The Zhanaozen Massacre: Ten Years Later

Kazakhstan, ten years after the Zhanaozen massacre: oil workers’ fight to organise goes on • People and Nature • 15 December 2021

Ten years after police massacred striking oil workers at Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, human rights organisations and trades unionists are demanding an international inquiry into the killings.

Even now, the number of victims is unknown. State officials admit that 16 were killed and 64 injured on 16 December 2011 – but campaigners say there were dozens, perhaps hundreds, more.

The initial killings, by police who fired into a peaceful, unarmed crowd, were followed by a three-day reign of terror in Zhanaozen, in the oil-rich Mangistau province in western Kazakhstan, and nearby villages.

Defendants at the 2012 trial of Zhanaozen protesters

The torture and sexual violence used against detainees should also be investigated by an independent international commission, campaigners say.

Although a handful of police officers were tried for “exceeding their powers”, and a detention centre boss was briefly jailed, the Kazakh government has refused to say who ordered the shootings.

The Zhanaozen shootings ended an eight-month strike by the town’s oil workers, one of the largest industrial actions ever in the post-Soviet countries.

Oil workers and their families had demanded better pay and conditions, and the right to organise independent trade unions, at Ozenmunaigaz, a production subsidiary of the national oil company Kazmunaigaz, and contracting firms.

On Saturday 11 December this year, oil workers gathered in Zhanaozen, amidst a heavy police presence, to commemorate the victims. Tomorrow, ten years to the day after the tragedy, activists plan film screenings and other gatherings in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city.

Zhanaozen has become a crucial strand in Kazakh working people’s collective memory. On the day of the killings, local residents risked arrest and worse to smuggle out of the locked-down city video clips showing how demonstrators were executed in cold blood. Today, some of the fear has faded, activists say: whole films – such as this one, made in 2013 (commentary in Russian) – are shared on social media.

https://www.facebook.com/daryn.ibraeff/videos/1302525450187459

An international investigation is needed, because, even now, the Kazakh authorities are desperate to cover up the truth, human rights activists who have pursued the truth about Zhanaozen said in interviews with People & Nature.

Evgeny Zhovtis, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, said “three questions have never been answered” about the events on Alan Square, where the initial shootings took place:

□ Who were the provocateurs who caused trouble on the square?

□ Who exactly gave the order to send in armed interior ministry forces against an unarmed crowd? 

□ Who fired the shots? The authorities have admitted to 15 killings on the square. In each case, [under Kazakh law] an investigation should show either that the officer responsible had opened fire unlawfully, or that he opened fire because his life was threatened.  

Zhovtis said: “The UN commissioner for human rights, Niva Pillay, visited Kazakhstan in 2012 and called for an independent international commission to be set up, to investigate these events. Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, also called for such a commission. This has not happened.”

Human rights defenders in Kazakhstan reject the justice ministry’s claim that an adequate investigation had been carried out, Zhovtis said.

Police in Zhanaozen, 16 December 2011. A still from a video smuggled out by residents to make sure the truth reached the outside world

“The leading western governments are largely indifferent to what happens in central Asia. Look at their response both to the Zhanaozen tragedy and the Andijan massacre [of hundreds of protesters in Uzbekistan in May 2005].

“Nevertheless, we simply have to keep demanding justice.”   

Galym Ageleuov of Liberty, the human rights organisation, who has travelled regularly to Zhanaozen since the massacre to gather evidence, said that, in addition to the events on Alan Square, any investigation should cover:

□ The use of torture against oil workers and their supporters detained during the three-day crackdown. Detailed evidence of this had already been made public, especially at a trial of 37 Zhanaozen residents in 2012.

□ Sexual violence against women detainees, including Roza Tuletaeva, an oil workers’ trade union organiser (about her release, see here and here); Zhansaule Karabalaeva, daughter of a trade union activist; Asem Kenzhebaeva, daughter of another activist (the family’s story here, her evidence of sexual violence here); and others. “There is evidence that women and men prisoners were detained naked [in winter], were beaten, and had freezing water poured on them”, Ageleuov said.

□ The total number of killings in Zhanaozen and nearby villages on 16, 17 and 18 December 2011. Of the 16 admitted by officials, 15 were killed on Alan Square with revolvers, bullets from which usually remain lodged in the body. The authorities have denied responsibility for those killed by automatic gunfire and long-distance sniper fire, including bystanders. Ageleuov said: “There are numerous cases in which bodies were only released to the families of those killed if they accepted death certificates that registered the cause of death as, for example, a heart attack.”

Asem Kenzhebaeva

□ The killing of Torebek Tolegenov in Shetpe, and the wounding of young people who blocked a railroad to protest at the Zhanaozen massacre, needs to be investigated.

□ Multiple reports of bodies being loaded into unmarked graves – including by Yelena Kostiuchenko of Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s prime opposition newspaper, one of the first journalists to get into Zhanaozen after the massacre – have never been followed up. “Any international commission should insist on the exhumation of these bodies”, Ageleuov said.

□ A fire that broke out, inexplicably, at the Ozenmunaigaz offices on the day of the massacre.

The Kazakh labour movement will this week commemorate the Zhanaozen tragedy – at a time when the right to form independent trade unions, a key principle in the 2011 oil workers’ strike, is again at issue in many workplace struggles.

In June, the national oil company Kazmunaigaz tried to scrap an agreement on wages and conditions with the independent Oil Construction Company Workers Union, seeking instead a sweetheart deal with a “union” it had created. That followed an attempt by the authorities to deregister, and effectively put beyond the law, the independent Sectoral Union of Fuel and Energy Workers, a national-level umbrella of which the Oil Construction Company Workers Union is part.

Markhaba Khalmurzaeva, coordinator of the Central Asia Labour Rights Monitoring Mission, said: “There have been several strikes in which workers demanded the right to independent organisation, and in some cases, once the pay dispute was settled, employers even helped to register unions.”

But there is also a constant campaign of repression. “Quite often a strike will be settled, some demands are met, but activists who played a part in organising it are dismissed, and blacklisted.”

These battles for the right to independent organisation flared up earlier this year amidst a wave of strikes over pay and conditions. There were more strikes in the first half of 2021 than in the three years 2018-2020 put together. And this summer, the wave hit the western Kazakhstan oilfield, including Zhanaozen, where 11 firms were on strike simultaneously in July.

In September the Central Asia Labour Rights Monitoring Mission reported:

Most of the strikes are in the rich oil region of Mangistau in western Kazakhstan, although it is not only oil workers who are walking out. The most widespread demand is for wage increases. Some groups of workers demand a 13th wage [i.e. to be paid an extra month’s money each year]; partial or complete funding of sanatorium breaks for those working with toxic chemicals; compensation for Covid-19 tests; and … [a supply of] milk [at work].

In Zhanaozen, in the years after the massacre, the Ozenmunaigaz oil company was reorganised into 14 separate divisions. Many of the strikers were employed in the drilling services division, where pay was raised substantially and today is at more than twice the level of ten years ago.

In an attempt to smother the social discontent that exploded in 2011, the government invested in the town’s infrastructure, providing among other things round-the-clock water supply, where previously water only reached people’s homes for short periods twice a day.

Zhanaozen’s population has also expanded … but not everyone benefits. Unemployment has grown rapidly, and in 2019 young people began to demonstrate at the local authorities’ offices, demanding work at Ozenmunaigaz.

A mass meeting in July this year at KMG Security, one of 11 workplaces on strike in Zhanaozen. Photo: Manas Kalyrtai RFE/RL

Erzhan Elshibayev, who helped to organise these peaceful gatherings, was arrested and jailed for five years. Galym Ageleuov said: “Elshibayev is a victim of political repression. In 2019, he was charged with an offence arising from a fight he was involved in, when he was attacked by four men in 2017 while on his way to work – an incident that gave rise to no charges at the time.

“Elshibayev has been in detention for two years. For the last three months he has been in solitary confinement and no-one has heard from him.” Trade unionists gathered at Bishkek last week at a conference called on the Kazakh authorities to release him immediately.

Ten years after the massacre, labour’s battles against capital continue in the oilfield – for better pay and living conditions, for the right to organise independently at work, for ways to live decently. Exposing the truth about the state repression in 2011, about the chain of command, about the barbaric use of murder and torture in the service of capital, is a part of this wider struggle. SP, 15 December 2021.

■ Statement by human rights organisations in Kazakhstan, 15 December 2021

■ Zhanaozen: worker organisation and repression, by Simon Pirani (Gabriel Levy)

■ Zhanaozen: some lessons by Evgeny Zhovtis

■ They shot to kill. Interview with Galym Ageleuov

■ Kazakh oil workers: index of articles

“Freedom of association is a workers’ right! Free Erzhan Elshibayev! Stop victimising people for being active citizens!”

Originally posted on People & Nature on 15 December 2021. Thanks to its editor, Simon Pirani, for allowing me to repost his article here. ||| TRR

The English Lesson

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
November 18, 2021

A trifle, but an unpleasant one all the same.

According to the Russian Penal Code, convicted foreign nationals have the right to communicate with prison wardens in any language they speak and receive a response in that language. Vitya [Viktor Filinkov], as you know, is a citizen of Kazakhstan. In response to the razor blades planted [and “found”] by prison officials in his cell on his birthday, he wrote a statement in English.

And what do you think happened? The penal colony found an English teacher, Nadezhda Ivanovna Zhavikova, who works at Night School No. 13. in Orenburg, who “checked” Vitya’s composition and “corrected” the “mistakes” in it so that the text would better suit the wardens. The only thing she didn’t do, unfortunately, was grade the composition. But the prison staff probably gave her an A.

Vitya writes, “Before I started, current inspector had said that I should REPLACE my prison uniform. I DECLINED but he took it and gave me new one.”

The meaning is clear. What does Nadezhda Ivanovna write in [her] translation?

“Before that, the duty inspector told me to PUT my clothes in ORDER. I SUGGESTED that he take it away and give me a new one in return.”

At issue here is the tunic that was replaced against Vitya’s will before he went to the baths. After he came back, prison officials “found” a shard of a blade in the seam of the tunic. It thus transpires that it was Vitya who asked for it to be replaced.

Vitya ends his statement with an appreciation of the production staged by the Correctional Colony No. 1 troupe: “I didn’t brake the razor, it’s a play. Good scenario, actors. Good game, well played.”

Nadezhda Ivanovna feigns that she didn’t understand what was at issue, and translates [the passage] as if Vitya was bragging about his own play-acting: “I didn’t break the razor, it’s a game. A good acting script. A good performance, well ACTED [by Vitya, apparently [because the verb is the singular in Russian, not the plural —TRR]].”

Maybe, of course, the teacher didn’t do it out of spite, but simply couldn’t make sense [of Filinkov’s statement]. But somehow it seems to me that she made perfect sense of it and even made it over [to satisfy the wardens].

UPDATE. On a more practical note, if you have a translator’s diploma and would like to write a specialist’s opinion for the upcoming hearing appealing Vitya’s transfer to a single-cell facility for a month, you’re welcome!

Team Navalny
Instagram
November 15, 2021

❗️ Viktor Filinkov and the torture colony

Viktor is a political prisoner in the Network case. The case is about a “terrorist community” of young men who were fond of airsoft and openly voiced opposition to Putin.

The FSB took these two facts and cooked up charges that got the defendants sent to prison for terms from six to eighteen years. Allegedly, the young men were divided into combat groups that were supposed to organize bombings in order to “sway the masses for further destabilization of the political situation in the country.”

The defendants claim that they were tortured into confessing, and that the evidence in the case was completely manufactured by the security forces.

The verdicts were announced in February 2020. But the matter did not end when the young men were sent to penal colonies: the authorities began bullying them there. We know the most about their treatment of Viktor Filinkov.

For the slightest offense — such as “didn’t say hello ten times a day to a prison employee,” “washed ten minutes earlier than he was supposed to,” “left his work station during work (he went to the work station next to his to ask how to use the machine because he hadn’t been properly instructed)” —  Viktor is sent to a punitive detention cell. Letters from [Viktor’s] friends and relatives are opened, shown to other prisoners, and even replies to them are forged.

Things are so over the top that when there was a scabies outbreak in [Viktor’s] cell, his cellmates were given ointment, but Viktor himself was not, because “he complained.”

Now Viktor is being transferred to Correctional Colony No. 5 in Novotroitsk, to an isolated solitary cell, for repeatedly violating those supremely absurd rules. This colony is a torture colony, one of the most violent in Russia. In June, twelve inmates there engaged in a “collective act of self-mutilation” to protest the torture.

The Putin regime is a regime of vengeful scum. No one is safe from their lawlessness. This nightmare will become more and more commonplace with every passing day. Don’t let that happen.

More information about how Victor is being bullied can be found in the article linked to in stories.

Release political prisoners!

Translated by the Russian Reader

Doppelganger

“It’s kind of a dystopia. In some respects. Of course, it has nothing to do with reality. The world is shrinking and becoming cramped. Something or someone is always offended in close quarters. And there’s always someone pointing a gun at your head. Sometimes it’s you.”

Masyanya, Episode 152: “Doppelganger.” (Toggle the “CC” button for English subtitles)

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The caste of those deprived of their civil rights — foreign agents, undesirable organizations, extremists of all stripes — will constantly expand. Social stigmatization will be strongly encouraged. The number of persons on different registries and lists, and under police watch will grow exponentially. Legal restrictions — bans on participating in elections, serving on various public councils, founding mass media, attending football matches, working in certain areas, and so on — will be supplemented by defamation campaigns. The separation of the estates in terms of legal and social status will be vigorously encouraged by the authorities.

Source: Pavel Chikov, “Not a Tyranny Yet: A Prognosis for the Rest of Putin’s Fourth Term,” Republic, 19 October 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

____________

 

Artist unknown, Russian National Guardsmen in Their Free Time. Posted by Dmitry Vrubel on Facebook. Thanks to Sergei Damberg for the heads-up

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Security forces raided a gathering to write letters to political prisoners at the Vogel Bar. They showed up along with Rospotrebnadzor officials for a surprise inspection on the evening of October 24. After managing to tally forty-five people on the premises and not find markings on the floor mats, the officials sealed the establishment prior to a court hearing. The bar’s management fears bankruptcy and plans to open a new bar in a new location.

The latest gathering to letters to political prisoners at the Vogel this time ended with a visit by regulatory authorities. The police officers who arrived twenty minutes after the event started immediately stated that the 76th police precinct had received a complaint alleging that the bar was not in compliance with the mask mandate. At that moment, the gathering, at which attendees were to write letters to the performance artist Pavel Krisevich, jailed on charges of disorderly conduct after a performance on Red Square in which he pretended to shoot himself, had just begun. That evening, Krisevich’s friends and acquaintances, as well as former political prisoners, were to speak to the guests. One of the bar’s co-founders, Valentin Khoroshenin, told Zaks.Ru that the complaint claimed that a “meeting of anti-covidniks” was planned for that evening at the Vogel. He believes that this was just an excuse to find non-existent violations and close the bar.

The inspection report indicated that more than forty-five people were present in the room at the time. The bar’s management are adamant that this was not the case. The Vogel’s owners have already studied surveillance camera tapes and counted less than forty people on the premises, including the police officers.

Other violations included the absence of markings on floor mats and an insufficient supply of medical masks. According to regulations, such establishments should have a five days’ supply of personal protective equipment. The available supply was only enough for one day. Rospotrebnadzor officials did not enter the kitchen. According to Khoroshenin, they claimed they were too tired to do so.

Vogel Bar has been in business since March 2021. From the very beginning it advertised itself as a venue for activists: political lectures, discussions and debates were held there. During this entire time, Rospotrebnadzor never carried out inspections. But the Interior Ministry regularly sent its people there. For example, Center “E” officers attended the debates. The security forces showed up for other letter-writing gatherings, but everything had ended without trouble.

Text & photos: Konstantin Lenkov, Zaks.ru, 25 October 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

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We have been preparing an investigation into torture in Russian prisons for almost a year. It took a lot of time to track down, earn the trust of, and obtain testimonies from former inmates of the penal colony in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia, thousands of kilometers from central Russia. Simultaneously with The Insider’s investigation, Russian human rights activists published an archive of video footage depicting torture being inflicted on prisoners across Russia. The clips, obtained from the FSB and FSIN secret archive, show prisoners from Irkutsk, Saratov, Belgorod, Rostov and other Russian regions being raped, beaten and humiliated. Torture victims explain their torturers’ motives by their desire to break their will in order to obtain material for blackmailing other prisoners, make them confess to crimes, pay tribute, or even to start torturing other prisoners themselves. This all takes place in the modern world, in a country where there is no war, where torturers are not tasked with extracting valuable military information from prisoners at any cost. Torture is rampant in Russia, a country that has signed a number of human rights and anti-torture conventions and seems to enjoy a peaceful life. We have long known that in Russia, prison is not a place of correction, but rather a strange world separate from everything else, where guards and inmates resurrect on a daily basis the practices of the Stalinist Gulag. This has not always been the case. As early as ten years ago there was serious talk in Russia about the need to reform and humanize the penitentiary system. Now things are different. The authorities have been clearly and unambiguously showing how they prefer to rule the country. That is mainly by fear. Investigations into torture have hardly been a revelation, but in a split instant, they made it impossible to ignore torture and pretend it only concerns those behind bars. Of course, the situation will not change overnight, but one thing is certain – this knowledge has now become an integral part of our society. In the following article, we bring you the raw testimony of people who have experienced torture in Russian prisons. They share their thoughts on why it is used, the impact on them, and recount the involvement even of doctors in their ordeal.

Source: The Insider, 19 October 2021. Thanks to Antti Rautiainen for the heads-up

Network Case Defendant Maxim Ivankin Claims He Was Tortured into Memorizing Meduza’s Smear and Repeating It as a “Confession”

Maxim Ivankin in court. Still from a video by 7×7. Image courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

“They put me on a spreader and beat me”: man convicted in Network case confesses to murder after he is subjected to “course of treatment”
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
October 5, 2021

Maxim Ivankin, convicted in the Network case, has turned up at Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 1 in Ryazan. During the three weeks when he was officially in transit from Chuvashia to Ryazan, and not accessible to his lawyers, he signed a confession in the so-called Ryazan case, admitting his complicity in the murders of Artyom Dorofeyev and Katya Levchenko. Only a few days later, however, he complained that he had been subjected to physical coercion and retracted his testimony.

Russian Investigative Committee investigators have long been attempting to connect the Ryazan case with the Network case. Here are several facts supporting this hypothesis:

1. The investigation was initially based on the account given by Alexei Poltavets to the news website Meduza. Poltavets claimed that he and Ivankin committed the murders in the spring of 2017. There was no significant corroboration of Poltavets’s account before Ivankin confessed, nor did the authorities particularly look for such evidence. Poltavets himself is currently in hiding in Ukraine. He has not been questioned by the Russian authorities, and so his account is inadmissible in court. However, the investigation did not consider any other explanations for the murders. It is not surprising, then, that Ivankin’s confession is a slightly modified variation on Poltavets’s monologue.

2. In the spring and summer of this year, Investigative Committee investigator A.M. Kosenko made the rounds of the penal colonies where the men convicted in the Network case are serving their sentences. According to some of them, he demanded that they bear false witness against Ivankin. Or, to put it more delicately, Kosenko was gathering evidence against Ivankin. After refusing to speak without a lawyer present, some of the convicted men (for example, Mikhail Kulkov and Ilya Shakursky) were sent to punitive detention cells. For completely other reasons, of course.

3. Ivankin was threatened with violence if he did not cooperate with the investigation, and these threats were also communicated to his wife, Anna.

The day after Ivankin was dispatched to Ryazan, he found himself in Nizhny Novgorod and, a bit later, in Vladimir. If you look on the map you’ll see that neither Nizhny nor Vladimir are on the way from Chuvashia to Ryazan. There is a direct road between them, which lies much farther to the south than the route by which Ivankin was transported.

Judging by the stories of convicts, the penal colonies in Vladimir, in particular, the hospital at Penal Colony No. 3 (aka Motorka), have a reputation as places where where prisoners are taken to be coerced and beaten into testifying. The most famous example is the case of Gor Hovakimyan, who died after being tortured in the hospital at Penal Colony No. 3. Ivankin was taken to this hospital. “I still do not know what my diagnosis is,” he said in a statement to his lawyers.

Vladimir Osechkin, the founder of the project Gulagu.net, recently reported that his organization had more than 1,000 Federal Penitentiary Service videos corroborating that torture takes place in Russian penal colonies, including footage from the Vladimir region.

And now the most important part. Lawyers Svetlana Sidorkina and Konstantin Kartashov visited Ivankin in the Ryazan pre-trial detention center on October 4 and 5. They have given Novaya Gazeta a copy of their official, on-the-record conversation with Ivankin, from which we have excerpted the following passages:

Question: Were you subjected to psychological and physical pressure in the hospital? If yes, what were the circumstances?

Answer: Yes, I was. Immediately, when I was brought to the hospital, I was met by the “reds” (activists from among the inmates)… The inmates began beating me in the back of the head and the kidneys… I will be able to identify the activists… When I was asked to sign a statement, I was put on a spreader for refusing to sign, and I was beaten in this position.

This treatment lasted about nine days. It is difficult to say more precisely: Ivankin himself has doubts. Apparently, he lost track of time.

I told them I was not involved in the murders of Dorofeyev and Levchenko… The field officers said that they were not satisfied with my position, and demanded that I rewrite the handwritten confession written by them, which I was forced to rewrite under the supervision of several activists. The events described in the confession matched the account given by journalists in the media (“Meduza”).

The activists forced me to learn the contents of the confession by heart. Until I had repeated it to them verbatim, I was not allowed to sleep… Investigator Kosenko arrived and wrote up a report that he had received the confession…

I was forced, in writing, to waive the services of my private legal counsel and my right to have my relatives notified… I made the confession out of fear for my life and safety…

My testimony was verified at the crime scene. The whole thing was a farce, because I don’t know what happened. In all the documents I indicated that I had not been coerced [into confessing], but I had to say that, out of fear for my life.

And here is the result: an indictment order. Previously, we should recall, Ivankin was officially a witness in the Ryazan case. If he was treated this way as a witness,  what awaits him as an indicted man?

Under Article 105.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (premeditated murder and conspiracy to murder) Ivankin faces a possible life sentence.

If Russia had the death penalty, Ivankin would be sentenced to death.

I have before me a document from the Federal Penitentiary Service in which what happened to Ivankin is called a “course of treatment.” “Maxim now shudders when he hears the word ‘Vladimir,'” says his lawyer Konstantin Kartashov. Nevertheless, he retracted his confession. But he did say, “If the publicity subsides, I’m finished.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Yuli Boyarshinov: A Day in the Life

Yuli Boyarshinov

Rupression: Information About the Network Case
Facebook
July 7, 2021

Yuli Boyarshinov has arrived at the place where he will be serving his sentence, Correctional Colony No. 7, in Segezha, Republic of Karelia. A lawyer visited him there yesterday. Yuli reports that everything is fine, the trip went well, and he feels good. He will be quarantined for the next three weeks, so for the time being he is alone in the cell.

Yuli’s birthday is quite soon, July 10: he will be 30 years old. Congratulate him by sending a letter or a postcard to the colony! Unfortunately, there is no e-mail service at IK-7, so you need to write paper letters, or use RosUznik’s volunteer service.

Correctional Colony No. 7 in Segezha became known throughout the country in November 2016 after the torture of Ildar Dadin at the facility was made public. In January 2019, the Segezha court sentenced the ex-warden of the colony, Sergei Kossiev, and his deputy, Anatoly Luist, to brief but actual terms of imprisonment (up to three years) for exceeding and abusing their powers. After that, according to journalists and lawyers, the torture in the colony stopped for a while, but it has not ended outright. Most often, newcomers who have just arrived in the colony are beaten while they are in quarantine.

Publicity can protect prisoners from possible torture and beatings. That is why it is so important to write letters! And, of course, letters help convicts to hold on.

Write to Yuli at:
186420, Republic of Karelia, Segezha, Leygubskaya St., FKU IK-7 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for the Republic of Karelia
Boyarshinov Yuli Nikolaevich, born 1991

N.B. Since the censors at Correctional Colony No. 7 in Segezha will undoubtedly not pass on letters mailed from abroad or written in English, please send your messages to me at avvakum(at)pm.me and I will send them to his supporters for translation and forwarding to Yuli. Thanks to Jenya Kulakova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. You can find a complete list of all the articles that I have published on the Network Case here.

“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
December 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