Zoya Svetova: Interview with Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission Members Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina Kosarevskaya

The Network Case: “He Was Tortured in the Woods for Six Hours to Force Him to Testify, and Then Some More So He Would Memorize the Right Wording”
Zoya Svetova
MBKh Media
April 20, 2018

Снимок-экрана-2018-04-20-в-11.19.46Viktor Filinkov. Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Mediazona

The Russian Federal Investigative Committee has refused to open a criminal case in connection with a complaint filed by Viktor Filinkov, one of the young antifascists accused in The Network case [aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case—TRR], who claims that Russian Federal Security Service officers tortured him. Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina (“Katya”) Kosarevyskaya, members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, were the first people Filinkov told he had been tortured. Now they are under police surveillance themselves.

The human rights activists talked to Zoya Svetova about why they decided to join the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, what goes on in Petersburg’s remand prisons and penal colonies, and how they have been harassed by reporters from Russian TV channel NTV.

____________________

Yana, Katya, and I talk in a cafe. They have come to Moscow for a day. They have many meetings scheduled, and the young women interrupt each while discussing what they have seen in remand prisons, but mostly they discuss the young men accused in The Network case, which has shaken them. It is not every day people tell you they have been brutally tortured and you see burns on their bodies left by tasers. As for me, this is my first meeting with these young and incredibly mature human rights defenders, who are only twenty-six years old.

Why did you decide to visit prisons and police precincts?

Yana: I wanted to join the Public Monitoring Commission (PMC) as soon was it was established, but you have to be at least twenty-five years old to join, so we didn’t end up on the previous commission. But we helped train other candidates and assisted them in their work. As soon as we turned twenty-five, we submitted our applications.

What do you do for a living?

Yana: I’m a mathematician.

Are you a schoolteacher?

No, I don’t teach. I do research.

Katya: I’m also a mathematician. I work at a school, but I also do research and teach math at a university, probability theory. We met before we studied at university, and then we went to university together. And we both decided to join the PMC.

How did you find out about the PMCs and public oversight?

Katya: I read Anna Karetnikova’s LiveJournal blog, I think. (Anna Karetnikova was a member of the Moscow PMC from 2009 to 2016 — ZS.)

Yana: When we got on the PMC, we already knew what it was, because we had been involved in shaping the PMC’s previous roster. We talked about the PMC to various people and organizations, and got them together.

Katya: And we worked with them when there were large-scale detentions at protest rallies. We found out who could visit detainees in police stations.

Who nominated you to the PMC?

Yana: We lucked out. We were nominated by Azaria, an organization of mothers against narcotics. Azaria is not on the list of “foreign agents” and looks completely innocent. In reality, it is a really cool organization. They are not afraid of anyone, and they really support and help us.

Yana Teplitskaya and Yekaterina Kosarevskaya outside Penal Colony No. 5

Until you found yourselves in the middle of the scandal surrounding The Network case defendants, was your work with the PMC completely routine?

Yana: We were not admitted to police stations seven times in a row, meaning that at some point the police just stopped letting us in to do inspections. The first time they didn’t let us in, they had detained young people coming home from a concert. Policemen stopped them and asked to see their papers. They refused to do that until the police had identified themselves by name and explained why they needed to see their papers. The policemen responded by pepper-spraying and detaining them. We were not let into the police precinct to see them. Subsequently, we were not let into police stations under different pretexts. Ultimately, we were able to overcome the problem. Fifteen Interior Ministry employees were brought to justice for not letting PMC members into police stations. We were not the only ones to file complaints. We posted our reports on the incidents, and our readers filed complains on the basis on this information.

Apparently, one of our readers on the social networks played a role. He filed complaints anywhere he could, and the authorities responded to his complaints, referring to him as “the PMC’s community volunteer.” The police officers who did the audit later told us that he had worn them down and asked us to tell him they would fix everything as long as he stopped complaining. Many other people helped out as well, including Human Rights Council member Andrei Babushkin. We also filed lots of detailed complaints ourselves. We managed to navigate around the problem, and this was a victory, of course, in whose wake our visits to police stations suddenly improved dramatically. The police were now afraid of us. Initially, we had good relations with the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN). The FSIN was inclined to cooperate, while the Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] was not. At our very first meeting with them, they told us we had to send notifications when we were planning to visit police stations only by fax, but we were not cool with that, of course. We ourselves had written the rules for how the PMC functioned. Our rules state that our rights as PMC members cannot be infringed. There is nothing in the rules about notifying a police station or remand prison by fax, as had been the case in the first two sittings of the PMC. Back then, only the PMC’s chair could notify penitentiary facilities about commission visits. He could do this only during business hours, because the fax was in his office.

How do you now notify the authorities you are coming to visit their facilities?

Yana: We give them five minutes’ warning. There is no need to notifiy the police ahead of time, whereas the FSIN does need to transfer staff to escort the PMC members around its prisons. We rarely need to catch the FSIN unawares with our visits, while the police often hide detainees from us, and try and take them out of precinct houses via emergency exits. Our latest conflict with them has to do with the fact that they must provide us with records of the people they detain and bring to their stations. They are convinced they do not need to show us these records.

How many people on the Petersburg PMC are on your side?

Katya: Four of the PMC’s twenty-five members.

Yana: It is not that they are all evil monsters. I think we have a fairly good working atmosphere in the commission. For example, there is one lovely lady. She doesn’t always feel well, but she goes out with us on inspections when she can.

When you met the young men accused in The Network case, was it the first time you had dealt with complaints of torture by people in police custody?

Katya: We had usually received really old reports about torture. We would go to a remand prison, where the inmates told us they had been tortured at a police station. There have been many such complaints, around twenty, concerning various police precincts.

What do you do with such reports?

Katya: If the individual is willing, which is not always the case, we publicize them. We try and describe the circumstances on our group page on Facebook, we write down the detainee’s full testimony in an official report, we file a criminal complaint, and send it off. But we don’t have the manpower to keep track of the complaint and file another complaint, about the lack of an official response, when the time comes. We usually try and find lawyers to take over the case, and we always find them.

Yana: So far, we have no criminal cases pending against police officers. On the contrary, the Interior Ministry’s Central District Petersburg office has filed suit against me. They were miffed when I published the story of a woman who claimed she was tortured at the 78th Police Precinct in Petersburg. The woman was pregnant, and police officers abused her. The lawsuit against me claims I published “information that undermines the reputation” or “discredits” the precinct. We published the women’s complaint on the social networks without revealing her last name. The news website Moi Rayon [My Neighborhood] reprinted it. The Interior Ministry mixed everything up, filing suit against me because they thought I’d written the article. In fact, we are involved in lots of lawsuits. We are usually the ones on the attack, and Team 29 helps us out with this.

You won the right to bring recording equipment into a penal colony in court, yes?

Katya: Yes. Recently, Petersburg City Court took the penal colony’s appeal of this ruling under consideration. We have not been let into the penal colony with recording equipment a single time even after the court’s decision came into force. The court ruled that the actions of a specific staff member of the penal colony who had not let us bring recording devices into the colony had been illegal, but this does not mean they have to let us and our equipment into the colony the next time round, although the FSIN’s public stance was originally that they would let us in if we informed them in advance that we planned to bring equipment. But then they changed their minds. We were not allowed to bring recording equipment into the remand prisons from the get-go.

Where are the young men accused in The Network case currently located?

KatyaSix of the accused in The Network case are in Penza, while the other three are in Petersburg and Leningrad Region. Two of them were originally jailed in Remand Prison No. 3 in Petersburg, a place we visit all the time. On March 15, Viktor Filinkov, who was the first person charged in the case to complain of torture, was transferred to a remand prison in Leningrad Region, which is considered a torture chamber. Immediately after he was detained, Filinkov himself was tortured in the wood for six hours, first to force him to testify, and then to make him memorize the right wording. Before his custody hearing, he was told that if he dared to recant his testimony, he would be sent to Remand Prison No. 6 in Gorelovo.

That is the torture chamber remand prison where he is currently in custody?

Yes, he was transferred after he was shown an “optimization” order, although there is room for fifty inmates in Remand Prison No. 3, and there are vacant spots in the cells. Gorelovo, on the other hand, is horribly overcrowded. The cells are meant for one hundred inmates, but there are one hundred and fifty inmates living in them. What kind of “optimization” are we talking about? Yuli Boyarshinov, the third Petersburg man charged in the case, is also being held in Gorelovo.

We cannot visit the remand prison in Gorelovo. The Leningrad Region PMC goes there. When we arrived in Remand Prison No. 3 on March 16, we were suddenly told Filinkov had been transferred to Remand Prison No. 6 in Gorelovo. We asked the Leningrad Region PMC to go out there. They made the trip and told us everything was okay, that Viktor was not being tortured. But they cannot visit him as often as we could.

Do you think he was transferred there so you would be unable to visit him?

That was not the only reason. First, Remand Prison No. 6 is the worst pretrial detention facility in Petersburg and Leningrad Region. Second, he refused to testfiy, so what use was he to the FSB? He had to be sent somewhere where we could not visit him.

Of the men charged in the case, which of them have been tortured, according to your evidence?

Viktor Filinkov and Igor Shishkin, whom we saw, were brutally tortured. Compared to the accounts from Penza, it would appear this was not the worst FSB operatives were capable of. According to testimony given to one of the defense attorneys, one of the accused men in Penza was tortured with electrical shocks for a month. In Penza, the FSB does not even bother to hide what they are doing. The FSB officers show up at the remand prison there, and take their man to another room, where they have a generator and electrical wires set up, and they torture the guy right in a cell in the remand prison. Defense attorney Olga Dinze said there was a secret prison in Moscow where inmates were constantly tortured with electrical shocks for a week. Why? Because they had to be forced to testify.

Have the accused in The Network case testified?

Katya: Yes. Viktor was tortured for six hours, but he agreed to confess after ten minutes. But then he was tortured simply so he would memorize his testimony. It was like animal training.

He told you this in the remand prison?

Yes, he told us, and then he provided a detailed written account of the first forty-eight hours after he was detained. He wrote us a letter and sent it to us by mail. When he was taken to the remand prison, the torture stopped. He had forty taser burns on his body, tiny spots on his thigh and around his groin. And on his chest. We didn’t see his groin area.

Traces of tasers burns on Ilya Kapustin’s body. Photo courtesy of his attorney and Mediazona

How did the staff at Remand Prison No. 3 react to the stories of torture?

Igor Shishkin had taser burns all over his back, buthe burns are listed as “bruises” in the prison’s medical journal.

One staff member forbade Igor from lifting his trousers and showing us the wounds he suffered when tortured. But we documented the injuries anyway. First, we examined Viktor’s taser burns, writing them down by hand, and then we drew pictures for each day, seeing as how the FSB investigators were in no hurry to show up. We documented all the injuries with the remand prison’s physician and warden present.

What was the reaction when you you went public with it?

Yana: Unfortunately, when Igor Shishkin was being tortured, there was not enough public pressure to stop the torture or get into the FSB building and see Igor. After we published our findings, we received support, and lots of it. (Igor Shiskin has not filed a complaint that he was tortured. He claims not to remember how he got the burn marks— ZS.)

How did the other members of the Petersburg PMC react?

The question was whether the PMC would interfere with our work or not. The commission members have not interfered in any way. A month after Shishkin and Filinkov were detained, the Petersburg human rights ombudsman and the chair of the Petersburg PMC visited them in the remand prison and wrote a very carefully worded report that did not gainsay our report. Of course, all traces of their injuries had vanished by that time.

What was the outcome of the Investigative Committee’s review of Filinkov’s torture complaint?

YanaOn Thursday, April 19, it transpired that the investigator refused to file criminal charges. His report says that not all the videos were preserved, the report by PMC members cannot be admitted into evidence, and Viktor was tasered, but only two times in order to prevent him from falling out of the vehicle and “escaping.”

Do you feel that you are being shadowed?

Yana: Yes, I have some notion the police have opened a dossier on us. We have the sense our telephones are tapped and we are being followed. There was a time when the surveillance was demonstrative. It was not a huge inconvenience.

On Friday, NTV will show a film about The Network case. Apparently, you are central characters in this film.

YanaAn NTV crew ambushed me on Sunday, and they ambushed Yekaterina on Saturday.

Katya, the NTV crew ambushed you during a scheduled visit to the Doctor Haass Prison Hospital. NTV asked two questions. Why do you defend terrorists? Why do you defend Ukrainians? Why do think that interested NTV?

Katya: The Ukrainian consul general in Petersburg visited Ukrainian prisoners with me and we wrote about it on Facebook. We visited an inmate in a penal colony who was convicted on drugs charges. He had not been receiving anti-retroviral therapy for a while.

They aren’t political prisoners?

No. Maybe they wanted to make a connection between The Network case and Ukraine? Or maybe they just took a gander at my Facebook page and read that I had spoken to the Ukrainian consul.

They started filming in Penza. There are many parents of the young men accused in the case there, and they have teamed up to defend their children.

An investigator with the Penza FSB summoned one of the mothers to his office and spent two and a half hours persuading her she would help her son out by going on camera and saying the right words, saying the young men were practicing to blow up the Lenin Mausoleum. When she left the FSB building, her husband was waiting for her, but she was put in a vehicle with the NTV crew, and the FSB officer got in with her. They took her to her house and taped the interview there. That was on April 11, I think, and I basically already guessed NTV had begun shooting a film, but I didn’t think I’d be in it.

Yana: They ambushed me at the exit of a house where I don’t spend much time, but where I’m officially registered as living. I had it a bit easier, because they taped Katya after a difficult visit to a hospital. She was tired, but I was rested. Besides, I was ready, because I knew about Katya’s so-called interview. So my time with them was much easier and shorter. The questions were literally the very same ones. There was no individual approach: they could not really tell me and Katya apart, nor could I tell them apart. I accused the young woman questioning me that yesterday she was Maria, and today she was Alexandra, because they looked a lot alike. She show me her ID, but she did not me show me her editorial assignment or tell me the name of the program. I heard the same thing Katya had heard: “You defend terrorists. Ukraine. Right Sector. You prey on the sorrow of parents.”

Yana runs off to catch a train to Petersburg, but Katya and I continue the conversation. I wanted to ask her about Petersburg’s prisons. There is much less known about them than about Moscow’s prisons.

How often do you visit remand prisons?

Katya: I sometimes don’t have the strength. On Saturday, I visited the Doctor Haass Prison Hospital, chatted with NTV, and went to Remand Prison No. 3. Previously, I had visited Remand Prison No. 5, but before that there had been a long break, because it didn’t work out. Sometimes it happens we don’t do any visits for several weeks, but then we do visits. For The Network case we were going to Remand Prison No. 3 on a daily basis. On average, we do around two visits a week.

Tell me about Petersburg’s remand prisons.

We have separate PMCs for Petersburg and Leningrad Region, although the FSIN has one office in charge of the city and the region. The very worst remand prison in Leningrad Region is in Gorelovo, but we are not allowed to visit it.

In Petersburg, there is the renowned remand prison The Crosses on the Arsenal Embankment. It is a historic landmark, and it has been closed. A work-release penal colony from the region was temporarily transferred there. There is talk the local FSIN office will move its headquarters there.

What about The New Crosses?

That remand prison was built to house 4,000 inmates, but something went wrong. Corruption charges have been filed, and so one of the two crosses (wings), designed to hold 2,000 inmates, is the subject of court battles, and it cannot be accessed. There are no inmates there. If it were opened, the inmates from Gorelovo would be transferred there.

The New Crosses remand prison

Are Petersburg’s remand prisons overcrowded?

The Old Crosses was overcrowded. Eight square meters per four inmates, which was two times less space than necessary, but there were always enough beds. There had bunk beds there.

Besides torture, what are the most egregious human rights violations in Petersburg’s remand prisons and penal colonies?

There is a penal colony in which a suspiciously high number of inmates die from cardiac arrest and a suspiciously high number of inmates are a brought injured to hospital and die from their injuries. There is a psychiatric ward in a remand prison that the PMC is not allowed to visit. Complaints about torture and abusive treatment came from the psychiatric ward of The Crosses.

Why are you not allowed into the remand prison’s psychiatric ward?

We are currently fighting a court battle over just this issue. The staff read the law on the provision of psychiatric care, which says individual members of public organizations can enter psychiatric wards only when accompanied by medical personnel. Then they incorrectly read the law on public oversight and decided PMC members are members of public organizations, so we also should be escorted by medical personnel. We get there and are told no medical staff are on duty. We have to wait a while, because they won’t let us in just like that. We are let in only during working hours and only in the company of a physician. We are allowed into the intensive care units only when the attending physician allows it. I appealed our not being admitted to the ward in court. A district court said it was fine we were not being allowed into the ward. Look at the Azaria website, said the judge: Yekaterina Kosarevskya is a member of a public organization. I’ve filed an appeal.

Have you dealt with the case of businessman Valery Pshenichny, who died in Remand Prison No. 4 in Petersburg? Have you heard about his death?

Yana and Roma, the chair of our PMC, went to the prison after the suicide. But they had no contact with the relatives, so it was impossible to do anything. The Investigative Committee had already confiscated the CCTV tapes, which was all the evidence there was, and the only hting Yana and Roma could do was talk with remand prison staff, and try and understand whether the story Pshenichny had committed suicide could be trusted. But they could not understand a thing.

But now, after the article in Novaya Gazeta, which claims that, according to the forensic examination, Pshenichny was murdered and raped, will you conduct a public investigation?

Probably. But it’s not very clear what we can do as PMC members. It is doubtful whether there is any evidence left in the remand prison.

Do you feel any danger due to the fact that you and Yana were the first people to to talk about Filinkov’s torture at the hands of the FSB?

At first, I probably felt danger, because I didn’t know how the FSB would react, and it didn’t know how to react. My nerves were on edge. But now? Everything is a source of danger, probably. NTV has shown its face.

Do you continue to keep track of Filinkov’s plight?

Yes. We continue to file various appeals. I write letters to Viktor, and we visit Igor Shishkin in Remand Prison No. 3.

What is Remand Prison No. 3 like? It probably resembles Lefortvo Remand Prison in Moscow.

It’s a tiny historical building. The warden once boasted of the various famous people who were jailed there. Various wings of the building are under repair all the time. The cells are eight measures square and have bunks for two people. The toilet is separated by a low wooden partition.

Who is jailed there?

There are people accused of treason. One just went to trial in Sevastopol. He lived in Crimea, where he had an interesting job. He was accused of spying for China against Russia, although the evidence in the case relates to 2013, when Crimea was part of Ukraine.

How do prisoners treat you? How do they react to the fact you are so young?

I listen to them carefully, and some PMC members get angry at me that I talk with the prisoners for so long. As for my youth, sometimes it can be an advantage, because certain inmates tell me a lot: a nice young lady has paid them a visit and they feel they can talk with me. So it is not as if these inmates are complaining, they are just having a chat with a nice young woman. When we are able to help them, they say the PMC is a good thing. When we are unable to help them, they complain they turned to us for help and we didn’t help them.

“No, we didn’t,” I say.

It is amazing that both you and Yana are mathematicians, and suddenly you’re inspecting prisons. Why such interest in human rights?

My parents, the books I read. Books about the Decembrists, the Harry Potter books. Grandfather consistently refused to join the Party. But I learned the KGB was a bad thing when I was nine years old, in 2000.

It is the first black hole that has sucked me in. I planned to join the PMC, because I had always been interested (the Peter and Paul Fortress was nearby), but it was one interest among others. I was interested in the rights of migrant workers, in books about social organization. I was certain that, at most, I would spend a third of my free time on the PMC, but then it dragged me in all on its own.

What dragged you in?

Prisons suck me in. It’s bad, of course. I was once driving from the Arsenal Embankment to the Sverdlovskaya Embankment, and I glanced at a building not far from the place where I grew up. I thought I should probably stop my involvement in this nonsense. I should earn money and buy a flat in that building, because it was a beautiful red-brick building, wonderfully designed, with a view of the Neva River. But then I realized that the building merele reminded me of The Crosses.

Thanks to Vladimir Akimenov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, the case of the mysterious death in custody of Petersburg businessman Valery Pshenichny, and related cases involving alleged frame-ups and torture by the Russian police and secret services, please have a look at some of the recent articles I have published on these subjects.

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Pavel Chikov: A Managed Thaw

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Is a new thaw on the way?

A Managed Thaw: What the Reversal of Verdicts in the Dadin and Chudnovets Cases Means
Pavel Chikov
RBC
March 6, 2017

The Kurgan Regional Court quashed the verdict against Yevgenia Chudnovets and released her from a penal colony, where she had served four months of a five-month sentence for, allegedly, disseminating child pornography on the web. The Russian Deputy Prosecutor General almost literally copied the arguments made in the appeal by Chudnovets’s attoreny. Previously, during its consideration of the appeal, the selfsame Kurgan Regional Court had refused to release Chudnovets at the request of both the prosecutor and defense attorneys. The same court then denied the appeal against the verdict. The verdict was reversed only after the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Supreme Court intervened. Now Chudnovets will have the right to compensation for the harm caused her by illegal criminal prosecution.

The Chudnovets story unfolded at the same time as the even more high-profile case of Ildar Dadin. Dadin’s case was the first criminal case filed under the newly minted law on violating the law on public rallies, the first guilty verdict handed down under the new law. Dadin was taken into custody in the courtroom. Then came the shocking sentence of three years in a medium-security penal colony for a first offense, a moderately severe offense whose underlying cause was purely political, in a case tried in Moscow under the glare of all the media. During the appeals phase, the verdict was altered slightly, and the sentence reduced a bit. But then there was the drama of Dadin’s transfer to the penal colony, his arrival in a Karelian prison camp infamous for its severe conditions, the immense scandal that erupted after he claimed he had been tortured, and the harsh reaction to these revelations by the Federal Penitentiary Service. Then Dadin was secretly transferred to a remote penal colony in Altai over a demonstratively long period, after which the Constitutional Court, in open session, ruled that the relevant article of the Criminal Code had been wrongly interpreted in Dadin’s case. After this, the Supreme Court jumped quickly into the fray, granting a writ of certiorari, aquitting Dadin, and freeing him from the penal colony.

Politically Motivated Releases
The judicial system acted with phenomenal alacrity in both the Chudnovets and Dadin cases. Chudnovets’s criminal case was literally flown round trip from Kurgan to Moscow and back. Given current realities, this could only have been possible under the so-called manual mode of governance and with authorization at the highest level.

It calls to mind the instantaneous release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky from the same Karelian prison colony in December 2013, and the same sudden early releases, under amnesty, of the Greenpeace activists, convicted in the Arctic Sunrise case, and Masha Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova, two months before their sentences were up. Of course, the record holder in this sense is the Kirov Regional Court, which in the summer of 2013 quashed Alexei Navalny’s five-year sentence in the Kirovles case.

In all these previous cases, the causes of the system’s sudden softness were self-explanatory. The thaw of December 2013 was due to the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Navalny’s pardon was clearly connected with his being able to run in the Moscow mayoral elections. It was hard not to doubt the narrowly political, tactical objectives of these targeted releases.

The latest indulgences—the sudden releases of Dadin and Chudnovets, the transfer of the last defendant in the Bolotnaya Square case, Dmitry Buchenkov, and the Yekaterinburg Pokémon catcher, Ruslan Sokolovsky, from custody in pretrial detention facilities to house arrest—have been greeted with a roar of approval from the progressive public. The liberal genie would have burst out of its bottle altogether were it not for the eleven-hour police search of the home of human rights activist Zoya Svetova in connection with the ancient Yukos case. The search was as sudden and hard to explain as the releases described above.

Federal officials have not tried to dampen the talk of a thaw. On the contrary, they have encouraged it. The president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, Supreme Court Chief Justice Vyacheslav Lebedev, federal human right’s ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova, and Justice Ministry spokespeople have publicly supported decriminalizing the Criminal Code article under which Dadin was convicted.

Putting the Brakes On
Even earlier we had noticed that the number of politically motivated criminal cases had stopped increasing. Twelve years of defending grassroots activists, human rights activists, journalists, and heads of local NGOs mean we are sensitive to changes in which way the wind blows. It would be wrong to speak of an improvement. Rather, the brakes have been put on the slide into deterioration. There are still dozens of political prisoners doing time in Russia’s prisons.

Political scientists have spoken of an unloosening of the screws; lawyers, of necessary legal reforms. One way or another, it is clear these events did not began in February, and the changes have been implemented from the top, quite deliberately, but without any explanation.

Given the tactial objectives pursued in previous reversals of high-profile cases, there are serious grounds for assuming recent events are due to next year’s main political event, the presidential election.

Preparations for the election began last spring with a shakeup of the law enforcement agencies. The superfluous Migration Service and Gosnarkokontrol (Federal Agency for Drug Trafficking Control) were eliminated. A new political special forces unit, the National Guard of Russia, was established. The influence of the Investigative Committee has been sharply reduced, although from 2012 to 2016 it had been the Investigative Committee that served as the main vehicle for domestic political crackdowns.

The old framework has gradually ceased functioning. The effectiveness of show trials has waned. Leading opposition figures have grown accustomed to working with the permanent risk of criminal prosecution hanging over them. Some have left the country and thus are beyond the reach of the security forces, but they have exited politics as well. Protest rallies have not attracted big numbers for a long time, and NGOs have been demoralized by the law on “foreign agents.” The stats for cases of “extremism” are mainly padded by the online statements of web users in the provinces and “non-traditional” Muslims.

In recent years, the state has delegated its function of intimidation and targeted crackdowns to pro-regime para-public organizations. Navalny is no longer pursued by Alexander Bastrykin, but by organizations like NOD (National Liberation Movement) and Anti-Maidan.

Under a Watchful Eye
The foreground is no longer occcupied by the need to intimidate and crack down on dissidents, but by information gathering and protest prevention, and that is the competence of different government bodies altogether. It is the FSB that has recently concentrated the main function of monitoring domestic politics in its hands. FSB officers have been arresting governors, generals, and heavyweight businesmen, destroying the reputations of companies and government agencies, and defending the internet from the west’s baleful influence.

Nothing adds to the work of the FSB’s units like a managed thaw. Bold public statements, new leaders and pressure groups, and planned and envisioned protest rallies immediately attract attention. The upcoming presidential election, the rollout of the campaign, and good news from the courts as spring arrives cannot help but awaken dormant civic protest. Its gradual rise will continue until its apogee in March of next year [when the presidential election is scheduled]. Information will be collected, analyzed, and sent to the relevant decision makers by the summer of 2018. And by the autumn of 2018 lawyers will again have more work than they can handle. This scenario needs to be taken into account.

There is, of course, another option: the Kremlin’s liberal signals may be addressed not to the domestic audience, but to a foreign one. Foreign policy, which has remained the president’s focus, is in a state of turbulence. Vladimir Putin is viewed by the western liberal public as a dark force threatening the world order. Sudden moves toward democratization can only add to the uncertainty and, consequently, the Kremlin can gain a tactical advantage in the game of diplomacy. Considering the fact there are lots of politicians in the world who are happy to be fooled, the ranks of the Russian president’s supporters will only swell.

Pavel Chikov is head of Agora, an international human rights group. Thanks to Comrade AK for the heads-up. Translation and photograph by the Russian Reader

What Goes Around Comes Around

Supreme Court Chief Justice Accused of Persecuting Dissidents during Soviet Times 
He convicted human rights activist Felix Svetov, whose daughter Zoya Svetova had her apartment searched by the FSB yesterday
Alexei Obukhov
Moskovsky Komsomolets
March 1, 2017

Memorial has published documents relating to the case of journalist and human rights activist Zoya Svetova’s father, Felix Svetov, who was convicted in the Soviet for his human rights works. His trial, in 1986, was presided over by Vyacheslav Lebedev, who has been chief justice of the Russian Federal Supreme Court since 1989.

Chief Justice Vyacheslav Lebedev. Photo courtesy of Kremlin.ru

According to Memorial, Svetov was found guilty because he had made “defamatory” allegations that “innocent people [were] thrown into prison” and accusations that the authorities did not observe socialist laws and violated the rules of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Ultimately, Lebedev, who was then deputy head judge of Moscow City Court, sentenced Svetov to five years of exile.

Memorial published the information in connection with the search conducted this past Tuesday in the apartment of Felix Svetov’s daughter Zoya Svetova, an employee of Open Russia, which is headed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. A similar search had taken place before Svetov’s trial in 1986.

Yet investigators have claimed that the hours-long search, which in particular involved confiscating the computers of Svetova’s children, the well-known journalists and brothers Filipp, Tikhon and Timofei Dzyadko, was carried out as part of the case against Khodorkovsky’s company Yukos, launched back in 2003. Svetova herself has suggested the real reason for the search was her work on the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission.

Memorial added that, in 1984, Lebedev handed down a guilty verdict to human rights activist Elena Sannikova. She was convicted of “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.”

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Moskovsky Komsomolets Deletes Article on Supreme Court Chief Justice’s Involvement in Persecuting Soviet Dissidents
Meduza
March 1,  2017

On March 1, an article entitled “Supreme Court Chief Justice Accused of Persecuting Dissidents during Soviet Times” vanished from the website of newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets. The article was published on Wednesday afternoon and was accessible on the site for a few hours.

No reasons have been given for its deletion. A copy of the article has been cached in Google Search results.  Moskovsky Komsolets editor-in-chief Pavel Gusev told Meduza he was unaware of why the the article had been deleted and was hearing about the matter for the first time.

The article discusses Memorial’s publication of documents relating to a police search of the home of Felix Svetov and Zoya Krakhmalnikova, parents of Zoya Svetova, which took place in 1982.

Among other things, Memorial’s Facebook post points out that the presiding judge in Svetov’s case, which was heard in the mid 1980s, was Vyacheslav Lebedev, who would become chief justice of the Russian Federal Supreme Court in 1989.

FSB investigators searched journalist Zoya Svetova’s home for over ten hours on February 28, 2017, allegedly, as part of the Yukos affair. Svetova works for Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia, but claims she knows nothing about Yukos’s business.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrades AK and JM for the heads-up

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Zoya Svetova. Photo courtesdy of L'Express
Zoya Svetova. Photo courtesy of L’Express

Russia: ‘Deeply alarming’ raid targets human rights activist and journalist Zoya Svetova
Amnesty International
28 February 2017

After Russian criminal investigators searched the flat of Zoya Svetova, a prominent journalist and human rights activist, this morning, Sergei Nikitin, Director of Amnesty International Russia, said:

“Today’s search of Zoya Svetova’s flat is deeply alarming. She is one of Russia’s most respected journalists and human rights activists – it is unclear what she might have to do with the criminal investigation against YUKOS.”

“This search seems like a blatant attempt by the authorities to interfere with her legitimate work as a journalist and perhaps a warning for her and others of the risks of human rights work and independent journalism in Russia.”

Zoya Svetova previously worked for Reporters without Borders and Soros Foundation in Russia.

The search was conducted by 12 officers from Russia’s Investigative Committee that probes serious crime. According to Svetova’s lawyer, it was linked to a case of alleged embezzlement and tax fraud by the former YUKOS oil company head Mikhail Khodorkovsky. One of the most prominent critics of the Kremlin, Khodorkovsky served 10 years in jail and in 2011, after being convicted of another offence and sentenced to a new term of imprisonment, he was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

In December 2016 Russian Investigative Committee officers raided the apartments of seven Open Russia activists as well as the movement’s offices in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The Investigative Committee claimed it was seeking evidence of money laundering by former YUKOS executives with links to Khodorkovsky.

Anna Karetnikova: Monitoring Moscow’s Prisons

karetnikova
Anna Karetnikova

Anna Karetnikova: “The worse things are in Russia and the less money there is, the worse things are in the system”
OVD Info
October 27, 2016

As promised, OVD Info has published the full version of our interview with Anna Karetnikova, civil rights activist and member of the last three Moscow Commissions for Public Monitoring of Detention Facilities. The term in office of the third Moscow Public Monitoring Commission (PMC) is coming to an end, and by law anyone who has sat on the same commission for three consecutive terms cannot apply to serve on it again. Karetnikova had applied to serve on the Moscow Region PMC, but was not included in the new commission’s lineup. Similar things happened to a large number of civil rights activists who tried to get appointments to PMCs in other parts of Russia.

The interview was conducted shortly before the new lineups of the oversight commissions were made public. In conversation with OVD Info, Karetnikova summed up the work of the Moscow PMC and talked about the Russian penitentiary system’s numerous problems.

What is a PMC?

A PMC is a public monitoring commission of detention facilities. On the basis of Federal Law No. 76, its members are admitted into institutions that have such facilities, from police stations to remand prisons, including temporary detention centers, military prisons, and so on. They see the conditions of detention and can make recommendations on enforcing the law, eliminating violations, and otherwise furthering the legal interests of the persons imprisoned there.

How would you assess the work of the current commission? During your term have you been able to effect changes in the system, in the treatment of inmates, and the way the system interacts with civil rights activists?

I would rate it quite highly. I can speak only about the Moscow PMC. We succeeded in implementing serious reforms in meal services, accountability, and expanding the range of products that can be delivered to inmates in remand prisons. We made definite improvements to the Kaluga Federal Unitary State Enterprise, the [online] prison store or shop where inmates’ relatives can order things for them.  We definitely improved the conditions in Women’s Remand Prison No. 6. Unfortunately, among the things that have remained beyond our control and are getting worse, in my opinion, is medical care. The more we try and get on top of it, the worse it gets.

Medical care has remained a fallow field despite the huge effort we made to improve it just a bit. It was like running up the down escalator.

Nothing can be done. I understand the situation with healthcare is the same nationwide, but it is particularly horrible in our remand prisons.

What do you mean by accountability?

Registering complaints. If we are not around, say, the only way an incarcerated inmate can get something is by filing a complaint or petition. We expended a great deal of effort making sure these complaints and petitions were registered normally, because basically they save lives. It can happen that someone asks to see a doctor for six months and submits petitions to this effect, but none of them is registered. Then he dies, and we are sent an official reply that he never requested medical treatment. Continue reading “Anna Karetnikova: Monitoring Moscow’s Prisons”

Socrates Has Not Surrendered: The Plight of Political Prisoner Alexei Sutuga

Alexei Sutuga, December 10, 2015. Photo courtesy of Svyatoslav Khromenkov
Alexei Sutuga, December 10, 2015. Photo courtesy of Svyatoslav Khromenkov

PERSCECUTION
No medical treatment, no letters, no visits. A political prisoner’s life in a penal colony. Zoya Svetova and Alexei Glukhov investigated the conditions of antifascist Alexei Sutuga’s imprisonment
December 14, 2015
Open Russia

29-year-old Muscovite Alexei Sutuga is an antifascist activist known among antifa by the nickname Socrates. On September 30, 2014, the Zamoskorechye District Court in Moscow sentenced Sutuga to three years and one month in prison for disorderly conduct for his alleged involvement in a fight at a Sbarro restaurant in the city. Sutuga’s defenders believe the criminal case was revenge on the part of Center “E” officers who had already tried to put Sutuga behind bars for his alleged involvement in a fight at the Moscow nightclub Vozdukh, for which he had been amnestied.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre has declared Alexei Sutuga a political prisoner.

In March 2015, the antifascist was sent to Correctional Colony No. 14, a medium-security facility, to serve his sentence. He was soon put in solitary confinement, and two months later he was sentenced to a new type of punishment, a year’s imprisonment in a single-space cell. Now Sutuga is serving his sentence at Correctional Colony No. 2 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region.

Olga Sutuga, Alexei’s mom, explained to Zoya Svetova how and why her son is being pressured in the colony.

Solitary confinement and single-space cells are forms of penitentiary repression. Is this improvisation on the part of local wardens or are there orders from above? Is there a plan to break your son?

It began in Moscow, when the FSB wanted Alexei to cooperate with them. They came to him while he was still in the remand prison and suggested he collaborate. They said he would serve his sentence in far from the best conditions, in a colony far from Moscow Region. That is what happened: he was sent to Siberia. And there, in the remand prison, he was again visited by two Center “E” officers who suggested he collaborate and promised that in exchange he would do his time in the Irkutsk Remand Prison and get parole. But he did not agree to these proposals.

What exactly do they want from him? To snitch on anarchists?

Apparently, yes, because he knows a lot of people, is a fairly authoritative person in that world, and has his own opinion. Not only anarchists but also other activists listened to him. He is a very inconvenient person for the secret services. He always spoke the truth, and they decided it was vital to break him and force him to cooperate with them.

How do you keep in touch with your son? He is not allowed visits, letters, and telephone calls. How do you find out what is happening with him in the penal colony?

Only through his lawyer. When his lawyer battles his ways through to see him, he finds out that Alexei has not been getting letters from his wife, from me or from his friends. On November 30 he was released from solitary confinement, where he had spent ten days. Now he is in a single-space cell in Correctional Colony No. 2 in Angarsk, Irkutsk Region. He is supposed to spend a year there—until May 2016.

Is he considered a repeat offender of prison rules?

Here are some of the violations he has been charged with: not making his bed, having his nametag torn from his clothing, and sleeping during the daytime while sitting on a stool. For all these things he was deemed a repeat offender. When in late May he was transferred for a year to the single-space cell, the warden of the single-space cell facility told him he would not be getting out of there, that he would be spending the rest of his sentence in the “jug,” that he would not be returning to the medium-security facility, although by the verdict of the court he should be serving his sentence in a medium-security penal colony.

Is Alexei in solitary?

No, there are four people in there.

How can we help him?

He has asked that people do not stop paying attention to the whole situation, because if they do not write and talk about it, the prison wardens will see they can do anything they like and will use even more repressive methods against him.

How long does he have till the end of his sentence?

One year and five months.

Do members of the Public Monitoring Commission (PNC) visit him?

Employees of the PNC come to see him every two or three months. They constantly file complaints about violations of his rights with the Federal Penitentiary Service. But it does not help: no one pays any mind to the complaints.

Those violations of the rules in the remand prison for which he has been punished, were they real or contrived?

It is impossible to comply with all the rules there one hundred percent. Maybe the nametag really was torn off his clothing. But Alexei definitely did not have a shiv, because when he was transferred from the remand prison to the penal colony, six people searched him, and the trip from the prison to the colony takes half an hour. [Angarsk is forty kilometers away from Irkutsk — Open Russia.] So it is completely unclear how he could have got hold of a shiv if he was in a paddy wagon with guards the entire half hour.

When is your next visit with him?

I was authorized to visit him in October but I was unable to go. I will go in late December. I wanted to get to see him during the January holidays. But I am not sure it will work out. When the lawyer went to see the head warden of the colony and find out whether I might be able to get this visit, the warden replied there would be no visits due to the fact that Sutuga was socially dangerous.

Is that even legal?

No, of course not. By law I have the right to visit him. I wrote to the head warden of the colony asking him to give me a visit. If he does not respond to me within fifteen days, then we will file another complaint. Unfortunately, though, complaints have no impact. We write to the Federal Penitentiary Service, the prosecutor’s office, and the court.

How does Alexei spend his time? Is it true he has no books and is unable to get periodicals?

The prison does not accept books sent to him, and it also does not give him the periodicals we subscribed to for him. I wrote to the warden and asked what happened to the periodicals that were sent by mail in my son’s name to the penal colony. After all, we had paid money for the subscriptions. It smacks of petty theft.

What is his mood?

When attorney Svetlana Sidorkina went to see him in October, she said that Alexei was very depressed, sick, and his knees were swollen and painful. He was diagnosed with acute arthritis and tossed out of the infirmary back into the cell. He receives no medical treatment or medical examinations. Sidorkina brought him letters from me and from his friends. That supported him. The local lawyer, who visited him the other day, says that Alexei’s mood has improved. Generally, he is a very active person, and if he has no opportunity to do anything he gets depressed. But now, apparently, he has realized we are fighting for him, his friends wrote that he has not been forgotten, and so his mood has been normal and he is holding up. He will turn thirty on January 24. It’s a big birthday.

How Alexei Sutuga Was Made a Repeat Offender

After his trial in Moscow, Alexei was sent to the Irkutsk Remand Prison. When the prison staff confiscated his personal belongings and letters, Sutuga protested by declaring a hunger strike and demanding to be transferred to a penal colony. Three days later, Sutuga was transferred to Correctional Colony No. 14 in the city of Angarsk, Irkutsk Region.

However, as soon as Alexei arrived at the colony, a shiv was found on him. Sidorkina believes prison colony staff planted the shiv on him.

Before his transfer from the remand prison, Sutuga was undressed completely, all his personal belongings were examined, and the procedure was filmed on a video recorder. No forbidden items were found. The paddy wagon in which he was transported in the company of three guards was also inspected.

At the penal colony, Sutuga was immediately taken to the search room, where in the presence of ten colony staff he was again forced to strip and put all his things on a table. As Sutuga was undressing and simultaneously replying to the questions of penal colony staff, one of them suddenly discovered a sharpened metal object in Sutuga’s cap. Sutuga claimed he had nothing to do with the shiv.

Sutuga was placed in solitary confinement for seven days.

Over the next month, Sutuga received three more disciplinary reprimands: for not wearing a badge, for not reporting to the on-duty guard, and for not cleaning his room.

Due to these clearly fabricated violations, Sutuga was declared a repeat offender of prison rules and was first transferred to a high-security cell, then to a single-space cell.

What Is a Single-Space Cell?

Sutuga is now imprisoned in a single-space cell [edinoye pomeshchenie kamernogo tipa or EPKT] at Correctional Colony No. 2 in Irkutsk Region.

Single-space cells were instituted in penal colonies after July 1997. Previous to this, each penal colony had contained an “internal prison”—a cell-like space [pomeshchenie kamernogo tipa or PKT]. Now single-space cells have been devised that are no longer managed by the particular correctional facility, but by the regional office of the Federal Penitentiary Service. Prisoners placed in single-space cells are often in the process of transfer to another city and sometimes another region. But Alexei Sutuga has been left in the very same city, in Angarsk.

Members of the Irkutsk Public Monitoring Commission reported what they saw at Correctional Colony No. 2 in June 2015.

“There were heaps of construction debris in the yard in front of the entrance to the space. The cells were dimly lit, there was no ventilation, and the radio was not working. The tables were ninety by fifty centimeters, and there were benches ninety by twenty centimeter benches on each side. They were in the middle of the room, so it was problematic for four people to fit in the room at the same time. There was also very little space to move around. The drinking water was poured from the tap into tanks in the rooms.”

Top brass at the Irkutsk Regional Office of the Federal Penitentiary Service reacted to the remarks, but as of October 2015 the construction debris had not been removed. In conclusion, the PMC wrote:

“Slag mixed with ash that is loosened up every day is scattered near the entrance to the building and around the entire perimeter of the room. It is not only that the slag exudes harmful substances (sulfates, phenol, etc.) but also that the dust from the slag and ash gets into the air and from there, through the windows, into the cells and exercise yards, harming the health both of convicts and staff.”

Alexei Sutuga Does Not Receive Medical Treatment in Prison

The antifascist has several ailments that require treatment.

“In October, the public monitors established that Alexei was not being given packages with medicaments: they were being sent back. Staff at the facility explained that they do not let packages through if the permitted number of them is exceeded. And yet they do not look inside to determine whether they contain medicaments or not, but just send them back. They say the sender has to personally come to the facility and submit the package through the infirmary,” recounts Irkutsk human rights defender Svyatoslav Khromenkov.

In the presence of members of the PMC, Sutuga was prescribed an x-ray. At the time of the visit Sutuga was in the facility’s medical solitary confinement cell with a foot injury. According to him, he had an old sports injury, which had flared up after he had struck his foot against a nightstand. Sutuga also complained about lung problems: he said he was having trouble breathing. He believed he had pneumonia.

Lawyer Denis Ivanets says the trauma specialist in the infirmary at Correctional Colony No. 6 diagnosed Sutuga with first- and second-degree severe arthritis in both knee joints. This is a chronic illness. Civilian trauma specialists told the lawyer that, given such a diagnosis, medication was insufficient. Sutuga would also need physiotherapy, including massage, as well as special orthopedic aids.

On December 10, 2015, the public monitors once again visited the antifascist. He said he had been given the package of medicaments that had been brought to the prison personally by his comrades. Sutuga was very happy that he had finally got the pills. According to Sutuga, a doctor, who had told him there was no need for an immediate operation, had examined him and it could wait until his release.

Lawyers and Public Monitors Are Often Not Allowed to See Alexei Sutuga

During the course of the calendar week (five working days) beginning November 25, 2015, lawyer Denis Ivanets and human rights defenders constantly attempted to visit the political prisoner.

Every time the visitors appeared at the headquarters of Correctional Colony No. 2, the Federal Penitentiary Service officers found a pretext to turn them away. Either the warden of the facility, who had to sign the lawyer’s request to visit the convict, was not there (although, as later transpired, he had been in his office having an intercom meeting with the head office), or the warden of the single-room cell facility was gone all day, and he was allegedly the only staff member who could escort the lawyer to the premises behind the barbed wire (although the warden of Correctional Colony No. 2 had signed off on the paperwork for visiting the convict).

Now members of the Irkutsk PMC are appealing in court Correctional Colony No. 2’s ban on holding a personal conversation with Alexei Sutuga under conditions of acoustic isolation from penal colony staff. The law “On Public Monitoring” directly stipulates this right.

Letters and Newspapers Are Not Delivered to Sutuga

According to lawyer Denis Ivanets, “Alexei’s mom says her son does not reply to letters from his spouse, parents, and friends. When I talked to him about it, it turned out that more than two thirds of the letters had simply not got to him! These letters had been sent to Alexei over a month ago.”

According to Article 91.2 of the Russian Federal Correctional Code, letters, postcards, and telegrams sent and received by convicts are censored by the wardens of the correctional facility, after which they must be given to the convicts.

In addition, Sutuga’s relatives took out subscriptions to several newspapers and magazines (Kommersant, Novaya Gazeta, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, GEO, Vokrug sveta), but Sutuga had not been receiving them. Staff in the warden’s office at Correctional Colony No. 2 could not give the lawyer an intelligible answer as to why this had been happening. According to the Article 95.1 of the Russian Federal Correctional Code, convicts are permitted to receive stationery supplies in parcels and packages, purchase literature through retail distributors, and subscribe to newspapers and magazines without limitation at their own expense.

Socrates Has Not Surrendered

Alexei Sutuga was placed in solitary confinement from November 20 to November 30 for his latest “rules violation.” As his lawyers report, the number of reprimands grows with each passing month, and this will make it impossible for him to be paroled.

On December 10, 2015, the members of the PMC were able to chat with Sutuga, who sent greetings to everyone, especially his loved ones, his mom, wife, and child. Sutuga asked for new photographs of them, as well as books on psychology, sociology, and political science.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov Are Hostages

On Kolchenko and Sentsov’s Sentences
August 26, 2015
www.shiitman.ninja

179003Alexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov

It is important to realize that the sentences that Kolchenko and Sentsov received are a fiction.

No one actually takes the charges against them seriously.

Even the most loyal Putinists do not take the charges seriously. What terrorism? What does the Right Sector have to do with any of this?

Kolchenko and Sentsov are hostages. Their being held in a Russian prison is an act of intimidation directed at the Crimeans who stayed home but could have fought back. Their being held in prison is an act of intimidation directed against all the people of Ukraine and those Russian citizens who could have supported them.

The trial was a fiction. The verdict is a fiction. That is why I reacted without emotion to the sentences, although I understand the shock felt by many comrades, among whom there are close friends of both Kolchenko and Sentsov. Twenty years and ten years in prison? The Russian judges could have give them sentences of forty years and twenty-five years. Or given both of them life sentences. Or given them each six months in prison, then retried the case. Or they could have not announced the verdict at all, but just laughed and made faces. Or mannequins dressed in judicial robes could have replaced the judges. Nobody would have noticed the difference.

Kolchenko and Sentsov are in prison as long as the Russian Federation is ruled by Putin’s repressive, aggressive authoritarian regime. They cannot be freed using lawyer’s tricks. They cannot be freed via “diplomatic channels.” They can be freed only by defeating Putinist Russia. Or if it “defeats” itself by choking on its own rage and madness.

And when that happens, it will not matter a whit what numbers have been written in Kolchenko and Sentsov’s sentences. It doesn’t matter what the judges whip up in Savchenko’s sentence. The release of the hostages does not depend on the actions of lawyers. It depends on politicans and military men. And, in part, on the price of petroleum.

As soon as the “Russian bear,” who has turned out to be a rabid rat, finally kicks the bucket, all the regime’s hostages will be freed.

Translated by The Russian Reader. As is nearly always the case, my opinions might not coincide entirely with those expressed by the authors whose texts I translate and post here. But it has been strange to read the angry reactions of leftist progressive Russian comrades to this particular text given the almost total lack of any visible, public solidarity with Sentsov and Kolchenko on their part.

I won’t even go into the haziness they and many other “ordinary” “apolitical” Russian citizens experience when figuring out who to blame for the whole mess in Ukraine. But this is the privilege all imperialist, metropolitan peoples enjoy: pretending not to know or understand what is being done in their name somewhere else in the world.

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Russia’s Sentsov–Kolchenko case “an absolutely Stalinist trial”
Halya Coynash
August 21, 2015
khpg.org

The prosecutor has demanded 23 years for Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, and 12 years for civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko in a case with no crime and where all evidence was obtained through torture. Russian human rights activist Zoya Svetova likens this to Stalinist repression, not a court trial.

Svetova has seen a huge number of trials over the last 15 years, but nothing like the “absolutely insane hearing” on Aug 19. She can’t remember a case where, with no elements of a crime, or criminal (terrorist) acts, the prosecutor should be seriously demanding 23-year and 12-year sentences. This, the fact that everybody expects the court on August 25 to convict two innocent men, and much more, she says, is reminiscent of Stalinist repressions where people were arrested for nothing.

Sentsov is charged with leading a ‘terrorist organization,’ Kolchenko of taking part in it and involvement in one specific firebomb attack on a pro-Russian organization active in helping Russia seize control of Crimea in 2014.  There is no evidence that an organization even existed, and the only specific charge against Kolchenko is one that has not previously been classified by any Russian court as ‘terrorism.’

“The prosecutor is demanding 23 and 12 years for people accused of crimes they didn’t commit. Today Sentsov and Kolchenko’s lawyers clearly demonstrated that there are no elements of a crime in this case, nor any criminal act. On August 19, 2015, I saw a totally Stalinist trial. Three judges were sitting there, a real ‘troika,’ with cold, virtually dead eyes who were listening to the prosecutor and the lawyers,” Svetova writes here.

Another of the disturbingly Stalinist features of this case has been the fixation on some demonized organization, in this case the far-right and nationalist Right Sector. Russia has constantly exaggerated this organization’s role in both Euromaidan and subsequent events in Ukraine.  There was even a Russian media attempt on the night of the Ukrainian presidential elections on May 25, 2014, to claim distortion of the election result after the Right Sector candidate gained a pitiful 0.9% of the votes. It was therefore no surprise that five days after those elections, the FSB should have claimed that it had uncovered a supposed Right Sector ‘terrorist plot.’  It has never produced any evidence at all, nor did any of the witnesses for the prosecution even demonstrate a clear understanding of what the Right Sector is, although they were all convinced it was dangerous, etc.  There is nothing to link Sentsov, the left-wing and anarchist Kolchenko or Gennady Afanasyev with the far-right organization. In court on Wednesday, the prosecutor Oleg Tkachenko changed their story, saying that Sentsov and Kolchenko are not accused of membership in Right Sector, but of having “taken on the ideology of this organization as a guide for action.” What this means remains a mystery since the court has not demonstrated any interest in seeking clarification on this subject or with respect to the numerous other discrepancies in the prosecution’s case.

At the final hearing on Wednesday, the defence demolished all of the charges against the two men, then Dmitry Dinze, Sentsov’s lawyer, read out the account given by Gennady Afanasyev of how he had been tortured to get him to testify against Sentsov.

As reported, Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy were arrested at the same time as Sentsov and Kolchenko.  Their ‘confessions’ and testimony are literally all that the charges against Sentsov are based on. It is therefore of critical importance that Afanasyev retracted his testimony on July 31, stating that it had been given under duress.  He then spoke for the first time to a lawyer not provided by the investigators and gave a detailed account of the torture applied immediately after his arrest, and also the pressure placed on him to repeat this testimony in court. As well as threats against him, a FSB officer who appeared at the prison warned him that his mother “could have an accident” if he didn’t cooperate.

All of this information was read to the court. The judges simply looked down and did not react in any way, and the prosecutor continued to demand 23 and 12 years.  It should be stressed that the details in Afanasyev’s account fully coincide with those given by Sentsov, and Chirniy is also known to have told the Ukrainian consul that he had been forced to ‘confess.’

Unlike the players in this modern-day show trial, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has taken Afanasyev’s account seriously.  On August 19, it issued a statement recognizing Afanasyev as a political prisoner and warning of the danger he is now in. This follows a similar statement and damning assessment of the ‘trial’ of Sentsov and Kolchenko.

Sentsov’s final statement was, as all previous statements, courageous and moving. So too was Kolchenko’s, who spoke of the fact that the court had heard about the use of threats and torture by the FSB against Sentsov and Afanasyev.

“It’s interesting that people using such methods to obtain testimony have no qualms about accusing us of terrorism.”

He called the charges against them fabricated and politically motivated, and said that this trial, like those against Nadiya Savchenko, the Bolotnaya Square protester, and others are aimed at extending the life of the current regime.

“Yet throwing us in prison, this regime speeds up its end, and those people who still yesterday believed in law and order, today, watching such trials, have lost that faith. And tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, those people who are part of the 86 percent [supposedly supporting President Vladimir Putin – HC] will overturn this authoritarian regime.”

Kolchenko noted that, in the letter read out to the court, Afanasyev said that the FSB officer had told him that the day he gave testimony in court would be the most important day in his life.

“Seemingly, Afanasyev took those words to heart and interpreted them in his own way. I was very taken with this great and powerful act of his.”

Gennady Afanasyev is in danger; Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko are facing long sentences on preposterous charges.  And Russia is descending into a frightening Soviet tradition in which people are tortured for ‘confessions’ with neither the prosecutor nor the judges even batting an eyelid when this is demonstrated to the world.

Please write to all three men!

The website of the Solidarity Committee with the Crimean Hostages will try to get messages to them.

solidarityua.info

In the first box, write one of the following names one at a time:

Олег Сенцов (Oleg Sentsov)

Олександр Кольченко (Oleksandr Kolchenko)

Геннадий Афанасьев  (Gennady Afanasyev)

Then in the next box, write your name.

The next box asks for a telephone number if you wish to give it. An email address is, however, needed (the fourth box).

Finally, in the fifth box, write your message.

The key aim is to ensure that all three men know that they are not forgotten. The following would be quite sufficient (if you do write in Russian, please avoid anything controversial or overly political).

Мы восхищаемся Вашим мужеством и надеемся на Ваше скорое освобождение.

Спасибо, что нашли в себе силы остаться честным с самим собой.

Держитесь!

(We admire your courage and hope for your speedy release. Thank you for finding the strength to remain true to yourself. The last word is a word of support, like “take care!”)

The question under the last box asks whether you are on social networks: yes, no, in that order (or leave it blank)

Then hit SEND.

Thanks to Comrade SP for the heads-up. I have lightly edited the text to make it more readable.