Alexander Podrabinek: Murder in Tyumen

“Russian counter-terrorism police say they prevented an imminent Islamic State attack in the Siberian city of Tyumen, as two armed terror suspects were eliminated in an intense raid with heavy gunfire and explosions. The militants, who were holed up in a private home, refused to lay down their arms and opened fire at the law enforcement on Friday. ‘They were neutralized during a gunfight,’ the National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAC) said. There were no casualties among civilians and security personnel as a result of the exchange of fire. The terrorists were planning an attack in [a] public place in the city and the decision to launch an operation was made swiftly, the NAC said. Numerous unconfirmed videos on social media appeared to show the nighttime operation in full swing, with heavy gunfire, a building on fire, and a score of police cars and military vehicles amassed in the streets.” Published on April 12, 2019, by user AS2017

Murder in Tyumen
Alexander Podrabinek
Grani.ru
April 14, 2019

The killing of two suspected terrorists in Tyumen has been spun as a showcase counter-terrorist operation. It went off without a hitch, that is, you do not count the spontaneous undertaking by curious locals who attempted to livestream it on the internet. On the other hand, Tyumen Regional Governor Alexander Moor had lots of nasty things to say about local video bloggers, commentators, and social media users.

On Friday, security forces cordoned off the area around Amur Street in Tyumen. They claimed two Islamic State terrorists had holed themselves up in a private house in the street. The cordoned-off area was declared a counter-terrorist operation zone, and approximately one hundred local residents were forcibly evacuated from the area. I think it superfluous to ask whether the suspected terrorists noticed the evacuation or not. If the terrorists had been real terrorists and the operation itself risky, not a staged textbook operation, the security forces would have tried to use the element of surprise. But no, all possible eyewitnesses were first removed from nearby houses, and only then did the security force go after the “terrorists.”

tyumen“Counter-terrorism operation” in Tyumen. Photo by Maxim Slutsky. Courtesy of TASS

The two people who had been designated terrorists were killed, of course. Half of their one-storey wooden house was burnt to the ground. This makes sense: the fire destroyed inconvenient evidence. The Russian Investigative Committee reported that two machine guns, two explosive devices, and religious pamphlets were found in the house, along with twenty-first-century weaponry in the shape of electronic devices. In short, they predictably found the usual kit of the modern “terrorist.”

Surprisingly, the fire did not damage the damning evidence. The explosive devices did not explode, the religious pamphlets were not reduced to ashes, the smartphones did not melt. If we recall that in many other cases the Russian security forces planted weapons and narcotics on “suspects,” nothing surprising happened. The “clues” the investigators need will be entered into physical evidence, while the stuff it does not need will not be registered anywhere.

We might learn the identities of the dead men in the coming days. Someone must have known them, and someone will tell us about them. The security forces identify them as “terrorists,” but the charges filed are not for terrorism, but conspiracy to murder and attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. This is odd, as is the fact that the FSB carried out the counter-terrorist operation, while the Investigative Committee has headed the investigation.

The Investigative Committee and FSB claim the “terrorists” were Islamic State members who were planning massacres in public places. They have not made any details of the case public, much less the overall circumstances. We are asked to take their word on it, although after the “bags of sugar” in Ryazan, Alexander Litvinenko’s murder, the attempted assassination of the Skripals, and many other exploits, the security forces cannot imagine the public will trust them.

The Tyumen “terrorists” have been accused of conspiracy to commit a crime (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 30), but they were unable to commit any crimes because their lives were taken. Along with their lives, they were deprived of the chance to defend themselves and attempt to prove their innocence in court.

Is it possible they were real terrorists and eliminating them was necessary to ensure the safety of others? Of course, it is possible. On the other hand, are we not aware of numerous instances when the security forces provoked crimes only to kill the “suspects” while covering their tracks—their own tracks more than the tracks of the “criminals”? I have in mind not only the crimes of the NKVD but also the events of the past two decades, especially in Dagestan and the rest of the North Caucasus?

One of the most telling examples of this kind was the so-called Nord-Ost hostage crisis at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow in 2002. While freeing the hostages, the security forces killed all thirty-six terrorists. Most of them were killed by being shot in the back of the head while lying unconscious, knocked out by the poisonous gas the special forces released in the theater’s auditorium. They thus got rid of the defendants and the need for a trial, a trial during which parts of the story that shed an unflattering light on the regime could have come out.

Heir of the old Soviet ways, the current regime has aspired to conduct all cases and campaigns against people who have opposed it under arms and people who have fought it with words and people who have been the accidental victims of deliberate provocations by the security services in secret. Reporters are not allowed into counter-terrorist operation zones, inconvenient eyewitnesses are rubbed out, defense attorneys are made to sign nondisclosure agreements, and court trials are held in closed chambers.

Consequently, we have no reliable means of judging whether a particular individual has committed a crime or not. We are well aware, however, that despotism and lawlessness are fond of silence but no friends of publicity. We have been through this before. So, every time a clandestine operation is carried out, every time “criminals” and witnesses are eliminated, and every time a trial is heard in closed chambers, we have every reason to suspect the security forces of provocation, dishonesty, and fraud.

Thanks to Nastia Nek for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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We Have Stricken the Word “Syria” from Our Vocabulary

Alexei Kungurov. Photo courtesy of the New Chronicle of Current Events
Alexei Kungurov. Photo courtesy of the New Chronicle of Current Events

Tyumen Blogger Sentenced to Two and a Half Years in Prison for Post on Syria
Anastasiya Yuditskaya, Dmitry Nosonov & Yegor Gubernatorov
RBC
December 20, 2016

A court has sentenced Tyumen blogger Alexei Kungurov to two and a half years in a work-release penal colony for “public justification of terrorism.” A LiveJournal post entitled “Who Putin’s falcons are really bombing” triggered the charges.

Tyumen blogger Alexei Kungurov was charged under Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 205.2.1 (“public calls for terrorism or public justification of it”). A visiting panel of judges from the Volga District Military Court found him guilty and sentenced him to two and a half years’ imprisonment in a work-release penal colony, Asiya Bayshikhina, Kungurov’s wife, has informed RBC.

“There is very little information right now. I know only he has been sentenced to two [sic] years in a work-release penal colony. Alexei was on his recognizance from February, but in June he was placed in a pre-trial detention facility. He has been in Pre-Trial Detention Facility No. 1 in Tyumen the whole time,” Bayshikhina told RBC.

Kungurov’s attorney, Alexander Zyryanov, told RBC the defense planned to appeal the verdict.

“We are going to lodge an appeal with the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court. We plan to do this at the beginning of next week. We have ten days to do it.”

Criminal charges were filed against Kungurov in March over a LiveJournal post, entitled “Who Putin’s falcons are really bombing,” in which the blogger criticized the actions of the Russian armed forces in Syria.

In August, the Prosecutor General’s Office reported that terrorist crimes had increased by 73% in the first six months of 2016 compared to the same period last years. The office reported then that it had solved a total of 1,313 terrorist crimes and 830 extremist crimes.

Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Buksman noted that the increasing numbers of such crimes were “the outcome of preventive work by law enforcement agencies in surveilling the Internet for banned publications and bringing to justice leaders and members of the armed underground in the North Caucasus and their accomplices, and persons who are fighting in Syria as part of terrorist groups.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Testimonial Imperative

Alexei Kungurov. Photo courtesy of the New Chronicle of Current Events
Alexei Kungurov. Photo courtesy of the New Chronicle of Current Events

Amendment from “Yarovaya Package” Applied for First Time in Tyumen
FSB Asks Reporters to Help Prove Blogger Kungurov’s Guilt
Georgy Borodyansky
Novaya Gazeta
October 13, 2016

The FSB’s Tyumen Regional Office has asked a number of Urals region media to help it find evidence against blogger Alexei Kungurov, in particular, “to provide the investigation with articles of his that contain public insults to the authorities and other information worthy of the attention of law enforcement and regulatory authorities.”

The request could also be considered a demand. As Anton Yulayev, a reporter for Znak.com and one of the people who received the letter from the FSB, told Novaya Gazeta, the letter contains a reference to the legal norm obliging recipients to respond to it.

“Our lawyers are now trying to solve this dilemma: how to respond without harming Alexei, and in such a way that the FSB has no beef with us,” explained Yulayev.

The appeal made by the FSB’s Tyumen Region Office is a new legal norm [sic] introduced by the so-called Yarovaya package. Alexei Zyryanov, Kungurov’s attorney, explained the implications to Novaya Gazeta.

“Previously, you could ignore a letter like this, but now you can’t. Basically, the law has introduced criminal liability for the failure to inform,” said Zyryanov.

The liability is spelled out in Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 206.6, which entered into force on July 20, 2016. It says that “non-reporting of terrorist crimes” is punishable by a fine of 100,000 rubles or by up to one year in prison. If individuals know something about another individual who is planning to commit such a crime or has committed such a crime, but do not report their information to law enforcement agencies, they can be found guilty.

Blogger Alexei Kungurov has been held for five months in pre-trial detention facility on charges of “public justification of terrorism.” Investigators found evidence of such a crime in a post the blogger published on his LiveJournal page in October of last years. Entitled “Who Putin’s falcons are really bombing,” the post is still in the public domain.

On October 11, 2016, Tyumen’s Central District Court extended Kungurov’s arrest another two months, until December 15. Investigators motivated their request for the extension on the grounds that they had not managed “to carry all necessary [investigative] actions” over the previous four months. According to Zyryanov, they had not carried out any actions at all. They had been waiting the whole time for the outcome of the linguistic forensic investigation.

Why has the linguistic forensic investigation taken so long? Zyryanov surmises that the forensic experts were faced with a tough job: proving that Kungurov’s argument that Islamic State (an organization banned in Russia) “is hardly the most terrible and crazy [organization]” somehow justifies terrorism.

On October 13, the lead investigator informed the lawyer that the findings from the forensic examination had finally arrived.

“I haven’t examined them in detail yet,” said Zyryanov, “but the conclusion is predictable: there is evidence of a crime in Alexei’s article.”

It would have been difficult to hope for another outcome, because the forensic examination was performed by a bureau of the very same agency that has charged the blogger, the FSB’s Sverdlovsk Regional Office, rather than its Tyumen Regional Office.

The results of another forensic examination are still pending. It will determine the originality of Kungurov’s article that, allegedly, “justifies terrorism,” whether it was written wholly by Kungurov, or whether he borrowed it, wholly or partly, from someone else. Then the case will be sent to trial, apparently.

Why do the secret services need the media’s help? According to Zyryanov, investigators do not have conclusive proof of Kungurov’s guilt, and they are attempting the shore up their case. But it is also possible the FSB has decided to test the new law out on the journalistic community by forcing independent periodicals, which can be counted on one hand in the Urals (the others simply could not afford to publish Kungurov’s articles), into giving “testimony.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Alexander Verkhovsky for the heads-up