Don’t Mention Mikhail Zhlobitsky! (The Case of Nadezhda Belova)

belovaNadezhda Belova. Photo from the VK group page Free People of Voronezh. Courtesy of OVD Info

Voronezh Activist Released After Day in Jail for Comment on Bombing at FSB Office
OVD Info
May 14, 2020

Voronezh grassroots activist Nadezhda Belova has been released after spending twenty-fours in a temporary detention center in connection with a criminal investigation into alleged “exoneration of terrorism.” It was Belova herself who reported the news to OVD Info.

The woman was released on her own recognizance. At the moment, she is suspected of having “exonerated terrorism” (punishable under Article 205.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) by commenting online about [the October 2018 suicide bombing of the Arkhangelsk offices of the FSB]. Belova had been a witness in the case for the last month. In late March, her home was searched by police, and she and members of her family were interrogated.

In recent days, a police investigator had visited Belova at home and summoned her to an interrogation on May 13, which she went to accompanied by OVD Info attorney Sergei Garin. After Belova was questioned, she was jailed for the night in the temporary detention center, and then interrogated again the next morning. According to Belova, she was pressured into saying it was she who had posted the commentary, although she denied any wrongdoing.

According to her, a women was purposely placed in her cell who intimidated her, smoked cigarettes, used profane language, and forced her to clean up the dishes in the cell.

“Yesterday and the day before yesterday, I was a free person, but today, I’m sorry to say, they have been trying to turn me into an out-and-out convict—they have humiliated me. First they handcuffed me, then they said I could go to the toilet only in handcuffs and escorted by a wardress. I want women to know what can happen [to them], what a performance can take place. I have been humiliated to such an extent, dragged through the mud, and I don’t know why. Even if I wrote those thirty words, why such degradation?” Belova said.

During the morning interrogation, according to Belova, the investigator threatened to arrest and jail her for the next two months.

“Today, [the investigator] said to me, ‘Either you wrote this or you’re going to spend another twenty-four hours in the detention center and tomorrow, at my request, you’ll either be put under house arrest or remanded in custody for two months. Or they’ll let you go—but I can’t say what will happen,'” said Belova. “The argument was that I could tamper with witnesses who had allegedly testified that the comment was written in my style, and that I could pose a danger to them.”

The activist has been summoned to another interrogation the following day, supposedly to verify whether she had deleted the comment or not. According to Belova, the investigator has a folder containing her various social media comments and personal messages, and he threatened her that if she continued to engage in activism, there would be other criminal cases.

UPDATE: May 15, 2020. Ekaterina Seleznyova, OVD Info’s legal aid coordinator, has informed us that Belova has been pressured by investigators into confessing not only to posting the comment but also to wrongdoing.

A local grassroots activist, Belova campaigned against the cancellation of direct bus service from Voronezh to Novaya Usman [in the summer of 2019], collecting signatures at people’s gatherings. In this regard, complaints were filed against her, alleging that she was organizing riots. Belova was also actively involved in protests against fare increases.

On October 31, 2018, 17-year-old local resident Mikhail Zhlobitsky detonated a bomb in the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk. Three FSB employees were injured, and the young man himself was killed. Several minutes before the blast, a message about the attack was posted on Telegram in the open chat channel Rebel Talk [Rech’ buntovshchika]. The authorities investigated the incident as a terrorist attack.

In Russia, at least ten criminal cases of “exonerating terrorism” have been opened in connection with the October 2018 bombing in Arkhangelsk. In March, a resident of Kaluga, Ivan Lyubshin, was sentenced to five years and two months in prison for commenting on the topic on the internet.

Nadezhda Belova is the latest in a growing list of Russians who have been prosecuted or are facing prosecution for allegedly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky on social media or in the traditional media. Belova has joined the ranks of Lyudmila Stech, Oleg Nemtsev, Ivan Lyubshin, Svetlana Prokopieva, Anton Ammosov, Pavel Zlomnov, Nadezhda Romasenko, Alexander Dovydenko, Galina Gorina, Alexander Sokolov, Yekaterina Muranova, 15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

Torture as an Everyday Practice

They Were Suffocated with a Plastic Bag Doused with Ammonia and Punched in the Kidneys: How a Navalny Team Volunteer and His Friends Were Tortured by Police
Alexander Skrylnikov
MBK Media
May 31, 2018

Максим Гребенюк. Фото: личная страница ВКонтактеMaxim Grebenyuk. Photo from personal VK page

Maxim Grebenyuk, a volunteer with the Navalny Team in Voronezh, and his friends were tortured by police at a police station who were trying to force them to confess to stealing a mobile phone. Voronezh police offices handcuffed the young men and suffocated them with a plastic bag doused with ammonia so they would not faint from the lack of oxygen.

On the night of May 18, Mr. Grebnyuk and his friends Sergei Troyansky, Ilya Podgorny, and Andrei Biryukov were visiting an acquaintance of one of the young men, Yelizaveta Kurlyantseva. Two men named Roman and Vadim, whom Mr. Grebnyuk did not know, were also at Ms. Kurlyantseva’s flat. Mr. Grebnyuk spent no more than an hour at the flat, but a week later he found out that he and his friends had been summoned to Voronezh Police Precinct No. 4 as witnesses in the case of Ms. Kurlyansteva’s stolen phone. At the police station, it transpired the police did not want testimony, but confessions, and police officers employed torture to obtain them.

MBK Media asked Mr. Grebnyuk what methods of torture the Voronezh police used.

*****

When we went into the precinct, they immediately confiscated our telephones and internal passports. They took us in for questioning one at a time. Andrei was the first to go into Office No. 26. He was in there ten minutes. They let him go. Nothing happened to him.

Then I went in. There were two men in plain clothes in the room.

“Everything is fucked,” they said.

They made no attempt to find out what had happened and how. They said right out I had stolen the telephone.

I replied I hadn’t stolen it.

“Either you stole it or you tell us who did.”

I repeated it wasn’t me who stole it, and one of them slapped me. I tried to invoke my right not to speak to them without an attorney present, and they hit me again.

They kept asking me about the phone, but I said I’d hear it about only the day before. They warned me they were going to use “other methods.”

When I asked them why they were hitting me instead of figuring things out, they said, “We’re not hitting you now. We have other methods.”

What methods did they have in mind?

They put a plastic bag over my head twice, once without any ammonia in it, once with a minimal amount. I was running out of air. I was choking. When they saw it wasn’t having the desired effect, they doused the bag with lots of ammonia and put it over my head. It was unbearable. They did the trick with the plastic bag twice while simultaneously keeping me handcuffed with my hands behind the back of the chair. One of them held the chain on the handcuffs with his foot so I was unable to move.

Then they let me go and called Sergei into the room. The same thing happened to him. Later, the two guys I hadn’t met before, Roman and Vadim, were brought to the station. They said they were tortured in the same way, and one of them was punched in the kidneys.

After the police were done with me, it was my turn again. There were five men in the room. They did the trick with the plastic bag again. I screamed so loud the whole station would have heard it. One of the officers must have heard me, but there was no reaction. I was asked whether I could take much more of thatand, naturally, I said I couldn’t. I cannot stand torture.

They promised would get us dead to rights in several days if no one confessed and to torture us the whole time. They gave us ten minutes to decide who would take the rap. Otherwise, they promised to torture me again.

That didn’t happen, thank God. They forced us to give our written consent to a lie detector test and make statements that none of us had seen the telephone before letting us go.

How long did the torture last?

It was really hard to keep track of time due to my emotional state. It was something like half an hour.

What things did the police say?

They only insisted I confess and chatted among themselves. They didn’t try and figure out what had happened to the phone. They only insisted I confess.

How did you feel when they put the plastic bag doused with ammonia over your head?

It was awful. The bag is over your head, and you have to breathe. When you inhale, there is a really sharp pain and burning sensation in your lungs and nasal cavities. Your eyes tear up. You have to breathe, but you inhale two or three times, and the air runs out. When the air ran out, I wanted to faint so I wouldn’t have to go on feeling it, but the ammonia made that impossible.

Did you think about confessing at some point?

I felt like saying I stole the phone. Those thoughts came and went, although I hadn’t stolen the phone. I just wanted it to stop. When they threaten to keep doing this to you for two days, then anyone would say he stole the phone if the alternative was that the torture continued. The same thing happened to Sergei, and the others said the same thing happened to them. I don’t know how to describe it.

Do you see any link between what happened and the fact you’re a Navalny Team volunteer?

It’s entirely possible. The police focused on me, and they confiscated my internal passport, which I keep in a protective cover that has the phrase “Opposition Member’s Passport” emblazoned on it. The other guys don’t have anything to do with the opposition movement. The focus was on me. They interrogated me longer and more often.

Were you able to learn the names of the torturers?

Yes, I think so. One was named Oleg Sokolovsky, and another guy was named Sergei, but that was it.

Were you able to medically certify your injuries?

Yes, we were at a forensic medical exam yesterday on the orders of the investigator, and everything was certified there. The gouges made by the handcuffs have gone away, but there are still bruises on our wrists and forearms. Sergei and I have them in the exact same places.

Does the young woman who filed the theft complaint know you were tortured?

When she found out she was shocked. She had no idea stuff like that happened. She offered to withdraw her complaint, but I talked her out of it. Someone did steal the phone, so the complaint should be on file. And the guilty party should be punished, only not using such methods.

Will the policemen be punished for their actions? What do you predict will happen? What do you hope will happen?

I don’t know. I hope there will be publicity, and the case won’t be brushed under the rug. When we were signing the consent forms for the lie detector test, Sergei was told directly, “You can file a complain or not. Nothing will happen to us anyway.”

What has to be done to stop police officers in Russia from regarding torture as the norm?

As you well know, we have to change the system from the top down. Firing a few police officers won’t change anything.

*****

Navalny Team lawyer Danil Novikkov told us they filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee the next day. He also told us that one of the lie detector tests to which Mr. Grebnyuk and his friends consented had been postponed indefinitely after one of the police officers involved had been questioned at the Investigative Committee.

Novikov told us a little about Maxim Grebnyuk.

“He’s one of our oldest volunteers. He was expelled from the LDPR [the so-called Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, chaired since its founding in the 1990s by the nationalist clown Vladimir Zhirinovsky] when they found out he supported Navalny’s views. He has been a co-sponsor of public events and campaign booths on many occasions, and he always attends protest rallies,” said Mr. Novikov.

The lawyer, nevertheless, saw no connection between the police’s torture of Mr. Grebnyuk and his opposition work.

“The police just turn a blind eye to tortue,” he said.

Police Precinct No. 4 in Voronezh declined to comment on the incident.

Thanks to Evgeny Shtorn for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Dmitry Vorobyovsky Freed by Voronezh Court!

Dmitry Vorobyovsky
Dmitry Vorobyovsky

Court in Voronezh Rejects Forced Psychiatric Hospitalization of Opposition Activist
Rosbalt
May 12, 2016

A Voronezh court has refused to involuntarily hospitalize opposition activist Dmitry Vorobyovsky in a mental hospital. As Voronezh political activist Alexander Boldyrev has informed Rosbalt, the opposition activist has been released from the hospital.

“I did not even expect this outcome, since even the hearing was declared open. But the prosecutor’s office did not support the motion to involuntarily hospitalize Vorobyovsky,” said Boldyrev.

Commenting on Vorobyovsky’s release, lawyer Olga Gnezdilova suggested that appeals by human rights organizations played a role by forcing law enforcement officials to pay attention to the letter of the law.

On Friday, May 6, Vorobyovsky was forcibly taken to the clinic from his home. People who said they were employees of the city gas company called at the door of his apartment. When Vorobyovsky opened the door, he was restrained and dragged off to an ambulance. The administration of the Voronezh Regional Psycho-Neurological Clinic filed a petition with the court to have the man forcibly hospitalized. Doctors called the hunger strike Vorobyovsky announced after his abduction “symptoms of his illness.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the good news. Photo courtesy of Amnesty International

Punitive Psychiatry Is Back (Again): The Case of Dmitry Vorobyovsky

thumb_uploads_images_BlogPost_2139_ba835cd8c223f9d263d6afb31d9b51a3__
Dmitry Vorobyovsky holding a placard that reads, “Down with Putin and his KGB gang!”

How Quiet Peace Activist Vorobyovsky Wound Up in a Mental Hospital: His Lawyer’s Story
Alla Chernyshova
Activatica
May 11, 2016

On May 6, someone rang the door of Voronezh grassroots activist Dmitry Vorobyovsky. The people at the door said they were from the municipal gas company. However, as soon as they entered the apartment, it turned out they were psychiatric hospital orderlies. They suddenly restrained Vorobyovsky, despite his sister’s protests, and took him to the Voronezh Psychiatric Hospital in the city’s outlying Tenistyi neighborhood. Vorobyovsky is currently at the hospital, where he has been injected with unknown drugs.

At 2:15 p.m. on May 12, the Soviet District Court in Voronezh will hear Vorobyovsky’s case. The psychiatric hospital wants to get a legal seal of approval for his hospitalization. Civil rights activists have launched a campaign of support and have asked people to send letters to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

How legal and justified was the activist’s hasty hospitalization? To find out, I spoke with his lawyer, Olga Gnezdilova.

Was there any background or reason for what happened?

Theoretically, there is a background. The doctors cite the fact he was diagnosed in 1983, and he had been registered with the hospital. But he has felt absolutely normal for thirty years. He has not been aggressive. So now we have posed the question: if he needs treatment, then prescribe a course of treatment. He can undergo treatment at home. After all, he was not showing any signs of needing hospitalization or even treatment, meaning he interacted normally with other people and went to protest rallies. But of course he really irritated the local authorities. He has been detained by police on several occasions. But there are no grounds for subjecting him to compulsory medical treatment.

Were there incidents when he behaved aggressively?

No, Dmitry is generally a very calm person. He holds pacifist convictions. He is against violence, and he has protested the war in Ukraine. He is a very cultured, polite person. He has never had any aggressive outbursts his entire life, although formally, he had this diagnosis. On the other hand, even odd behavior is not cause in itself for forcible hospitalization.

He has been absolutely calm and living with his sister. They entered his home under false pretenses, by pretending to be city gas company employees. His sister objected to his being detained, since were no grounds for it at all. When I spoke with him, he told me the whole story himself.

Why do we have to go to court now? Because there we can voice an alternative stance. We need a platform where we can voice our arguments. Currently, he is basically being held against his will, but by law a court hearing has to verify the validity of the claims against him. In court, we can petition to conduct an alternative forensic examination as to whether he is a danger or not. Generally, being a danger to society or oneself is grounds for involuntary hospitalization: for example, if a person beats his head against the wall or plans to kill someone. This does not apply to anyone and everyone whose health is a bit quirky.

What, in your opinion, was the real reason for the hospitalization?

At first, we thought it had to with the May 9 celebrations, which were attended by various officials. Dmitry often takes to the street with placards. It is usually one and the same placard. [See the photograph, above — Editor.] They probably thought he would spoil the “view” for them.

But now it is May 11, and he still has not been released. So, basically, it is hard to say. Maybe it has something to do with the [nationwide parliamentary] elections [in September]?

Some dispatched an ambulance to his house. The hospital won’t say who it was. We think it was the work of our secret service.

How is Vorobyovsky now? Are they giving him shots of some kind?

Yes, they are injecting him with drugs. We don’t know what they are. The doctors are not telling either us or him what they are, claiming it is confidential medical information.

But have they affected his condition?

Basically, he feels okay right now. He is not sluggish or sleepy. I have spoken with him: he conversed with me normally. It is another matter how long this will last.

Tell me, how does the whole situation appear from a legal point of view? They gained entry to his home disguised as municipal gas company employees, restrained him, and took him away.

From a legal point of view, they should have put the issue to the court within forty-eight hours. We really expected a hearing on May 8. We spent the whole day running around to the on-duty prosecutor, to the court, to the hospital. Everywhere we went, we told them that since they had detained him right before the holidays, on a business day, at five in the afternoon on May 6, then be so kind as to put the issue to the court, find an on-duty judge. But we were told that on-duty judges do not rule on such matters, only on arrests. There is a law that allows judges five days to review the hospital’s petition. But at the same time, this provision had already been ruled unconstitutional a bit earlier. Generally speaking, according to the Constitution, any detention must be authorized by a court within forty-eight hours. Even if a person is considered violent, and they grabbed him and tied him up, be so kind as to put the question of his hospitalization to the court.

That did not happen, and we believe this is a serious violation. We have already obtained authorization from Vorobyovsky for an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, at least in connection with his being detained for forty-eight hours without a court order and his being tied to the bed.

He was tied up?

Yes, for the first three hours after he was brought to the hospital, he lay tied up. His hands and feet were tied. His body went numb, of course. It is a very painful procedure. We are going to file a complaint.

Where is he now?

Vorobyovsky is at the Voronezh Municipal Psychiatric Hospital, in the Tenistyi neighborhood.

Do you think he ended up there because of his public activism?

We think someone instigated the call due to his public activism.

What protest rallies was Dmitry involved in?

Practically in everything that took place. For example, he was involved in a picket in defense of [imprisoned environmentalist] Yevgeny Vitishko, in a rally against the war in Ukraine, in a rally against proposed nickel mining in Voronezh Region. Basically, he has always joined in every opposition event.  And yet on his part there have never been any conflicts or aggression, any reason to isolate him from society, like now.

But there were arrests?

Yes, there were administrative detentions. But that is a common occurrence at such events. A few people are always detained by police.

What are your next moves for getting him out?

We are now mostly waiting for the court’s decision. We cannot go any further without it.

On May 8, we appealed to the prosecutor’s office to intervene. They forwarded our appeal to the Investigative Committee. It now must make a decision within three working days, beginning yesterday. However, under these circumstances it is the prosecutor’s office and the court that will primarily be making the decision.

As soon the court’s ruling is rendered, we will be contacting the European Court of Human Rights. It cannot be done earlier.

In addition, Amnesty International has now launched a campaign for people to bombard the prosecutor’s office and the municipal health committee with requests to comment on Vorobyovsky’s case.

Journalists in Voronezh have told me that all day yesterday people were calling the city health authorities and mental health clinic. However, citing medical confidentiality, the officials refused to comment even on the fact that Vorobyovsky has been detained too long without a court hearing. Meaning they will not even answer questions have nothing directly to do with medical issues. The prosecutor’s office has been telling callers they can complain to the Investigative Committee, that they are not planning to do anything.

At the moment, we are hoping the campaign will ultimately make them start giving people answers.

How are the doctors behaving under the circumstances?

Differently. The on-duty doctor who was there when I visited the hospital and asked Vorobyovsky to come out of his room and meet me, basically agreed with me when I said he was completely normal and behaving well. Yet she said that was because he had already been receiving treatment. The deputy chief physician, with whom I spoke on the phone, told me quite confidently they would definitely file suit, and that there were grounds for compulsory treatment and confinement in the hospital. But he considers Vorobyovsky’s diagnosis such grounds. Yet the doctor could not tell me the reason for the hospitalization and said the hospital did not know who called the ambulance.

I gather that who called the ambulance is the big secret?

Yes. And the hospital also believes that Dmitry is having a relapse. But the question is what this relapse consists of.

So a man is sitting at home, not bothering anybody, and an unknown person calls the ambulance for some reason. So the next event is the court hearing on May 12?

Yes.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Amnesty International