The views expressed in blogs published on Rights in Russia are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of Rights in Russia.
8 January 2016
Translated by Sarah Hurst
After complaining about torture in the Segezha IK-7 prison in Karelia, Ildar Dadin, an opposition activist who is serving a 2 1/2-year sentence, was transferred out of the prison, but authorities refused to tell his wife where he was. Russians and their supporters in other countries campaigned for over a month demanding that the Kremlin reveal Dadin's whereabouts. On January 8, after his arrival at the IK-5 prison in Altai Krai, he was allowed a short phone call with his wife, which she recorded and transcribed.
Dadin: Very short conversation...
Zotova: Yes, I know. Tell me how your journey was, please.
Dadin: It was fine, I had a break from that fascist prison IK-7. It just took a long time, first of all – I left on December 2 and they only brought me to my destination yesterday. And all that time I was tormented by depression... I wanted to quickly tell you that every day in that prison was unbearable hell. And I didn’t know how to find the internal strength to survive there for another week, let alone six or seven months. But this month, when I was coming here... I’ll tell you, living out of synch with your conscience is even harder than living there. So I want you to understand my main strategic task and desire – it’s to do everything to get back there and finish the job we started. Because if that fascist isn’t brought to justice – and I’m sure they took me out of there so that it would all die down, the fuss was the first to go...[Read more]
11 November 2016
This article is a translation by Sarah Hurst of: '«Никого ты не спасешь» Рассказ Ильдара Дадина о том, что происходило с ним в ИК-7 — до и после его письма о пытках,' Meduza, 11 November 2016
The translation was originally published on the website xSovietUnion. Permission to republish is gratefully acknowledged
Photo: Inside correctional colony No. 7, by Pavel Chikov (via Meduza)
On November 9 Anastasia Zotova, the wife of Ildar Dadin, who described his torture in Karelia’s correctional colony No. 7, had a visit with her husband. It lasted for four hours, and for all that time Dadin told her what had happened him since the day of his arrival in IK-7 in as much detail as possible – and about what happened after Meduza published his letter on November 1. Meduza publishes Dadin’s story, recorded by Anastasia Zotova, slightly edited for length.
This isn’t a correctional institution, it’s a concentration camp. People aren’t held here to be to be reformed but to be humiliated. Please send a statement in my name to the Investigations Committee in connection with the fact that a whole array of torture is being used on the prisoners in IK-7. The beatings and torture aren’t stopping even now, after the intervention by [human rights ombudsman] Tatyana Moskalkova and the arrival of members of the HRC [president’s Human Rights Council] Pavel Chikov and Igor Kalyapin.
I hear people being beaten, I hear them shouting. I know the torture with hunger and cold is continuing, and I can’t write a complaint about that myself. I’m prepared to give specific dates, but personally in a conversation with human rights defenders, because I’m afraid the guard will find out and also delete those video recordings (Pavel Chikov said that the recording of Dadin’s beating may have been deleted, as the data from the video cameras is stored for 30 days, and the incident happened in September – Meduza). I know that recently they deleted video recordings from the hard disk and I want to request all the video recordings from all the cells that should exist – while at least some are still saved. It will be easy to confirm my words because the beatings take place here virtually every day.
Like Nazi concentration camps
I’m asking you to write a statement to the Investigations Committee because I can’t do that myself: according to the daily schedule you can only write something (letters or complaints) in your free time, and you get half an hour for that. The rest of the time is work, like cleaning your cell. And if you cleaned in half an hour you can’t do nothing – you have to sweep the floor a second and a third time. If they see that you’re not working they send you to the punishment cell. It reminds me of stories I read about Nazi concentration camps: the prisoners were forced to do pointless work like dragging bricks from place to place.
Your personal time is almost completely spent on going from your cell to the store room because you don’t have any personal things with you, not even food – it’s all in the store room. When you get there there are only five minutes left, and, realising that you won’t write a complaint, you try to eat something, because here you dream all day about a bit of salami and a bit of bread – just like in the story One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. You dream about food at night, and when you imagine a long visit, you don’t think about being able to hug your wife or sister, but about them bringing you food. I think the prison guards reduce our “personal time”, exploiting the fact that we have no watches and can’t check.
The worst thing for a person starts when he’s just arrived at IK-7. They throw him into the “transfer room”. The guards first assured me that this was a special cell for new arrivals, a kind of quarantine, but in fact it’s just the punishment cell. I found out that it was the punishment cell because later they forced me to sign a statement on being placed in the punishment cell supposedly for some blades they found on me (they “find” these blades on all arrivals, try asking for the documents on placement in the punishment cell for all transferees!).
Then they threw me into that same “transfer room” a few more times. In total I spent 45 days there, and they were 45 days of hell. There’s no insulation in that cell. If it’s minus 10 outside, it’s the same in the cell. And they give you just one jumpsuit, and take away all your personal things, so there’s no way to warm up. At night I lay under a blanket having cramps from the cold, and I only thought about holding on at least for a week. I dreamed of food – in the first days I went on hunger strike, then they forced me to abandon it, but they fed me short rations. I’d brought the regulations on food according to internal discipline from the pre-trial detention centre, but they took them away from me. I remembered some by heart and tried to compare – it turned out that the portions were approximately halved. You can withstand torture with cold and hunger for one or two days, but when it goes on continuously and you don’t know when it will end, it’s just unbearable. I really hoped for help, because I’d asked to send letters about my situation to my wife and mother (by law they have to do this). But they didn’t send one to my wife, because I didn’t know her address by heart, and they didn’t let me look in my notebook, saying, “If you don’t remember, we don’t care”. I had my mother’s address, but my letter apparently didn’t reach her.
On September 11 they first tried to “put me on a brace” during inspection – after I went on hunger strike on the 10th [as a sign of protest against being put in the punishment cell]. The “brace” is when you’re standing two steps from the wall and the backs of your hands are pushed against it. You face downwards and your legs are as wide apart as possible. No law, no instruction regulates this particular pose, I checked. When a prisoner is “standing in the brace” it’s easy to beat him. They beat you on your head - on the back of your neck, on your temples and on your crown, but not with their fists, with the palms of their hands, so they don’t leave marks. They kick you, but not with the toe of their boots, with the flats of their soles – on your trunk, on your legs, on your inner thighs, and on your groin. When you try to protect yourself with your arms, your arms get hit too. I had a bruise from a blow on my elbow – it probably stayed there for a month. I also had bruises on my inner thighs. They beat you until you fall down. When you get up they beat you again until you agree with what they say. They tell you, for example, “You’re worthless, you’re a faggot,” and you have to reply, “I’m worthless, I’m a faggot.” They forced me to say, “Putin is our president”, because I’m an opposition activist.
Also you can’t see the faces of the people who are beating you because you’re standing with your back to them. And they don’t introduce themselves, of course – they beat you anonymously and with a sense of their own impunity. At some point I couldn’t stand it and I screamed, a woman orderly came up to me and said, “Stop beating him now.” I asked her name because there was a chance to call her as a witness, but she didn’t tell me. And the torture wasn’t recorded.
In the video recordings the guards try to talk politely. For example, when I arrived at the colony, I complained that I’d lost some of my personal things during the transfer. They said on the recording: “It’s fine, your things got here,” but in fact they hadn’t arrived, I didn’t see them. I lost my shaving tools, for example – they gave me their own, but they don’t shave you, they tear your hair out. A guard watching you shave says, “Come on, shave better or we’ll send you to the punishment cell.” The bath-house, where they take you once a week, is the only place where you can somehow warm up, but the guards make sure they turn off the hot water, and when you say that the water is cold, they reply, “No, it’s hot.” And you have totake an icy shower.
When they started beating me I quoted the Constitution to them, article 21.2: “No one should be subjected to torture, violence or other behaviour or punishment that is cruel or humiliating to human dignity.” They completely seriously replied to me, “You don’t understand where you are, the Constitution is not in force here.” Meanwhile, according to article 15.1 of the Constitution, it is in force across the entire territory of the Russian Federation, and I don’t understand: have they decided to carry out an anti-constitutional coup at IK-7? Have they separated from the territory of Russia?
On September 12 the guards came to me again and told me to come out of my cell for an inspection. I realised they were going to beat me again, and I said, “What difference does it make where you beat me, in my cell or in the corridor?” Then they turned on the video recorder and started doing everything “by the book”: they said they would use force, they ran in and started twisting my arms. They used handcuffs illegally, because I didn’t resist, and what was the point of the handcuffs? I deliberately kept my palms gripped together so they couldn’t accuse me of resisting.
Beatings and torture
The first time the guards didn’t manage to make a nice video where everything was done “legally”, so they let me go, went out the door and started again. They opened the door and asked me to come out of my cell, I replied in the same way, they warned me about using force and rushed at me. They only managed to film everything so it was “legal” on the third take. The guards shouted on the video that I’d grabbed them by their clothes, but that wasn’t true, that should be clear on the video. And you should be able to hear that I refused to come out of my cell because I said, “I don’t care where you beat me.” I’m very glad that part of that video got into the Russian media, now the prison service can’t say that it was deleted. And if you ask for the whole video it should be clear that they dragged me out of my cell and beat me. I can’t tell you the names of those who participated in that, only their titles: one was a major and the others were a senior warrant officer and another senior lieutenant.
When they were beating me they put a hat with ear flaps over my head like a sack to cover my eyes. I thought they were going to kill me – then it all ended, and I smiled. That made them angrier, and someone said, “Look, he’s even smiling.” They started beating me harder and demanded that I apologise to [head of IK-7 Sergei] Kossiev for my behaviour. After that they made me go down on my knees and started sarcastically quoting parts of my letter to my wife – about the fact that I was ready to go down on my knees to the woman I love – to insult me. Then they pulled down my trousers and took me somewhere with trousers down and the hat over my head. Through a narrow strip between the hat and my face I saw they were taking me out to the exercise yard. Four men raised my arms, already handcuffed, and attached them to something, but I was able to stand up. Then one of them said, “No, not like that,” and they unhooked me and raised me higher so that I couldn’t stand. It was unbelievably painful, and I felt tears, snot and saliva start pouring out, and tried not to scream with all my might.
They took off my underwear and one of them said, “Now you’re going to be raped, call - ” either Venya or Benya. Another one got angry, saying, why did you say his name? The first one replied, “What does it matter, he won’t see anything, anyway.” Someone went for that Venya. A couple of minutes later they told me I had a last chance to avoid being raped if I would agree to stop my hunger strike. I agreed, but they said they’d still have to hang me up and would take me down from the rack only after a call from the administration.
After half an hour I wanted to scream, but I realised that I couldn’t say anything; when I tried to inhale and exhale there wasn’t enough air. I had to breathe only quickly and nervously. Then they finally took me down – the guards stated their demands: I had to do everything they said, stop my hunger strike and apologise to Kossiev. First they unhooked one arm and it hung down like a vine, then the other one – the same. Someone laughed that I’d fall down, but I didn’t fall, I just couldn’t straighten my back. They recorded all this on video – possibly they showed it to Kossiev afterwards.
Then I didn’t know Kossiev’s initials yet – S.L. – and to myself I called him the “camp sadist”. All those tortures and beatings take place here only with his knowledge. When I talked to him after being hung up, he said, “Yes, we beat prisoners here.” As if it’s his right. And he said, “They didn’t beat you hard, they’ll beat you harder if I order them to.” I said I’d go on dry hunger strike until the prosecutor came, but Kossiev only laughed and replied that if I complain they’d kill me right here and bury me. I realised that he wasn’t afraid of inspections or prosecutors.
There are inspections in the colony, but they’re very strange. They force you to look at the floor, and you only see the boots of the person inspecting you. They don’t tell you who came – from the prison service, from the human rights ombudsman or from the prosecutor’s office. Those who have been beaten and still have bruises are hidden from inspections in the punishment cell. And if you talk to someone then it’s in the presence of the same prison guards who had tortured you. Are you going to complain about them in front of them? They’ll remember it and beat you even harder. So it only makes sense to talk to a prisoner alone.
When I told my lawyer Alexei Liptser about what had happened, I was very afraid that you wouldn’t publish my letter, being afraid for me. But on November 1 I realised that you’d done everything, and done it all correctly. The prison guards started making a fuss. They took me to the sick ward, although they didn’t tell me where we were going or why. They stripped me naked there and started making a video; they didn’t explain what was going on. They transferred me from the punishment cell – true, not to normal conditions, but to a cell “for the violent”. There’s another man in with me, he’s really crazy, he even smears his excrement on the walls. Recently they took him away to somewhere – probably to the punishment cell.
The Moscow security officers came on November 2, then also on the third. I complained that I was in a cell with a crazy man, but at the colony they were told, “It’s for his own safety.” Then I talked to the local employees of the public monitoring commission and I got the impression that their head is very friendly with the local prison guards, but I told them everything anyway. I didn’t even realise that I had a seizure during my conversation with them (during the meeting with members of the Karelia public monitoring commission Dadin started feeling ill and was taken to hospital – Meduza), I didn’t understand: when I was talking I felt like I was swaying, and I couldn’t stop it, my body wouldn’t listen to me.
Then at some point I had trouble breathing, I couldn’t inhale or exhale, and I realised I was blacking out. No one told me there were convulsions and foam, it was only through a haze that I felt they were carrying me and undressing me, then I felt an injection in my buttock. And my teeth also hurt – probably they unclenched them to pull my tongue out.
The next day they took me somewhere, they didn’t say where. I saw a beautiful lake through the window of the police bus. They took photographs of my head, then drove me back without showing me any results. If I’d known they were taking me to hospital I would have asked them to check my heart, because recently I’ve been having chest pains.
Now they’re not beating me personally, but they continue to humiliate me. For example, “Did you need to complain? You didn’t get anything, you just made a fool of yourself in front of the whole world. And no one will save you.” They also say, “You’re a political, now you won’t come out of the punishment cell until the end of your sentence.”
The heads of correctional colony No. 7 haven’t commented on Ildar Dadin’s statements since Nov. 1.
Ildar Dadin's wife describes "total shock" at his condition in prison [an interview with Anastasia Zotova by Gleb Yarovoi via 7X7]
9 November 2016
Sarah Hurst has translated an interview with Anastasia Zotova, wife of Ildar Dadin, by Gleb Yarovoi, a correspondent for the media outlet 7X7
This translation was originally published on the website xSovietUnion. Permission to republish is gratefully acknowledged
Photo of Anastasia Zotova, who married Ildar Dadin when he was in prison in Moscow: XSovietUnion
The wife of convicted activist Ildar Dadin, Anastasia Zotova, was able to visit her husband on November 9 in colony No. 7 in the Karelian town of Segezha. After talking to her husband she told a 7x7 correspondent about what she was able to see in the correctional institution.
Anastasia Zotova: My only impression was the total shock, hell and surrealism of what was happening, because on August 22 when I saw Ildar, he was a completely different person – cheerful, lively, talking about how they practically sunbathed in the jail.
That was in Moscow?
Yes, the windows opened and they lay down and sunbathed. But when I saw this, it was a hell: his hands were shaking, his lips were twitching – one side, then the other... His cheek was twitching, a constant nervous tic. He tried to talk and choked. I was afraid he was going to have some kind of seizure. While we were talking he constantly said into the receiver through the glass, “Quiet, quiet, calm down, it’s OK.” It’s very frightening. And he said that despite all this fuss that’s been kicked up, people are still being beaten exactly the same way. Did you read the interview with [human rights defender] Kalyapin in Novaya gazeta?
Kalyapin described how they stopped him from talking to people, how they told him “don’t gossip”, how people who tried to go out with signs were taken away to another colony and rights defenders weren’t allowed to meet them. So it’s clear that the prison service is interfering in every way. Ildar said they continue to beat people in exactly the same way, he can hear shouts in the mornings. They don’t beat him but they put him in a cell for the ultra-violent and he’s in there with a man who’s genuinely crazy. They continue to put pressure on him they still don’t feed him.
Did you talk to him about transferring to a different colony?
I talked to him about transferring to another colony. He says he doesn’t want to be transferred because other people are still being beaten and he can’t abandon them because he has some connections with the media through me and his lawyer, and if he leaves there, they won’t have any. In the interview Kalyapin said that eight people tried to get the attention of the rights committee, they climbed out onto the roof with signs, but they were taken away to another colony. And Kalyapin asked if he could go there. No, you can’t. Can they be brought back? No, they can’t. That was it. Thosepeople were trying to attract attention, but now we don’t know what’s happened to them. I, for example, don’t know who those people are. Thanks to what has happened, Ildar now has the opportunity to attract attention to this problem to some degree. For example, he dictated a statement to the Investigations Committee. He himself can’t send a statement to the committee. He’s basically banned from writing anything. The day’s schedule is like this: at this time you clean up, at this time you do something there. Physically there’s no time to sit down and write something. So he said it and I recorded it all. As soon as I get to Moscow to the internet I’ll send his statement to the Investigations Committee.
What do I plan to do? I’ll ask, despite everything, for him to be transferred out of that colony, to be transferred just to hospital, because, damn, this isn’t normal. Ildar looks exactly like my 80-year-old grandpa after a stroke. The shakingmouth, those lips, all of it... He’s 34, it’s not normal. If he stays in that colony, I don’t know how this will end.
Did he have a lawyer? Is there any progress on that front?
He had a lawyer yesterday, but I didn’t talk to her, because she was on a plane and then I was on a plane. “You’re on land, I’m at see, there’s no way we can meet” [she laughs]. I’ll get to Moscow and I’ll talk to her. She also promised to call a lawyer lady tomorrow from Segezha so that Ildar has contact with a local lawyer who can go there once a day, because Ildar says, “I can’t write complaints. I need a lawyer to see me who can write all these complaints.” He has to complain about all these spells in the punishment cell, because it’s clear that they were completely illegal.
We talked for four hours, I sat there, I wrote it down... I didn’t understand half of what he said. I have to put all that on the computer too now and, I don’t know, translate it into English, publish it all, because it’s so hellish. He even said the same things that were in his letter, but it’s all much more hellish in the details. It’s just unbelievable.
Do they monitor your conversation via the phone? Does anyone listen to it?
All conversations on the phone are monitored, of course. I think all the leaders of the colony listened to our conversation. But they can’t ban him from talking about all that.
What help do you need, what actions?
I don’t know yet. I’ve been asked what people who aren’t Russian citizens can do – from Europe, the European Union... I tell them all the same thing: you have to write letters, you have to write to the Investigations Committee and demand that they investigate the case. You have to write, I don’t know, to [Putin’s ombudsman] Moskalkova, write to the whole leadership of the prison service, write demands to transfer Ildar to hospital because of the condition of his health. Raise this problem as much as possible, because now they’re trying to sweep this whole case under the rug. I don’t know if you’re aware, from Kalyapin’s interview I know that a man with the name Fedotov took them to the colony. He’s the former head of the “seven” [the colony]. In 2012 he was the head of the “seven”, and then there were also reports of torture. Then all those reports were happily covered up, Fedotov was promoted, and Kossiev became the head of the “seven”. It’s clear that they’ll protect Kossiev, they’ll do whatever they want so that this doesn’t get out.
Everyone who has a brain should admit that torture shouldn’t exist. The whole world should fight this. I don’t know if we can win this in all colonies. In this particular colony all the people who took part in torture should be punished, and I mean criminally prosecuted, not just disciplined. This is just as clear as day.
So you need the maximum publicity that can be done, that’s the most important thing.
Yes, because if there isn’t that publicity they can do anything they want. And our only chance is to attract attention, above all, in Moscow. Because in Karelia they’re all connected with each other.
How often can you get to see Ildar now, and what about sending things?
In the strict conditions they’ve put him in illegally, obviously, parcels can be sent once every four months, and a short visit every six months and a long one every six months – so four visits a year. He promised to write a request for a long one. But it’s a problem because he can’t write there, as I said, they don’t give him time to write. I need to go to the colony and say give me a long visit. I can’t guarantee they’ll give me one.
* * *Activist Ildar Dadin was the first person in Russia to be convicted under article 212.1 of the Criminal Code (“Multiple violations of the established order of organising or holding gatherings, meetings, demonstrations, marches or pickets”). [He was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison.]
In September 2016 he was transferred to Karelia’s corrective colony No. 7 in the town of Segezha, where his lawyer told his wife about torture. Members of the Russian President’s Council on Human Rights Igor Kalyapin and Pavel Chikov went to see Dadin in the colony and came to the conclusion that his complaints were “confirmed on the site”. After a meeting with Dadin, federal human rights ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova recommended transferring him to a different colony.
Dozens of actions have taken place in Russia and abroad in support of Dadin. The international human rights organisation Amnesty International recognised the activist as a prisoner of conscience.
Elizabeth Teague: 'Promoting Human Rights, Civil Society and Democracy in Russia': Report on a meeting hosted by the Henry Jackson Society on 6 October 2016
19 October 2016
By Elizabeth Teague
Rights in Russia, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and the Henry Jackson Society joined forces on 6 October to host five representatives of Russian civil society at a discussion in London. The meeting was held on the record and a video will be posted on the HJS website. This brief report aims to sum up the main highlights. [Read more]
Thursday, 28 April 2016
Dear Mr. Bukovsky,
Recently we met for the first time. We talked about your release from a Soviet prison in 1976 and exchange for a Chilean prisoner in Zurich. We discussed the effectiveness of hunger strikes and public campaigns in cases such as that of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, now being held in a Moscow prison. I could not then have imagined that you would yourself soon begin a hunger strike.
Nadiya Savchenko used the only method available to her when faced by Russia, a dictatorship that scorns the rule of law. In the UK I believe we have the rule of law, our courts are independent and our juries are impartial. I cannot see a need for hunger strikes, therefore, especially by someone like yourself who is not being held in custody.
In a statement you issued on April 23 you complained that the UK courts are taking too long to hear your libel case. Not as long as the families of the Hillsborough disaster victims. Only now have they heard that their loved ones were unlawfully killed 27 years ago, at the football match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. They still have a fight ahead of them, moreover, to prosecute the culprits.
They did not achieve this goal by going on hunger strike, they fought for justice in the courts. British justice can indeed be slow, as we see from that example. The slowness is not necessarily deliberate, nor is it unique to your case.
It is unrealistic, if not legally impermissible, furthermore, for the UK legal system to meet your demand and hear your libel case BEFORE your trial, scheduled to start on 16 May before judge and jury at Cambridge Crown Court. The libel case should be decided after a verdict is reached in that criminal trial. This is only logical. Without knowing if you are guilty of the charges or not, surely a judge cannot determine whether you have been libelled? Naturally, if you are found innocent next month you can pursue your libel case.
Next. I cannot understand the basis of your claim of libel or defamation against the Crown Prosecution Service. Announcing or reporting the fact that someone has been criminally charged is not usually a libellous act. If the CPS had not published a statement on its website that you had been charged and on what charges, these same facts would have been reported when you appeared in court in Cambridge.
You say in your statement that there has been repeated exaggeration or distortion in the reporting of your case in the UK. So far as I can see, no one has prejudged you or said anything negative about you, other than stating that the charges have been brought. I have not heard that anyone in the UK has campaigned against you because you are a Soviet dissident. If they are doing so, it has not been publicised.
Probably most members of the British public today will not have heard of you. Few of them would see being a Soviet dissident as something negative, and a reason to vilify you. Any jury in your criminal case will, like me, want only to hear the evidence presented by both sides. Your background will be irrelevant to the case, except as it relates to any concrete facts you produce about Kremlin involvement.
Throughout your life you have campaigned for fair and open trials, first in the USSR and then from your new home in this country. Now you have the chance of an open trial yourself. Please, therefore, present your case in court on May 16 and stop this hunger strike before you do irreparable damage to your health.
If you persist in the claim that the UK cannot give you a fair trial, I must say I find such a statement very odd. It suggests that the verdict in all our criminal cases are potentially tainted by politics. Having followed trials in Russia and this country I do not think our courts are like those in Russia. I am surprised and disappointed that you seem to do so.
I remain confident that justice will be done in your case. I ask you, after the past year’s preparation to answer these charges, to take up this challenge – have your day in court before the public and the media, face judge and jury in Cambridge in three weeks’ time.
24 April 2016
By Masha Karp
My British friends are puzzled: why should one weaken oneself? Why jeopardize one’s already very poor health? Can’t things be resolved in court? No, says Vladimir Bukovsky, a man of outstanding courage and integrity, who has devoted his life to the struggle with the Soviet regime, spent 12 years in the Soviet prisons and mental hospitals and was banished from his native country. He has lived in Britain since 1976, first admiring the country, but now getting desperate about its failure to understand the sinister character of the current Russian regime. [Read more]
18 April 2016
By Poel Karp
Next year is the centenary of the Russian Revolution, which changed the world. Marx spread the faith that the working class would not only achieve equality under the law but that, having reached the highest level of capitalism and become the majority of the population, it would institute a dictatorship of the proletariat in all developed countries. Then the state would wither away and Communism would dawn. The October Revolution lifted its prayers to Marx, but it transformed his faith. It didn't wait for other countries or for a higher level of capitalism. It took place in backward Russia, and it didn't care that the working class in Russia was but a small portion of the population. The Russian Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, relied on will and force, and under them the state didn't wither away, it took ever more control. First of industry, and from 1929 agriculture as well, and even science and the arts. And it took command of the colonies of the previous empire. The USSR lived Mussolini-style: "Everything in the state, nothing outside the state". Our country introduced totalitarianism first, before Italy. [Read more]
Translated by Alissa Leigh-Valles
By Sarah Hurst
Outside Moscow the penalties for any form of dissent are even more arbitrary and harsh than in the capital itself. Regional authorities seem to be competing to prove how many “traitors”, “extremists” and “fifth columnists” they can convict. It is only necessary to have expressed support for Ukraine on a personal social media page that only a few friends view to fall into the net. Funnily enough, after being prosecuted, people sometimes become more politically active rather than less.
Darya Polyudova, 27, from Krasnodar, was added to Memorial’s list of political prisoners in October 2014. She was detained after calling on social media for people to join an unauthorised “March for the Federalisation of Kuban” that was planned for August 17, 2014. A judge found an excuse to jail her for two weeks for “minor hooliganism” after an alleged dispute with a passer-by on the street. But instead of releasing her after the two weeks had passed, Polyudova was taken into custody on extremism charges. At the time she only had 38 followers on social media.
On February 25, 2015 Polyudova was released from detention with an agreement not to leave the area before trial. In May she was sentenced to 10 days in prison for handing out leaflets that said “Russia and Ukraine without Putin”. In June she was sentenced to another 10 days in prison without any real reason being given. In July she was sentenced to five days in prison for two posts on her VKontakte social media page. In October she was sentenced to 15 days in prison for reposting an anti-Nazi video clip made by two Russian satirists, who spoke out in her defence.
In December Polyudova was convicted on the extremism charge for encouraging people to go on the march in 2014 and sentenced to two years in a prison colony. She was allowed to remain free pending her appeal. In her final statement in court Polyudova said: “A guilty verdict by this court is intended to frighten people with repressions, but the government is turning more and more people against it. You can’t put everyone in prison. You put one person behind bars today and tomorrow thousands of people will come out on the streets. The regime will collapse anyway and everyone will be free.”
Svetlana Davydova, a mother of seven young children in Smolensk Region, became famous after being charged with treason and taken to Moscow’s Lefortovo prison in January 2015. Her “crime” was to have called the Ukrainian embassy and warned them that a military base near her home was empty and that the troops had probably deployed to Ukraine. In early February Davydova was released and the treason charge, for which she could have received up to 20 years in prison, was eventually dropped. Most likely because finding her guilty would have proved that Russian troops really were in Ukraine.
After the treason charge was dropped in March, Davydova gave a press conference with her lawyer, Ivan Pavlov. She said that she wouldn’t be asking for compensation, because taxpayers’ money could go to better causes, but added that Nadiya Savchenko should be released.
On April 6, an assistant to Russia’s prosecutor-general wrote a letter to Davydova in which he said: “On behalf of the government I offer you an official apology for the harm you suffered as a result of the criminal prosecution... which was closed on 13.03.2015 by the Investigations Department of the FSB... in connection with the absence of evidence of a crime.”
Since her prosecution Davydova has continued to express her views on Facebook, where she has also published electronic messages she has sent to Putin and the responses she has received from civil servants. In one of the letters in October 2015 she wrote: “Now it is as if everyone had forgotten that a certain Vladimir Putin took the investigation of the brutal murder of Boris Yefimovich Nemtsov under his personal control, and it seems that Vladimir Putin himself has forgotten this too. And in all the time that the investigation has been going on, nothing has been heard from this controller. They said on TV that V.V. Putin was taking it under his personal control! This really turns out to be quite rotten control by Vladimir Putin. You work badly, Vladimir Putin! My personal assessment.”
In March 2016 Davydova wrote to Putin: “How many Russian soldiers did Ramzan Kadyrov kill, carrying out the orders of Akhmad Kadyrov (his father) to kill as many Russians as possible? How many mothers in Russia never got to see their sons, who were carrying out the orders of the Russian government in Chechnya, and were killed at the hands of Ramzan Kadyrov and others like him by the will of Akhmad Kadyrov? Answer the specific questions in this message, Commander-in-Chief President Putin, for your foot soldier Ramzan Kadyrov, as he calls himself.”
The last woman in this series, although almost certainly not the last who will fall victim to Putin’s repressions, is Yekaterina Vologzheninova from Yekaterinburg. Vologzheninova is a single mother and supermarket cashier who has a large collection of framed pictures of Boris Nemtsov on the wall of her flat. Her Facebook profile picture has a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag tint over it. Vologzheninova was convicted of extremism in February 2016 for her reposts of pro-Ukrainian images to a small number of friends on VKontakte. She has been added to Russia’s list of extremists and terrorists. A judge sentenced her to 320 hours of compulsory work and ordered her laptop and mouse to be destroyed. Supporters of Vologzheninova immediately started a campaign to save the innocent computer mouse.
“I’m not a member of the opposition. I’m not a white ribbon or a civic activist,” Vologzheninova told Grani.ru. “It’s just that when all this lunacy started after the Olympics... First Crimea. It was impulsive, but I got interested: it was supposed to be a referendum, but why the military, then?... Before that I watched the Maidan, transfixed,” she continued.
“But the events in Donbass were the detonator,” Vologzheninova said. “It got interesting. Firstly, all the TV channels were saying that there was a junta and Banderites there. It was selective and didn’t add up in my head. I started looking at various websites. I wanted to find out what was really happening... I wanted to understand Ukrainians’ thoughts about what was happening, to hear the victims’ side of the story. I wanted to understand their pain and distress.”
The destruction of Vologzheninova’s laptop (or “execution”, as her fans call it) has not stopped her from writing about politics on Facebook. She has a picture of Savchenko as her cover photograph with a quote in Ukrainian about not giving up. It seems that no matter how many women Putin tries to crush, there will always be more ready to resist.
Originally published on X Soviet on 7 March 2016 and reprinted by kind permission
by Sarah Hurst
The Pussy Riot trial in 2012 could be said to have launched a new era of repressions against protesters in Russia. It demonstrated that Vladimir Putin was already completely indifferent to public opinion, as he ignored calls from all over the world to show leniency towards the young women. Only Yekaterina Samutsevich had her sentence suspended, while Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina spent nearly two years in pre-trial detention and remote prison colonies.
The three women, along with two others who weren’t arrested, had performed their “Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on February 21, 2012, and afterwards released a video on YouTube that has now been viewed by over 3 million people.
Two of the defence lawyers for Pussy Riot were Mark Feygin and Nikolai Polozov, who subsequently defended Nadiya Savchenko. Feygin said: “Under no circumstances will the girls ask for a pardon [from Putin]... They will not beg and humiliate themselves before such a bastard.” Tolokonnikova stated: “Our imprisonment serves as a clear and unambiguous sign that freedom is being taken away from the entire country.”
Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were released on December 23, 2013, shortly before the end of their sentences. The State Duma had approved an amnesty for them as part of a brief effort by Putin to claim some respectability before the Sochi Winter Olympics. He also released the “Arctic 30” – Greenpeace protesters who had tried to board a Russian oil rig – and oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was exiled to Europe. But meanwhile, away from the international spotlight, environmental activist Yevgeny Vitishko was arrested and imprisoned.
At the Sochi Olympics the released Pussy Riot members were whipped by Cossacks angry at another of their attempts to stage a performance, of a song called “Putin will Teach You to Love the Motherland”. They also turned this into a music video, which has received over 1.2 million views. Tolokonnikova recently made a video parodying Russia’s prosecutor-general Yuri Chaika, who has been accused of links with organised crime (almost 2 million views).
The Pussy Riot members have been campaigning for prisoners’ rights through their newly-formed NGO Zona Prava. On March 6, 2014 they were in a McDonald’s in Nizhny Novgorod, where they were investigating abuses at a prison. A group of pro-Putin thugs wearing orange and black “patriotic” St. George ribbons threw green chemicals at them. Pussy Riot performed at British street artist Banksy’s temporary Dismaland theme park in Weston-super-Mare in September 2015, drawing attention to the European migrant crisis.
Putin didn’t wait for the Sochi Olympics to end before annexing Crimea and creating millions more enemies in the form of Ukrainians and their supporters. The other women I want to talk about in this series were all motivated by their despair at the aggression Putin has unleashed against Ukraine. The first two are Yekaterina Maldon and Irina Kalmykova, who protested against the war in Moscow many times in 2014, often together. Due to constant persecution by the Russian authorities they have now both left the country.
I first saw Katya Maldon protesting in a video from May 23, 2014 of her simply walking around Moscow wearing a blue and yellow scarf, the colours of the Ukrainian flag, being harassed by angry members of the public, some of whom offered her St. George ribbons. Finally she was detained by police. I added Maldon as a friend on Facebook and started regularly following her activities and those of other protesters in Moscow.
On June 15, 2014, Maldon posted on Facebook that she and Irina Kalmykova were in a police van, having been detained after bringing flowers to the Ukrainian embassy in memory of 49 Ukrainian troops who had been killed the previous day when a plane was shot down by Kremlin-backed militants. “In front of us they tore up the placard of a man who was begging forgiveness from Ukraine for Putin, and his forehead was bloody, apparently a provocateur cut the older man’s forehead with a piece of the plywood placard!”, Maldon wrote.
Probably Maldon’s best-known protest (almost 3 million views on YouTube) took place in November 2014 at the Moscow Art Theatre, where Mikhail Porechenkov was starring in “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Porechenkov had been seen in a video firing a machine gun at Ukrainian positions at Donetsk airport while wearing a press helmet. Maldon threw a toy gun at Porechenkov during the curtain call and shouted, “Come on, Misha, shoot!”
On January 14, 2015, Maldon was arrested along with other activists for playing the Ukrainian national anthem on a loudspeaker outside the prison where Nadiya Savchenko was being held. During another of her arrests Maldon was beaten by police. As the mother of young children, she managed to avoid spending weeks in prison like some other protesters. But authorities decided to take revenge on her another way, by daubing the entrance to her block of flats with pro-Ukrainian slogans.
Maldon was interviewed as a “witness” to the vandalism, but it was clear to her that she would soon be framed as a suspect. In April 2015 she fled to Kiev. That happened to be the exact time when I arrived there, unaware of her move, to make a film about Russian activists who were trying to emigrate to Ukraine. “I got tired of waiting for the doorbell to ring and of living under the constant threat,” Maldon told me. “I don’t want to be a seamstress in a prison colony or live under house arrest,” she explained. Maldon is now claiming asylum in Germany, and still protesting against Putin.
Irina Kalmykova’s story followed a similar path. In August 2014 she appeared in court and was fined about $570 for lighting a candle in commemoration of people who had been killed in Ukraine. “As a person and as a mother I don’t understand why Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have to die,” she said emotionally. “And yet you’re putting me on trial,” she added.
In February 2015 Kalmykova’s 34-year-old daughter Alesya Malakyan was briefly abducted and told that her mother must give up her protest activities. Kalmykova talked about the incident in a Radio Svoboda video. Kalmykova was upset but continued to protest. On May 11, 2015 she was detained for holding up a sign saying “Happy birthday Nadiya!” outside the prison where Savchenko was being held.
Kalmykova became one of four protesters charged under article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code, a new law that envisages a penalty of up to five years in prison for participating in multiple unauthorised protests. The others are Ildar Dadin, Vladimir Ionov and Mark Galperin. Dadin was sentenced to three years in prison on December 7, 2015, and Ionov has claimed asylum in Ukraine. Galperin is still free, campaigning for a democratic revolution in Moscow.
Kalmykova’s trial was already under way when she also decided to leave the country with her 14-year-old son. But she could only get as far as Minsk because her son didn’t have a passport. She was stuck there for a few months in late 2015, hoping that the Russian embassy would issue one for him: they didn’t know that Kalmykova was a fugitive. When she missed her court appearances, her lawyers said that she was ill. But when it became clear that the judge would issue an order for Kalmykova to be tracked down, as had happened with Ionov, Kalmykova and her son sneaked across the border to Ukraine in late January 2016.
Soon after arriving in Ukraine Kalmykova received the terrible news that her daughter Alesya had died suddenly in unclear circumstances. She was devastated, unable to return to Russia for Alesya’s funeral. Despite her grief she joined an international day of picketing for Ildar Dadin in Kiev on February 7.
First published on X-Soviet, 7 March 2016. Reprinted by kind permission
By Sarah Hurst
The assassinations of three women in the Putin era shocked Russia, but led to no meaningful consequences. The first and best-known case was that of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who had been exposing brutality in Chechnya and Putin’s repressions. In the light of the Ukraine war it is worth mentioning that Politkovskaya’s parents were Ukrainian – they were Soviet diplomats at the United Nations. Politkovskaya started writing for the liberal Novaya Gazeta in 1999.
Politkovskaya wrote extensively about the carnage caused by Russian troops in Chechnya. In 2001 she was detained by military officials in a village in Chechnya, beaten by Russian troops and subjected to a mock execution. When terrorists took hostages at a school in Beslan in September 2004, Politkovskaya tried to fly down to participate in negotiations, but she fell violently ill and lost consciousness after drinking tea given to her by an Aeroflot flight attendant.
Nothing intimidated Politkovskaya into ceasing her activities. “We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance,” she wrote. “All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it’s total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial – whatever our special services, Putin’s guard dogs, see fit.”
In her final interview Politkovskaya described Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov as the “Chechen Stalin of our days”. Politkovskaya was shot dead in the lift of her block of flats on October 7, 2006 – Putin’s birthday. She was 48. Five men were convicted of murdering her in May 2014, including three Chechen brothers. The organiser of the murder was not named.
On October 19, 2006 – 12 days after the murder – former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko was in the audience at a discussion at the Frontline Club in London. When Politkovskaya’s murder was mentioned, Litvinenko said: “Anna was killed by Mr. Putin, the president of the Russian Federation.” Politkovskaya and Litvinenko had been friends for three years, he said, and she had told him that she had received threats from Putin after the publication of her book “Putin’s Russia”. On November 1, Litvinenko was fatally poisoned with polonium by agents of Putin.
Anastasia Baburova was also a journalist with Novaya Gazeta, 25 years old when she was shot dead in Moscow on January 19, 2009. She and human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who was killed together with her, were leaving a press conference. Markelov, 34, had represented Politkovskaya. Baburova was born in Sevastopol, Crimea, and spoke Ukrainian as well as Russian. She was active in the anarchist environmental movement and had participated in a demonstration against the destruction of the Khimki forest to build a road. She had been investigating neo-Nazis for Novaya Gazeta.
In May 2011 a neo-Nazi couple, Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis, were sentenced to life imprisonment and 18 years in prison respectively for the murders of Baburova and Markelov. They were associated with the BORN group (Battle Organisation of Russian Nationalists). In 2015 another member of BORN, Ilya Goryachev, was sentenced in the case. The defendants themselves said that they received instructions from high-ranking officials in the Kremlin. One of those officials was said to be Pavel Karpov, named by Nadiya Savchenko’s defence lawyers as her kidnapper. Every year Moscow activists hold an anti-fascist march on the anniversary of the murders of Baburova and Markelov.
The third assassination of a woman was that of 51-year-old human rights activist Natalia Estemirova. She was abducted from her home in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, on July 15, 2009. Her remains were found in the woods with bullet wounds in the head and chest area. Estemirova was the widow of a Chechen policeman and had been gathering evidence on human rights violations since 1999. She was a representative of the Memorial human rights centre in Grozny and contributed to Novaya Gazeta. In October 2007 Estemirova was given the first Anna Politkovskaya Award by human rights organisation Reach All Women in War (RAW).
Memorial’s chairman, Oleg Orlov, said: “I know, I am sure who is guilty of Natalia Estemirova’s murder, we all know him. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov.” Kadyrov himself commented in 2010: “Estemirova’s murder was provoked by the people who murdered Politkovskaya and Litvinenko. I am pretty sure that that’s [Boris] Berezovsky’s job. Politkovskaya was speaking about Chechnya all the time. When everything became fine in our republic, and there was nothing to blame us for, it was the perfect time to kill her and shift the blame to Kadyrov to undermine the system.” No one has been charged with Estemirova’s murder. Ramzan Kadyrov is also the prime suspect in the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in February 2015.
First published on X-Soviet, 7 March 2016. Reprinted by kind permission
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