“Stopping His Torture Is Our Common Cause”

OVD Info
Facebook
April 6, 2021

Grassroots activist Anna Margolis has been detained near the FSB building on Lubyanka Square in Moscow. In her solo picket, she called for an end to the persecution and torture of [Alexei] Navalny.

Margolis has been taken to the police department in the Meshchansky District.

https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2021/04/06/u-zdaniya-fsb-na-lubyanke-zaderzhali-piketchicu-s-plakatom-protiv

Poster: Anna Margolis. Photo: Maria Kokovkina

“Navalny’s views are his business. Your opinion of him is your business. Stopping his torture is our common cause! ‘There are countries in which corporeal punishment has been abolished whereas in our country the question of a whether a man should be flogged or not is still a matter of dispute. […] You would be perfectly justified in showing your compassion for the victims, then why don’t you?’ A[lexander] Herzen, [‘Letters to an Opponent’], 1864.”

Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Fifty Members of the Russian Academy of Sciences: “We Urge the Court to Release Azat Miftakhov”

Azat Miftakhov during a hearing at the Golovinsky District Court in Moscow. Photo: N. Demina. Courtesy of Troitsky Variant

[Original letter: https://trv-science.ru/2021/01/free-azat-letter-rs/]

The trial of Azat Miftakhov is of the utmost concern to us, his mathematician colleagues.

Azat Miftakhov, a PhD student in the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics at Moscow State University, was detained by security forces in the early hours of 1 February 2019 and has been in custody for almost two years. The charges against him have changed, and the only remaining charge (breaking a window in an office of the political party United Russia) is based only on the testimony of secret witnesses. According to reports by lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina and the Public Monitoring Commission, Azat was tortured in the interim before his arrest was formalised in the late evening of 2 February 2019. However, as far as we know, a criminal investigation into Azat’s allegations of torture has not been launched.

In prison, Azat has written two scientific papers, one of which was published in the Bulletin of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The other was submitted to an international scientific journal.

All petitions to release Azat from pre-trial detention in favor of milder measures of pre-trial restraint were rejected by the court. The punishment already borne by Azat does not appear to be commensurate with the crime he is alleged to have committed, and the sentence of six years in a penal colony requested for him by the state prosecutor provokes our indignation.

We urge the court to release Azat Miftakhov.

[Signatories]

V.M. Alpatov, RAS Academician
A.E. Anikin, RAS Academician
Yu.D. Apresyan, RAS Academician
L.Y. Aranovich, RAS Corresponding Member
P.I. Arseev, RAS Corresponding Member
L.D. Beklemishev, RAS Academician
A.A. Belavin, RAS Corresponding Member
E.L. Berezovich, RAS Corresponding Member
E.A. Bonch-Osmolovskaya, RAS Corresponding Member
A.B. Borisov, RAS Corresponding Member
S.A. Burlak, RAS Professor
A.I. Bufetov, RAS Professor
V.A. Vasiliev, RAS Academician
M.M. Glazov, RAS Corresponding Member
N.P. Grintser, RAS Corresponding Member
A.V. Dvorkovich, RAS Corresponding Member
A.S. Desnitskii, RAS Professor
A.V. Dybo, RAS Corresponding Member
V.E. Zakharov, RAS Academician
A.V. Ivanchik, RAS Corresponding Member
A.I. Ivanchik, RAS Corresponding Member
V.V. Izmodenov, RAS Professor
Yu.Yu. Kovalev, RAS Corresponding Member
A.A. Kotov, RAS Corresponding Member
Z.F. Krasil’nik, RAS Corresponding Member
Ya.V. Kudriavtsev, RAS Professor
E.A. Kuznetsov, RAS Academician
I.Yu. Kulakov, RAS Corresponding Member
A.G. Litvak, RAS Academician
A.A. Maschan, RAS Corresponding Member
O.E. Melnik, RAS Corresponding Member
R.V. Mizyuk, RAS Corresponding Member
A.M. Moldovan, RAS Academician
I.I. Mullonen, RAS Corresponding Member
A.K. Murtazaev, RAS Corresponding Member
A.A. Pichkhadze, RAS Corresponding Member
V.V. Pukhnachev, RAS Corresponding Member
В.I. Ritus, RAS Corresponding Member
N.N. Rozanov, RAS Corresponding Member
A.A. Saranin, RAS Corresponding Member
G.S. Sokolovsky, RAS Professor
O.N. Solomina, RAS Corresponding Member
S.M. Stishov, RAS Academician
S.V. Streltsov, RAS Corresponding Member
S.M. Tolstaya, RAS Academician
A.L. Toporkov, RAS Corresponding Member
F.B. Uspenski, RAS Corresponding Member
E.A. Khazanov, RAS Academician
A.V. Chaplik, RAS Academician
E.M. Churazov, RAS Academician
D.G. Yakovlev, RAS Corresponding Member

The verdict in Azat Miftakhov’s trial is scheduled to be announced at the Golovinsky District Court in Moscow on Monday, January 18, 2021. Thanks to MV for bringing this letter to my attention. || TRR

A Letter to the International Congress of Mathematicians on the Azat Miftakhov Case

January 4, 2021

To the members of the Executive Organizing Committee and Local Organizing Committee of the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM):

Dear ICM Organizers,

The international mathematical community is deeply concerned about the situation of Azat Miftakhov, the graduate student from Moscow State University who has been detained by Russian state authorities for nearly two years.

Azat is a talented young mathematician who comes from the Tatarstan region in the Russian Federation. Already in school he won prizes in several math competitions and received support given to talented young people by the Ministry of Education and Science. As a student in Moscow he became involved with the anarchist movement. In February 2019, right after his return from a conference in Nizhni Novgorod where Azat gave his first talk in English, he was detained by the police and accused of manufacturing explosives. He was tortured at the police station. After three days Azat was released, since the court found no evidence to justify his detention. Less than two days later, on February 9, 2019, he was again arrested and accused of destruction of an office window of the United Russia political party, an act which had taken place more than a year earlier. He has been kept in jail since then. The lack of evidence in Azat’s case is disturbing, as is the fact that, for most of the time since his arrest, he has remained in pre-trial detention.

Azat pleads not guilty. During his detention he has managed to publish two mathematical preprints on arxiv.

Azat Miftakhov has been recognized as a political prisoner by the Russian human rights organization Memorial. The American Mathematical Society and Société Mathématique de France have issued statements of concern. A recent petition in support of Azat has been signed by more than 2000 mathematicians from more than 15 countries.

On December 23, 2020 it was announced that Azat faces six years of prison if convicted.

While Russia is going to host the ICM in less than two years, Miftakhov’s trial reminds us of the host country’s frequent violations of human rights and repression of freedoms, which are regularly condemned by human rights organizations. Let us recall that in 1982 the International Congress in Warsaw was postponed by one year, during which various actions were taken by the international mathematical community to free political prisoners in Poland.

Freedom is one of the highest values for us as scientists. Attending the congress while our colleague Azat Miftakhov is arbitrarily detained will pose a serious dilemma for us and for the entire mathematical community. We kindly ask you to take an active position on this case and to communicate with the state authorities to free Azat.

[Signatories]

Ahmed Abbes, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Paris

Zofia Adamowicz, Professor, Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Fabrizio Andreatta, Professor of mathematics, Università Statale di Milano

Michèle Audin, mathematician and writer

Viviane Baladi, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Paris

Arnaud Beauville, Professor emeritus of mathematics, Université Côte d’Azur

Michel Broué, Professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Paris

Antoine Chambert-Loir, Professor of mathematics, Université de Paris

Bruno Chiarellotto, Professor of mathematics, Università degli studi di Padova

Henri Darmon, Professor of mathematics, McGill University

Chandler Davis, Professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Toronto

Adrien Deloro, Associate professor of mathematics at Sorbonne Université

Fabien Durand, Président de la Société Mathématique de France, Professor of mathematics, Université de Picardie Jules Verne

Ivar Ekeland, FRSC, Professor emeritus of mathematics and former President, University of Paris-Dauphine

Pavel Etingof, Department of Mathematics, MIT

Javier Fresán, Professor, École polytechnique

Dennis Gaitsgory, Professor of mathematics, Harvard University

Paul Garrett, Professor of mathematics, University of Minnesota

Damien Gayet, Professor of mathematics at Institut Fourier and Editor-in-chief of the Gazette des mathématiciens

Catherine Goldstein, Director of research at CNRS, Institut de mathématiques de Jussieu-Paris Gauche, Paris

Timothy Gowers, Professor of combinatorics, Collège de France

Michael Harris, Professor of mathematics, Columbia University

Frédéric Hélein, Professor, Université de Paris

Ilya Kapovich, Professor of mathematics, Hunter College of CUNY, Chair, Committee on the Human Rights of Mathematicians, American Mathematical Society

Vincent Lafforgue, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Grenoble

François Loeser, Professor of mathematics, Sorbonne University

Wiesława Nizioł, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, IMJ-PRG, Sorbonne University

Joseph Oesterlé, Professor emeritus of mathematics at Sorbonne University, Paris

Arthur Ogus, Professor emeritus of mathematics, University of California at Berkeley

Fabrice Planchon, Professor of mathematics, Sorbonne University

Bjorn Poonen, Distinguished professor in science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Raphaël Rouquier, Professor of mathematics at the University of California at Los Angeles

Claude Sabbah, Director of research at CNRS, Université de Paris-Saclay

Takeshi Saito, Professor of mathematics at the University of Tokyo

Peter Sarnak, Professor of mathematics, Princeton

Pierre Schapira, Professor emeritus of mathematics, Sorbonne Université

Peter Scholze, Professor of mathematics at the University of Bonn and Director of Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn

Adam Skalski, Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Stephen Smale, Professor emeritus of mathematics, University of California at Berkeley

Christophe Soulé, mathematician, member of the French Academy of Science

Bernard Teissier, mathematician, Director of research emeritus at CNRS, Paris

Dylan Thurston, Professor of mathematics, Indiana University, Bloomington

Claude Viterbo, Professor of mathematics at the University of Paris-Saclay and at the École normale supérieure de Paris

Masha Vlasenko, Professor, Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences

David A. Vogan, Jr., Professor emeritus of mathematics, MIT

Jarosław A. Wiśniewski, Professor of mathematics at the University of Warsaw and corresponding Member of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Hatem Zaag, mathematician, Director of research at CNRS, Paris

Thanks to the authors of this letter for sending it to me. Photo courtesy of MSU Pressure Group and Radio Svoboda

Shohista Karimova: Convicted of Someone Else’s Crime

Shohista Karimova. Photo courtesy of RFE/RL

Shohista Karimova: Convicted of Someone Else’s Crime
Natalia Sivohina
Zanovo
Decemrber 6, 2020

Tomorrow, December 7, a court hearing will be held in the Moscow suburb of Vlasikha on the appeal of the verdict against of Shohista Karimova. The name of this middle-aged woman from Uzbekistan, who worked as a food prep worker in the Moscow Region, surfaced in the media in connection with the criminal case into the 3 April 2017 terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway—and, most likely, it was immediately forgotten. Journalist Natalia Sivohina recalls Karimova’s story.

On 3 April 2017, an explosion occurred in the Petersburg subway on a train traveling between the stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut, killing 16 passengers and injuring about a hundred.

The security forces voiced several conflicting explanations of the tragedy, but soon reported that the perpetrators had been found.

In the dock were eleven people, migrant workers from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. According to investigators, they were members of an Islamist organization.

On 5 April 2017, relatives of one of the future defendants in the case of the Petersburg Eleven, Muhamadusup Ermatov, reported him missing. As he later told human rights activists and journalists, he had been kidnapped. The kidnappers (presumably FSB officers) put a plastic bag over Ermatov’s head, beat him up, intimidated him verbally, tasered him, and demanded that he give the testimony they wanted to hear.

Other defendants in the subway bombing case also claimed they had been subjected to the same “investigative methods.” The evidence obtained under torture was the basis of the sentences the defendants received on charges of terrorism. Karimova, the only woman among the defendants, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Karimova worked as a food prep worker in a café near Moscow. According to the case file, she “provided the [terrorist group] with means of communication.” As she said later, she lent a phone to her coworker and, later, co-defendant Abror Azimov. That was the extent of her alleged involvement in the bombing.

When FSB officers came to her house, the Uzbek national meekly complied with all their demands: she held the detonator in her hands, leaving her fingerprints on it, and let them take DNA swabs of her mouth and scalp.

Karimova trusted the authorities and hoped to the last that the truth would out. In the end, however, she was found guilty of possessing a bomb on Tovarishchesky Lane in Petersburg, a city to which she had never been before she was arrested.

Karimova had come to Russia to help her daughter. She worked for 25 thousand rubles a month [approx. 400 euros a month in 2017] and sent money home to her family. The verdict sent her into shock: her terrible screaming during the reading of the verdict was included in journalistic accounts of that day. But few journalists wrote anything about Karimova’s own story.

Screenshot of a letter, quoted below, sent by Shohista Karimova from prison, dated 18 May 2020

“When a guard at Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 2 asked why I didn’t go out for a walk, my cellmate replied that I was afraid. I was so afraid that a man in the uniform might hurt me—I was scared and cried constantly. My brain was just turned off. After a year, I started to recover from the stress and the extreme emotional state. And I was very afraid for my loved ones: they could have been framed as well,” Karimova wrote in a letter to a friend, adding, “I now believe that any innocent person can be charged [with a crime they did not commit].”

What the Defense Says
I spoke with Karimova’s lawyer, Viktor Drozdov.

How did you end up taking Shohista’s case? How did it all begin?

I received a call from a person who had previously been in prison and knew the law enforcement system firsthand, and then from other human rights defenders. They asked me to work pro bono on the case, whose defendants were initially represented by court-appointed lawyers. We met and talked, and I agreed to serve as Shohista’s defense counsel.

The tragedy in April 2017 and the media coverage that followed it had attracted my attention. I followed the case quite closely, comparing various reports. It raised a lot of questions, and I decided to find answers to them. I found them.

You have appealed the apparently wrongful verdict. Why do you think it is important to go all the way in this trial?

The defense lawyer’s job is to debunk the prosecution (during trial) and the illegality of the sentence (as now, on appeal), and always be ready to defend their client in subsequent phases in the process. What does “going all the way” mean? The real end came long ago: the justice system was completely “bankrupted” by this trial. It has neither been willing nor able to respond to any of the defense’s arguments.

Does Shohista believe in the possibility of getting justice? What does she think about the upcoming appeal?

Until recently, she had great faith in Putin. She wrote him letters to which she received no response. I don’t ask her that question now. Shohista is painfully aware of the circumstances that caused her to end up in prison completely unexpectedly and absurdly. She knows perfectly well and shares my position on her defense, which is that by defending her, I am defending the Russian justice system, first of all, and her future  depends on it.

Shohista is a hostage to the political interests of people who are now quite powerful.

I have started naming these people on my little Telegram channel. They all were involved or somehow complicit in the #Metro17 case.

After the verdict, Shokhista wrote a letter to Judge Andrei Morozov, congratulating him on finally pacifying Russian society by “finding the terrorists” and wishing him health and happiness.

How many lawyers are currently defending Karimova?

Two: the lawyer Sergei Shostak, who joined the defense at my request, also pro bono, and fully shares my position, and me.

Despite the obvious inconsistencies in the trial of the Petersburg Eleven and the defendants’ complaints of torture, the case did not fall apart in court, and the defendants received huge sentences. Why do you think this happened?

The answer, perhaps, can be found in the verdict itself and in the way the trial was run. The text of the verdict does not cite any of the arguments the defense made, nor does it analyze the events of 3 April 2017 themselves. The court point-blank refused (sic!) to examine the [bombed] subway car as material evidence or the improvised explosive devices, entered into evidence by the prosecution, nor did it uphold any significant defense motion on the merits of the charge. And it allowed the illegal presence of unidentified and unmarked masked persons armed with firearms in the courtroom.

The court was neither independent nor fair. I personally feel very sorry for the judges. They did something vile.

Can ordinary people help defendants in political cases?

“Ordinary people” cannot do anything. But I believe in the capabilities of my fellow citizens—caring, thoughtful, and ready to tell the truth. The internet, petitions, collective appeals, and publicity can help—especially publicity.

* * *

The obvious inconsistencies in the case and testimony by the defendants that they had been subjected to hours of torture during the investigation did not prevent the trial court from finding them guilty and sentencing them to long terms in prison.

So far, there has been no massive grassroots campaign demanding a normal investigation of the case of the Petersburg Eleven. The medieval division into “friends” and “foes” has been firmly established in Russian society. Actually, this is nothing new: this is what usually happens amidst the wreckage of social institutions that have become obsolete.

First, people are evaluated by skin color, then people from the “wrong” ethnic groups are imprisoned: all this happened relatively recently by the standards of history. The country that conquered fascism interrogates hundred-year-old veterans who sacrificed their health and strength in that long-ago war with fascism. The so-called prosecution throws random people behind bars—disempowered construction workers, maintenance men, and kitchen workers from the former fraternal republics. So-called public opinion equates the concepts of “immigrant” and “terrorist.” The so-called state turns into a madman fleeing from its own shadow.

Zanovo Media will keep you updated about the plight of Shohista Karimova and the other defendants in the trial of the Petersburg Eleven.

_____________________

Earlier today, Natalia Sivohina posted the following on her Facebook page by way of prefacing her article: “Recently, I posted a link to the website Zanovo, and today I published my first article there. The article is about Shohista Karimova, who worked as kitchen prep in the Moscow Region and was a defendant in the case of the terrorist attack in Petersburg. This ordinary, very nice woman visited our city for the first time after her arrest. No one knows the current whereabouts of the people actually involved in the crime committed in April 2017. But it is now quite clear to me that the defendants in the case of the Petersburg Eleven are random people who incriminated themselves under torture. Alas, this is the case in today’s Russia, which likes to rant about the ‘fight against fascism.’ Knowing about this case makes me uneasy. I felt quite scared when I wrote this article and talked to Shohista’s lawyer. But, you know, there are things that you can’t keep quiet about, because they concern everyone. Please, if you haven’t heard anything about  Karimova, read this article about her. The hearing of the appeal against her verdict is scheduled for tomorrow. I really want to hope for the best.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the presumed terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, the case against its alleged “financers and planners,” its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the eleven Central Asian migrant workers scapegoated and convicted in the case:

Mikola Dziadok: A Tortured Political Prisoner in Belarus

Lawyer on Dziadok’s Condition: “Injuries from Handcuffs on the Hands, Huge Bruises on the Thighs and Back”
Viasna
November 19, 2020

Novy Chas journalist and blogger Mikola Dziadok was detained on November 12 in the village of Sosnovy in the Asipovichi District. In a video that was circulated by the Belarusian Interior Ministry, it is clear that Dziadok had been beaten. His lawyer, Natalya Matskevich, has announced that she has filed a motion to order a forensic medical examination in respect of Dziadok. Novy Chas contacted Matskevich to find out more about what is happening with Dziadok.

Mikola Dziadok, as seen in the notorious Belarusian Interior Ministry video published after his arrest

Where is Mikola now? What is his condition?

On November 17, Mikola was transferred from the temporary detention center on Okrestin Street to Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 1 on Volodarsky Street in Minsk. For the time being he is in quarantine. His physical condition can now be called normal, and emotionally he is also holding up well: he is cheerful. He says that he remains true to his beliefs and principles.

Did he tell you how he was detained?

Before his arrest, Mikola had rented an apartment in the village of Sosnovy for several months. He was not hiding from anyone, but he understood that in the current circumstances it was better for him not to be in Minsk, since for the past several years he had been closely watched by GUBOPiK [the Department for Organized Crime and Corruption Prevention], solely in connection with his [political] views and stance, which he expressed publicly. According to Mikola, on November 11, at about eleven in the evening, seven masked law enforcement officers broke into his second-floor apartment by breaking a window. After capturing him, they used physical violence and special equipment until they got him to “confess” on camera. Then they took him to Minsk, where they worked him over for several hours, demanding access to a computer disk and [his] Telegram channels. It was only after five in the morning that they took him to the temporary detention center.

What methods were used to make him talk? How forceful were they?

I will not go into details: I will be filing an appropriate procedural motion to this effect. I can say that I have had several clients who fled Chechnya after being tortured and were detained in Belarus for deportation. But I never thought that I would hear stories about such things happening in our own country.

As Mikola told me, a few hours after his arrest, when he was lying on the floor in one of the [law enforcement] departments, he was made to swear that he would not speak about GUBOPiK. Let’s say that happened. Moreover, we do not know yet the names of those who made the arrest. But on November 12, it was this department that reported on its actions in detaining Dziadok and [published] videos showing Mikola’s state after he was detained. Even a slightly experienced person will immediately notice traces of tear gas use at close range in the first video, and the second video clearly shows a hematoma around [Mikola’s] left eye. What else did I see in the temporary detention center? Injuries from handcuffs on his hands, and huge bruises on his thighs and back.

I think that, taking into account the fact that several law enforcement officers detained the unarmed Dziadok unexpectedly, the question of the proportionate use of force for the purpose of detention should not be considered at all. Rather, there should be a legal assessment of whether there was an abuse of power and legal authority.

All [of Mikola’s] visible injuries were documented, at least, when he entered the pre-trial detention center. Investigators have sufficient grounds for conducting an inquiry and deciding whether to initiate a criminal case [against the officers who detained Dziadok].

Do you expect such an investigation, given that there were thousands of allegations of violence against people by law enforcement officers in August of this year, but not a single criminal case was opened?

It’s hard to be sure of the results. Even in 2017, when after Mikola was detained on his way to a Freedom Day rally, he was taken to the emergency hospital with a concussion, which was absolute proof of the use of violence by the police, no criminal case was initiated. Then, after an official inquiry, the authorities issued an opinion that Mikola already had these injuries when he was detained. We appealed this decision both through the prosecutor’s office and in the courts, but to no avail. The case is currently under review by the UN Human Rights Committee.

As far as the current situation is concerned, the investigators are obliged to respond in an appropriate procedural manner. The international standard for investigating torture is a prompt, independent, objective and effective investigation, provided that the victim is protected from possible threats in connection with the investigation. The Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Belarus also contains these principles. So let’s see how principled the Investigative Committee will be in its actions.

What can you say about the “Molotov cocktails” and “cold weapons” that GUBOPiK allegedly found in Mikola’s apartment?

Are you referring to the bottles shown in the Interior Ministry’s video? How do they know what was in them? Who performed the expert analysis on the “cold weapons”? If you recall the notorious case of the White Legion, state TV channels then showed viewers a whole trunkload of bottles filled with liquids, and some knives, too. And where are they now? Mikola told me that he did not have these bottles. We should ask simple logical questions, taking into account that Dedok has not recently been involved in any marches and rallies, and has not called for violent actions. Why would he have needed “Molotov cocktails” in the village of Sosnovy? Would he have taken them by bus to Minsk?

Can you tell us what the charges against Dziadok are?

As of today, we only know what the Interior Ministry said in its communique. As long as there is no specific description of the criminal acts alleged to have been committed by Dziadok, there is no way I can comment on anything. From what was said in the Interior Ministry’s communique—”[he] actively administered a radical Telegram channel, where he publicly called for participation in mass riots”—we can conclude that he is being criminally prosecuted for making certain statements, for expressing a certain opinion. But I don’t think that any of Dziadok’s publications can be objectively assessed as calls for violent action.

You can write letters to Mikola Dziadok at SIZO-1, ul. Volodarskgo, 2, Minsk, 220030, Belarus.

Thanks to Comrade NN for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Three Years of Revenge (A Chronicle of the Network Case)

The Three-Year Revenge
The appeals hearing in the Network Case is over. The sentences are the same: from six to eighteen years in prison
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
October 20, 2020

The Network Case […] has been going on for exactly three years. Today, we can say that the case has come to an end: an appeals court has upheld the convictions of all the defendants [in the Penza portion of the case, not the Petersburg portion], who face six to eighteen years in prison. In the coming days and weeks, they will be transported to penal colonies to serve their sentences, while their lawyers file complaints with the Russian Court of Cassation and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Novaya Gazeta recalls how one of the most dramatic and unjust cases of the 2010s unfolded.

2017

October

The Maltsev/Artpodgotovka Case […] had just exploded on the front pages, and the World Cup and the presidential election were on the horizon. The circumstances were perfect for the special services to uncover a “terrorist plot” and impress their superiors. A year and and a half earlier, an ambitious FSB colonel, Sergei Sizov, took charge of the agency’s Penza office: it is believed that he launched the Network Case. Now a lieutenant-general, Sizov currently heads the agency’s Chelyabinsk regional office. Soon after he was assigned to Chelyabinsk, news broke of the so-called Chelyabinsk Case, which is quite reminiscent of the Network Case.

The arrests in Penza began on October 18, 2017. Yegor Zorin was the first to be taken. He had drugs on him, allegedly, but now that we know how investigators handled the evidence in the case, this circumstance is in doubt. Zorin was pressured into cooperating with the authorities, giving evidence about a certain organization, to which he and his friend Ilya Shakursky belonged, allegedly. Shakursky is a well-known anti-fascist activist, organizer of charitable and environmental campaigns, and musician. The authorities had long had their eyes on him and were so interested that they sicked a provocateur on him. This provocateur, Vladislav Gresko-Dobrovolsky, would later be a secret witness for the prosecution at the trial.

Dmitry Pchelintsev, Andrei Chernov, Vasily Kuksov and, a bit later, Arman Sagynbayev are arrested. The young men are beaten and threatened during their arrests. Although weapons were found, allegedly, on Kuksov, Shakursky, and Pchelintsev, no traces of the accused or their body tissues are detected on the weapons.

Everything is held against them: the books they read (including Tolstoy), a staged airsoft video, shot two years earlier; their correspondence on messengers; and hikes in the forest that involved practicing survival skills and first aid. But what matters most is their own testimony, obtained under torture, something that no one except the prosecutor’s office doubts anymore. The conclusion: the accused are a “terrorist community” that was planning to seize power and enact regime change.

November

Rumors reach Moscow that anarchists and antifascists have been disappearing in Penza. Their arrests are really like abductions: a person disappears, and that is it. Alexei Polikhovich, a correspondent with OVD Info and an anarchist who recently served time in the Bolotnaya Square Case, travels to Penza. He learns about what has happened, including the torture, but the relatives of the detainees ask him not to publish the information. The general sentiment at the time was not to make a fuss: things would only get worse, and most importantly, the torture would resume. Consequently, the information is published only in January, after the arrests in Petersburg of Viktor Filinkov, Igor Shishkin, and Yuli Boyarshinov as part of the same case.

2018

January

Yana Teplitskaya and Katya Kosarevskaya, members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, find Filinkov in the Crosses Prison, recording “numerous traces of burns from a stun gun on the entire surface of [his] right thigh, a hematoma on [his] right ankle, [and] burns from a stun gun in [his] chest area.” There were more than thirty such signs of injury. Filinkov claims he was tortured. Slightly later, Pchelintsev and Shakursky would claim they were tortured. Doctors confirm that Shishkin suffered a fracture in the lower wall of his eye socket, as well as numerous bruises and abrasions.

Pchelintsev: “When I was tortured with electrical shocks, my mouth was full of ‘crushed teeth’ due to the fact I gritted my teeth since the pain was strong, and I tore the frenulum of my tongue. My mouth was full of blood, and at some point one of my torturers stuck my sock in my mouth.”

The case attracts attention.

February 14

A banner bearing the inscription “The FSB is the main terrorist” is hung on the fence of the FSB building in Chelyabinsk “in solidarity with repressed anarchists all over the country.” The people who hung the banner are detained and, according to them, tortured. They are charged with disorderly conduct. Six months later, the charges are dropped due to lack of evidence. It is in Chelyabinsk that investigators use the phrase “damage to the FSB’s reputation” for the first time. The phrase is the key to the entire process. Subsequently, the security forces would take revenge against those who publicized instances of torture and procedural violations. People who supported the accused would sometimes be punished: they would face criminal charges and threats to their lives. The motive of revenge is clearly legible in all the actions taken by investigators, in the stance adopted by the prosecutors and the judges, and in the verdict itself.

Spring

Gradually, information about the Network Case is published in the media, first as brief news items, then as full-fledged articles in independent publications. By the end of April, everyone is writing about the case. The solidarity campaign becomes massive, and the case gains notoriety. At the same time, the NTV propaganda film Dangerous Network is broadcast: in terms of genre, it  resembles other such film, including Anatomy of a Protest and 13 Friends of the Junta. It attacks not only the accused, making them look like bin Laden-scale terrorists , but also the human rights defenders and activists who support them and thus, allegedly, betray Russian interests. Dangerous Network was the first of many similar “documentaries” and articles on the case.

The first solidarity rallies and concerts are held in May. The parents of the defendants create the Parents Network, an association aimed at protecting their children, and ask for help from federal human rights ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova. Consequently, the torture stops, but no one thinks to close the case.

In July, there are new arrests in the case: Penza residents Mikhail Kulkov and Maxim Ivankin are arrested. At the same time, in July, during a session of the UN Committee Against Torture, the Russian delegation is asked about the Network Case. The delegation ignores the question.

October 28

An unauthorized “people’s meeting” in support of the defendants in the Network and New Greatness cases takes place outside FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square in Moscow. Similar protests are held in Petersburg, Penza, Novosibirsk, Rostov-on-Don, and Irkutsk. Among those detained after the protest in Moscow is activist Konstantin Kotov. A week later, 77-year-old human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov is fined and sentenced to 25 days of administrative arrest for calling for the meeting. Ponomaryov comments, “This is the FSB’s revenge.” The gatherings on Lubyanka against torture and crackdowns would continue in 2019.

October 31

In Arkhangelsk, 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky blows himself up at the local offices of the FSB. Shortly before the blast, a message appears on the Telegram channel Rebel Talk [Rech’ buntovshchika]: “Since the FSB fabricates cases and tortures people, I decided to go for it.” There is no indication of a specific case, but the phrase “fabricates cases and tortures” suggests the Network Case.

December

At a meeting of the Human Rights Council, journalist Nikolai Svanidze and council chair Mikhail Fedotov tell Putin about the provocations in the New Greatness Case and the torture in the Network Case. “This is the first time I’ve heard about it,” Putin says, promising to “sort it out.” Fedotov also appealed to FSB director Nikolai Bortnikov, but none of the internal investigations into the Network Case revealed any wrongdoing by law enforcement officers. The reason is simple: law enforcement agencies investigate themselves, and complaints of torture and other wrongdoing are sent down the chain of command to the local level—to those guilty of torture and other crimes.

2019

February

Moscow State University graduate student Azat Miftakhov is detained by police. At the police department, he slashes his wrists—to avoid torture, as he explains to his lawyer. According to one theory, Miftakhov has been detained in an attempt to “uncover” the Network’s “Moscow cell.”

Azat Miftakhov. Photo: Victoria Odissonova/Novaya Gazeta

April 

A petition is posted on Change.org demanding that the Network Case be dropped and that the allegations of torture be investigated. It is signed by rock musician Andrey Makarevich, actress Liya Akhedzhakova, writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, actress Natalya Fateyeva, animator Garri Bardin, and many others.

On April 8, by decision of the Moscow District Military Court, the FSB places the Network on its list of “terrorist” organizations. It bothers no one that the guilt of the defendants in the case has not yet been proven in court.

May

The case is brought to trial: the [Penza] trial will last until February 10, 2020. At the trial, the prosecution’s witnesses will recant their earlier statements, which they claim were given either under duress or misrepresented. The prosecution still has confessions made under torture, the testimony of secret witnesses, and physical evidence, including internet correspondence and computer files that were altered after they were confiscated, weapons of unknown origin, and a conclusion by FSB experts that the defendants constituted a group, and Pchelintsev was their leader.  This is enough to persuade the court to sentence the seven Penza defendants to 86 years in prison in total: Pchelintsev is sentenced to 18 years; Shakursky, to 16; Chernov, to 14; Ivankin, to 13; Kulkov, to 10; Kuksov, to 9; and Sagynbayev, to 6.

Penza Network defendants during the reading of the verdict. Photo: Victoria Odissonova/Novaya Gazeta

2020

February

There is unprecedented public outrage at the verdict and the prison sentences requested by the prosecutor. Hundreds of open letters and appeals—from musicians, poets, cinematographers, book publishers, artists, teachers, and municipal councilors—are published. For the first time in Russia, the practice of torture by the special services is openly and massively condemned. The verdict is called an attempt to intimidate the Russian people. The public demands a review of the Network Case and an investigation of the claims of torture. People stand in a huge queue on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square to take turns doing solo pickets.

Journalist Nikolai Solodnikov, holding a placard that reads, “I demand an investigation of the torture in the Network Case.” Photo: Svetlana Vidanova/Novaya Gazeta

But a week later, the wave of indignation is shot down. Meduza publishes a controversial article, “Four Went In, Only Two Returned,” in which a certain Alexei Poltavets confesses to a double murder that he committed, allegedly, with defendants in the Network Case. There had long been rumors about the so-called Ryazan Case—the murders of Artyom Dorofeyev and Ekaterina Levchenko in the woods near Ryazan—within the activist community, but the story had never surfaced, because there was no evidence. There is no evidence now, either: the Network’s involvement in the murder is not corroborated by anything other than the claims made by Poltavets. Poltavets himself is in Kiev, and no formal murder charges are made against the Network. But it is enough to discredit the solidarity campaign. Now, in the eyes of society, those who take the side of the Network Case defendants are defending murderers. Public outrage fades, and the verdict remains the same.

June

In Petersburg, Filinkov and Boyarshinov are sentenced to seven years and five and a half years in prison, respectively. Shishkin made a deal with the investigation and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in 2019.

Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov. Photo: David Frenkel/Mediazona

Putin signs a decree awarding Sergei Sizov the rank of lieutenant general. Other Russia activists are arrested in Chelyabinsk. The so-called Chelyabinsk Case begins.

September

The appeals hearing in the Network Case has begun. It is held in the closed city of Vlasikha near Moscow, with a video link from Penza. The issue now is not torture, but the lack of evidence for the verdict. And indeed, from the point of view of any lawyer, the verdict look quite odd. It is not the verdict of an independent court, but a rewrite of excerpts from the case file and the indictment, a sloppy collection of unconfirmed facts and unreliable expertise. The verdict is reminiscent of the famous line from the 1979 Soviet TV miniseries The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed: “He’s going to prison! I said so.”

October 20
The appeal hearing ends and the verdict is upheld. The authorities have enacted their revenge. The defense concludes that there is no more justice in Russia.

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

“The Network Case Is Russia’s Disgrace”

Natalia Sivohina
Facebook
October 18, 2020

“The Network Case is Russia’s disgrace.” Photo of Natalia Sivohina courtesy of her Facebook page

One of the most vile criminal cases in our country turned three years old today. Although it is far from the only such case, it has been very revealing. I remember the desperate social media posts by the young ladies from the [Petersburg] Public Monitoring Commission, Yana Teplitskaya and Katya Kosarevskaya, when the relatives and the lawyers looked for the first people interrogated as part of the case. FSB “investigators” communicated with them using stun guns.

Then there were the mendacious TV broadcasts by propagandists, numerous letters in support of the guys, and the rivers of sleaze in “bespoke” articles and posts. And there were the huge sentences [for all of the defendants] and tuberculosis for two of them—for conversations, for idiotic videos, for confessions obtained under duress, which the young men, yesterday’s children, recanted in the courtroom. The appeals hearing for the Penza defendants is currently underway. Now everybody knows the names and faces of the nighttime torturers and the scum who concocted this case in broad daylight. I really hope to live to see the trial at which those fraudsters will get what they have coming to them. And to see the guys released and testify against them.

Dear universe or whatever your name is, please make it happen sooner rather than later.

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

#NetworkCase 

18 Years in Prison for “Et Cetera” (Penza Network Case Appeals Hearing)

18 Years in Prison for “Et Cetera”
Why the FSB cannot manage any case without resorting to torture: on the appeals hearing in the Penza Network case
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
September 3, 2020

Everything about the Network Case is seemingly clear. All of the defendants have been found guilty and sentenced to six to eighteen years in prison. Public support has subsided due to a fake news hit job against the defendants. The matter is closed, and you can switch with a clear conscience to other news items: Belarus, Khabarovsk, Navalny, and so on.

But why is it, then, that every time I come to Penza, inconspicuous-looking tough guys follow me around town? Why do the court bailiffs try their darnedest to close the formally open court hearings in the case to the public? Why, finally, was testimony given under torture removed from the case file? Are the authorities afraid?

Yes, they are afraid. Six months have passed, but the case is still a bugbear for the FSB.

Photo courtesy of Sota.Vision and Novaya Gazeta

There are five pairs of handcuffs on the railing that separates us from the prisoners. They look like broken Olympic rings. They are for defendants Pchelintsev, Shakursky, Chernov, Kulkov, and Ivankin. The two other defendants, Kuksov and Sagynbayev, are sitting separately: they have tuberculosis.

The appeals hearing begins on a terribly dark note: the guys are told about the death of the Alexei “Socrates” Sutuga. Kuksov says, “That is beyond awful.” In the three years since they’ve been in police custody, a lot has happened, including the New Greatness case, the Ivan Golunov case, the Moscow case, the presidential “reset,” and, finally, the coronavirus. The context has changed completely. There is a photo in the case file of the defendants wearing black masks. It looks really scary. It would suffice to show it to laypeople for them to conclude the defendants were terrorists, of course. The court also thought so.

But now half the country goes around in masks, and it frightens no one.

In the 1930s, there were associations of former political prisoners in the USSR. Amid the turbulent events at the turn of the century, the old-style political prisoners appeared anachronistic. One war, two revolutions, another war, and rivers of blood had flowed since they had served time under the tsars for impertinence to their superiors, involvement in student political groups, and other nonsense. That government, just like this one, did not like students and those who were impertinent to their superiors. They put them in jail and beat them at demos. We remember how that whole story ended.

Pchelintsev says it outright: “We have been sacrificed.” Yes, they are classic victims of history.

Dmitry Pchelintsev. Photo by Alexei Obukhov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

The first few hours of the hearing are spent on technical issues that, however, are not so technical. The numerous complaints filed by the defense lawyers boil down to the fact that the convicts were not given a good look at the case files and other documents from their trial nor allowed to voice their complaints. The court turns down all the defense’s motions and requests.

It’s as if court is saying, You don’t need to need what you’re in prison for. If you’re in prison it means that is how it has to be.

The defense’s complaints against the verdict can be divided into three parts.

1. The Witnesses

At the trial, the prosecution’s witnesses (!) did not confirm the veracity of their pretrial testimony. Some of the witnesses even disavowed it. Some admitted they had been pressured during the investigation. Some, it transpired, testified to what other people had told them. But the court was not in the least troubled by this fact: for some reason nothing bothers it at all.

That leaves the secret witnesses: there are six of them in the case. One of them, identified as “Kabanov,” is an experienced provocateur (Novaya Gazeta has written about him): this is not his first job for the security services. Another of them could not really explain what he had witnessed. Three of the witnesses claimed that the defendants had told them about their criminal plans after they had been arrested and remanded in custody, that is, in the remand prison in Penza.

Could this have happened? It’s unlikely, but let’s assume it is true. And yet these same “witnesses” could not even correctly describe the defendants’ physical appearance and the setting in which the conversation allegedly took place. Not to mention the fact that prisoners are always dependent. It is an easy matter for the authorities to put pressure on them, to frighten them, to force them to give the “right” testimony in court in exchange for better conditions.

Investigators put testimony obtained from the defendants under torture in the mouths of these witnesses. You get the feeling that they carried the transcripts of the interrogations around them and read them aloud to the first people they met.

Finally, there is the small matter that the transcripts of the interrogations do not match the videos of the interrogations. A person would literally say one thing in the transcript and another thing in the video recordings. The court looked at the videos, compared them with the transcripts, nodded, and everything was left as it was. There is no mention of these discrepancies in the verdict.

2. The Forensic Examinations

Almost all the investigation’s forensic examinations have been refuted by independent experts and specialists. Among the reasons cited by them are incompetence, bias, non-compliance with established standards, and even falsification. It is for falsifications in the Network Case that the Military Investigative Committee is now reviewing FSB Investigator Valery Tokarev. It is so obvious that even their own people don’t believe it.

Although the court claims that defense’s forensic examinations do not contradict the FSB’s forensic examinations, they actually do. None of the FSB’s forensic examinations passed the test, neither the computer examination, the linguistic examination nor the psychological examination.

We must give the court its due: it more often than not did enter findings and testimony that were unpleasant to the prosecution into evidence. But it did not evaluate them in any way and did not take them into account when rendering its verdict. There they are. Sure, qualified specialists have proven that the FSB’s forensic examinations are bullshit, and they can say so if they like. But this has no bearing whatsoever on the verdict.

3. Bias and Presumption of Guilt

Each letter of the verdict indicates that the court was biased in favor of the prosecution. The trial need not have taken place. The investigative case file and the court’s published findings are nearly identical. In fact, it was the FSB who tried the Network defendants, not the court. The court only signed off on their pre-ordained verdict.

As many people have heard, Russia has an independent judiciary.

And here is the icing on the cake, the culmination of this theater of the absurd: the Volga District Military Court that handed down the guilty verdict in the Network Case did not officially exist when the verdict was rendered. So, it is not clear exactly who tried the case.

The Penza Network Case defendants during the trial. Photo by Alexei Obukhov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Let’s leave aside for a moment the FSB’s use of torture, the injustice of the case, and the court’s bias. Even if everything had been objective and impartial, from a legal point of view this is not a verdict, but the delirium of a madman. What does a sentence like the following tell us?

“The participants took clandestine security measures, as evidenced by the presence of aliases, communication on the internet using secure protocols, trips to other cities in passing vehicles, et cetera.”

A huge number of questions immediately come to mind.

Half of the people on the internet uses aliases (aka usernames). Are all of them involved in “clandestine security measures”?

Secure protocols are a feature, for example, of Telegram, which is used by half of the country, including government agencies. So, does this mean we should only use insecure protocols? Then the authorities should put an end to it, they should criminalize secure protocols and warn us not to use them.

No one has ever accused hitchhikers of using “clandestine security measures.” This is a game changer for criminology.

Finally, the “et cetera.” This was written by adults. How could “et cetera” be grounds for sentencing someone to eighteen years in prison?  How could anyone write such nonsense in a verdict at all?

The defendants communicate with their relatives. Photo by Alexei Obukhov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Konstantin Kartashov, Maxim Ivankin’s lawyer: “I cannot call this document a verdict.”

Oxana Markeyeva, Dmitry Pchelintsev’s lawyer: “The verdict does not meet the procedural requirements.”

Translated into plain language, this means the judges did a poor job, a shabby job. If they had been building a house instead of writing a verdict, the house would have collapsed.

The reason for all these inconsistencies is simple: the guilt of the defendants was proved not in the course of the investigation, but in the course of torturing them. The FSB, however, were afraid to use this testimony, obtained under duress, although they would not admit to torturing the defendants. But without it, nothing sticks. Without it, the verdict is just a random pile of dubious evidence vouched for by the authority of Russian state security. The main thing you need to know about the case is that seven young men were sentenced to terms in prison from six to eighteen years, and their guilt was not proven in court. And this unproven guilt is a threat to all of us—not just to opposition activists, but to anyone walking down the street who catches the eye of FSB field agents.

There are so many problems with the verdict that it is impossible even to state all of them in one or two appeals hearings. There is little hope that the court will heed the arguments of the defense. There is an aura of hopelessness about the case. But it has to be brought to a close because a lot of things hang in its balance. After all, the verdict is based mainly on suspicion—on the fact that, hypothetically, the defendants could have “organized a terrorist community.” In theory, any of us could organize one. We are all under suspicion.

The lawyers in this case are not only defending Pchelintsev, Shakursky, Chernov, Kulkov, Ivankin, Kuksov, and Sagynbayev. They are also defending society, the right of each of us to be protected from the FSB. When they lose their appeal, they will keep going—to the European Court of Human Rights, to the Court of Cassation, to the Russian Supreme Court. Everyone involved in engineering this verdict should realize that they will inevitably have to account for their actions, and at the highest level. I don’t know about criminal responsibility, but universal disgrace is inevitable. They must answer for what they have done, and sooner or later they will answer for it.

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

#NetworkCase 

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

Viktor Filinkov: The Big Picture

Viktor Filinkov, political prisoner: “An idealist who takes on responsibility for the big picture”
People and Nature
July 4, 2020

While Black Lives Matter demonstrators fill the streets of cities around the world, opening a new chapter in the history of anti-racist and anti-fascist struggle, the Russian anti-fascists Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov are starting long jail sentences.

A St Petersburg court sentenced Filinkov to seven years, and Boyarshinov to five-and-a-half, on 22 June, on trumped-up charges of involvement in a “terrorist grouping” – the “Network”. In February, seven other defendants were jailed by a court in Penza for between six and 18 years, and last year another in St Petersburg for three-and-a-half years.

Detailed evidence that the “Network” case defendants were subjected to horrific tortures after their arrest has been published and submitted to state bodies. President Vladimir Putin last year cynically promised to look into it. Nevertheless, the defendants have been railroaded to penal colonies.

This portrait of Viktor Filinkov – who refused to admit guilt and received one of the heaviest sentences – is by Yevgeny Antonov. It was first published in Russian by the Petersburg news outlet Bumaga.

photo-2020-06-22-11-54-45
Viktor Filinkov in court. Photo by David Frenkel, Mediazona

On Monday 22 June, the 2nd Western District Military Court [in St Petersburg] announced the sentences on the Petersburg defendants in the “Network” case, Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov. They were found guilty of involvement in a terrorist grouping (article 205.4, part 2 of the criminal code). Filinkov was sentenced to seven years in a penal colony (standard regime). Boyarshinov got five and a half years (Yuli was also convicted of the illegal possession of explosive materials (article 222.1, part 1)).

Four days before the sentencing, Filinkov addressed the court. The 25-year old computer programmer set out the inconsistencies in the prosecutor’s case, and used diagrams to show why the PGP [Pretty Good Privacy encryption] programme would not be used by a conspiratorial terrorist group, as the prosecution had claimed.

In his closing statement, Filinkov stated that the internal affairs ministry, the prosecutor, the federal prison service, the Investigative Committee, the federal security service [FSB], the court and the legislature had worked in bad faith. He accused them of obeying orders unquestioningly and of being unwilling to investigate the case.

“The nine-year sentence that the prosecutor has asked for seems like some sort of indication of respect for everything that I have done”, Filinkov said. “All of them have disgraced themselves. I don’t know what the solution to this situation is.”

755296506252927Viktor Filinkov at work. Photo courtesy of Rupression

Viktor Filinkov was born in Petropavlovsk, in Kazakhstan. His mother worked in a jeweller’s shop; his father, who worked installing medical equipment, died when Viktor was 11; and his elder sister lived away from home.

“We waited so long for Viktor. And when he was born, he grew up loved and cared for, by grandparents, by his aunts and uncles, and by us”, Natalia Filinkova, Viktor’s mother, told Bumaga. “He hardly knew the word ‘no’. He was a good, kind child, very honest, strong-willed. Right from when he went to nursery, if he didn’t like something, he would say so straight out. He would tell anyone, to their face, what he thought. I used to ask him, ‘why so direct?’ and he would answer ‘because it’s true!’.”

According to Natalia, electronics caught her son’s imagination when he was still a child. At six, he used his sister’s computer to read up about it. At ten, he would put together robots. As a teenager, he learned programming and won computer competitions. In court, Filinkov’s colleagues from the IT company where he worked confirmed his remarkable skills as a programmer.

“He hadn’t yet started going to school, when he told me, when I grow up I’ll be professor, earn lots and lots of money and buy KAMAZ [the truck construction company], so that it can make lots of money too. He obviously thought professors are high earners”, Natalia joked.

After Viktor’s father’s death, the family had to spend less, and moved to a smaller flat, but was still free of serious financial problems. Viktor’s wife, Aleksandra Aksenova, said that he described his childhood as difficult. “He saw how his mum and his sister kept their noses to the grindstone. But still, they had no money for meal time treats. I well remember how Viktor said that, when he was a child, butter was a real treat. It was not starvation, but it was definitely poverty.”

Viktor is described as a sociable person, with dozens of friends, who loves social gatherings. According to his mother, he was a voracious reader as a teenager – of technical books from school in particular. And he would sit on the internet and play computer games.

Aleksandra Aksenova says that Viktor mentioned to her his dislike of the education system in Kazakhstan, and his frequent arguments with his school teachers. “One thing that’s striking about Viktor is that he loves a good argument. Once he has worked out his position, he is very good at defending it. But also, if it turns out he is wrong, he’s not afraid to say so.

“Although he didn’t like the way the school system worked, he was anything but stupid. With STEM subjects he was in his element. And he argued with his teachers, often because he knew more than they did.”

Viktor himself says that, as he got older, he wore his hair long, on account of which the school management “tried to put pressure on him”. Around this time, Filinkov’s anti-fascist and anarchist views took shape.

annotaciya-2020-06-22-111158Viktor Filinkov (third from left) with schoolmates in Kazakhstan. Photo courtesy of Mediazona

“At some point when Vitya was in the 9th year [i.e. at 15], he said that he had become keen on anarchism”, Natalia Filinkova remembers. “Surely he read about it on the internet, there was plenty

Viktor Filinkov (third from left) as a school pupil. Photo: zona.media

written there. This was shortly after [the lawyer, Stanislav] Markelov and [the journalist Anastasia] Baburova were killed [in Moscow]. This had a real effect on Viktor; he wanted justice.”

Viktor’s mother says, however, that they did not talk about politics. In court, she said: “He was a good example to others. At no time did he suggest that he was against the government.”

photo-2018-01-24-22-04-10Viktor Filinkov in happier times. Photo courtesy of Rupression

In 2013 Viktor finished school and moved to Omsk, [in western Siberia, in Russia] where he started studying in the faculty of information and communications technology at Omsk state university.

Viktor never graduated. After two-and-a-half years he abandoned his studies, because his mum became “seriously ill”. (Natalia asked that the diagnosis remain confidential). Filinkov started work, earning 30,000 rubles [400 euros at 2016 exchange rate] per month.

Viktor was happy to quit university, a friend from that time told Bumaga; he complained that classes were boring. This source said that Filinkov soon understood that he had hit the pay ceiling in Omsk, and thought about moving on.

Viktor’s wife recalls that at that time he began to participate in anti-fascist actions and to support human rights campaigns. In 2014-16 he stood on picket lines opposing redundancies among health workers, supported trade unions and attended demonstrations in memory of Markelov and Baburova.

By 2015 Viktor was a committed anti-fascist, an acquaintance from Omsk told Bumaga. According to them, Viktor came to these beliefs himself, without reading “ideological literature” such as the work of [Pyotr] Kropotkin or [Mikhail] Bakunin.

“We first met in 2015, when he was hanging around the university with his friends”, this source recalls. “We had interests in common – in computer technology, and sport – and became friends. There was a small circle there [in Omsk] of people who were anti-authoritarian: a milieu of young leftists, who shared a clear understanding: racism – no way, capitalism – no way.”

This friend of Filinkov’s said they were “not the sort who build communes and prepare revolution”: their main aim was to create horizontal cooperation, within which people could live side-by-side comfortably and help each other. This way of living was seen as an alternative to the state’s.

Aleksandra Aksenova, with whom Filinkov often discussed his time in Omsk, said: “He grew up in conditions of great social injustice. He also saw people’s attitudes to him, due to the fact he was a citizen of another country [Kazakhstan]. How could he not become an anti-fascist?”

Viktor himself has said that in 2016, because of the views he held, he was several times attacked by nationalists.

Both Aksenova and Filinkov’s friend from Omsk said that Viktor had come to know Aleksei Poltavets, who would later confess to the murder of an associate of the “Network” defendants in Penza. Of the other future defendants Viktor knew little, but he had heard their names, says the source in Omsk.

“It wasn’t so much about going to demonstrations or getting together in groups”, Filinkov’s Omsk friend said. “It was that we tried to live by the principles of anti-authoritarianism, anarchism, anti-fascism. And of course we spent time together: cycling, skating, playing around with Linux, trying to write [computer] programmes, listening to music, hanging out, climbing on roofs.”

5-demonstratorsPolice detain a demonstrator outside the courthouse in Petersburg where Filinkov and Boyarshinov were sentenced on June 22, 2020. Photo by David Frenkel, Mediazona

Viktor met his future wife in the summer of 2015 at an anti-fascist concert in Moscow. Aleksandra then lived in Moscow, Filinkov was just visiting. They kept in touch on line, then began talking on the phone and in mid 2016 decided to meet in Penza, midway between Omsk and St Petersburg, where Aleksandra then lived.

Aleksandra had by then got to know many anti-fascists and anarchists, including future defendants in the “network” case: she was friends with Dmitry Pchelintsev, knew Arman Sagynbaev, Igor Shishkin, Andrei Chernov and Yuli Boyarshinov, and had communicated with Ilya Shakursky. Filinkov himself said that, even by the time of the court case, he had only known some of the other defendants indirectly, or met them just once.

“My comrades got to know Vitya”, Aksenova remembers. “They grew pretty fond of him, because he knew so much about so many things. They would endlessly come to see him. ‘Vitek, help with this, help with that, my computer is broken, I need to find something, how can this be done safely?’ And he would sit and explain everything.”

Aksenova says that Filinkov grew to like Dmitry Pchelintsev, the shooting instructor and anti-fascist, who the FSB would later name as the founder of the “network” terrorist organisation. “It’s no secret to anybody that one of most well-read guys in Penza was Dmitry Pchelintsev”, Aksenova says. “He could explain his reasoning, sometimes very romanticised and sometimes loudly, but it was always interesting to talk with him.”

In court, Filinkov’s lawyer, Vitaly Cherkasov, insisted that in Penza Viktor hardly spent time with any of the others, since he was “so enchanted with his lover”.

In September 2016, Filinkov found work at a Petersburg start-up. He and Aleksandra began to live together, and then got married – partly so that Viktor could become a Russian citizen.

At the same time, Filinkov got to know Sagynbaev, and began to attend lectures on first aid. In 2017 Aksenova applied for permission to acquire a firearm: the couple then kept it in a safe in their flat.

In the same year Filinkov, along with other anti-fascists, began to visit a flat at Bogatyrsky Prospekt 22. Aksenova says: “These were meetings of friends. They discussed community projects, and how they could cooperate with each other. As was stated in court, they talked about, among other things, sociological methods of study, and how to develop a culture of discussion.”

When, at the end of 2017, Pchelintsev and other activists in Penza disappeared, Filinkov and Aleksandra tried to find out what had happened to them. Aksenova decided to travel to Kiev, and in January 2018, when it became known that the Petersburg anti-fascist Yuli Boyarshinov had been arrested, Viktor decided to fly out to join her.

Filinkov had a ticket for a Kiev flight two days after Boyarshinov was detained. He told his wife that he was leaving for the airport, but never made it to the Ukrainian capital. Aleksandra searched for her husband for two days. Later on it became clear that he had been detained by FSB officers. Filinkov said that in those days the officers tortured him with an electric shocker, in order to obtain a confession.

6-filinkov-boyarshinovFilinkov and Boyarshinov at a court hearing in 2018

Filinkov spent two-and-a-half years in an Investigative Detention Centre (SIZO). During that time he reported injuries he had sustained as a result of the torture. He was diagnosed with a ruptured spinal disc, and prescribed medicine for psychological problems that he suffered.

According to the FSB, Viktor Filinkov, together with other members of the “Network”, in 2016-18 acquired firearms and learned how to use them, and “acquired the practical means to seize a building”, with the aim of making violent change to the constitutional order. The FSB claimed that the group, in which Filinkov allegedly took part, aimed at the “armed overthrow of the state power”. In the prosecution case, Viktor was named as the signals operative.

The prosecutors argued that Filinkov spoke about being tortured in order to discredit Russia’s law enforcement agencies. As evidence, they adduced the fact that Viktor did not officially inform anyone about the torture before he met with Vitaly Cherkasov, his lawyer, on 26 January [2018]. Cherkasov asserts that his client was in a state of shock, and says that he himself saw the marks [on Filinkov] that resulted from him being beaten.

Members of the Public Monitoring Commission [a civic organisation empowered to monitor conditions in places of detention] also confirmed that there were signs of torture. But no independent medical examination was conducted. Viktor’s mother met with him only several months after his arrest: according to her, it was cold and her son wore a coat: all she saw was a scar on his chin.

When the court hearings began in Petersburg, Filinkov at practically every opportunity spoke of his innocence and rejected the prosecution’s claims. In open court he said: “All that I can say is: no, it’s not true. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution. But for two-and-a-half years, the authorities have shown their bias. They have wagged their fingers at me and said that I have to prove that I am not a camel.”

Filinkov’s work colleagues said in court that he had spoken openly with several of them about his wife’s legal possession of a firearm. He had introduced her to them as “Olga” – which the FSB claimed was a conspiratorial pseudonym. The prosecution also claimed that Filinkov’s “code name” was Gena. Viktor himself insists that people started to call him by that nickname in Omsk, because sometimes he laughed “like a hyena” [“giyena” in Russian].

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

People who know Viktor well have told Bumaga that they understand why he refused to confess, which theoretically could have reduced his sentence. (According to Vitaly Cherkasov, after arrest Filinkov was offered a three-year term [if he confessed].)

“That’s just his character. He won’t confess to something that he didn’t do”, Viktor’s mother Natalia said. “I know what he is thinking: if a person is right, why should he incriminate himself? Knowing him, I wouldn’t even dare to ask if he would think about making a deal. I couldn’t have brought myself to say it to him. Just impossible.”

Aleksandra explains her husband’s decision in terms of the “prisoner’s dilemma” in game theory. There is a choice for two sides: betray each other, or cooperate. Betrayal brings greater gains for each side, and for this reason it is assumed that rational players will choose betrayal. But if both sides turn traitor, the total winnings will be less than if they cooperate.

“When all the defendants in a fabricated trial refuse to admit their guilt, and insist on what they see as the truth, then the mathematical chance that they will all be given the maximum sentence is reduced”, Aleksandra says. “In such a case there’s a possibility that the whole case will just collapse. Because everyone will say what really happened. But in our case, things were complicated because there were only three defendants in Petersburg.”

Officially, the other Petersburg “network” defendants – Igor Shishkin and Yuli Boyarshinov – made no statements that they had been tortured. But after they were first detained, members of the Public Monitoring Commission learned that Shishkin had been diagnosed with a large number of bruises and instances of localised internal bleeding, and that the bone around his eye [the lower orbital wall] had been broken. Boyarshinov stated that FSB officers came to see him in the detention centre, and that other detainees had threatened to rape him.

In his final statement to the court, Filinkov said that he understood both Yuli Boyarshinov, who had confessed to his guilt, and Igor Shishkin, who had cooperated with the investigation (and already in 2019 been sentenced to three-and-a-half years). Viktor considers that they saw no other way out.

Aksenova concludes: “He is an idealist. An idealist who sees the need to take his place in history, who takes upon himself responsibility for the big picture.

“If there were no such idealists, then we would never have an example to follow, of how a person should act in such circumstances. Maybe it will seem to some people that Viktor’s words and actions were rash, and doomed to fail from the outset. I would not argue. But these words and actions are a necessity, for us to stand up for our ideals.” 3 July 2020.

■ Please visit the Rupression web site, to see how you can support the “Network” case prisoners.

■ For more coverage of Filinkov and Boyarshinov’s trial, and of the case, see The Russian Reader, Open Democracy Russia, and Freedom News. People & Nature has written about the case too, e.g. here, and about international solidarity events.

Thanks to People & Nature for permission to reprint this article. \\ TRR