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Zoya Svetova: From the “student terrorist case” to the “Network case” - How cases against terrorist organizations are fabricated and how a Meduza article fits in here

posted 1 Mar 2020, 08:39 by Translation Service   [ updated 1 Mar 2020, 08:42 ]

23 February 2020

By Zoya Svetova, journalist, human rights activist, winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group’s human rights prize

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Echo of Moscow]

When did they start doing this? And when did they train us not to be indignant, not to notice falsifications but rather consider them the norm?

On 10 February in Penza, a sentence was issued in the Network* case, a sentence that horrified many and made them loudly express their disagreement with the practice of torture and the fabrication of cases.

I am trying to remember the first similar case wholly fabricated for the sake of the political situation. For me, of course, it’s the “case of the Chechen student terrorist” Zara Murtazalieva, who the Moscow City Court sentenced in 2004 to nine years in a prison colony for “preparing to commit a terrorist act.”

Campaigns galore

The case concerned the preparation of an explosion at the Okhotny Ryad shopping center, which the Chechen student had allegedly prepared together with two other young Russian women who had converted to Islam. Proof of guilt was the plastic explosive planted in her purse, photographs of couples kissing on the shopping center escalator, and recordings from surveillance cameras installed in a rented apartment on which Murtazalieva discusses the actions of Russian soldiers in Chechnya, clothes, and makeup. I wrote about this case, attended the trial, and tried to understand how the investigators, judge, and prosecutor could live with themselves after fabricating all this. Now I understand how: just fine.

Judge Marina Komarova already had behind her a candidate dissertation on a comparative analysis of antiterrorist legislation in Russia and the world. In Moscow City Court she specialized in “terrorist” and “espionage” cases; essentially, she was a special services judge. For example, she tried the defendants in the explosion at the apartment building in Volgodonsk, and the “spies” Igor Sutyagin and Valentin Moiseev. Lawyers I know spoke of Komarova as a “competent judge,” meaning she could not have failed to understand and see that there was no proof of Murtazalieva’s guilt in the case materials. Then why nine years? And the prosecutor, Yulia Safina, who asked that the defendant be sentenced to 12 years of prison colony for conversations about the Chechen war, is now a judge on the Basmanny court.

The Murtazalieva case was one of the first cases that struck me and wouldn’t let me go, the way the New Greatness and Network cases won’t let go of many young journalists now.

As we know, our law enforcement officers and courts live by “campaigns.” In the early 2000s, Chechens, Ingush, and people from the Caucasus in general were “designated” to be terrorists. After Crimea’s annexation, they began to “designate” Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars as terrorists, which, actually, has not stopped cases from arising from time to time seemingly from a past vector (and now I’m thinking only of trials that took place in Moscow), such as the “case of the preparation of the terrorist act at the Kirghizia cinema.”

The case began with a statement made by a resident on Natasha Kachuevskaya street, a retired FSB [Federal Security Service] employee, who thought the lodgers in one of the apartments they rented on the same stairwell looked like “extremists.”

The rest was a matter of mechanics. Law enforcement officers from various divisions of the MVD [Interior Ministry] and FSB carried out a search of the apartment, and they were joined by representatives of the Russian FSB’s Service for the Defence of the Constitutional Order and the Fight Against Terrorism.

The case was investigated for nearly a year at the Moscow Investigative Committee, and in September 2014, a special investigator, Captain Ivan Shcherbakov, issued an unexpected decision. He had arrived at the conclusion that the sole authentically established fact in the investigation’s framework was the presence of a weapon in the apartment. And so he dropped what he saw as three extraneous charges for “homicide,” “terrorist act,” and “incitement of hatred or hostility,” leaving only “possessing a weapon.” This investigator’s resolution in and of itself was unique; scarcely could you encounter an analogy in similar cases: “… The defendants’ actions show no signs of a crime under the article on preparation of a terrorist act inasmuch as no objective evidence was obtained on the purposes for keeping [the weapon and explosive substances]. The presence in the apartment of religious literature, including of a radical nature, in and of itself does not constitute a crime under the article on incitement of hatred or hostility.”

The investigation was handed over to the MVD investigative administration, but by that time the defendants had been in custody for a year and under that article they had to be released, so the case would fall apart. In order to prevent this, the MVD investigator restored to the case the articles removed by his colleague from the Investigative Committee, extended the investigation for up to 18 months, and successfully handed it over to trial.

There was no terrorism: 11-13 years hard labour

According to the prosecution, the 15 people involved in this case – allegedly members of the banned international organisation “Takfir wal-Hijra” – planned a terrorist attack on the Kirghizia cinema. An expert in Islamic extremism, Vitaly Ponomarev, doubts the existence of such an organisation, or in Russia in any case. This is the view of Memorial Human Rights Centre, which recognised those involved in the case as political prisoners.

Shortly before the verdict, lawyers held a press conference in which they detailed inconsistencies in the investigation. It struck me then that the explosive devices and martyrs’ belts were found wrapped in cellophane during a search under mattresses and pillows in a rented apartment on Moscow’s Kachuevskaya Street. No fingerprints belonging to the accused were found on these ‘finds’. Lawyers are sure that the explosive materials were planted in the apartment by the search officers, as was the ammunition found on another of the accused – Tazhib Makhmudov, a Perekrestok supermarket driver who lived at his father-in-law’s flat near Voikovskaya metro station. An unwitnessed search was conducted, and 12 rounds of ammunition were found in his father-in-law’s bedside table. Tazhib Makhmudov, considered the leader of the banned international organisation, was charged with their possession.

But the most incredible fabrication was the testimony of a secret witness under the pseudonym Maksim Petrov. He told the investigation that those involved were preparing a terrorist act at the cinema near Novogireevo metro station from January 1-10 2014, and were keeping explosive devices and ammunition in their home. At the trial, it turned out that one of the defendants was this secret witness. When his pseudonym was uncovered, he stated that he never gave such evidence, and that he signed his statement without looking at it, trusting the investigator. The defence demanded in court that these testimonies be excluded from the case materials as they were unacceptable evidence. However, the court used them as the basis for its verdict, along with the testimony of another secret witness, a cellmate in the pre-trial detention centre where one of the defendants had been held. Incidentally, using cellmates to confirm charges when the defendants do not plead guilty is common practice in investigations. The value of such evidence is paltry, as it is obvious that if the person does not plead guilty, then he will not openly confide in a cellmate. But in the absence of good evidence, judges often base their convictions on this.

So in the case of “Preparing an act of terrorism at the Kirghizia cinema”, all 15 defendants were sentenced to 11-13 years in prison. None of them pleaded guilty.

Human rights activists have tried to attract the attention of journalists and the general public. Several publications wrote about it but alas these failed to stress that it was clear the case had been thought up in the investigator’s office (proven by the fact that the terrorism charges were withdrawn as they were groundless).

Torture, secret witnesses and a deal with justice

The case of UNA-UNSO [‘Ukrainian National Assembly']* members Nikolai Karpiuk and Stanislav Klykh, who were detained in Russia in 2014, accused of participating in the first Chechen war on the side of the separatists, did not cause much public outrage. The accused could not find lawyers for more than six months. Once they did, it turned out that Klykh was subjected to torture and had confessed under durress. His mother, having met with her son, said Klykh was suffering from significant mental health issues. The prosecution was based on the testimony of a single witness, who likely fought on the side of Chechen separatists in 1994. This individual ended up in prison for murder and, facing serious illness, agreed to testify against people unknown to him in exchange for leniency. The court in Chechnya sentenced Nikolai Karpiuk and Stanislav Klykh to 22.5 and 20 years respectively in a strict regime prison colony.

I have spoken about a few cases that could be used as examples of fabrication and falsification, which would be at home in a guidebook for investigators and operatives who prefer inventing crimes to solving them. I am sure that "guidebooks" like these have existed for a long time, because the methods used by investigators in different cases and regions are often similar to the point that they risk being confused with one another.

As a rule, the basis of the prosecution and sentencing is made up of testimony extracted under torture, as well as the agreement of witnesses who made deals with investigators and the testimony of "secret witnesses" (often cellmates of the accused) who invent information useful for the investigation.

Often in such cases, provocateurs are used, who encourage future defendants to talk and criticise the authorities while they secretly record them, and then pass the recordings to the security services. Such provocation worked, for example, in the case of the “Crimean terrorists" in which Oleg Sentsov and Aleksandr Kolchenko were convicted.

Recently, when cases of anti-government terror attacks began to appear, defendants in the cases were accused of writing the statutes of non-existent political organisations, an approach employed alongside the routine planting of physical evidence, be it weapons, explosives and ammunition.

The Network case was blatantly fabricated in full confidence that there would be no ramifications: the court would issue harsh sentences but society is accustomed to such cases, even if they are horrified.

To discredit and sow doubt

But the public outcry over this case – workers wrote letters in support, and some politicians appealed to the Prosecutor General to investigate the use of torture (Sergei Mironov, leader of A Just Russia, and KPRF’s Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Rashkin) – shows that society was not sitting by quietly. It seemed that the campaign to support those who received excessive prison terms for a non-existent crime would gain strength.

But at the exact same moment that this powerful campaign of solidarity with those convicted in the Network* case started gaining momentum, an article appeared in Meduza alleging that the defendants in the Penza case might be involved in the disappearance of Ekaterina Levchenko and the murder of Artem Dorofeyev. Levchenko and Dorofeyev knew the defendants in the Penza case. They disappeared in March 2017, and Dorofeyev’s body was later discovered in a forest in Ryazan. While in custody, the defendants in the Penza case were also interrogated as witnesses in the Dorofeyev murder case, but none of them were charged. Why?

Lack of evidence? Or perhaps the charge was being saved for later?

In Russian legal practice, when society begins to doubt the justice of a fabricated high-profile case, the defendants are charged with something new. This is what happened in the Yukos case and with Aleksei Navalny, who, after the Kirovles case, was charged in the Yves Rocher case.

Either way, the publication of an article on the possible involvement of Dmitry Pchelintsev and the other Penza case defendants in the double murder damages the extensive public campaign in their defence and discredits them, raising doubts about the need to defend them. Yet the weak evidence cited in the article does little to show the expediency of publishing information that raises doubts about its reliability, and it is not so much in the public interest that it justifies the hurry to publish it.

In point of fact, the article is playing into the hands of those who fabricated the case against a non-existent terrorist organisation.

It could also lead to even worse consequences: the investigation into the double murder in the Ryazan forest might resume, and the involvement of those already convicted in Penza on terrorism charges could be fabricated.

I find it hard to believe that the people who were willing to defend them when they were tortured into confessing their involvement in a non-existent terrorist organisation will fight for justice and the freedom of people charged with murder.

* An organisation banned in Russia.

Translated by Marian Schwartz, Nathalie Corbett, James Lofthouse and Nicky Brown

Aleksandr Cherkasov: Verdict in the Network case - where the impossible is the norm

posted 24 Feb 2020, 11:18 by Translation Service   [ updated 24 Feb 2020, 11:19 ]

11 February 2020

Aleksandr Cherkasov, chair of the board of Memorial Human Rights Centre and winner of a Moscow Helsinki Group prize

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy

On 10 February 2020 the verdict in the so-called ‘Network’ case was announced: seven young men, supporters of anarchist and anti-fascist ideas, were sentenced to terms in prison colonies ranging from six to 18 years for creating, or participating in, a terrorist group, and also for possessing weapons and ammunition.

The charges, and subsequently the verdict, were built on confessions the court should have rejected, not least because they were obtained by torture. Some of the defendants in the case were tortured after they had been detained, but before that detention had been formally recorded, during a time when they temporarily ‘disappeared’ from the purview of the law. The torture then continued until the defendants had given testimony that alligned with the charges fabricated previously. The Network group, evidently, was a paper creation, based on the materials of an ‘operational report’ about leftwing activists. Subsequently, individuals who knew each other but little or not at all were forced to admit to participation in a single ‘terrorist organisation.’

‘Participants’ in this organisation were not charged with the commission of any actions, nor with having developed specific plans, but only with indefinite intentions, with having ‘planned’ something criminal ‘in a place and at a time that have not been established, in circumstances that have not been established by the investigation, jointly with persons who have not been identified, guided by the ideology of anarchism,’ It is claimed that Network had a charter and held congresses. The investigators gave the title ‘congresses’ to various open meetings, including ordinary social gatherings at which one or other of those convicted was present or accidentally met with another (after all, most of the members of Network did not even know each other).

As experts have shown, the ‘charter’ of the group of anarchists (a thing which would in itself be amusing!) appeared on a computer after it had been seized, when the owner was already held on remand, and was then edited by unidentified persons. No fingerprints or other biological samples of the defendants were found anywhere on a meagre store of arms, including on the weapons and ammunition, that allegedly were discovered. Investigators, for their part, did not even try to establish the circumstances in which the weapons had been acquired. Pressure was applied not only to the defendants, but also to witnesses, many of whom complained about this and rejected testimony they had at first given. This weak ‘evidential base’ was strengthened by the testimony of ‘secret witnesses.’

During the trial it became evident that the Network organisation, that has been designated as ‘terrorist’ and banned in Russia, did not in fact exist.

Memorial Human Rights Centre has already recognised the defendants in the Network case as political prisoners (see our website).


The verdict in the Network case is already being called ‘unprecedented.’ However, there have been more than enough examples of similar sentences over the last twenty years.

From the very beginning of the ‘counter-terrorist operation’ in the North Caucasus, Russian federal military, law enforcement and security services made wide use of abductions, unlawful detentions and cruel torture, both against those suspected of ‘terrorism’ and against those who clearly had no connection to such crimes.

In recent years this practice has been extended to other Russian regions and to other categories of cases, and has been far from limited to cases related to ‘Islamic extremism.’

For example, Ukrainians Nikolai Karpiuk and Stanislav Klykh, under horrific torture during the investigation, admitted to all the charges fabricated against them of having allegedly participated in events of the First Chechen War. The judicial motivation for the conviction was a nonsense. But this did not hinder the sentencing of the two in 2016 to 20 and 22 years in prison colonies, respectively.

Fifteen people, who were sentenced in 2016 to jail terms of up to 13 years for allegedly preparing a terrorist attack on the Kirghizia cinema in Moscow, had in common only the fact that they were builders, most of whom did not know each other, but who had at various times rented a sleeping place in the same hostel. They confessed under torture to taking part in a ‘terrorist cell.’

Memorial has recognised those convicted in these cases as political prisoners. The list can be continued.


The use of torture and fabricated evidence in the Network case were known from the very beginning, in the winter of 2018. The St. Petersburg Public Oversight Commission was able to record marks of torture to which the suspects had testified. However, neither wide publicity nor appeals to the law enforcement agencies prevented the fabrication of the charges or the convictions. The case is worthy of the Stalin era in terms of its absurdity and lack of evidence for the charges, the methods of obtaining confessions and the severity of the sentences. However, it was developed and brought to a conclusion by investigators, prosecutors and the court not in secret, not in some deep dungeon, but, essentially, in full view of the public, in the spotlight.

Memorial Human Rights Centre, 11 February 2020

NB 'Network' is an organisation banned in Russia 

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

Genri Reznik: Unproven guilt is equivalent to proven innocence

posted 23 Feb 2020, 07:47 by Translation Service   [ updated 23 Feb 2020, 10:11 ]

14 February 2020

Genri Reznik is a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, vice-president of the Russian Federal Bar Association and first vice-president of the Moscow City Bar Association 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original s
ource: FPA]

Genri Reznik explains the importance of his ideas for continuing judicial reform, which have formed the basis of the proposals by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

Member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, vice-president of the Federal Chamber of Lawyers of the Russian Federation, first vice-president of the Law Chamber of the city of Moscow, Genri Reznik, gave an interview at the Kovalyov Readings explaining why it is so important to reinstate jury trials in bribery and sex crime cases, and talking about the need to introduce the institution of investigative judges. He also shared his opinion on securing the role of the bar in the Constitution.

In the interview, Genri Reznik spoke about the relevance of the main topic raised this year at the Kovalyov Readings – reconciliation in law. Speaking about the need to find alternative ways of combating crime, based on compromise and the elimination of coercion, he emphasized that in cases where the victim is reconciled with the one who caused the real harm, it becomes possible to achieve social justice. Of course, this does not apply to “savage murders that outrage our morality” and other serious crimes, which are only a small proportion of overall criminal activity. But in the majority of cases the perpetrator could avoid severe punishment, or even a criminal record, especially if the victim forgave the offender.

According to Genri Reznik, in the era of digitalisation, criminologists have ever greater opportunities to solve crimes and track not only a person’s actions but even their inner world. But if we build a democratic society, the crime rate should decrease. Moreover, “the state should not set itself utopian, unrealistic goals; there should be a sober view that crime is the inescapable companion of humankind.”

In his interview, Genri Reznik dwelt in detail on the legislative proposals made by  the chair of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, Vyacheslav Lebedev, on the need to expand the jurisdiction of courts with the participation of jurors and the introduction of the institution of investigative judges. The President of the Russian Federation gave instructions to study these issues to the Supreme Court following a meeting with members of the Human Rights Council, where Genri Reznik had voiced similar initiatives.

It follows that the sphere of jurisdiction that was initially given to jury trials, from which cases of bribery and sexual offences were removed, should be restored. Why was this done? “In these cases there is increased risk of fabrications, provocations and slander,” says Genri Reznik. “They have heightened susceptibility and there is considerable risk of convicting an innocent. But in a jury trial a person who pleads not guilty has a real chance of exonerating himself.”

Calling judicial activity a conveyor belt where case after case is considered and the majority end with a guilty verdict, Genri Reznik emphasized that it is in jury trials where the presumption of innocence really works, “when unproven guilt is equivalent to proven innocence." Whereas professional judges interpret all doubt in favour of the prosecution.

Answering a question about the prospect of introducing the institution of investigative judges, the vice-president of the Russian Federal Bar Association said that there was nothing new in the proposal: “the investigating judge is a professional figure who traditionally exists in a number of Western European states,” as well as being introduced in many post-Soviet states (the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan). Why is such a judge needed? “Right now, judges decide the question of protecting human rights during the preliminary investigation; they authorise actions related to the restriction of human rights, decide on the choice of preventative measures, authorise searches and the tapping of telephone conversations; and these same judges resolve complaints submitted by the defence about the actions of investigators. The same judges then consider the substance of a case.” And if the judge himself had decided to put the accused in a pre-trial detention centre, and then considers his case, this becomes a real test for his psychology. And results in a tendency to favour convicting.

Five years ago, Vladimir Putin had already ordered investigation into the possibility of introducing the institution of investigative judges, but all law enforcement agencies then opposed the position of the Supreme Court, which was not clearly articulated, Genri Reznik recalled. Then the chair of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation correctly reasoned that priority should be given to the introduction of new cassation and appeal authorities. But at the present time, Reznik considers, when these authorities have started working, Vyacheslav Lebedev supports the idea of instituting investigative judges; and now it is necessary to prepare thorough changes in the legislation so that this institution appears in the foreseeable future. The working group should work through this issue by 1 June and put forward appropriate proposals. The Vice-President of the Russian Federal Bar Association does not doubt that if the President of the Russian Federation submits the relevant bill, it will be adopted by the State Duma.

At the end of the interview, Genri Reznik expressed support for the proposal to consolidate the functions of the institution of the bar as a constituent part of the justice system in Chapter 7 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. However, he noted that "we must not accept amendments to the Constitution of the country at a sprint pace".

You can watch the video recording here.

Translated by Anna Bowles

Mikhail Zelenskiy on the trial of Andrei Barshai: "There is sheer madness in Meshchansky district court right now"

posted 23 Feb 2020, 07:33 by Translation Service   [ updated 23 Feb 2020, 07:37 ]

Mikhail Zelenskiy's Profile Photo, No photo description available.18 February 2020

by Mikhail Zelenskiy

Source: Facebook [Photo: Facebook]

There is sheer madness in Meshchansky district court right now. Judge Izotova doesn’t even try to pretend that the defendant or counsel has any right to an adversarial trial. Attorneys don’t even have time to finish a phrase before Izotova denies their requests and demands without any consideration.

What kind of judge is that? An ordinary judge. Here is a quote from the head of Moscow City Court Olga Egorova, who requires no introduction, taken from a transcript of the Moscow City Council meeting of 7 October 2015:

“Tatiana Yurevna [Izotova], born in 1987. In 2009, she was awarded a law degree. Length of service in the legal profession: five years.

“She has been working in the court system since 2006. She began working as a court secretary at the district level, then as magistrate’s secretary, then as assistant to the magistrate.

“By all accounts (you know that we have a high rate of turnover for secretaries and assistants, since pay is low, and therefore we know practically everyone when we discuss personnel) she was one of the best secretaries and assistants in the court district, so in 2011 I invited her to work in the Moscow City Court. She maintains standards, she does very good work, she is capable of the job of judge, and that is why I’m requesting she be appointed as a magistrate.”

After a total of two years in the magistrates' court, she was appointed (by decree of the President of the Russian Federation, 8 August 2017, No. 361) as a judge to Meshchansky district court, a meteoric rise in her career. That is why, in the case of Andrei Barshai, a 32-year-old judge is silencing attorneys, a judge of whom, four years ago, the head of the Moscow City Court could think of nothing better to say than that she was “among the best secretaries and assistants in the district.”

An excellent secretary. You should see how she works – like a staple-gun!

Read the report by Mediazona online.

Translated by Mark Nuckols

Writers and journalists speak out in support of political prisoners []

posted 17 Feb 2020, 06:41 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 17 Feb 2020, 06:53 ]

No photo description available.11 February 2020

More than one hundred writers, poets, journalists, translators, literary critics, publishers and other figures from the worlds of culture and civil society have signed an appeal expressing solidarity with Russia’s political prisoners. COLTA.RU has published the appeal in full. All those wishing to add their signatures can do so via this link



To Russia's political prisoners, prisoners of conscience 

Friends! Whether far or near, well-known or known only as names in press reports, languishing in prisons and penal colonies or still awaiting trial on remand, please know you are not alone, you are not forgotten: those at liberty remember you and wait for you.

Every day in all weathers in many cities across our country - in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and Kazan, Novosibirsk and Dubna, Rostov-on-Don, Ivanovo and Nizhny Novgorod - we are holding pickets, demanding your freedom. Every Friday hundreds of picketers in Moscow and St. Petersburg stand outside metro stations demanding justice and freedom for you. And this weekly picket is becoming a tradition in other Russian cities.

Every day via the Internet we spread the truth about you, about the charges against you, about their unlawfulness, about the invalidity of your convictions. Every day we seek out and find means to help your families and those close to you.

We hope that our appeal today in one way or another will reach each of you in a prison cell or in camp barracks, and you will again be certain you are not alone, that tens and hundreds of people at liberty constantly think about your fate, about your future, and do everything in their power for the sake of your freedom and our freedom, striving and hoping to make our meeting at liberty come sooner.

The future belongs to us!

[The list of signatories can be seen here]

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

Sasha Krylenkova on the sentences handed down in the Network case: "To win you have to withstand blows"

posted 17 Feb 2020, 06:09 by Translation Service   [ updated 17 Feb 2020, 06:14 ]

Sasha Krylenkova's Profile Photo, Image may contain: 1 person11 February 2020 

Source: Facebook 

I wrote this yesterday when I was still in Penza.
(By the way, if you have a sudden interest in reading my posts, I write more on my Telegram channel than here)

Only don’t say that there's no point in doing anything. The point of victories is not measured by the sentences given out. It would be strange if we went out on pickets, distributed information and all of us still remained at liberty. Then there would be no need to fight. Such a victory would not be worth anything.

We are not fighting to take the guys out of the tender grasp of some kitten or other. Cruel and heartless people have taken them hostage.

To win you have to withstand blows.

Today there were two important victories:

1. In recent years we learned not to leave people alone. Every one of us and, what is a hundred times more important, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, did not have to hear the sentence handed down without any support. Next to them there was always someone who hugged them, held their hand, or simply looked in their eyes. It's difficult to believe now, but even recently none of this was happening. That is a real victory. A victory for care and support.

And 2. To change something you need faith and a myth. Not a myth that is just a lie, but a myth with heroes and great deeds. We have a myth now. What we need now is the easy part – faith.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

Zoya Svetova: Independence of the courts, or imitation of independence?

posted 15 Feb 2020, 12:02 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Feb 2020, 12:20 ]

9 February 2020

Zoya Svetova, journalist, human rights activist, receipient of the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize in the field of human rights

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group  [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

“Today, the judiciary in Russia is so stable, solid and independent that it is impossible to force illegal or dubious decisions through Russian courts. This is a substantial achievement, attained after many years of work by the judiciary in Russia. It has come about because of you, the independent judges at all levels of our court system.” With this fiery speech the permanent head of the Supreme Court, Vyacheslav Lebedev, addressed the attendees at a seminar of chief judges.

Needless to say, all these characteristics that Lebedev attributed to the judges not only fail to correspond to the reality, to the Russian reality, but also demonstrate his complete isolation from judicial practice.

And as if on purpose, the day after Lebedev’s statement the Second Court of Cassation of Overall Jurisdiction set an example of the lack of that judicial ‘independence’ so dear to the heart of the head of the Supreme Court.

A judicial troika [three-person court] granted Deputy Prosecutor General Leonid Korzhinek’s submission for the cancellation of the release from custody of Karina Tsurkan, a former top manager at Inter RAO, who is accused of spying for Moldova. Tsurkan was taken into custody in the courtroom in front of her elderly mother, who was again left alone with her school-age grandson, Karina’s son.

The former top manager at Inter RAO had spent 23 days at liberty, but prior to that spent more than 18 months in Lefortovo Pre-Trial Detention Centre. The decision of the judge of the First Court of Appeal on her release was unexpected not only for Tsurkan herself and her lawyers, but also for most legal experts: the accused had never been released from custody before this verdict. In some cases the degree of restriction may be eased due to a serious illness or a guilty plea and active cooperation with the investigation. There was nothing of this kind in the Tsurkan case.

The court changed the degree of restriction to prevent certain actions in strict accordance with the law: it was impossible to keep her in custody for more than 18 months – this was the deadline by which the investigator had to conclude the investigation and transfer the case to court. But they missed the deadline.

The Prosecutor General’s Office immediately appealed this remarkable release. In her three weeks at liberty Tsurkan managed to give several interviews, during which she spoke about the absurdity and fabrication of her case, appealed to President Putin for protection, and managed to visit a doctor and spend time with her son and her mother. When she came to the FSB investigation department to familiarise herself with her case file, the investigators told her confidently that they would put her in prison again, and advised her to bring her belongings to the court session.

Here’s what I really want to ask Chairman of the Supreme Court Vyacheslav Lebedev: “How did the FSB investigator looking into Tsurkan’s case know that the troika of the Second Court of Cassation would decide on her arrest. Why did he advise her to ‘come to court with your belongings’? Was it a guess?”

And this incident is not the only one. Many former prisoners have told how investigators, urging them to cooperate, named the precise length of sentence the court would go on to hand down. Oleg Sentsov was promised 20 years by an investigator, and that was exactly what a court in Rostov-on-Don gave him. Aleksei Kozlov was promised eight years. And that was what he got. Ukrainian Yury Soloshenko, accused of espionage, told me: the FSB investigator promised that he would settle with the judge on a suspended sentence if Soloshenko pleaded guilty.

Whether this promise was a “stitch-up” is unknown. Soloshenko pleaded guilty, but he was deceived. he was given six years at a strict regime prison – the “minimum penalty.”

The connection between investigators, the prosecutor’s office and the court is an open secret. Even first-year law students know about it. Judges all come from the prosecutor’s office. There are many former prosecutors at the Second Court of Cassation, which was intended by its creators – as was the First Court of Appeal – to be more independent than Moscow City Court. People from regions allegedly unrelated to Moscow are appointed to these new courts. Of course, this is a myth, because “incoming” judges, like all the rest, pass through the FSB “filter”, and nobody there is an outsider.

We can agree with Vyacheslav Lebedev on one thing only: the judiciary is stable today. But what do we understand by this?

Regarding judicial independence, I am sure that in Russia not a single person, especially those who have somehow encountered the Russian courts, would consider them independent. Although there probably is one, in fact.

This is Vyacheslav Lebedev, a man who believes in judicial independence. Or, more likely, he does not believe, but imitates belief, just as all his colleagues who are close to the authorities imitate other democratic transformations. When it comes to finding such things in Russia, as Woland [Translator’s note: the Devil, as featured in Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita] liked to say, “Whatever you look for, it doesn't exist.”

Translated by Anna Bowles

Lev Shlosberg: Anti-fascism and fascism today: who is who?

posted 15 Feb 2020, 11:01 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Feb 2020, 11:13 ]

11 February 2020

Lev Shlosberg, human rights activist, public figure, deputy of the Pskov Regional Assembly of Deputies, journalist, laureate of the MHG Prize for human rights 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group  [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

On 10 February, the Russian police state announced its most brutal sentences of this century so far. The ‘troika’ military district court in Penza sentenced 7 young people to imprisonment from 6 to 18 years for crimes that they did not commit (namely organising and participation in a terrorist community).

The confessions were extracted using prolonged torture by uniformed sadists who threatened to mutilate or kill the suspects themselves and their relatives, particularly their wives or girlfriends. They were threatened with being taken out, raped, slaughtered and buried. Each refusal to confess was followed by an electric shock and a beating. ‘If the investigator tells you to cut off and eat your finger, you will cut off and eat your finger.’

When the victims told their lawyers of the torture, under torture they were forced to withdraw their true testimony. All the evidence taken from the defendants is void, but the military court ‘troika’ copied the indictments and read out the verdict, but only its introduction and substantive provisions. Most of the sentence was not even read out in the courtroom.

“You have half an hour left to live if you confess, and maybe one and a half if you don’t,” is what these amoral monsters said to their victims. The tales of FSB torture survivors differ from the Nuremberg trial transcripts only in that these people haven't been killed afterwards. Yet.

How do these blood-stained court sentences (in the literal sense: they’re written with the blood of forced confessions) differ from the court sentences of ‘troikas’ in the 1930s? They don’t. How are the 21st-century executioners different from those of the 1930s? They aren’t. These are pathological sadists who came to work in the law enforcement agencies to satisfy their craving for animalistic violence. It is these non-humans who act on behalf of the state: they threaten people on behalf of the state, they torture people on behalf of the state, and they kill on behalf of the state. And they want to go unpunished.

Many of the young people who have been sentenced to long sentences today identify as anti-fascists. The executioners who tortured them call themselves the successors of Dzerzhinsky and Vyshinsky. ‘Confession is the queen of evidence.’ So who in this situation is the fascist?

Translated by Alice Lee

Elena Milashina: No holds barred. Explanatory note after the attack in Grozny

posted 15 Feb 2020, 07:48 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Feb 2020, 08:45 ]

7 February 2020

Elena Milashina, Novaya Gazeta correspondent, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Novaya gazeta] 

There is a new tradition in Chechnya: attack those who are defending Chechens from Kadyrovites.

Late on the night of Thursday, 6 February, a group of Chechen hired thugs attacked me and lawyer Marina Dubrovina. This was not the first act of aggression encountered by human rights activists, journalists, and lawyers in Chechnya. In 2014 and 2015 there were attacks attacks on staff of both the Committee against Torture and Memorial, as well as their offices in Grozny and Gudermes. In 2016, a bus with human rights activists and journalists was attacked at the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia, and a few days later, in downtown Grozny, Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, was evicted from the city’s best hotel, pelted with eggs and flour, and doused with brilliant green.

Such world famous human rights activists as Svetlana Gannushkina and Oleg Orlov have been targets of Kadyrov’s ire, and in January 2018 a criminal case was fabricated against Oyub Titiev, head of Memorial’s Chechen office.

It’s hard for me to count how many times I personally have received public threats from Ramzan Akhmatovich [Kadyrov]. The wildest of them came in April 2017, after our publications about the persecution of gays in Chechnya. 20,000 people gathered in Chechnya’s main mosque. Shakhikov, who is Kadyrov’s assistant on religious issues, spoke, as did Chechnya’s mufti Mezhidov, and they publicly declared an unlimited “holy jihad” against all associates of Novaya gazeta — from our cafeteria workers to the wonderful ladies in bookkeeping. True, in questioning by an investigator, Mezhidov and Shakhidov renounced their own condemnations, and the story with the packed mosque was removed from Grozny, the website of the Chechen State Radio and Television Company.

Basically, this entire outrage has long since become a genuine tradition. I find it bitter to talk about this, but this new tradition corresponds much more precisely to the state of contemporary Chechen society than do the customs of the proud mountain dwellers. Time after time, society has silently swallowed the reality, which in fact demeans the Chechens themselves: when men and women, young and not very, are beaten up and pelted with eggs by young Chechen men. And now, young Chechen women as well.

What happened

On 6 February 2020, I flew into Grozny to cover three trials at the Zavodsky district court. I stayed at the Kontinent Hotel, where I had stayed many times. It’s a convenient and inexpensive hotel that always has a lot of visitors. The hotel also has a fitness club that’s fairly popular among local law enforcement. There are always lots of Chechen police there.

At 19:07 on the day of my arrival, I made a mistake. I posted a photograph on Facebook of a box of wild leeks sold in the supermarket on the first floor of the hotel building.

I love wild leeks, and I’m always sorry that not a single Grozny café cooks them — because of the smell. For a long time I’ve held to the rule of not posting anything on social media about my regular trips to Chechnya, posting only after the fact. Because I’m not inclined to exaggerate the operative talents of the local law enforcement agencies; they can track my moves only with my own help. And yesterday, evidently, I helped them mightily; the comments on my wild leek photograph made the fact that I was in Grozny and where obvious.

It’s clear to me that this attack was put together in a slapdash way. And here’s why.

At about 23:00, after dinner in the café in the building across the way, we went into the hotel lobby. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a large number of people, men and women, more than 15 people. A few young women moved toward us. One of them was wearing a shiny silver top tight around the chest and a black scarf on her head. They were all wearing black scarves, but the scarves had a theatrical look to them. Like stage decorations. The scarf on this shiny young woman had slipped to the side and obviously did not go with what was more like evening wear. She asked me why I was defending the “Wahhabites who killed our husbands.” This question was painfully reminiscent of the now rather forgotten past, when crowds of Chechen budget workers were sent against human rights workers carrying huge posters: “Kalyapin is a friend of terrorists,” “Gannushkina is the mother of anarchy,” and so on.

But the problem is that in the past few years, speculating on the topic of the underground has become quite improper, impossible even. Simply because there has been no such underground in principle for ten years. In Chechnya, terrorist activity has been reduced to zero, as the Chechen authorities are constantly saying when they try to lure tourists to the republic from all over the world. But as soon as Russian and foreign human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, and diplomats come instead of tourists, specters of terrorists begin to roam over Chechnya.

I wanted to explain to the dolled-up girl that she was far too young to pass herself off as the widow of a police officer who had died fighting genuine insurgents.

But there was no time for me to engage in conversations. They were simply not on the agenda for this night-time performance. Looking as though she were enjoying herself, the girl hit me with a fist in the face, and – as if in response to a sign – the whole crowd suddenly united to knock Marina and me onto the beautiful (but, as it turned out, none too clean) marble floor. They adopted a “feminine” approach to beating us up, with lots of hysteria and drama, using glamorous gel nails as their main weapon of choice. They focused most of their attacks on our hair, and Marina and I spent the rest of the night removing with a comb the strands of hair that had been torn out, like the camel Kesha in Tyumen that forgot to moult.

Marina and I initially endured the onslaught in silence, probably because it was so unexpected. It was only when I realised that two girls had got their claws into my iPhone (an item which is extremely precious to me) that I bawled “Fire!” loud enough to raise the dead. Marina copied my example by yelling “Help!” This strategy is a useful one, since it worked straight away.

A young man with a beard, who appeared to be in charge of the gang of women and was videoing the attack, gave an order and the “young widows” escaped onto the street one after another. I noticed one stopping to look at herself in the mirror, pulling down the skirt that had ridden up and fixing her tousled hair. This moment genuinely mesmerised me.


I will now explain whom exactly we are defending in Chechnya, and why we were attacked. I’ve defended representatives of more or less every section of Chechen society over the past few years. Gay Chechens and Chechen “drug addicts” (or, more accurately, people who have had drugs planted on them). Christians, government employees, woman and men, lesser mortals and mayors of Chechen towns, public prosecutors, police officers, investigators and, time and again, judges from Chechnya’s Supreme Court (my favourite category of Chechen victims).

One hour before the attack, for example, I learned that 20 school pupils had been arrested in Gudermes on the previous day.

Representatives of the authorities threatened their families that the boys would be held in Chechen basements until they came of age, because they had posted criticisms of the Chechen authorities on social media networks.

On 1 November last year yet another young Chechen, Islam Nukhanov, was arrested in his home in Grozny, taken to the basement of the Grozny police department and tortured almost to death. Why? Because on the previous day he had uploaded to YouTube a video showing the luxury villas in which the Chechen elite live together with their mistresses, who have never worked a day in their lives and who are passed off as second (or third, or fourth…) wives.

In late November, Marina Dubrovina acted as defence lawyer for Islam Nukhanov, who had been tortured and forced to provide laughably inconsistent “confessions” about possession of arms (the second most popular article of Chechnya’s Criminal Code after that on drug possession). Dubrovina had already become a thorn in the side of the local authorities because of her activism, and now she came under the full glare of a very dangerous spotlight. The authorities started to investigate how she funded her work and to interrogate and then persecute her Chechen colleagues. The lawyer Abubakar Vadayev for example, who assisted Dubrovina with the Nukhanov case, was hauled up before Mr Alkhanov, head of the Chechen police ministry, in early January, and now they’re trying to instigate criminal proceedings against him.

There can be no question about the fact that this attack was linked to Islam Nukhanov, and I understand perfectly well what motivated the people behind it.

It is not terrorists that the Chechen authorities fear, but the festering issues that have already poisoned the heart of society. I’m talking about corruption, catastrophic social inequality, and the lawlessness of the Chechen security apparatus. It just so happens that young people are the ones starting to talk about these issues. And that’s why large numbers of young people who (purely because of their age) did not fight either on Ichkeria’s side or on Russia’s side are currently filling the basements of secret Chechen prisons. And why smaller numbers of them – the cowardly ones – are attacking those who stand up to the authorities and get their contemporaries out of the Chechen detention facilities.

Translated by Marian Schwartz and Joanne Reynolds

Magomed Mutsolgov: Human rights activists demand an end to repressions in Ingushetia

posted 6 Feb 2020, 08:59 by Translation Service   [ updated 6 Feb 2020, 10:30 by Rights in Russia ]

26 January 2020

Magomed Mutsolgov heads the human rights organisation Mashr [Peace] in Ingushetia

On 27 December 2019, criminal proceedings were instituted against eight leaders and participants of the Ingush protest movement. Malsag Uzhakhov, Akhmed Barakhoyev and Musa Malsagov were charged under the article on the creation of an extremist community, and Barakh Chemurziev, Bagaudin Hautiev, Ismail Nalgiev, Zarifa Sautieva and Akhmed Pogorov were charged with participation in it. From mid-January, defendants in this criminal case began to be arraigned.

The absurdity of the accusation is obvious to most lawyers and human rights activists who are familiar with the accused and the circumstances of their criminal prosecution.

There is no doubt that the entire criminal case initiated regarding the events of 27 March 2019 in Magas is politically motivated, not based on law but legitimated after the fact. The new charge is being seen as a sign of the impotence of the investigation to prove the guilt of the aforementioned persons in allegedly committing a crime under Article 318, Section 2, of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, under which they have all been charged so far.

The criminal prosecution of all these people is punishment for their civic activism. The mass rallies held in Ingushetia in October and November 2018 demonstrated to the whole country the peaceful nature of the Ingush protest against the arbitrariness of the authorities, and the sense of 
responsibility and ability to self-organise ofthe population of the republic, including ensuring compliance with the rule of law when conducting mass rallies.

After a provocation on the part of the authorities against some residents of the Ingushetian republic in the car park of the Chuvash National Television and Radio Company, repressions began, claiming hundreds of victims. The new charge brought against the leaders and participants in the popular protest is a continuation of these repressions. At its core, in the opinion of a large number of jurists and lawyers, is the accusation of creating or participating in an extremist community which is delusional and not based on actual events of recent years.

We are sure that the fabrication of a new criminal case is taking place before our eyes, and this is considered to be a crime by public officials in the eyes of the law. It is obvious to us that the new prosecution clearly aims to satisfy the thirst for the “blood” of civil activists who dared to boldly and openly disagree with the arbitrariness and violation of the law committed by the regional authorities. Likewise with all the trials aimed at the elimination of the clergy and civil society in Ingushetia. And the fabrication of a criminal case at the demand of a representative of the government is the execution of a criminal order, using the government’s official powers. None of the leaders and activists of the protest movement who today became defendants in a criminal case for the alleged creation of and participation in an extremist community, have committed any such crime.

In ruling to open a criminal case, the investigation is using various formulations that do not explain the essence of the charges but simply set out sundry facts, criminalising them and mixing them in with absolutely crazy delusions.

The Constitution of the Russian Federation does not give preference to the religious or traditional foundations of one community or another. Moreover, it guarantees their equality and security.

Article 28 states: “Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with other any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views and act according to them.”

Paragraph 3 of Article 29 states: “No one may be forced to express his views and convictions or to reject them.”

Under various pretexts, we are being deprived of our constitutional rights.

Article 30 states: “Everyone shall have the right to association, including the right to create trade unions for the protection of his or her interests. The freedom of activity of public association shall be guaranteed.”

Article 31 states: “Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to assemble peacefully, without weapons, hold rallies, meetings and demonstrations, marches and pickets.”

Article 45 states: “1. State protection of the rights and freedoms of man and citizen shall be guaranteed in the Russian Federation. 2. Everyone shall be free to protect his rights and freedoms by all means not prohibited by law. “

These are rights of the citizens of our country and the state is obliged to ensure their observance.

The practice of the prosecution of representatives of civil society for open, peaceful and lawful expression of their opinions, their position as citizens, is detrimental to society and the foundations of the entire legal system of this country. The practice of repression is detrimental and unacceptable.

The human rights organisation Mashr considers the new criminal case brought against Malsag Uzhakhov, Akhmed Barakhoyev, Musa Malsagov, Barakh Chemurziev, Akhmed Pogorov Bagaudin Hautiev, Ismail Nalgiev and Zarifa Sautieva to be unlawful, unreasonable and politically motivated. All the actions aimed at the elimination of the Spiritual Сentre of Muslims in the Republic of Ingushetia, the Council of the Ingush people, the Ingush Council of National Unity and other non-governmental non-profit organisations are nothing more than фт anti-constitutional struggle against the people of Ingushetia. This is a continuation of the mass repressions already deployed against the residents of the republic. We demand an end to the unlawful persecution of protestors in Ingushetia.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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