I was taken into a room. I could see only the floor and my feet: the caps was pulled over my face the whole time. They stood me beside the wall while they rifled my backpack. They took the cap off and asked about the medications in my backpack. It was then I saw them: five men in sand-colored uniforms and balaclavas. They were strapping and tall, with blue eyes, meaning they were not locals. Apparently, locals are not hired by the FSB in the ethnic republics.

I was asked about the medicine before they pulled the cap back over my eyes. They said they were going to eat meat and when they returned, they would torture by shocking me using a generator. I was really afraid. I did not understand what was happening. I had not yet been told why I was detained.

An FSB field officer wearing no mask came in a while later. I gathered he was an investigator. He asked me about the password to my phone. I was standing next to the wall, the cap pulled over my eyes. I said nothing. I refused to speak to him. He said he would call in the boys in masks. They would “do their number” on me and I would talk whether I wanted or not. It was thus in my interests to give him the password; otherwise, I would  be tortured badly. I cracked and told him the password. The field officer was happy.

My hat was removed and I was sat down in a chair.

“What is happening? Why have you detained me?” I asked him.

“You know why,” the field officer replied. He said they had been watching me for a long time. They had a case file on me. He was glad to meet me in person.

I found out why I had been detained only a few hours earlier.

A major entered the office. He said someone had posted a picture containing threats against the FSB in the comments section of the website ykt.ru. They thought I had done it. I replied I had not done it. There were 20,000 students and 6,000 staff member at the university, and they all had the same IP address. I got the impression the major did not understood much about this stuff. He said the FSB surveilled WhatsApp and Telegram and read everything.

Interrogation
When they unblocked my phone, they asked me what I thought about anarchism, whether I knew Mikhail Zhlobitsky, what I thought about him, and what my political views were. They asked about Telegram and what I had been doing on the chat group Rebel Talk, whether I had been looking for allies there. They asked me what I thought about Putin, Russia, and Navalny.

I had joined the chat group out of curiosity for a day or two. I had learned about it in the news reports about the bombing in Arkhangelsk. I was on it for a while, wrote a bit, left the group, and forgot about. I did not write anything worth mentioning in the chat group.

During the interrogation. I realized I was on lists of theirs. I could have got on the lists due to the speech I gave at an anti-corruption rally in Yakutsk in June 2017.

I was in the FSB office for around eight hours. It was a room three meters by four meters, and it was not heated. I was handcuffed to the chair. I was not provided with legal counsel.

They threatened to shoot me, saying traitors like me should be executed. They were surprised by my ethnicity. They said I was the first Yakut they had detained on such charges. They threatened to leave me in the FSB’s remand prison. The field officer told me he had murdered many people. He asked me to give him an excuse to beat the crap out of me or cripple me.

ammosov-3Remand Prison No. 1 in Yakutia. FSB officers threatened to send Anton Ammosov there. Courtesy of Google Maps and OVD Info 

The masked mem threatened me when they did not like my answers to questions. They had to tell me what they wanted to hear from me. They told me my home would be searched. They would be looking for a bomb or part for making a bomb.

At around five in the evening, I was taken to another office, which had windows. I realized it was evening, because it was dark outside. The state-provided attorney came. I told him I had been beaten and threatened. He could not have cared less. He made no mention of my complaints in the papers that were drawn up. He signed them and left.

I spent approximately twelve hours at FSB headquarters, until nine in the evening. I was not fed, given anything to drink or allowed to make a phone call the entire time.  My wife had no idea what had become of me.

My wife thought I had been hit by a car or died. She called all the morgues. All my relatives searched for me, because I had never disappeared before. My wife was getting ready to go to the police when the FSB agents brought me home. My wife wept when she saw us.

They showed us a document claiming the search was conducted due to my comments on the website. They did not let us photograph the search warrant, which had been issued by a court only at five in the afternoon te same day, meaning after they detained me.

The search took two hours. They confiscated two desktop computers, my work laptop, flash drives, hard drives, a router, and telephones. They told me to buy a new telephone and SIM card right away and report to FSB headquarters at one o’clock the next day.

I was told they wanted to charge me with vindicating terrorism because I had written “Well done, kid” under a news report about the bombing in Arkhangelsk.

They found out about the comment because of what I told them during the interrogation. I had thought the whole affair had kicked off due to the remark, but it later transpired they did not know about it.

My posts on Telegram and comments to news reports were sent off for a forensic examination by linguists.

I fell asleep that day only towards morning. I did not eat at all for the next three days: I had no appetite. I went to FSB headquarters as if I were going to work. I was summoned nearly every day.

They asked me again about my political views and what anarchism was. I replied I did not support anarchism. I identified myself as a libertarian, but not a radical one. I believed the state was a necessity, but not a state like the one we had in Russia.

I was also asked about Navalny. I said I supported him.

The Beating
Because I was summoned to the FSB, I was not able to have my injuries from the beating medically certified. I made it to the emergency room only on November 23. The medics refused to document my injuries when I told him FSB officers had beaten me. They kicked me out of the emergency room, telling me they did not need any trouble. They suggested I go to the medical examiner’s office.

When I came to the medical examiner’s office, they initially agreed to document my injuries, but when they found out who had injured me, they kicked me out of the surgery and demanded a reference from the Russian Investigative Committee.

The lawyer whom my mom helped me find after what happened at the FSB suggested I go to an outpatient clinic and have my injuries documented there, but without telling them who injured me. Otherwise, they would turn me down, too. That was just what I did.

The GP, a woman, documented I had been beaten all over, suffering soft-tissue bruises on the back, the buttocks, and both knee joints. It was not certain whether my kidneys had been injured. An eye doctor prescribed drops. In the summer of 2018, I had glaucoma implant surgery. After I was beaten in the van, not allowed to put drops in my eyes at the FSB, and stood hunched over, which I am definitely not supposed to do, I had poor vision in my sick eye.

Sacking
A few days later. I learned that. on November 21, the day I was detained, FSB officers had come to my workplace at the university around two in the afternoon. They confiscated my two desktop computers and all the laptops in the office, despite the fact they were not mine. They also took three printers, one of which was out of order, routers, flash drives, and notebooks.

The videotape from university surveillance cameras showing the FSB abducting me also vanished from the university.

On December 29, university rector Yevgenia Isayevnva Mikhaylova summoned me to her office.

She asked what happened, why security services officers had come after me, and inquired about my political views. She then said I should write a resignation letter. I told here I did not want to do it. She replied it was people like me who undermined the university’s image. She disparaged Navalny every which way to Sunday. She said Putin was the best president and he should reign forever.

That is verbatim.

After I refused to resign voluntarily, Mikhaylova said she had to react to events so the FSB would see she had punished me. She suggested I quit for a while. Then she would rehire me and transfer me to a new department. I would not have minded such a transfer, by the way, but I did not trust her, of course.

ammosov-4Ammosov Northeastern Federal University. Courtesy of Google Maps and OVD Info 

When I came back to work after the New Year holidays, I learned by chance a few days later that I had been sacked in late December. A colleague had access to the university’s 1C Database. It said there I had turned in my resignation letter on December 29, that is, the day after my meeting with the rector. But that was not true.

The folks in the personnel department twisted every which way in the wind. They said I had been sacked in order to transfer me to another position. They suggested I sign a resignation letter and backdate it. I refused to do this. But then the head of the personnel department told me the FSB had called. She thought it had been a signal to sack me. It was clear, however, she had not made to decision to sack me. The rector had told her to do it.

When I told the FSB officer handling my case I was being sacked, he said he would phone the university and find out what the problem was. Subsequently, I was transferred to another department.

There I was assigned work that did not fit my specialization: I was supposed to do paperwork. I was transferred to a job I was unable to do. I was put in the coldest corner of the room and given an old computer.

I resigned two weeks later. I realized that was the whole point. Subsequently, I got a job at a technical creativity center, where I now teach robotics to children. After the new year, the FSB ceased summoning me to interrogations.

The Second Search
At six in the morning on April 2, regular police and Investigative Committee officers rang our doorbell, demanding we open it. The security forces offices showed us a search warrant issued by the Basmanny District Court in Moscow. The search’s ostensible purpose was to confiscate electronic devices that could contain correspondence with Zhlobitsky. I was an official witness in the case.

I was told I had been corresponding with Zhlobitsky on VK under the pseudonym Pyotr Vasilyev or Vasily Petrov. However, I had not been registered on VK for many years. The accusation was thus utter rubbish.

During the search, the authorities confiscated two desktop computers, a flash drive, a hard drive, and two telephones. I was then taken to the Investigative Committee for an interrogation. I was again questioned about Zhlobitsky.

A few days later, I got another phone call from the FSB field agent. He chewed me out. He said I had concealed the Investigative Committee’s visit from him. He told me I had not been sincere with the FSB. He threatened to put me on a list of politically unreliable citizens. I would be banned from employment in the state sector and sacked from my current job.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Leonid Volkov: Hocus Pocus

sberbankThe homepage of Sberbank of Russia’s online banking service looks reassuring at first glance, although a warning in the bottom right-hand corner reads, “Safety rules: If you are asked to enter your Sberbank Online password to cancel a transaction, don’t do it. These are con men.” Screenshot by the Russian Reader

Leonid Volkov
Facebook
January 30, 2019

Watch for the sleight of hands.

1. On January 25, the long-forgotten and abandoned Registry of Information Distributors or the ORI, a list of websites obliged to supply information about the activities and correspondence of their users to the FSB via SORM, suddenly added a few sites. From the perspective of the laws governing the ORI, the new additions were odd, ranging from stihi.ru, a poetry website, to such major services as Sberbank Online.

2. On January 29, Kommersant newspaper published a story, corroborated by many other media outlets, about a new, large-scale cyber confidence scheme targeting Sberbank clients. The criminals telephone clients from what appears to be Sberbank’s number (an easy enough spoof). They mislead them by providing them with loads of detailed information about their accounts, including their correct current balance. This last bit would very much appear to be a leak from Sberbank Online or an intercept of the SMS messages the banks sends to its clients.

Is it a coincidence?

Maybe.

But it’s definitely a vital occasion to reflect on the actual consequences of all the laws on internet surveillance. Not about the virtual fight against virtual terrorism, but the very real transfer of huge amounts of sensitive data to the FSB, whose officers are corrupt and subject to absolutely no oversight.

Translated by the Russian Reader

This Is Mikhail Gerasimov from Nizhny Novgorod

gerasimovMikhail Gerasimov. Photo courtesy of his personal page on VK and OVD Info

This is Mikhail Gerasimov from Nizhny Novgorod. He is eighteen. Yesterday, FSB officers came to the young man’s house, took him in for questioning, and arrested him.

Mikhail photographed two pages from the investigator’s warrant and sent them to a friend. Mikhail also managed to call the Political Red Cross and tell them the FSB wants to level criminal charges against him for ten posts on social networks, all of them published prior to [sic] December 2016. It was then, according to Mikhail, that he learned about [Alexei] Navalny and changed his views.

One of the two pages of the warrant refers to a forensic examination of an entry from Mikhal’s personal social media page.

The entry opens with the phrase, “Are you tried of this Moskaland?” It ends with the phrase, “There those Rus[expletive deleted] got what was coming.”

The forensic examination concluded the phrase contained an incitement to physically destroy the legal authorities and justified destructive actions that the author [sic] attributed to ISIS: the crash of a Tupolev Tu-154 [Russian Defense Ministry] jetliner [in 2016] and the murder of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey.

A criminal investigation has been opened into whether Gerasimov made public calls for terrorist attacks or justified terrorism on the internet [punishable by up to seven years in prison under Article 205.2 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code].

Today at 2:00 p.m., the Moscow District Court in Nizhny Novgorod will decide whether to remand Gerasimov in custody.

Source: OVD Info’s Facebook page. Read their full story here. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Wires

DSCN1673This is what you will typically see when you look up at the sky in central Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

One thing I find especially charming about certain Russians, often academics, who have lived for decades in “straunge strondes” (чужбина), is their conviction, now that the current “vegan” times have permitted them to make occasional and even annual junkets back to the Motherland, that life here is now nearly the same in every respect as back in the straunge strondes.

I’ll leave to one side the political aspects of this queer conviction, focusing instead on a single aspect of everyday life. I’ve heard it said a million times by many a Russian not resident in God’s Heavenly Kingdom on Earth full time or even part time (really) that wi-fi and internet connections here are the top of the pops, so much better than wherever they live, surrounded by black people and Mexicans and uncultured rednecks.

I have to admit that, outside of Russia, my only experience of wi-fi and internet connections over the last ten years or so has been places in the States and elswhere where I’ve stayed for short stretches, including my parents’ farm, my sister’s house in a big city in the Midwest, and the apartments of friends in other cities and countries, as well as my own secret hideout in Free Finland.

In all these places, I enjoyed shockingly fast, nearly outage-free internet and wi-fi connections. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times there were full-fledged outages in Free Finland, and all of them were sorted out in a matter of an hour or two, if not in a few minutes, with the sincerest of apologies by my Finnish providers.

As for the Cradle of Three Revolutions, everything was cool and seemingly getting cooler until sometime in the past year when, I suspect, the FSB placed so many demands, both physical and financial, on internet providers, that they are now no longer capable of doing routine maintenance on their networks and upgrading their hardware and software, despite the growing demand for their services on the part of the taxpaying and fee-paying populace.

But the ISPs serve a higher power—the siloviki—who are so out of their minds right now as to imagine you can organize a revolution on VK by reposting pictures of Nazis and Navalny or something of the sort. They thus have to have ever-increasing capacities for surveilling the peons they rule over like medieval liege lords (or so they imagine), and they have tasked the country’s internet providers with giving them lots of electronic windows into the souls of these traitorious worms.

At least, I hope this is the case, because otherwise the sheer misery and torment visited on us since approximately last spring by our once faithful internet provider, long ago swallowed up by another company from Moscow and bereft of all the charms and virtues it had back in the days when I was one of its first customers, are inexplicable.

Suffice it to say that one look at the junction box in our attic will tell you tell that, in fact, is where the problem lies, and yet every time our internet goes under, which can be several times a day, the mumblers who man the phones at our provider’s tech support service run us through the same routines, all meant to persuade us morons that the problem is with our computers or even with our ignorant selves, not with the woeful state of the junction box in the attic or farther down the line.

Things turn from irritating to tragicomic when our provider sends an actual person to fix the mess. Nearly all of them (at this point, a dozen or so have darkened our door since spring) start out by ringing the changes on our wi-fi router, which supposedly has to be replaced, or the plastic snap connector on the end of the broadband cable or the cable itself.

If we can induce them to go up into the attic and open the junction box or just look at the junction box, which has wires poking out from in in all directions, like a Dalek gone south, they break down and admit the problem is on their end. If they’re kind and competent, they might apply a temporary fix by switching out a couple of cables in the box.

Then we have the joy of living humanity’s shared electronic life for an hour or two, or day or three, or, god forbid, a whole week. Sooner or later, though, the plug will be pulled on our meager joy, and our provider, unable or unwilling to give us the real explanation for the problem (our junction box? their servers back at the head office? SORM?), will plunge us back into their rehearsed routine of selling snake oil to their loyal customers, their nerves shattered, their hearts broken, their ability to do their own work suspended indefinitely.

I think all of us who actually live in the real Russia full time could make a list of the country’s practical shortcomings, without once touching on politics per se, and the list would be long and sobering and, occasionally, incredibly frightening.

But the crypto-Putinists who teach at places like Berkeley and don’t really live here never or hardly ever deal with this failed state, nor do they want to have the really hard talk about how nearly all of these eminently practical failures are caused, ultimately, by wildly bad governance and poisonous, sometimes deadly politics.

And what is the point of having that talk with them? They’ll only get testy and resort to whataboutism, the last refuge of scoundrels. {TRR}

Guerillas Gone Mental: Why the Russian Secret Services Forced Kristina Snopp and Her Husband to Leave Russia

Refusing to Cooperate with the FSB and Pictures of Putin: The Story of a Couple Seeking Political Asylum in Georgia
Sofia Rusova
OVD Info
August 22, 2018

Kristina Snopp and her husband, Denis. Photo courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info

A young married couple from Krasnodar Territory have applied for political asylum in Georgia. So far, they have had two interviews with the immigration service. The couple are certain that if they weresent back to Russia they would face criminal charges and prison sentences. Sofia Rusova discovered how a reporter at a municipal newspaper and her bike mechanic husband attracted the notice of local FSB agents and the police.

Refusing to Cooperate with the FSB
“I am Kristina Snopp,  and I am afraid to return to Russia.”

This was how the 32-year-old reporter from Tuapse prefaced her asylum request to the Georgian authorities. Snopp and her husband, Denis Snopp, are currently living in a refugee center in Georgia. Snopp made the decision to leave Russia after she learned her posts on the social media network VK had been examined for “extremism” and “insulting religious believers.”

Snopp never wanted to be involved in politics. She was never a member of a political party, permitting herself to have opinions only on a few issues like religion, the environment, and Russia’s foreign policy. If she did attend protest rallies,  they mainly had to do with ecological issues. Like many residents of Tuapse she protested construction of a bulk shipping terminal by the company EuroChem in 2011.

Back in 2014, Snopp received a call on her mobile phone from an FSB officer who introduced himself as Denis. He wanted to talk with her.

“For around two hours, he grilled me about the people with whom I interacted. Moreover, he asked personal questions about my beliefs, what organizations I was involved with, and why,” Snopp recounts.

“I’m a very inquisitive person. I’m really interested in world religions and, at the time, I was hanging out with people from different confessions, with the Hindus (yogis),  Muslims, Protestants, and pagans in our area. FSB agent Denis was really interested in information about people who practiced religions other than Russian Orthodoxy. He suggested I cooperate with the FSB in combating ‘cults.’ I turned him down. Denis copied down my details and said we should stay in touch, and I should contact him if I found out something new. He told me people in Russia should be religious believers, moreover they had better be Russian Orthodox Christians, since it was the ‘state religion and the most correct religion,’ as he put it. Denis also asked me questions about my political views. I replied I was basically uninterested in politics.”

As the saying goes, if you are not interested in politics, politics is interested in you. Roughly a month after the first informal meeting, the FSB agent came to the offices of the newspaper Chernomorye segodnya [Black Sea Today], where Snopp worked, and tried to make contact with her coworkers.

Chernomorye segodnya
In 2012, Snopp officially began working at Chernomorye segodnya, the local newspaper. After Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, the editorial policies of national media outlets changed radically. This change also affected the tiny newspaper in Tuapse. When she publicly criticized Putin’s foreign policies on social networks, local internet forums, and in discussions with friends, Snopp attracted the close scrutiny of her editors and once again came to the attention of Tuapse’s intelligence services.

“I was concerned about it, since I believed Russia’s actions were mean and unfair to Ukraine. Moreover, I had friends in Ukraine, who wrote to me on social networks about the real state of affairs there, about the presence of Russian troops in Crimea and Donbass, and the lawlessness they were perpetrating even as President Putin denied it was happening. I published posts on my page on VK in which Putin was compared with Hitler,” Snopp says.

Her editors at Chernomorye segodnya knew about Snopp’s stance on Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. When she labeled it annexation outright, her editor, Alexei Chamchev, said, “Then, what are you doing here? Leave the country.”

According to Snopp,  her job became more and more emotionally complicated. The newspaper published numerous commissioned articles meant to defame specific people, as well as articles that openly encouraged hatred of Ukrainians and praised Russian politicians. Snopp would refuse to work on these articles. She mainly wrote about daily news, and cultural and religious events.

Devastated Tuapse 
In 2015, under a pseudonym, Snopp published articles about environmental conditions in Tuapse on the website Proza.ru and VK. She wrote about environmentally harmful industrial facilities, the increase in incidences of cancer and high levels of unemployment in the city, and how city hall hushed up the problems.

“At press conferences, I would post straight, tough questions to regional ecologists who argued that all the indicators were well within the norms. My boss knew about it, of course. When I arrived in Tuapse as a student in 2001, the city was still beautiful and thriving. Lots of tourists visited the city. Gradually, the industrial estates expanded so much they literally consumed all the beauty of those places. The ugly oil tanks, the industrial buildings, the fumes, steam, and chemical dust produced by the factories, and the oil waste pouring into the river and the sea have disfigured and poisoned my beloved city. There is a lot to say about the harm caused to the locals,” says Snopp.

Dismissal from the Newspaper
There were no actual reasons to fire Snopp from her  job at the newspaper, but immediately after the 2016 New Year’s holiday, she was urged to quit her job on her own, as it were.

kristina_d.rThe photograph that supposedly led to Kristina Snopp’s dismissal from her job. Courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info

The ostensible cause for her dismissal was a playful, artsy photo shoot in which Snopp and her husband, dressed in black leather, portrayed Satanist metalheads, an inverted pentagram hanging in the background.

“The editor told me privately the real reason I was fired was something else. People in city hall had long been advising him to get rid of such a politically unreliable reporter,” says Snopp.

Krasnodar
After her dismissal from the newspaper in Tuapse, Snopp and her husband moved to Krasnodar. Snopp thought she would have no trouble finding work in the big city. At first, she looked for jobs in journalism. She had dozens of interviews and completed various assignments, but she was constantly turned down.

Snopp decided to write for her own pleasure while earning money another way. She got a job as a shop clerk at a tobacco chain store. Soon, however, the proprietor got a phone call from an anonymous caller who informed him Snopp was a member of an “extremist” organization. She was fired.

In February 2018, police officers telephoned Snopp’s relatives and her husband’s relatives, demanding they provide them with the couple’s exact address.

“On February 14, police showed up at Denis’s workplace. They wanted to see me as well. Denis called, and I went there. We were not given an official written summons. Nothing was explained to us. We were told we would have to go to the Interior Ministry’s main office for Krasnodar Territory.  Police Captain Denis Polyantsev assured us both it was no big deal. He just needed information from us. However, Polyantsev joked I could have been as famous as Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, meaning my amateur punk rock group Guerillas Gone Mental, which I founded in 2012. According to Polyantsev, it was the group that had provoked suspicions of ‘extremism,'” says Snopp.

guerillas gone mentalA photo of Kristina Snopp’s punk rock group Guerillas Gone Mental. Courtesy of the band’s VK page

The couple were delivered to the Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”), whose officers asked about posts Snopp had published three years earlier on a social media page that had been deleted. Among the posts was a demotivator in which Putin was compared with Hitler, and parallels were drawn between Nazi Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Questions were also asked about post critical of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), for example, a demotivator in which an ROC priest blesses a missile dubbed Satan.

“I regarded these posts and cartoons more as political satire, the reaction of a concerned citizen to events in Russia. I had no intention of insulting anyone. Nevertheless, the Interior Ministry’s forensic examiners decided that by posting the cartoons I had incited hatred toward the president, Russian patriots, and Russian Orthodox Christians. I was shown a thick folder containing screenshots of my posts from various years and forensic findings I was not allowed to read,” says Snopp.

foto_s_cherepomA photo of Kristina Snopp holding what looks to be a skull. According to a police forensic examination, the skull was real. Photo courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info 

A photograph of Snopp holding a skull, taken in a cemetery during an amateur goth style photo shoot she published on her VK page, also caused suspicion among police officers. Polyantsev told Snopp forensic experts who examined the photos determined it was a real human skull. However, the online album containing the photos was captioned, and the captions clearly explained the skull was a fake. To be more precise, it was a piggy bank, purchased for 500 rubles at a souvenir stand in the railway station market in Tuapse.

Snopp says Polyantsev constantly put pressure on the couple during their questioning. He cited facts from her life and the lives of her relatives, suggesting he knew everything about them.

“Alas, my husband and I were so out of it that we went to the meeting without lawyers. We didn’t think about it from a legal viewpoint. We did not ask for copies of the summons, the forensic examinations or our own testimony. Basically, we had no written proof of what happened to us. However, the Russian police operate this way quite often, aware most people are illiterate when it comes to the law and lose their cool in these circumstances. Besides, we did not have the money to pay the fee the lawyer initially requested,” recounts Snopp.

Almost a month later, Polyantsev telephoned Snopp again. He informed her that the case file, containing her posts on VK, had been sent to Tuapse. She would need to go meet a police investigator on March 20, 2018, a meeting at which she would be given an official summons. Snopp realized if she signed for receipt of the summons, she would also be made to sign a form releasing her on her own recognizance and would probably be charged with several crimes, including “extremism.”

Snopp left Russia on March 18, the day of the last presidential election. Soon afterwards, her husband,  who had stayed on in Krasnodar to work, got a call from Polyantsev, who told him that if he did not tell investigators where his wife was, he would be accused of harboring a criminal. Several days later, Denis Snopp left Russia as well.

When they arrived in Georgia, Kristina and Denis Snopp applied for political asylum. They have had their second interview with immigration officials.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Judgement Day: Russia’s Rabid Crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses

yuri zalipayevIs Russian Jehovah’s Witness Yuri Zalipayev an “extremist”? Should he be imprisoned for five years for exercising his right to freedom of conscience, as guaranteed by the Russian Constitution? Photo courtesy of jw-russia.org

Not Everyone Shall Be Guaranteed the Freedom of Conscience: How Russia Has Been Persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses
Marina Muratova
OVD Info
August 23, 2018

Believe what you will, but do not do it openly is how the freedom of religion should now be interpreted in Russia. The authorities have sent over fifty people to court for praying and reading the Bible together. Jehovah’s Witnesses have had their homes searched and been arrested like people suspected of grave offenses. The grounds for these actions is the argument that the practice of their faith is a “continuation of the activities of an extremist organization.” OVD Info investigated the charges.

Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with others any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views, and act according to them.
—Article 28, Constitution of the Russian Federation

Russia vs. the Jehovah’s Witnesses
23 criminal cases in 18 regions of Russia, 53 people charged, 13 suspects. 31 people released on their own recognizance, 9 people under house arrest, 26 people in remand prisons. Several people assaulted by police during searches of their homes, the doors of those homes kicked down in nearly all cases. Nighttime interrogations, confiscated electronic devices, papers, and money, blocked bank accounts.

On April 20, 2017,  the Russian Supreme Court shut down the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia for violating the law against “extremism.” All 395 official chapters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia were banned. The EU’s mission to Russia said the ruling could lead to arrests. That is what has happened.

The Charges
Believers gather to pray and read the Bible, meaning they continue the work of a banned organization, according to Russian police investigators. There are few exceptions: nearly all the Jehovah’s Witness who have been detained have been charged with violating Russian Criminal Code Article 282.2 (“organization of and involvement in the work of an extremist organization”).

Danish national and Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen was, among other things, charged with financing extremist activities. The prosecutor submitted to the court records,  allegedly showing that money was transferred from the account of the Jehovah’s Witnesses after the church was shut down. It transpired the transactions in question had been executed by the bank itself after the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been dissolved as a legal entity. Another Jehovah’s Witness, Yuri Zalipayev, stands accused of inciting assaults on Russian Orthodox Christians and Muslims. Zalipayev’s defense attorney is sure police investigators cooked up their evidence and then tried to conceal the frame-up.  Arkadya Akopyan, a 70-year-old tailor, has also been charged with insulting Muslims and |Russian Orthodox Christians. There is no audio or video evidence, only a witness’s testimony.

arkadya akopyanIs Russian Jehovah’s Witness Arkadya Akopyan an extremist? Photo by Diana Khachatryan. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Police Searches of Homes
Russian law enforcement authorities usually conduct searches simultaneously in the flats of several Jehovah’s Witnesses early in the morning. Jehovah’s Witness have often reported violations on the part of police during these searches. In the case of the Polyakov family in Omsk, the security services busted down the door to their flat, prevented the Polyakovs from telephoning relatives, and smashed Mr. Polyakov’s face. (Doctors recorded his injuries only two days later.) When the Polyakovs attempted to voice their disagreement with the actions of police  in the official search report, police wrested the form from their grasp.  During searches and interrogations in Penza, a police investigator forced six female Jehovah’s Witness detainees to strip naked.  In Saratov Region, the security forces mistakenly sawed off the door of the wrong flat. In another flat the same day, the police discovered banned literature in the sleeve of a child’s overcoat. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the police planted it there.

In the city of Shuya, Ivanovo Region, police interrogated a 10-year-old girl, and the list of items confiscated during the police search of her family’s flat included sheet music and a pupil’s grade book from a music school. In Kabardino-Balkaria, one group of security officers stormed a flat through the balcony, although the flat’s female occupant had opened the front door to another group of security officers. In Birobidzhan, 150 law enforcement officers took part in numerous searches carried out on the same day: the operation was codenamed “Judgement Day.” Police have seized digital gear, books, Bibles, diaries, photographs, and bank cards during the raids. The raids and subsequent interrogations have lasted several hours.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have not only been detained in their homes. Police caught up with Andrei Stupnikov of Krasnoyarsk at an airport at four in the morning as he and his wife were checking into a flight to Germany. A court later jailed Stupnikov, since he could have received political asylum, as the judge put it. Alexander Solovyov was detained when he stepped off a train after returning to Perm from holiday.

Custodial Measures
Most of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been charged with criminal offenses have been incarcerated in remand prisons.  The defense attorney representing Sergei Klimov of Tomsk told OVD Info that Klimov spent two months in a solitary confinement cell measuring 1.7 meters by 2.8 meters, allegedly, because it was impossible to find room for him in an ordinary cell. On August 8, at an appeals hearing, Klimov was left in police custody, but he was transferred out of solitary into gen pop.

After time spent in remand prisons, several Jehovah’s Witnesses have been released and placed under house arrest. Konstantin Petrov of Magadan spent 64 days in jail, while several Jehovah’s Witnesses in Orenburg spent 78 days in jail each.

Vitaly Arsenyuk, a resident of the town of Dzhankoy in northern Crimea, was charged with engaging in illegal missionary work, a violation of Article 5.25 Part 4 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code. After the first hearing in his case, in June 2017, Arsenyuk died of a heart attack.

Some Jehovah’s Witnesses have spent months in pretrial custody. Danish national Dennis Christensen has spent over a year in a remand prison. No one has yet been sentenced to hard prison time, but the courts have been indulgent to Jehovah’s Witnesses only on rare occassions. In 2017, a court acquitted Vyacheslav Stepanov and Andrei Sivak of Sergiev Posad, who had been charged with inciting hatred or enmity on the strength of a video recording of worship services. In May, an appellate court freed 55-year-old Alam Aliyev. On August 9 and 10, a court in Kamchatka overturned earlier decisions remanding Mikhail Popov in custody and placing his wife Yelena under house arrest.

Community Property
In all regions of Russia, buildings constructed or purchased by Jehovah’s Witnesses have generally been seized and turned over to the state. In Petersburg’s Resort District, the state took possession of a complex valued at around two billion rubles [approx. 25 million euros], a complex from which the authorities had received hefty tax payments for many years. Over the course of seventeen years, state inspectors never found a single violation at the complex, but now the local courts refuse to recognize the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the property or the official deeds to the complex.

Reactions
The EU delegation to the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, and human rights activists have spoken out against Russia’s persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Dennis Christensen’s arrest led to the initiation of legal proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. On May 15, 2015, the Kingdom of Denmark was admitted as a third party to the case of Christensen v. Russian Federation.

In response to the complaint filed with the ECHR, Russian envoys at the ECHR and UN claimed Jehovah’s Witnesses still had the right to practice their religion despite the dissolution of their congregations. It was at this same time, in the spring of this year, that the number of arrests of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia went through the roof.

The International Memorial Society has already recognized 29 Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses as political prisoners. A total of fifty Jehovah’s Witnesses have been subjected to persecution by the authorities.

  • Oryol: Dennis Christensen, Sergei Skrynnikov
  • Omsk: Sergei and Anastasia Polyakov
  • Penza: Vladimir Alushkin, Vladimir Kulyasov, Denis Timoshin, Andrei Magliv, and four more unnamed people
  • Tomsk: Sergei Klimov
  • Saratov: Konstantin Bazhenov, Felix Makhammadiyev
  • Village of Shirokoye, Saratov Region: Alexei Budenchuk
  • Magadan: Sergei Yerkin, Yevgeny Zyablov, Konstantin Petrov
  • Khabarovsk: Ivan Puyda, Vladimir Moskalenko
  • Naberezhnye Chelny: Ilkham Karimov, Konstantin Matrashov, Vladimir Myakushin, Aidar Yulmetiev
  • Orenburg: Vladimir Kochnev, Alexander Suvorov, Vyacheslav Kolbanov
  • Polyarny, Murmansk Region: Roman Markin, Viktor Trofimov
  • Shuya, Ivanovo Region, Dmitry and Yelena Mikhaylov, Svetlana Shishina, Alexei A., Svetlana P.
  • Vladivostok: Valentin Osadchuk
  • Nakhodka: Dmitry and Yelena Barmakin
  • Krasnoyarsk: Andrei Stupnikov
  • Perm: Alexander Solovyov
  • Sol-Iletsk, Orenburg Region: Boris Andreyev
  • Village of Perevolotsky, Orenburg Region: Anatoly Vichkitov
  • Kostroma: Sergei and Valeria Rayman
  • Vilyuchinsk, Kamchatka Territory: Mikhail and Yelena Popov
  • Beryozovsky, Keremovo Region: Sergei Britvin, Vadim Levchuk
  • Maysky, Kabardina-Balkaria: Arkadya Akopyan
  • Lensk, Yakutia: Igor  Ivashin
  • Pskov: Gennady Shpakovsky
  • Birobidzhan: Alam Aliyev
  • Yelizovo, Kamchatka Territory: Konstantin Bazhenov
  • Belgorod: Anatoly Shalyapin, Sergei Voykov

This list was supplied to us by the European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses and defense attorney Artur Leontiev.

Freedom of Conscience
OVD Info asked attorney Artur Leontiev, who has been handling the defense of Sergei Klimov and Andrei Stupnikov, as well as the case of the property owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, to comment on the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“Law enforcement agencies have been criminally prosecuting believers for ordinary, peaceful professions of faith, as when they gather in small groups to read and discuss the Bible, watch videos on biblical topics, and so forth. The security forces got it into their heads that this constituted a continuation of the activities of an organization dissolved by the court. However, the believers who have been charged with these crimes had nothing to do with the legal entities that were dissolved and were not parties to the proceedings in the Russian Supreme Court.

“Believers’ phones were tapped, their letters were vetted, and they were followed. The security service thus amassed a fair amount of operational material. I think the heads of the various agencies decided to use it to improve their conviction rates, all the more so since the peaceable Jehovah’s Witnesses were easy targets. They have always tried to be law-abiding. Even now they do not regard themselves as criminals. They evince no aggression, imagining the injustice that has befallen them is a misunderstanding that will soon be cleared up. Actually, they are faced with a choice: refuse to practice their religion or be prepared to endure all the delights of criminal prosecution. However, the law enforcers doing the dirty work in the locales often understand what is really going on, but they are guided by the principle of ‘I have my orders, and I have a family to feed.’

“The complaint (Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and Kalin v. Russian Federation, Case No. 10188/17) has been filed with the ECHR and accepted for review, the parties have exchanged comments, and the case has been expedited. Complaints have also been filed with the ECHR for each particular instance of criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“It is vital, however, the Russian legal system kicked into gear and operated not on the basis of expediency, but according to the law. Whatever you feel about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they have the same right to their beliefs and the same right to a fair trial as other Russians.”

Translated by the Russian Reader