The Network Case in Context

Scenes from the reading of the verdict in the Network trial in Penza on February 10, 2020. Filmed by Vlad Dokshin, edited by Alexander Lavrenov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
February 10, 2020

Today’s verdict in Penza was terribly inhumane, exorbitantly vicious, and so on, of course. The Putin regime handed out humongous sentences to members of the anti-authoritarian scene, punishing them for exercising their right to be themselves. Anarchists and non-official antifascists were severely and cruelly punished by the dictatorial regime—acting through the FSB and a kangaroo court—for their DIY activities, for making connections outside the official, formalized world, for dissenting, for rejecting all hierarchies. These political prisoners have been sent to the camps for many years, and it will take an enormous effort to keep them alive, if they are sent to the north, to keep them healthy and sane, and to get them released early. I wish them and their relatives and friends all the strength in the world.

Unfortunately, many people have reacted to the verdict in the Network Case as if it were utterly unprecedented, as if the bloodbath in Chechnya, and the torture and savage sentences meted out to defendants in other “terrorist” cases had never happened. It as if, even recently, their own government had not committed numerous crimes against the people of Ukraine and Syria, against prisoners in camps and other “others,” against National Bolshevik party activists and a range of other movements, against young radicals and people who professed the “wrong” religion, and on and on and on.  People, including political activists, have been surprised by the torture of the defendants, the rigged trial, and the harsh sentences in Penza, as if they lived in a happy, prosperous society, not a totally toxic, brazen empire whose security forces are the heirs of a centuries-long tradition of butchery and fanatical cruelty.

You are not supposed to say out loud what I am about to write, but if the young men had attacked government offices, there would probably have been no national and international solidarity campaign on behalf of these political prisoners. Or they would simply have been tortured to death or subjected to extrajudicial executions. If the Networkers had gone to jail for direct actions, a good number of Russian “anarchists” and “antifascists” would have disowned them, stigmatized them, urged others not to help them, and denounced them to western socialists. This was what really happened to the Underground Anarchists a hundred years ago: they were condemned by their “allies,” who wanted to go legal and curried favor with the Red despots.  The same thing has happened in our time: there were anarchists who hated on the young Belarusians sentenced to seven years in prison for setting fire to the KGB office in Bobruisk, the political refugees in the Khimki Forest case, the persecuted activists of the Popular Self-Defense, and Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Or, for example, some of the people in the ABTO (Autonomous Combat Terrorist Organization) case, who were sent down for many years for arson attacks: they were tortured and accused of “terrorism,” and we had to work hard to scrape away the mud tossed at them by the state and “progressive” society. Oddly enough, the attitude of “thinking people” to “incorrect” political prisoners is matched by the Russian government’s refusal to exonerate Fanny Kaplan or the revolutionaries who blew up the Bolshevik Party city committee office on Leontievsky Lane in Moscow on September 25, 1919. (After the bloodshed in Moscow in 1993, however, Yeltsin made the populist move of exonerating the people involved in the Kronstadt Rebellion.)

One of the places we should look for the roots of the savage trial of the Penza prisoners is the disgusting newspeak that people in the RF have been taught—”the president’s orders have not been implemented,” “the government has sent a signal,” “the annexation of Crimea,” “the conflict in Donbass,” “the clash in the Kerch Strait,” “s/he claims s/he was tortured,” “s/he claims the evidence was planted,” “the terrorists of the People’s Will,” “Chechen terrorists,” “the Russophobe Stomakhin,” “the neo-Nazi Astashin,” “the guerrilla band in the Maritime Territory,” “the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk,” and so on.

Various people, including people from the anarchist scene, have written that the Network Case has shattered them and the people they know. If this is so, it is even worse than the outrageous criminal case itself. Yes, I am a living person, too, and yes, I find it very hard myself. But we cannot let the circumstances bend and break us: this is exactly what they want. This is especially the case if you are a consistent foe of systematic oppression, if you are an anarchist. Really, people, what would you do if the regime launched a truly massive crackdown on dissenters of the kind we have seen in the past, from tsarist Russia to Erdogan’s Turkey, from America at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the Iran of the ayatollahs? However, a massive crackdown would entail having a mass liberation movement, something that does not exist in today’s Russia. By the way, it would appear that our half-strangled semi-free media have been doing an excellent job of spreading fear among the atomized masses by regaling them with stories of the state’s repressive policies, of its crimes and nefarious undertakings, instead of using the news to instill people with righteous anger.

We can assume that the brutal verdict in the Network Case and other instances of rough justice on the part of the state will have direct consequences for the Kremlin both at home and abroad. Generally speaking, evil is not eternal. Over time, people will be able to overcome their disunity, believe in themselves, and finally destroy the thousand-year-old kingdom of oppression. “The jailed will sprout up as bayonets.”

politzeki1“Russia’s political prisoners: the jailed will sprout up as bayonets.” A banner hung over Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg by the Pyotr Alexeyev Resistance Movement (DSPA) in August 2012. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Elena Zaharova
Facebook
February 10, 2020

I don’t understand.

You can throw a brick at me, you can ban me, you can do what you like, but I don’t get you. Why this sudden mass fainting spell? When the authorities started abducting, murdering, and imprisoning the Crimean Tatars in 2014, you didn’t notice. Okay, you couldn’t care less about Crimea and Ukraine. The authorities have long been imprisoning members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Kazan and Bashkortostan, but there’s the rub—we defend Jehovah’s Witnesses, not Hizbites. And the authorities have been sentencing the Crimean Tatars and the Hizbites to ten years, twenty years, twenty-two years in prison. But you haven’t heard about that. And suddenly today you say, “Oh the horror!!! It’s fascism!!!”

It’s the same with the Constitution. The authorities long ago trampled it into the dust, killing it off with Federal Law No. 54 [on “authorization” for  demonstrations and public rallies] and giving us the heave-ho. No one noticed. For the last couple of weeks, however, everyone has been calling on people to defend the Constitution—that is, to defend what it is written in a booklet that everyone was too lazy to read before.

Need I mention the wars no one has noticed yet?

Only don’t remind me about the dozens of people who have been picketing outside the presidential administration building in Moscow for two years running. I have nothing but praise for them, but they are the exception.

Vladimir Akimenkov was one of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case and currently raises money for Russian political prisoners and their families. Elena Zaharova is an anti-war and civil rights activist. Translated by the Russian Reader

Vladimir Akimenkov: Spring 2019 Fundraising Campaign for Russian Political Prisoners

akimenkovVladimir Akimenkov collecting money for Russian political prisoners. Photo courtesy of Vladimir Akimenkov

Vladimir Akimenkov: Spring 2019 Fundraising Campaign for Russian Political Prisoners

We are once again raising money to support Russian political prisoners and their families. Since I was released from prison, we have raised around 12.7 million rubles for political prisoners. This is not a lot of money, but it has supported over a hundred political prisoners, who range from people who posted something “seditious” on the internet to those who stood up against the machine of oppression and gave it everything they could.

When you donate money to us, you’re supporting the sending of care packages to the prisoners, helping their loved ones go on extended visits to the prison camps on the far side of the country where they are doing time, and paying for lawyers to visit particularly rough prisons, and generally supporting the expenses their families while their loved ones are locked up.

These expenses are exhausting for families and friends, especially if the political prisoners were breadwinners, and especially in Russia’s regions, where people are generally poorer than in the two capitals.

The children of political prisoners should not cry themselves to sleep at night because they are hungry. This is not a figure of speech, but something that really happens.

The political crackdown in Russia has become more intense, and the current regime has targeted an ever-expanding list of political and social groups. In particular, the Putin regime has unleashed its full fury against anarchists in recent years.

Meanwhile, the Russian state’s propaganda machine has taken pains to stigmatize political prisoners, depicting good men and women as threats to society. The Russian state would like to deprive those people it victimizes of support.

Let’s show them our solidarity. It’s so easy.

You can send donations via:
1. PayPal https://paypal.me/vladimirakimenkov (vladimir.akimenkov@gmail.com). UPDATE: On April 11, 2019, Mr. Akimenkov informed his supporters on Facebook that PayPal had blocked his account, unjustly accusing him of engaging in “commercial” activity. This is not his first unpleasant encounter with PayPal, but he was able on previous occasions to persuade the money transfer company that he was using the account only for charitable purposes. Some of his supporters responded by writing that PayPal had made various promises to the Russian federal communications watchdog Roskomnadzor in order to keep doing business in Russia. Those promises, allegedly, included shutting down customers who used their PayPal accounts to fund raise for opposition causes. If, like me, you find PayPal’s behavior towards Vladimir Akimenkov, a former political prisoner himself, despicable, please write them a letter. You may cite this blog post. For my part, I can say that Mr. Akimenkov is that rare thing: the real thing. Completely on his own, he has raised a considerable amount of money for Russia’s growing army of political prisoners and their loved ones. In short, Vladimir is one of the good guys. PayPal should not be trying to trip him up. {TRR}
2. Yandex Money: https://money.yandex.ru/to/410012642526680
3. Sberbank Visa Card: 4276 3801 0623 4433 Vladimir Georgievich Akimenkov (Владимир Георгиевич Акименков)
4. Bank Transfers in Foreign Currencies: SWIFT: SABRRUMM, Account: 40817810238050715588, Recipient: Akimenkov Vladimir Georgievich (Акименков Владимир Георгиевич)

Be sure to note you are making a “charitable donation” when you transfer funds by any of these means.

After the fundraising campaign wraps up, I will send a complete accounting of how much money was raised and how it was disbursed to everyone who donated and whose names and addresses are known to me.

If you are unable to make a donation, please repost this appeal. Make sure to disseminate this appeal on every platform you can think of, including Facebook, Telegram, etc.

Thanks!

P.S. There have been reports of glitches with Sberbank Online. Make sure the money you sent has been deducted from your accounts.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Autumn 2018 Fundraiser for Russian Political Prisoners

vladimir akimenkov.jpgVladimir Akimenkov. Courtesy of his Facebook page

Vladimir Akimenkov
Facebook
October 4, 2018

AUTUMN FUNDRAISER FOR RUSSIAN POLITICAL PRISONERS

Despite all the problems in our lives, we are free in one way or another, or we live in so-called freedom, as Pyotr Pavlensky observed. Despite increasing state prohibitions and surveillance, we are not trapped between four walls. We can at least partially afford to satisfy our needs, and we are less likely to be beaten or tortured by state security forces.

On the contrary, political prisoners, like all convicts generally, have many few fewer rights than people on the outside, although political prisoners are freer and stronger than many people who are not in prison. These people have been imprisoned for our sake. On the outside, political prisoners were involved in various outstanding causes. Or, at very least, they evinced basic human dignity, which the Russian state punishes as a criminal offense.

We must continue to support political prisoners. One way of doing that is with our wallets. Assistance to such people, support for the victims of political repression, the fight to free these people and, more generally, the fight for society’s freedom have always gone on in Russia, even during the darkest days of the tsarist autocracy and Bolshevik despotism.

Between 2013 and 2018, we have raised over 11 million rubles for a variety of political prisoners. Unfortunately, no matter how much money we raise, it is never enough, especially since many of the political prisoners I have had occasion to work with have been sentenced to long terms in prison, sometimes in the double digits.

With very rare exceptions, however, the Putin regime has no intention of releasing political prisoners. On the contrary, it has only increased its crackdowns. The Kremlin does not even want to exchange hostages from Ukraine.

I am launching a new campaign to raise money for the political prisoners I have chosen help. You should note this group now includes the young men accused as part of the so-called Network case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case.

You can make donations any time by transferring money to the following accounts.

Bank Transfers in Rubles
Bank’s Correspondence Account: 30101810400000000225
Bank’s BIC: 044525225
Recipient’s Account Number: 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s Individual Tax Number: 7707083893
Recipient’s Name: Akimenkov Vladimir Georgievich

Bank Transfers in Foreign Currencies
SWIFT Code: SABRRUMM
Recipient’s Account Number: 40817810238050715588
Recipient’s Name: Akimenkov Vladimir Georgievich

Please make a note on your transfers, identifying them as charitable donations.

In keeping with established practice, after the campaign has been completed and the money donated has been distributed to the political prisoners, I send a financial report to the donors whose identities are known to me.

Thank you.

You are welcome to disseminate information about this fundraising campaign.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Help Sergei Mokhnatkin!

41151284_296574164276341_7551592025892585472_oSergei Mokhnatkin. Photo courtesy of Julia Lorenz

Julia Lorenz
Facebook
September 7, 2018

Friends, I rarely ask you to help someone financially, so please pay attention this post.

Journalist and human rights activist Sergei Mokhnatkin needs our help. Mr. Mokhnatkin is sixty-four years old. While he has been serving time in a penal colony, he has been assaulted, had his back broken, had suffocating gas pumped into his cell, and had his personal effects and food stolen. Andrei Krekov, Mr. Mokhnatin’s social defender, arrived yesterday from visiting him in prison.

41116985_296574474276310_6849929476512415744_oMaximum Security Correctional Colony No. 21 in Iksa, Arkhangelsk Region. Photo by Andrei Krekov. Courtesy of Julia Lorenz

Mr. Krekov said the wardens at Maximum Security Correctional Colony No. 21 in the village of Iksa, Arkhangelsk Region, where Mr. Mokhnatkin has been serving the last four months of his sentence, have put the inmate on preventive watch as someone “prone to trespassing on sexual freedom and sexual inviolability” [per the wording in the letter reproduced below]. This is yet another humiliation.

41194480_296574800942944_747334011835121664_oLetter from a prison official informing Sergei Mokhnatkin that he had been placed on “preventive watch.” Photo by Andrei Krekov. Courtesy of Julia Lorenz

As of Monday, prison staff refused to give Mr. Mokhnatkin a pen, so he was unable to write anything.

In his letter to me, Mr. Mokhnatkin voiced concern about whether he would be able to pay Mr. Krekov’s trips to the prison as his social defender and, generally, a sense of insecurity about the future. I cannot discuss the particulars of his personal life without his say-so, but I can say that Mr. Mokhnatkin lacks many of the things you and I have.

The only way to protect the journalist and human rights activist from the abuse of prison staff is constant oversight on the social defender’s part. A single one-way trip to the penal colony costs 4,000 rubles [approx. 50 euros] and takes four hours. Nor would it hurt if we were able to raise a little money to see Mr. Mokhnatkin through for awhile after he is released from prison.

Evil cannot always prevail in this life. We won’t let it.

PayPal: krek29[at]mail.ru (Andrei Krekov)
Yandex Money: 410011870455797
Sberbank Card: 6390 0255 9033 7935 61

The last two accounts belong to Tatyana Pashkevich, who has raised money to support Sergei Mokhnatkin over the last four and a half years.

Thanks to Vladimir Akimenkov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Help Russia’s Political Prisoners!

vladimir akimenkovVladimir Akimenkov, raising money on behalf of Russian political prisoners. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page

Former Bolotnaya Square Case defendant and prisoner rights activist Vladimir Akimenkov writes:

Russian Political Prisoners: The Last (?) Fundraiser
The people who run PayPal knuckle under to national governments. So, it is possible that after September 19, 2018, they will strip me of the ability to accept donations to political prisoners through my PayPal account. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure this doesn’t happen, but the people who run PayPal might not necessarily rule in my favor.

You can read a detailed account of the conflict (in Russian) here.

This particular fundraiser for political prisoners is not comprehensive (I’ll hold a comprehensive fundraiser later). I’m asking that this time you send donations for Russia’s political prisoners to my PayPal account:

https://paypal.me/vladimirakimenkov
(vladimir.akimenkov [at] gmail.com)

Send money if you can. If you cannot send money, please repost this message.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Oleg Sentsov

37388658_2052268531474743_764773632051249152_nThe room in the prison infirmary where Oleg Sentsov is kept. 

Anton Naumlyuk
Facebook
July 19, 2019

Oleg Sentsov

Attorney Dmitry Dinze visited Oleg Sentsov in the Labytnangi penal colony today.

“He looked even worse than last time. He was quite pale. He walked under his own power. Around a week ago, he went through a second health crisis. He got sick. The doctors wanted to hospitalize him and force-feed him as much as possible, to give him IV drips with more nutrients. He refused. He was left in the penal colony on the condition he would ingest the nutrient mix himself under a doctor’s supervision. He takes two spoonfuls a day. He is kept in a room in the prison infirmary. He has no intention of quitting the hunger strike. ‘I’ll hold out as long as I can last,’ he says.”

Sentsov also expressed bewilderment as to why Ukraine and Lyudmila Denisova, human rights ombudsman for the Verkhovna Rada, had ended their vigorious campaign of support for Ukrainian political prisoners.

“Sentsov thinks the Ukrainian side should do more to press for the release of the other political prisoners,” said Dinze.

Sentsov also sent his greetings to Yevgeny Panov (Yevhen Panov), a defendant in the case of the so-called Crimean saboteurs, and to Vladimir Balukh.

Thanks to Askold Kurov and Vladimir Akimenkov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Alexei Gaskarov Released from Prison

Alexei Gaskarov and his wife Anna Gaskarov. Photo by Anatrrra
Alexei Gaskarov and his wife Anna Gaskarova, October 27, 2016. Photo by Anatrrra

Bolotnaya Square Defendant Alexei Gaskarov Released from Prison
Ekaterina Fomina
Novaya Gazeta
October 27, 2016

Alexei Gaskarov was released from Penal Colony No. 6 in Novomoskovsk today. He had served his entire sentence: three and a half years in a medium-security penal colony. Gaskarov was twice denied parole.

“I don’t think it was possible to change anything under these circumstances. I said at the trial that if our way runs through prison, we have to go.  Personally, everyone who went to prison lost a lot. But if you compare that with the public interest, someone had to go through it, someone had to have this piece of ‘good’ luck,” Gaskarov said after his release.

Alexei Gaskarov (left). Photo courtesy Ekaterina Fomina/Novaya Gazeta

“The risks are clear, but I don’t think there is an alternative. I don’t think that the path, the values that were professed on Bolotnaya Square can be put on the back burner. Yes, these are complicated times, and we have to wait them out somewhere, but I don’t think you can impact this vector by intimidating people. When I was in prison I read about a hundred history books. Everyone had to go through this. We are just at this stage,” he added.

Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy Ekaterina Fomina/Novaya Gazeta

“The point of my attitude is this: don’t be afraid, guys. Our little undertakings will merge into a river that will lead us to the right path. Prison is not the end of life,” Gaskarov concluded.

Prisoners of Bolotnaya: Alexander Margolin, Vladimir Akimenkov, Alexei Gaskarov, Alexei Polikhovich, and Ilya Gushchin. Photo courtesy of Ekaterina Fomina/Novaya Gazeta

Gaskarov was accused of involvement in “rioting” and being violent towards police officers. However, Gaskarov  claimed he had himself been assaulted on Bolotnaya Square. During the mass arrests, an unidentified policeman pushed him to the ground, beat him with his truncheon, and kicked him.

Gaskarov is a graduate of the Russian Federation Government Financial University and has worked at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Dmitry Ishevsky and Ivan Nepomnyashchikh are currently serving prison terms after being convicted in the Bolotnaya Square case. The latter has lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. He has complained that Russian authorities have violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In October, citing a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that the arrest and imprisonment of Bolotnaya Square defendants Ilya Gushchin and Artyom Savyolov had been illegal. Earlier, in June, after a complaint had been filed with the European Court of Human Rights, the Supreme Court declared the arrest of Leonid Kovyazin, a defendant in the same case, illegal.

Anarchist Dmitry Buchenkov awaits trial in a pre-trial detention facility. According to police investigators, he was violient toward lawful authorities and “tried to destroy a portapotty.” Buchenkov himself claims he was not in Moscow during the so-called March of the Millions.

Maxim Panfilov is also awaiting trial. He was charged four years after the opposition rally on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow—in April 2016. He is the thirty-sixth defendant in the Bolotnaya Square case. In October, Panfilov was declared mentally incompetent.

Translated by the Russian Reader. You can read more about Alexei Gaskarov and the other prisoners in the Bolotnaya Square case on this website.

“Decent People Rub Prince Lemon the Wrong Way”: Sasha Dukhanina’s Closing Statement at the Bolotnaya Square Trial

Alexandra Naumova (née Dukhanina, usually referred to as Sasha Dukhanina), born 1993, was the first person to be arrested in the Bolotnaya Square case, launched by the Russian authorities after a sanctioned opposition march in downtown Moscow on May 6, 2012, the day before President Putin’s re-inauguration, ended in clashes with police. Dukhanina-Naumova was detained at the Occupy Arbat protest camp in Moscow in late May 2012 and has been under house arrest since that time.

Dukhanina-Naumova and her co-defendants Sergei Krivov, Alexei Polikhovich, Artyom Savyolov, Denis Lutskevich, Andrei Barabanov, Stepan Zimin and Yaroslav Belousov are charged with involvement in mass riots and assaulting police officers. At the January 22, 2014, hearing in the case, prosecutors asked the presiding judge, Natalya Nikishina, to sentence each of them to between five and six years in prison.

Dukhanina-Naumova is specifically accused of throwing chunks of asphalt, one of which, allegedly, struck a police officer, slightly bruising him, and splashing a soft drink (kvass) from a liter-size bottle.

A photograph of a riot cop dragging Dukhanina-Naumova away by the neck on May 6, 2012, taken by famed opposition blogger and photographer Rustem Adagamov (aka Drugoi), himself now in exile, has become, perhaps, the most famous image of the “riots” that took place in Moscow that day. Many opposition activists and independent observers have claimed that what happened was in fact a provocation on the part of the authorities aimed at demoralizing the opposition and selectively punishing those who had tried to spoil Putin’s repeat “coronation” by publicly protesting.

adagamov-dukhanina drag

Before her arrest, Dukhanina-Naumova was a student at Moscow State University, where she majored in translation and interpretation. An anarchist, she had been involved in such causes as the defense of the Tsagovsky Forest, near Moscow, and Food Not Bombs.

On December 19, 2013, four other defendants in the case, Maria Baronova, Vladimir Akimenkov, Nikolai Kavkazsky and Leonid Kovyazin, were released under an “amnesty” that has been regarded by many as a gesture meant to defuse domestic and foreign criticism of the Putin regime’s concerted attacks on human and civil rights, NGOs, gays and lesbians, migrant workers, and opposition activists.

In any case, this amnesty did not fool the several thousand people who marched in Moscow on February 2, 2014, demanding the release of Dukhanina-Naumova and the other Bolotnaya Square defendants.

 

Dukhanina-Naumova made the closing statement, below, during the final hearing in the trial, on February 5, 2014, in Moscow.

After Dukhanina-Naumova and her co-defendants had finished making their closing statements, Judge Nikishina announced she would read out the verdict in the trial on February 21, 2014. This is two days before the end of the Sochi Olympics, President Putin’s wildly expensive showcase of his personal triumph over man, nature, and budgetary common sense.

__________

Closing Statement by Alexandra Dukhanina-Naumova at the Bolotnaya Square Trial, Zamoskovoretsky District Court, Moscow, February 5, 2014

At first I thought that this whole trial was a crazy mistake, the result of some mix-up. Now, after hearing the prosecutor’s speeches, and considering the length of the prison terms they are asking for us [Bolotnaya Square defendants], I’m starting to see that what the authorities want is revenge. They want revenge because we were there and saw how things really were. We witnessed who instigated the stampede, how people were beaten, and the unjustified violence. They are getting revenge on us for not bowing down to them and repenting for our nonexistent crimes, neither during interrogations nor here, in the courtroom. They are also avenging me for not helping them further their lies, for refusing to answer their questions.

73502

These are serious crimes that carry a penalty of six years in a penal colony. There is no one else who has earned such a severe punishment, just us. They’re afraid of the real criminals—they imprison the strangers who get in their way while they wouldn’t lift a finger against their own. It is up to you, Your Honor, to decide whether to pay for furthering their happiness—promotions, stars, and medals—with our lives.

Why six years? What are these “no fewer than eight targeted throws” I supposedly dealt? Where did they come from? Whom was I aiming at and whom did I hit? Eight different police officers? Or did I hit the two men they’ve painted as the victims eight times? If so, how many times did I hit each of them? Where are the answers to these questions? Isn’t it up to them to describe the attack in detail and prove their case before putting me in prison? After all, this isn’t fun and games; it’s six years of my life at stake. Otherwise, it isn’t even lies, but mendacious demagoguery unsupported by facts, a game played with a human life in the balance. And if they had 188 videos and not eight, would they allege that there were 188 throws?

You’ve seen the two riot police officers who were my so-called victims. Each one of them is two or three times my size, and on top of that, they were in body armor. One of them felt nothing, and the second one was not injured by me at all and has no grievances. Is this the “rioting” and “violence” that have earned me six years of incarceration?

I almost forgot about the kvass. The bottle alone gets me five years, and the eight targeted blows get me the last one. At least let them say so, that way at least I’ll know the price of kvass. They should also tell me where my “mass rioting” ends and my “violence toward the authorities” begins. What’s the difference between the two? I still haven’t understood the charges against me: what did I burn? What pogroms? What destruction of public property? What does any of this have to do with me? What did I blow up? What did I set on fire? What did I destroy? Whom did I conspire with? What’s the evidence? Am I getting four years in accordance with Article 212 just for being there? Is my mere presence at what began as a peaceful demonstration the “rioting” that I was involved in? All I did was show up.

Take a look at these people. They’re not murderers, thieves or con artists. Putting us all in prison is not only unjust, it’s criminal.

Many people have given me the opportunity to repent, apologize, say what the investigators want me to say, but you know, I don’t find it necessary to repent, let alone apologize, to these people. In our country, it’s widely accepted that they are absolutely untouchable despite the well-known cases of their involvement in drug trafficking, prostitution, and rape. Just a few days ago, that happened in the Lipetsk Region.

The narrative of the charges pinned on us isn’t just funny; it is absurd and based solely on the testimony of the riot police officers. What does this mean, that if a person has epaulettes they’re a priori honest and holy?

Your Honor, in the course of the past eight months of this trial, you’ve received such substantial evidence of our innocence that if you send us all to the camps, you will be ruining our lives and futures for nothing.

Is the government really so determined to make an example of us that it is willing to take this step? Letting a pencil pusher, rapist or policeman off for [inaudible] is a matter of course: they’re untouchable, one of your own. We, on the other hand, can handle a prison term. Who are we, after all, we’re not even rich? For some reason, I am convinced that even in prison I will still be more free than any of them because my conscience will be clear, while those who remain on the outside continuing their so-called protection of law, order, and freedom will live in an unbreakable cage with their accomplices.

I can admit to making a mistake. If I were truthfully presented with facts and it were demonstrated to me that I had done something illegal, I would confess to it. However, no one has done any such thing: all I’ve witnessed are lies and brute force. You can suffocate someone with force, drag them [inaudible] and all of this has already been done to me. But lies and violence can’t prove anything. Thus, no one has proven my guilt. I am sure that I am right and that I am innocent.

I’d like to close with a quotation from Gianni Rodari’s Cipollino:

 “My poor father! They’ve thrown you in the pen with thieves and bandits.”

“Hey now, son,” his father tenderly interrupted him. “Prison is chock full of honest people!”

“Why are they in prison? What have they done wrong?”

“Absolutely nothing, son. That’s why they’re in here. Decent people rub Prince Lemon the wrong way.”

“So getting in prison is a great honor?” he asked.

“That’s how it seems. Prisons are built for people who steal and kill, but in Prince Lemon’s kingdom, it’s all topsy-turvy. The thieves and murderers are in his palace, while honest citizens fill the prisons.”

Translated by Bela Shayevich. Originally published, in Russian, on Grani.RuPhotograph of Alexandra Dukhanina-Naumova courtesy of Dmitry Bortko

A Muted Joy: Who Got Left Out of Putin’s Amnesty

Lenta.Ru
December 19, 2013
A Muted Joy
Four Defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case Amnestied

The amnesty passed yesterday by the State Duma has enabled charges against four defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case to be dropped. Today, December 19, opposition activist Vladimir Akimenkov and journalist Leonid Kovyazin, who had been held in a remand prison for over a year, were released. Human rights activist Nikolai Kavkazsky was released from house arrest, and charges were likewise dropped against Maria Baronova, who had been under travel restrictions. Our correspondent went to the hearing at the Nikulinsky District Court in Moscow to see how the “prisoners of Bolotnaya” were freed.

Lawyers and journalists waited for the hearing to begin in a small, five-table cafe on the first floor of the Nikulinsky District Court. It had been known since yesterday evening that motions to amnesty four defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case—Maria Baronova, Vladimir Akimenkov, Nikolai Kavkazsky and Leonid Kovyazin—would be filed today. The four had been charged under sections 2 and 3 of Article 212 of the Criminal Code (participating in rioting and incitement to riot). Yesterday, the State Duma amended the president’s amnesty bill, extending it not only those convicted of such crimes but also to suspects and defendants charged under this article. However, the hearing had already been delayed by two hours and the people in the cafe were nervous.

Someone suggested the motions would not be accepted until Vladimir Putin’s press conference was over, because Judge Natalya Nikishina was waiting for a go-ahead from the Kremlin. Someone else claimed that traffic jams were to blame: because of them, the defendants had not been delivered to the court on time.

“In our difficult times, any delay gives rise to conspiracy theories,” lawyer Sergei Badamshin said by way of summing up.

When asked whether the four defendants would be released, lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant answered quite cautiously.

“It often happens that courts like to drag things out until the verdict. In Russia, the authorities don’t like letting people go. Today, I heard that some lady from the Federal Penitentiary Service said that for Nadya [Tolokonnikova] to be amnestied they would need a paper from child protection services saying that Nadya had not been deprived of her parental rights. Can you imagine? What grounds do they have for suspecting her of this? Her daughter has a birth certificate in which Nadya is identified as the mother. But in Russia, if they don’t want to let someone go, they always come up with an excuse.”

Dmitry Agranovsky, Vladimir Akimenkov’s lawyer, was categorical.

“I prepared the draft amendments to the amnesty bill along with MPs from the Communist Party. We ensured that the cases against people eligible for amnesty who have been charged under Article 212 would be dropped not after the verdict, but at the stage where they are currently are. From a legal perspective, Akimenkov should be released today, end of story. Since yesterday, there has no longer been any need for his detention. His complaint has already been filed with the European Court of Human Rights, and if he’s kept in the remand prison even for a day after the amnesty bill is published, that will be tantamount to a real abuse of power, since they are no legal grounds for detaining him. He should be released in the courtroom.”

Agranovsky recited [the final stanza of Pushkin’s poem “Deep in Siberian mines”] with expression.

“The heavy fetters will fall, / The jails will crumble. And freedom / Will joyfully hail you at the entrance, / And brothers will give you back your swords.”

Lawyer Alexei Vetrentsev, who was representing defendant Leonid Kovyazin, did not think his client would be released today.

“I think Leonid will be released from the remand prison only tomorrow. There’ll be paperwork at the prison, and he’ll have to gather his things.”

The expression on Vetrentsev’s face was extremely sad.

“For us, the amnesty is a good decision, but I feel embarrassed before the others. It is inhuman to carry out an amnesty this way, releasing some people while others are left in jail.”

Nine other people were to appear with his client in the cage for defendants at the Nikulinsky District Court. Only two of them, Kovyazin and Akimenkov, were supposed to be released. Baronova, the mother of a young child, had been under travel restrictions, while Kavkazsky had been under house arrest.

“I’m ashamed, but I’m glad, and that’s an objective feeling,” said Baronova. “You can feel as guilty as you like because the others aren’t being let out, but now for the first time in two years I can leave the country for at least a few days. I’m looking here at names of banks that give consumer loans for the New Year holidays, so I can go to Berlin.”

pic_7f2c6853168107d67c3094c193463143

(Left to right) Sergei Krivov, Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich, Andrei Barabanov and Artyom Savyolov. Photo: Gennady Gulyaev/Kommersant
Anatoly, grandfather of anarchist Alexei Polikhovich, another defendant, sat motionless not far from Baronova. Anatoly’s grandson was first charged under “amnestied” Article 212, for involvement in rioting. But after a press conference last year in which President Vladimir Putin spoke out strongly against people who had [allegedly] assaulted police officers, Article 318 (“use of violence that does not endanger human life or health […] against a representative of the authority”), the standard charge, was added to the charges against Polikhovich. Riot police officer Igor Tarasov had then suddenly remembered that at the May 6, 2012, rally, Polikhovich had “hit him in the wrist, causing severe pain.”
Immediately after the defendants were brought into the courtroom, the four lawyers moved to have their clients released in connection with the amnesty decree published yesterday in [official government newspaper] Rossiiskaya Gazeta. The appeals were wholly supported by the prosecution. Judge Natalya Nikishina then asked whether the appeals were supported by the remaining defendants not covered by the amnesty—that is, Polikhovich, Alexandra Dukhanina, Denis Lutskevich, Stepan Zimin, Sergei Krivov, Andrei Barabanov, Yaroslav Belousov and Artyom Savyolov.

Polikhovich replied by chuckling ironically a few times, but the other defendants unanimously seconded the appeals. Stella Anton, Denis Lutskevich’s mother, wept loudly. Twenty minutes later, Judge Nikishina returned to the courtroom and read out her decision: to grant the motions and dismiss the criminal charges.

The first to exit the courtroom was Leonid Kovyazin. His wife Yevgenia threw her arms around him.

“The guys aren’t getting out, and that’s bad,” said Kovyazin, now free. “My joy is severely muted for this reason.”

When asked what conditions had been like for him in the Butyrka remand prison, Kovyazin answered calmly.

“At first, I had conflicts in the remand prison. Then I got used to it: the only tough thing was the waiting. Other than that, the people in prison, who are mostly there on drugs charges, are often quite outstanding. Incidentally, I was surprised it wasn’t only young people who used drugs: there were fortysomething men in jail with me who told me how they had got hooked on heroin on their birthdays. Basically, I can’t say anything good about jail: any term of imprisonment means stress, unhappiness and a few years deducted from your life. For example, it is physically painful to ride in the paddy wagon: it is very cold in winter, and extremely hot in summer.”

Kovyazin had been accused of overturning portable toilets that had been set up in Bolotnaya Square during last year’s May 6 rally, which ended in massive clashes between protesters and police. Kovyazin was frank about his actions that day.

“I had gone to the square to shoot video for the Vyatsk Observer newspaper, but then I lost my cool. When I saw the case materials, the video shot from above, I noticed that at the moment [when police dispersed the rally] only around fifty people remained in the square, but the police were on both sides. I had shot scenes of people being beaten by the police, but then I had put away the camera and yet was unable to leave. Perhaps that was my mistake: the camera distances you from what’s happening, but when you’re involved in the events, it’s different.”

Kovyazin did not deny that he had pushed the toilet stalls.

“It was an emotional decision. After the fact you can discuss it at length and reflect on it, but when you see [people being beaten] . . . I was caught up in the action. Later, when the task force came to arrest me, I said to my brother, ‘See you in five years.’ Fortunately, that hasn’t come to pass.”

After a pause, Leonid continued.

“If I could play it back, I would do what I did, only I would have gone without the camera. As Vova [Vladimir Akimenkov] joked to me, ‘When you get out, the journalists are going to slap you first, then shake your hand.’ Because that kind of involvement is, of course, a violation of professional journalistic ethics. But I don’t believe I was involved in rioting.”

“There was no rioting in the square,” asserted Nikolai Kavkazsky, one of the amnestied defendants and a lawyer with the human rights organization Civil Assistance. “It is obvious to everyone that on May 6 there was a sanctioned march and rally that the authorities wanted to disrupt. People who went to that rally are now on trial, but not the policemen who actually violated the law, which prohibits dispersing rallies. What happened to me, for example? I saw a police officer hitting some unknown people with a truncheon. He was beating them severely, you might say. I went up to the police officer and wanted to say to him, ‘Why are you violating the law on police conduct? Why are you beating citizens?” But I didn’t manage to say anything. He raised his truncheon. I wanted to cover myself with hands, but the blow landed on my arm, and to protect myself from this police officer, I lifted my leg. That was it.”

Kavkazsky was arrested on July 25, 2012, when he left his home to buy new pants. (He never did buy those pants.) Later, in the remand prison, he found that the hardest thing to endure was being cut off from the familiar, everyday world.

“When you’re cut off from the phone and Internet, from interacting with your usual circle of people, you feel completely isolated. That’s the scariest thing. And there’s not knowing. Conditions in prisons are horrible: they’re not meant to observe human rights but to violate them. Everything is forbidden there. Why do they forbid you from listening to music you want to listen to? Why can’t you put duvets on your blankets? Why can’t you eat the food you like?”

Kavkazsky spent nearly a year in the remand prison. He was switched to house arrest only in August of this year because endocrine disorders he suffers from had flared up while he was in custody.

Vladimir Akimenkov, an activist with the now-routed Left Front, was also released from the remand prison on Thursday. At first, he had wanted to turn down the amnesty.

“It’s a Byzantine decision: they’re planning to release some and not others. I don’t understand how I’m better than the others, why guys who have become real comrades to me, people with serious health problems, including fathers and men separated from their other halves, have to be in prison.”

His lawyer convinced Akimenkov to sign the appeal. He did not consider himself guilty.

“I did none of the things I’ve been charged with. I was not involved in a riot that, incidentally, did not happen.”

Akimenkov looked out the window and rubbed his wrists.

“I find it strange to go outside, strange to feel my hands without handcuffs on them. But after I find a job, I’ll be going to the Bolotnaya Square trial, making care packages, giving money and doing everything possible to ensure there is not a single political prisoner in this country.”

In the very near future, Akimenkov plans to attend another trial, that of Left Front coordinator Sergei Udaltsov, accused of organizing the “riot” in downtown Moscow a year and a half ago. The court has yet to begin examining the charges against him.

Svetlana Reiter

NB. The original article features a four-minute video of the December 19 court hearing and its aftermath.

Relatives of the Bolotnaya Square Prisoners: Letter to Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin

grani.ru
Relatives of the Bolotnaya Square Prisoners Write to Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin
May 6 Committee
October 1, 2013

sobyanin-tabakov2

Dear Sergey Semyonovich:

We are friends and relatives of the defendants in the so-called case of the riots of May 6, 2012, currently being tried in the capital’s Zamoskvoretsky District Court.

Nearly all of us are Muscovites, and many of us received a personally addressed election campaign letter from you containing many warm words. “Moscow is the city to which you’ve given your strength, talent and soul,” you wrote. And it is true: we have years of work on behalf of our city’s and our country’s welfare, safety and defense under our belts.

And we really would like, as you rightly noted, “to feel secure in Moscow and confident in the future.” Unfortunately, however, no one can feel “safe and confident in the future” in Moscow nowadays. No matter how Moscow is modernized and prettified, this has no effect on the security of Muscovites if civil rights are not respected.

It has become apparent to us during the court hearings that the main cause of the events of May 6, 2012, on Bolotnaya Square was the Moscow police’s sudden alteration of the arrangements [for the planned opposition march and rally], which had earlier been approved at a meeting with the Moscow Department of Regional Security. This change provoked confusion among the crowd and led to riot police pushing people back, thus exacerbating an already unbearable crush. Police brutally beat protesters in an attempt to clear the streets. But no criminal proceedings were instituted in connection with these incidents. Our relatives ended up in police custody instead of the real culprits of the clash. The trial against most of them began in June 2013 and is likely to take a very long time.

On trial days, our relatives get up early (at five or six in the morning), return to their cells late (around midnight or later), spend long hours waiting in a cramped holding cell, eat poorly soluble dry rations for lunch and endure lengthy court proceedings. These conditions would cause even healthy people to experience a significant deterioration of health. Among the defendants, however, is the Class 2 disabled person Mikhail Kosenko (whose mother recently died, although he was not informed about her illness or death, and was not released to attend her funeral) and Vladimir Akimenkov, who is threatened with blindness.

Sergey Semyonovich, we hope that we, Muscovites, are not a faceless mass to you, but individuals with their own lives and needs. And we want an answer: why, for over a year, have our relatives suffered without any proof of their guilt, while police officers who beat people are at large and serving as complainants in the case, although they often do not remember the accused and have no relation to them? Some of these police officers had a finger cut by persons unknown, making them “experience severe physical suffering,” while others had their clothes pulled or were bruised.

There were no riots—meaning massive destruction, arson and use of weapons—on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012. The matter could simply be put to a rest right there, but the “riots” are, in fact, the cause of the whole trial. It is clear that the level of such legal proceedings does not stand up to scrutiny.

In your letter, you invited us to vote in the [mayoral] election, implying, of course, that it should be an honest election. It was fair elections that our children, brothers and husbands demanded: that is why they are in custody, and why they face hefty prison sentences. Judging by your letter, you want to make our city a better place, and Muscovites happier. But what can be said if here, in Moscow, in plain view, innocent people—young people, academics, and journalists—are on trial, if the country’s future is on trial?

If you are really worried about Moscow’s image, then you will certainly pay attention to the ugly spectacle being played out in the Moscow City Court, which is a disgrace to the city and the country. We appeal to you to come to the trial, which convenes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the Appeals Wing of the Moscow City Court, Room 635. (As of October 1, the trial will be held at the Nikulinsky District Court, Room 303 – Editors.) You yourself will be convinced that the judge is working with the prosecution, that the evidence presented by the prosecution does not withstand scrutiny, and that the prosecution witnesses—police officers—are forced to lie under oath. Come and see for yourself that the presumption of innocence does not apply at this trial and that to impartial observers the court looks like a total circus. Or rather, it would look that way to us if our children were not behind the glass cage in this court.

We ask you to get to the bottom of this “court case” and help to ensure that in the future not a single Muscovite or visitor to the capital will be beaten with police batons at a peaceful, sanctioned rally, charged with “rioting” and thrown into prison.

We ask you, Sergey Semyonovich, to do everything to save our relatives.

We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Natalya Kavkazkaya (mother of Nikolai Kavkazsky)
Yuri Kavkazsky (father of Nikolai Kavkazsky)
Viktor Savyolov (father of Artyom Savyolov)
Alexei Polikhovich (father of Alexei Polikhovich)
Tamara Likhanova (wife of Yaroslav Belousov)
Stella Anton (mother of Denis Lutskevich)
Artyom Naumov (husband of Alexandra Dukhanina-Naumova)
Ekaterina Tarasova (mother-in-law of Leonid Kovyazin)
Vasily Kovyazin (brother of Leonid Kovyazin)
Olga Ignatovich (mother of Ilya Gushchin)
Ksenia Kosenko (sister of Mikhail Kosenko)
Maria Baronova (defendant)
Tatyana Barabanova (mother of Andrei Barabanov)
Alexandra Kunko (fiancée of Stepan Zimin)