Doing the Right Thing (Victory Day)

Yan Shenkman
Facebook
May 9, 2021

Here is what I’ve been thinking about on this day. I seem to understand why every year on May 9, everyone engages in such jealous and painful arguments about whose victory it was and whether it was a victory at all. Everyone wants to prove that the good guys, that is, people like them, won the war. The bad guys —Hitler and Stalin — lost. The bad guys from the other side and the bad guys from our side lost.

But that’s not how it was. The soldiers who won the war at the cost of enormous bloodshed saved everyone, both good and bad. The victory in 1945 was a victory of life over death. Not of a good life (this is the answer to the question “Why do we live so badly if we won?”), but mere life, life as such. People stopped dying. Wasn’t that enough?

I have seen many times how good deeds were done by the wrong people. A person who does not love the motherland can put out a fire. A man who beats his wife will save someone else’s child. And so on. On the one hand, he saved the child, and on the other hand he has beaten his wife again. What conclusions should we draw from this?

None. It doesn’t change anything. Saving children is still the right thing to do, but beating your wife is not. One does not negate the other.

And the child, by the way, can grow up to be a criminal. And so what? Should it not be saved now?

People are different. What matters is not what they are, but what they do. Seventy-six years ago, they saved the world. And what happened to them afterwards is up to the people they saved, it is our choice.

I remember the grief, the huge amount of blood shed, and the losses. But still, today is a holiday, because we were saved: it’s a joyful occasion. And today is also a time to think about whether we have saved anyone.

George Losev
Facebook
May 8, 2021

There are two main reasons for all the pomp around May 9.

First, the more magnificent the holiday, the more money you can allocate from the state coffers [and embezzle]. Officials are just plain greedy.

The second is that the Russian Federation is an imperialist country. Like any imperialist, the Russian Federation tries to expand and prepares for war, generating the appropriate ideology in the process. The construction is quite simple: either a major historical military victory or a major defeat is taken, and the sense of pride or desire for revenge [occasioned by the victory or defeat] is stoked. A typical example is Germany and France before the First World War. Both sides fanned the flames of the Franco-Prussian War as a subject. On the eve of the First World War in the Russian Empire, the subject of 1812 [i.e., Russia’s victory over Napoleon in the so-called Fatherland War] was also hyped.

The Olympics, big construction projects, and so on serve the same purpose, but it is past wars that best fit the bill.

The Russian Federation now simply has no other choice but the Second World War. First, because of the scale. Secondly, after it, the USSR and the Russian Federation engaged in seven wars (the USSR fought in Afghanistan, while the Russian Federation has two Chechen wars, Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, and Libya to its credit), all of which ended with the emergence of “gray” zones, sites of constantly smoldering conflict. Creating such zones is the goal of the current imperialist countries, but they cannot be cited as [positive] examples. They cannot serve as a justification of the regime’s actions, because they themselves are in need of justification. Why should Russians be glad to remember the actions of Russian mercenaries in Libya? Or the [Russian] bombing of Syrian cities?

Hence the Second World War.

But as it makes this choice, the Russian Federation has one problem.

Putin’s regime represents, rather, the side that the USSR fought against during World War Two rather than acting as the successor to the Soviet Union. It is the side of monopolistic capital, militarism, and institutionalized racism.

The Soviet Union built schools and hospitals, while the Putin regime has been closing them down. The USSR nationalized property in the territories it liberated, while the Russian Federation has privatized it.

Therefore, the ideological construction becomes more complicated.

The very fact of victory is magnified, and everything else is either hushed up or slimed.

This is the root of the apparent schizophrenia in which the ideological elite of Putin’s Russia has been dwelling for many years, all those TV presenters, priests, Mikhalkovs and writer-directors of endless series about the war, in which Soviet soldiers and commanders are shown as complete degenerates, cowards and traitors.

All these “cultural figures” realize that they are forced to exalt those who essentially fought against them. So there is a huge difference between my annoyance at the hype and the pathos on the eve of May 9, and the fierce hatred that Putin’s ideological minions radiate.

I don’t like marches by kindergarten children in Red Army forage caps: they would be more appropriate in Nazi Germany.

The Putinists do not like the mass heroism of the Soviet people. They hate the Communists, who accounted for one-third to one-half of all Soviet combat losses.

Vyacheslav Dolinin
Facebook
May 9, 2021

I remember a story, funny and sad at the same time, which was told to me many years ago by the musician Mark Lvovich Rubanenko. He was a young man in the pre-war years, and back then he played in Leningrad in an orchestra with other young musicians like him. All of them were fun-loving: they liked to drink, make jokes, and pull pranks. Once, during a friendly gathering, they were flipping through the phone book and found a surname that seemed funny to them – Kurochkin [“Hen-kin”]. One of the musicians dialed the number of the man with the funny last name.

“Comrade Kurochkin?”

“Yes,” said a voice on the other end of the phone.

“Greetings from Petushkov [“Rooster-ov”],” the caller said and hung up.

After that, the musicians began phoning Kurochkin from different places and at different times of the day, even at night. They usually asked the question”Comrade Kurochkin?” and when he responded, they would say, “Greetings from Petushkov.”

Then the war broke out, and all the band members went to the front. Rubanenko made it all the way to Berlin. After the war, the musicians gathered again in Leningrad. Not everyone had come back alive. They drank vodka and remembered their dead friends. And then someone remembered: “And how is our Kurochkin?” Excited, they picked up the phone and dialed the familiar number.

“Comrade Kurochkin?”

“Yes.”

“Greetings from Petushkov.”

The voice on the other end of the phone was silent for a while. Then it yelled: “You bastard! You’re still alive! So many good people have died, but you’re alive!”

The musicians hung up. They never called Kurochkin again.

Ivan Ovsyannikov
Facebook
May 9, 2021

Recently, my mother told me about her stepfather, a front-line soldier. He was wounded, captured, and sent to a Nazi prison camp, and after the war he was sent to a Soviet labor camp in Kolyma. There he met my grandmother, who was also a victim of political repression. The man was, according to my mother, cheerful (which is not surprising), only he frightened her as a child when he would began raving in German in his sleep. He had dreams about the German prison camp while in exile in the Soviet Union. He was also involved in Komsomol weddings.*

[The inscription on the invitation, pictured above, reads: “Dear Comrade V.D. Nigdeyev! We invite you and your spouse to a Komsomol wedding. The wedding will take place at the Tatyana Malandina Club at 19:30 on August 22, 1964.”]

Vladimir Golbraikh
Facebook
May 9, 2021

[Soviet WWII veterans, gathering on] May 9, 1975, on the Field of Mars in Leningrad. Photos by I. Koltsov

Yan Shenkman reports on political trials and popular culture for the independent liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta. George Losev is a housing authority electrician and socialist activist in Petersburg. Vyacheslav Dolinin is a well-known Leningrad-Petersburg Soviet dissident, former Gulag inmate and samizdat researcher. Ivan Ovsyannikov is a journalist and socialist activist in Petersburg. Vladimir Golbraikh, a Petersburg-based sociologist, focuses on his immensely popular Facebook page on unearthing and publishing archival photos of Leningrad-Petersburg during the Soviet era. Translated by the Russian Reader

* ‘Among the events that Komsomol organs planned were Komsomol weddings, a novel ritual for youth that used cultural activities to inculcate not only officially prescribed cultural tastes but also gender norms, part of a broader post-Stalin drive to ascribe civic meaning to ceremonies and ritual. First mentioned in 1954, these wed- dings began to appear across the Soviet Union with the enactment of the 1957 aesthetic upbringing initiative. Official discourse, as expressed by Komsomol’skaia pravda, touted state-sponsored weddings in clubs as a way to undermine religious wedding traditions, in keeping with Khrushchev’s anti-religion campaign, and to minimize the drunkenness and untoward behavior prevalent at private wedding feasts. The authorities also intended Komsomol weddings to ensure the stability of the family. As noted by Shelepin in 1957, private marriages often ended in divorce, but “when someone gets married openly, in front of the people, his friends and comrades—it is another matter altogether.” Such rituals aimed to place relationships between young men and women within the boundaries of government-monitored official collectives, in effect reframing the norms of courting and family life from private to more public settings and ensuring the performance of officially preferred gendered behavior.’ (Gleb Tsipursky, Socialist Fun: Youth, Consumption, and State-Sponsored Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1945–1970, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016, p. 149)

The Rammstein Offense

Yan Shenkman
Facebook
April 29, 2021

Help me figure this out — I don’t understand. Anyone could go crazy thinking about it. I opened my news feed and read the following two items with barely a gap between them.

In Arkhangelsk, Andrei Borovikov was sentenced to two and a half years for reposting the video for Rammstein’s “Pussy” (2009).

I scrolled down the screen a bit and saw that a video by Rammstein’s leader [Till Lindemann], “Lubimy Gorod” (“Beloved Town”) had garnered almost two million views. Now it’s up two and a half (million), the same number as Borovikov’s prison sentence [of two and half years]. Most of the viewers are probably from Russia.

Till Lindemann performs “Beloved Town”

This is the classic Soviet song “Your Beloved Town Can Sleep in Peace”: many people remember it as performed by Mark Bernes. It is featured in Timur Bemkakbetov’s film V2. Escape from Hell, about the heroic Soviet fighter pilot Mikhail Devyatayev, which has just been shown at Moscow Film Festival, and everyone liked it. Till Lindemann himself attended the film’s premiere.

Mark Bernes performs “Beloved Town” 

Now correct me if I’m wrong. While Borovikov was being sentenced to prison in Arkhangelsk for sharing Rammstein, Rammstein’s lead singer was living it up at a film festival in the Russian capital, and thousands of Russians were enjoying his work. Did I get that right?

When I scrolled down even further I read that Till Lindemann had starred in a video for the anniversary of the Moscow State Circus. Meanwhile, as they say.

I’m not saying that we should put Till in jail now, along with the entire Moscow circus and the animals in it, since the party’s already started and you can’t stop it. I’m just surprised at life’s variety.

Our beloved town can sleep well, of course.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Andrei Borovikov kisses his wife outside the courthouse. Photo: Dima Shvets/Mediazona

Russian Man Gets Prison Sentence For Sharing Rammstein Video
RFE/RL
April 29, 2021

A court in northwestern Russia has sentenced a former associate of jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny to 2 1/2 years in prison for “distributing pornography” after he shared a video by the German rock band Rammstein in 2014, in a case Amnesty International described as “utterly absurd.”

The Lomonosovsky District Court in Arkhangelsk handed down its verdict against Andrei Borovikov, his lawyer told Russian independent media on April 29.

Amnesty International said Borovikov — a former coordinator of Navalny’s Arkhangelsk regional headquarters — was being “punished solely for his activism, not his musical taste.”

Describing Borovikov’s prosecution as “a mockery of justice,” the London-based human rights group’s Moscow office director, Natalia Zviagina, called for all charges against him to be dropped.

“The Russian authorities should be focusing on turning around the spiraling human rights crisis they have created, not devising ludicrous new ways of prosecuting and silencing their critics,” Zviagina said in a statement ahead of the verdict.

“This is not the first time the Russian authorities have used an overbroad definition of ‘pornography’ as a pretext for locking up their critics,” Zviagina said, citing the case of Yulia Tsvetkova, an LGBT activist from Russia’s Far East who stood trial earlier this month on pornography charges over her drawings of women’s bodies.

“It is astonishing that cases like this even make it to court,” Zviagina said.

The music video posted by Borovikov came to the authorities’ attention six months ago when a former volunteer at his office informed the police. Amnesty International said it suspected the volunteer was employed as an agent provocateur to help fabricate the case.

The prosecution said the video had been seen by “not fewer than two people” and ordered “a sexological and cultural examination” of the clip, before experts found it to be of “pornographic nature” and “not containing artistic value.”

Rammstein is no stranger to controversy.

In Belarus, the Council for Public Morals in 2010 protested against Rammstein’s concerts in the country that year, saying the band’s shows were “open propaganda of homosexuality, masochism, and other forms of perversions, violence, cruelty, and vulgarism.”

In 2019, a man in Belarus was charged with producing and distributing pornographic materials for posting a clip in 2014 of the band’s video Pussy, which showed graphic sex scenes.

That same year, a video for the group’s song Deutschland showed band members dressed as concentration camp prisoners, sparking outrage, especially among Jewish groups.

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

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

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

2017

October

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

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

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

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

November

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

2018

January

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

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

The case attracts attention.

February 14

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

Spring

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

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

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

October 28

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

October 31

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

December

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

2019

February

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

Azat Miftakhov. Photo: Victoria Odissonova/Novaya Gazeta

April 

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

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

May

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

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

2020

February

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

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

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

June

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

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

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

September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Sota.Vision and Novaya Gazeta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The Witnesses

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Forensic Examinations

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

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

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

3. Bias and Presumption of Guilt

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

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

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

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

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

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

A huge number of questions immediately come to mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#NetworkCase 

Russia Year Zero

pono-1
Lev Ponomaryov took part in the protest outside the FSB building. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service

Dozens of Activists Detained at Pickets Outside FSB Building on Lubyanka Square; Human Rights Activist Lev Ponomaryov Injured
BBC Russian Service
March 14, 2020

Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the movement For Human Rights, was taken to hospital from a police station after being detained during a protest outside the FSB building on Lubyanka Square in Moscow.

According to the 78-year-old Ponomaryov, police officers did not beat him, but treated him quite harshly.

“It would be more correct to say they roughed me up. I don’t remember the actual blow, but I do have a cut on my face. They grabbed me hard and dragged me,” he told the BBC Russian Service.

Earlier, news agency Interfax reported that, according to Ponomaryov, a detained activist who was next to him was beaten at the Tagansky police station.

“Me and another young me were dragged from the cell. I lost my hearing aid along the way. The kid got it worse, he was young. Maybe they were bashful about beating me,” the news agency quoted Ponomaryov as saying.

According to Ponomaryov, the police officers began acting roughly when all of the eleven detained activists, delivered to the Tagansky police station in the same paddy wagon, refused to enter the station one by one.

The activists joined hands. It was then, according to Ponomaryov, that the police began dragging the detainees forcibly into the station.

pono-2Police detained over forty activists during the protest on Lubyanka Square. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service

According to the human rights activist, the station commander watched it happened.

Ponomaryov said that he would probably petition the court to redress the needlessly harsh actions of the police and the beating of detainees.

A spokesperson for the Tagansky police station told the BBC Russian Service that they did not wish to comment on the situation with Lev Ponomaryov, since they had nothing to do with “what happened on the street.”

According to Ponomaryov, despite the fact that he demanded to see his lawyer, Vasily Kushnir, he was allowed to see him only an hour after arriving at the police department.

After the lawyer arrived, an ambulance was called for the human rights activist. The attending physicians decided to take him to hospital.

Later on Saturday, Ponomaryov told Interfax that he was not found to have a concussion.

“I was checked out at First City Hospital. They did a CT scan and said that everything was more or less normal, no brain damage occurred,” said Ponomaryov.

The human rights defender plans to document his injuries and file a lawsuit in connection with the beating, Interfax reports.

Marina Litvinovich, a member of the Public Monitoring Commission, told Interfax that police officers had violated the rights of both detained activists and public figures.

“Everything is bad here [at the Tagansky police department]. The police don’t let the laywers in, and they even used force, including against Ponomaryov, ” she told Interfax .

pono-3According to Lev Ponomaryov, police roughed up protesters when detaining them. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service

Alexei Melnikov, executive secretary of the Public Monitoring Commission, told Interfax that police at the Tverskoy District precinct also took a long time in allowing both lawyers and commission members to see detainees.

According to Melnikov, police officers refused to allow commission members to enter the building because, allegedly, they were not holding any detainees.

Ponomaryov was detained during solo pickets against political crackdowns. The protest took place outside the FSB building on Lubyanka Square. Police detained over forty protesters.

Among those detained were opposition activists Leonid Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov. According to OVD Info, a minor who had been filming the proceedings was also detained. Police did not specify the reason for the minor’s arrest. According to OVD Info, he suffered an asthma attack in the paddy wagon.

According to Telegram channel Avtozak-LIVE, police broke journalist Fyodor Khudokormov’s equipment while detaining him.

Moscow city hall had refused to sanction a rally in the city center against political crackdowns. Instead, they suggested to rally organizers that they hold the rally in the Lyublino District, in the city’s far southeast, but the activists turned the offer down.

 

89358473_3562858360397706_4381898323129270272_oA photo of Lev Ponomaryov after his “rough handling” by police in Moscow on March 14, 2020. The photo was widely disseminated on Russian social media. Courtesy of Julia Aug

Yan Shenkman
Facebook
March 14, 2020

I was at Lubyanka today during the rout of the pickets—pickets that hadn’t really started yet. First, police grabbed the people holding placards, but they quickly ran out, so then they grabbed people who were just standing there.

Everyone has been writing that it was a protest against “political crackdowns.” This is not quite true. I want to remind you that people came out under the slogan “We Are All in the Net(work).” The root cause and the reason people came was the Network Case in Penza and Petersburg. This is what causes such a brutal reaction among people in uniform. This was the reason why they got tough with Ponomaryov, nor was it the first time. When you sympathize with Ponomaryov, but say “there must be something” to the latest dirt about the Network, just put two and two together.

But the Network get clobbered every day. With the back of the hand. In the same way that people are beaten up in paddy wagons.

A month ago, I noticed this sneering expression on the faces of Russian National Guardsmen. It seemed to say, “You won’t do anything to us. Things will be our way. We do what we like.” The dogs have been given the command to attack.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Persecution of Konstantin Kotov

Yan Shenkman
Facebook
August 14, 2019

Today, Kostya Kotov was sent down for two months. It was a temporary remand in custody, but there is a chance he could be charged with the same article in the criminal code as Ildar Dadin, meaning he could be sentenced to prison for up to five years for the sum total of administrative offenses on his record.

Kostya was always sticking up for people. He would go to courthouses and stand holding placards in their defense. If that is a crime, I don’t know what to say.

As Yana Teplitskaya wrote correctly today, the difference between Dadin and Kotov is enormous. Dadin attacked the regime, while Kotov stood up for its victims. Meaning he did what you cannot help doing if you have a shred of conscience left in you.

By coincidence, Dadin was detained today, too.

Kostya is a staunch opponent of violence: I have personally spoken with him about this. He is a calm, intelligent chap and works as a programmer. I cannot even remember him raising his voice to anyone.

And so it transpires he is a criminal and a danger to society.

This is awful, but I wanted to write about something else.

I was at Kotov’s court hearing today. The authorities took a long time getting him to the courthouse. The hearing was slated for ten, but it was around two when he was brought to the courthouse.

I went outside to have a smoke. A film crew from Channel One was hanging out there. Right then, a paddy wagon pulled up and guards led Kostya to the courtroom. I waved at him.

“Konstantin, tell us what you were arrested for?” the female reporter from Channel One yelled from right behind me.

I don’t know what answer she wanted to hear and how she imagined she would hear it. The distance between the vehicle and the entrance to the courthouse was ten meters or so. Kostya was handcuffed and under guard. Did she expect him to stop and explain to her why he had been arrested?

Someone next to me turned to her.

“For nothing,” he said.

Kotov had been taken away. I didn’t manage to finish my cigarette.

kotov-1Konstantin Kotov. Photo by Adik Zubcik. Courtesy of Facebook and Mediazona

“Any Injustice Would Upset the Guy”: The Man Charged under the “Dadin” Article
Anna Kozkina, Dima Shvets, and Elizaveta Pestova
Mediazona
August 13, 2019

On Wednesday, the Presna District Court will decide on custody measures for 34-year-old Konstantin Kotov, a programmer who has been charged under the rarely used Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code, which makes repeated administrative violations at protest rallies a criminal offense. Mediazona tells the story of a man who had the bad luck to get involved in political activism in a period when people who attend any unauthorized public events are rampantly persecuted.

Comrades
It is August 13, the middle of the workday. The weather in Moscow is fine. A fifty-something man stands outside a presidential administration building on Staraya Ploshchad, holding a placard that reads, “Konstantin Kotov is being persecuted under the criminal code for defending political prisoners. Free the defender of freedom.”

The man is Nikolai Rekubratsky, a poet and researcher at the Freshwater Fisheries Institute who lives in Dmitrov. In his spare time, he and several allies run the Facebook Group Sentsov. Exchange. Today and Every Day.

Rekubratsky says members of the group have been holding solo pickets here every weekday since September 6, 2018. Usually, the picketers demand a total exchange of Russian and Ukrainian prisoners of war, but last night their comrade the 34-year-old Moscow programmer Konstantin Kotov was detained and charged with a criminal offense. Kotov was one of the people who came up with the idea for the daily pickets and had been actively involved in them.

_____________________________

caf20691d9cda5e2f430ad4794b128e3Illustration by Mike Ch. Courtesy of Mediazona

Article 212.1. How Many Times Have We Told You?
Article 212.1 (repeated violation of the rules for holding rallies) was added to the Criminal Code in the summer of 2014. In January 2015, for the first time, the Russian Investigative Committee charged three activists with breaking the new law.

_____________________________

“We met about a year ago at pickets in support of Oleg Sentsov, who was on hunger strike at the time in support of other political prisoners. It had a big impact on many people who were strangers to political activism. But Kostya had earlier attended protest marches of some sort. I don’t know exactly which ones,” says Nikolai. “He said he had no clue who Sentsov was, but when his hunger strike kicked off and Kostya read about it on the internet, it made a very strong impression on him and so he began supporting Sentsov.”

Other activists walked up to the entrance to the presidential administration. One young man hands Rekrubratsky his written surety for Kotov: tomorrow, a court will decide on custody measures for him. The people going into the building pay no mind to the picketers.

“Life was such that ever more events and injustices happened, and Kostya could not help reacting to them. He took part in pickets and was repeatedly detained,” Rekrubratsky continues.

kotov-2Nikolai Rekubratsky. Photo by Dima Shvets. Courtesy of Mediazona

Judging by his Facebook page and the accounts of friends, Kotov supported arrested Open Russia activist Anastasia Shevchenko and Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. He ran the Telegram channel #StopFSB, which is dedicated to the defendants in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and the New Greatness case. He tried to help Moscow State University graduate student Azat Miftakhov. That is, he empathized with the defendants in nearly all the current criminal cases with political overtones.

Kotov’s allies recall other stories as well, for example, how Kotov bought medicine for New Greatness defendant Anna Pavlikova or assembled care packages for the arrested Ukrainian sailors.

Nevertheless, on Facebook, Kotov listed his place of employment as DSSL, a company that produces video surveillance systems and, in particular, facial recognition software.

“Any injustice would upset the guy. He always reacted, going to rallies and standing in pickets. His stance was always extremely peaceful,” recalls activist Anna Babicheva.

“At the Nemtsov memorial march in February, Kostya for some reason gave me his placard, which is very well designed. There are silhouettes of crosses and bombs drawn on it, and the simple slogan, ‘Say No to War.’ It is a big A1-sized placard, and I really enjoy picketing with it. It’s my favorite placard by Kostya,” says Grigory Simakov, a volunteer at the Nemtsov Bridge memorial, a member of the 14% Movement, and a participant in the total prisoner exchange pickets.

It was Kotov’s protest activism that was the reason for the criminal charges filed against him under Russian Criminal Code Article 212.1 (“repeated violation of the rules for holding rallies, marches, and pickets”).

The Case
According to the written order to institute criminal proceedings, the case is based on three occasions on which Kotov was charged with administrative offenses in the last six months, although the document refers not to three but four violations.

The first administrative case had to with calls to take part in the Moscow City Duma elections protest on July 19 on Trubnaya Square, which Kotov posted on Facebook. The Tverskoi District Court in Moscow found him guilty of organizing a public event without notifying the authorities (Article 20.2.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code) and sentenced him to ten days in jail.

Earlier, on June 12, Kotov took part in a march in defense of journalist Ivan Golunov. The Presna District Court fined him 15,000 rubles after finding Kotov guilty of hindering the movement of vehicles and pedestrians (Article 20.2.6.1 of Administrative Offenses Code).

Kotov was detained during a gathering, outside an FSB building on May 13, in support of defendants in the Network and New Greatness cases. In this instance, the Meshchansky District Court found him guilty of repeated violations of the law on rallies (Article 20.2.8 of the Administrative Offenses Code) and jailed him for five days.

On August 10, Kotov again took part in an “unauthorized” protest near Staraya Ploshchad. According to investigators, he chanted the slogans “Let them run,” “Putin is a thief,” “We are the power here,” “Down with Putin,” “All for one, and one for all,” and “Russia will be free.”

After police dispersed the protest, Kotov spent two days at the Sokolinaya Gora police precinct. On August 12, he was released under an obligation to return to the precinct for a meeting with an Investigative Committee investigator. Several hours later, he was detained again and taken to the Investigative Committee for questioning.

kotov-3

A screenshot from Maria Eismont’s Facebook page showing her and Konstantin Kotov after his release from a Moscow police precinct on August 12 and explaining that Kotov was “grabbed” and delivered to the Investigative Committee two hours after the photo was taken. Courtesy of Mediazona

OVD Info lawyer Maria Eismont described Kotov’s arrest as follows.

“They attacked him from behind. They threw him on the ground and twisted his arms behind his back. Yet, at the same time, they asked, ‘Konstantin, what are your political views?’ When his personal effects were searched at the Investigative Committee, they found a copy of the Criminal Procedures Code, a copy of the Administrative Offenses Code, a booklet entitled Crimea Is Ours, a bag emblazoned with poems by a poet from Lviv, and a placard that read, ‘Let them run.'”

“Then they found his mathematical engineering honors diploma.”

“‘Attaboy!’ said the investigator,” Eismont recounted.

In the late evening, it transpired that charges had been filed against Kotov under the relatively rarely used Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code. After the release of Ildar Dadin, the first person to be charged, convicted, and imprisoned under the new law, it has been used only twice: against Vyacheslav Egorov, leader of the anti-landfill protests in Kolomna, and against Andrei Borovikov, who was involved in the anti-landfill protests in Shies.

Then came a nighttime search of Kotov’s home.

“Morning is arriving, dawn is breaking outside. Investigators put the placard they have found—’Free Ponomaryova,’ ‘Free Nastya Shevchenko,’ ‘Free political prisoners!’—on the living room floor. ‘Kostya, do you have bags to put all of this in?’ ‘I have garbage bags.’ ‘Those will do.’ There is a sewing machine. ‘Is it a Singer?’ ‘No.’ There are more placards. ‘You have a lot of this stuff,’ a field officer notes,” Eismont wrote in her description of the search.

kotov-5

During the search of Konstantin Kotov’s apartment. Courtesy of Maria Eismont

Kotov was formally charged on the morning of August 13.

“Unfortunately, Criminal Code Article 212.1, which had been dubbed a ‘sleeper’ article, has woken up and sprung into action. Moreover, as in the Egorov case, the formal approach to the law has been taken in Kotov’s case, despite the Constitutional Court’s well-known ruling on the matter. This means that if a person has been found by the courts to have violated Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code three times over six months, the fourth violation is treated as a criminal offense,” says Eismont. “The fact that people involved in ‘unauthorized’ protests cross the street at crosswalks doesn’t matter to anyone. The Constitutional Court ruled that only those protesters who did something dangerous were liable to criminal prosecution and punishment. The system has shown that it regards protesting without permission as a danger to itself and, thus, a crime.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Solidarity? (The Case of the Penza and Petersburg Antifascists)

fil_0Viktor Filinkov, Petersburg antifascist, torture victim and political prisoner

Solidarity? No, They Haven’t Heard about It
The Security Services Are Using the Case of the Antifascists to Test Society: If We Keep Silent, the Torture and Arrests Will Continue
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
March 22, 2018

On Election Day, March 18, which was simultaneously Paris Commune Day and Political Prisoner Day, Theater.Doc in Moscow staged a performance entitled Torture 2018, a reading of the interrogation transcripts and diaries from the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case.

The case has disappeared amid the flood of political and election campaign news, so I should briefly summarize it.

In October 2017, a group of young antifascists was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Penza. They were accused of organizing a terrorist community code-named The Network. They were allegedly tortured. Nearly all of them confessed to the charges, telling the FSB what the FSB wanted them to say.

Recently, for the first time in history, FSB officers admitted they used electric shockers when interrogating Petersburg antifascist Viktor Filinkov. In their telling, however, it was not torture, but a necessity: the detainee allegedly tried to escape.

The arrestees are kindred souls of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, murdered by neo-Nazis in downtown Moscow in January 2009. A march to honor their memory has been held on the Boulevard Ring every year since then.

Less than ten years have passed since their deaths and we are confronted by a relapse, an attack on antifascists by the Russian state.

The harsh language of the interrogation protocol is more expressive than any op-ed column. Dmitry Pchenlintsev was tortured day after day: he was hung upside down and different parts of his body were shocked with electrical current. Vasily Kuksov was badly beaten: his face was a bloody pulp, his clothes torn and blood stained. Doctors in Petersburg discovered a fracture to the lower wall of Igor Shiskin’s eye socket, as well as multiple abrasions and bruises. They noted numerous injuries, including burns from an electric shocker. FSB officers took Ilya Kapustin to the woods, tortured him with an electric shocker, and threatened to break his legs.

We heard similar reports from Chechnya and Donbass, but this is the first time something like this has occurred in the middle of Russia and on such a scale.

The young arrestees in Penza, none of whom is over thirty (the oldest is twenty-nine) played airsoft, listened to independent music, and read anarchist books, like thousands of other young people. Now, given the will, any of them can be arrested on terrorism charges.

Alexei Polikhovich, who spent three years in prison as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, and produced the performance at Theater.Doc, did not have to make up anything, no monologues or dialogues. What has happened in reality is not something you would make up.

“I was panicking,” leftist activist and former political prisoner Alexei Sutuga says, reading Viktor Filinkov’s statement aloud. “I said I didn’t understand anything, and that is when they shocked me the first time. It was unbearably painful. I screamed and my body went straight as a board. The man in the mask ordered me to shut up and stop twitching. He alternated shocks to my leg with shocks to my handcuffs. Sometimes, he shocked me in the back or the nape of the neck. It felt as if I was being slapped upside the head. When I screamed, they would clamp my mouth shut or threaten to gag me. I didn’t want to be gagged, so I tried not to scream, which wasn’t always possible.”

“It’s probably the worst thing happening now in Russia,” Polikhovich told me after the performance. “But we have no means of putting pressure on them. Complaints filed against the FSB are redirected to the FSB, meaning they are supposed to keep tabs on themselves. Naturally, they are not about to do this. The only thing that can save the guys is public pressure.”

“But for several months there were no attempts to pressure the FSB. Why?” I asked.

“Location is vital in this case,” replied Polikhovich. “There are tried and tested support methods in Petersburg and Moscow. There are independent journalists and human rights activists. There is nothing of the sort in Penza. The environment also makes a difference. The Bolotnaya Square case, in which many leftists were sent to prison, meant something to the entire liberal democratic opposition. It was a story the average Moscow reporter could understand.”

“In this case, however,” Polikhovich continued, “the accused have been charged with very serious crimes. They are not liberals. They are not Moscow activists. We have to break through the prejudice towards them.”

While Moscow was silent, brushing the case aside by mentioning it in a few lines of column inches, the case, which originated in Penza, had spread to Petersburg, then to Chelyabinsk, and finally, in March, to the capital itself. Several people were detained after a protest action in support of the Penza antifascists. (OVD Info reports that nine people were detained.)

“They put a bag over my head. Then they shocked me, constantly increasing the intensity and duration of the electric charge, and demanding I make a confession,” Moscow anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, released on his own recognizance, told Novaya Gazeta.

The protests against the FSB’s use of torture in this case have mainly followed ideological lines: anarchists and antifascists have been doing the protesting. Solidarity protests have been held in Copenhagen, Toronto, Berlin, and New York. Finnish anarchists and antifascists held a demo outside the Russian embassy in Helsinki. In Stockholm, the way from the subway to the Russian embassy was hung with Filinkov’s diary and posters bearing the hashtag #stopFSBtorture.

A concert in support of the arrested antifascists was held at a small bar in Petersburg. The organizers were able to collect 42,500 rubles in donations. By way of comparison, a year ago, at a similar concert in support of Ildar Dadin, who was tortured in a Karelian penal colony, organizers collected 29,000 rubles in donations. But there no incidents at that event, while there was an incident at the Petersburg concert. Ultra-rightwing thugs burst into the bar and started a brawl.

In Moscow, the riot police or the security services would have telephoned the club’s owner and insisted he cancel the event, as happened with the anti-war Deserter Fest. In Petersburg, however, the rightists showed up.

“The situation has come to resemble the mid-noughties,” said Maxim Dinkevich, editor of the music website Sadwave, “when every other punk rock show was attacked.”

Pickets in support of the antifascists have been held both in Moscow and Petersburg, and there will probably be more pickets to come. But this story has not yet made a big splash. The public is more interested in discussing the falling out between Sobchak and Navalny, while anarchists draw a blank.

This case is not about anarchism or antifascism, however. It is about the fact that tomorrow they could come for you for any reason. Electric shockers do not discriminate.

The regime has been testing us, probing the limits of what is possible and what is not. If we keep silent now, if we do not stand up for each other, it will mean they can continue in the same vein. It is clear already that the case of the antifascists will expand. The arrests will stop being local, becoming large scale. We have no methods for pressuring law enforcement agencies that torture people, no authorities that could slap them on the wrists. The only methods we have are maximum publicity and public pressure. They are the only ways to deter the security service from making more arrests and keeping up the torture.

There is a group page on Facebook entitled Project No. 117, named for the article in the Russian Criminal Code that outlaws the use of torture. It is a clearinghouse for news about the Penza case and other anti-antifascist cases. It also features six videtaped messages in support of the arrested men, as recorded by the well-known Russian cultural figures Dmitry Bykov, Andrei Makarevich, Dmitry Shagin, Kirill Medvedev, Artyom Loskutov, and Artemy Troitsky.

I would like to believe that, in the very near future, there will be six thousand such messages, not six. Otherwise, we will be crushed one by one.

Dmitry Bykov (writer)

“Absolutely Gulag-like scenes of strangulation, beating, and abduction. Stories like this have become frighteningly more frequent. The return to the practice of torture is a relapse into the roughest, darkest period of Russian history.”

Andrei Makarevich (musician)

“If the authorities are trying to pass young antifascists off as terrorists, it begs the question of who the authorities are themselves. Have you lost your minds, guys?”

Dmitry Shagin (artist)

“I experience this as torture myself. By torturing these young men, they are torturing all of us.”

Kirill Medvedev (poet, political activist, musician)

“The Russian authorities have been posing as the most antifascist regime in the world for several years now, and yet they are cracking down on antifascists. Is this not hypocrisy?”

Artyom Loskutov (artist, political activist)

“If you arrested me and tortured me with an electric shocker, I would confession to terrorism, satansim, and anything whatsoever. And if the FSB officers were tortured, they would also confess to anything. Antifascism is not a crime, nor is anarchism a crime. But torture is a crime, a very serious crime indeed.”

Artemy Troitsky (writer, music critic and promoter)

“Torture is a sure sign the case doesn’t hold water. If they have evidence, they wouldn’t torture the suspects.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Autonomous Action. Videos courtesy of Project No. 117 and Novaya Gazeta. If you have not heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, you can read the following articles and spread the word to friends, comrades, and journalists.