Blogs and Statements

The views expressed in blogs published on Rights in Russia, including those of the editor, are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of Rights in Russia.

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

Vera Vasilieva: Behind bars - On letters from political prisoners

posted 5 Feb 2020, 11:13 by Translation Service   [ updated 9 Feb 2020, 08:48 ]

21 January 2020

Vera Vasilieva is an independent journalist, head of Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe’s ‘Liberty and Memorial’ project, and winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group award 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Liberty

Much has already been said and written about the importance of letters from the outside for political prisoners: about who we should write to, where, what and how to write, how vital it is for political prisoners, and so on. But no less important, I think, are the letters for us from political prisoners who find themselves on the wrong side of the iron bars.

I’ve been in written correspondence with political prisoners for 16 years—I’ve accumulated enough letters to fill several large drawers. The number of ongoing correspondents has varied over the years, but at the moment I have five. And, of course, there’s no comparing the fate of, let’s say, the former head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s ‘number one political prisoner,’ and that of Vadim Osipov, 20 year-old Military-Space Academy cadet. Osipov was sentenced to compulsory treatment in a psychiatric clinic for drawing a layout of his barracks during a lesson, showing weaknesses that may allow for a potential terrorist attack. His name and address is on the list in the ‘Tales for Political Prisoners’ Facebook group.

There are similarities between these prisoners and other people who have ended up unfairly imprisoned, besides the miscarriage of justice they have all experienced. But I can say that all these people have overcome, and are continuing to overcome, the dramatic upheaval in their lives, and the constant brutal injustice they encounter. They have something to say about the situation in this country, and we have something to listen to. They do need our support, but their ideas could also help us as a society. They can help us, for example, to leave behind our needless arrogance and the supposed differences between us. Civil activist Mark Galperin recently wrote to me about this from pre-trial detention centre No. 11 in the city of Noginsk, near Moscow, saying:

'Tell our people to be friends with each other, not to argue, and to work together. I have already used the example of a sports rope that needs to be pulled at the same time, in unison. I’ll use the example of the famous swan, crab and pike. They pulled in different directions, albeit simultaneously. We’re pulling simultaneously in one direction but separately: first one, then the second, then the third, and so on. The cart, of course, won’t move an inch. So the solution to the problem is obvious. We start consultations, we leave behind our arrogance and grudges against each other, and we work together. We will win!'    

Brutality in the law enforcement system is becoming frighteningly commonplace and familiar in Russia. I have already written about the conditions in which Vadim Osipov was transferred from St. Petersburg to Moscow last year. His following trip in a ‘Stolypin car’ in November last year, according to his story, turned out to be no less unpleasant:

The leg of the journey from Moscow [to Orenburg] went through Samara, where we were held up for a week. The train was bearable at first but then, when the frost hit, it became intolerably cold. I wore my warmest clothes but it didn’t make a difference and, as a result, my back became incredibly sore. At the Orenburg pre-trial detention centre I simply lay down for several days, too weak to move.’

This isn’t just about the unlucky fate of one particular young man who was caught and dragged into the political machine on questionable grounds. It’s not just about the cruelty and heartlessness of the Russian penal system. This system is, after all, just one of our various state institutions, the nature of which ought to be determined by Russian citizens. These letters are also about the lack of humanity and human decency within us, about what we need to try to change within ourselves. The reason for a regime’s cruelty is, after all, not only (and maybe not even very much) the regime itself, but also the people’s willingness - or lack thereof - to speak up against it.

There’s also the need for humanity in the way we treat one another, as the letters of the former Yukos employee Aleksei Pichugin, incarcerated in spite of two rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, have been saying for almost 17 years. He is considered a political prisoner by Memorial, the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and various other human rights organisations. Letters from him are always filled with words of gratitude and support (although, one might say, who should be supporting whom?) and long, personalised greetings addressed to his pen pals. The investigators, prosecutors and judges of his native country had all treated him with blatant cruelty and injustice but, in spite of this, Pichugin is not bitter.

Judging by his letters, he seems to consider it utterly wrong to harbour ill-feeling towards anyone—even if, on the surface, they seem to deserve it fully. Political prisoners sometimes even respond to the various requests for help that they receive, even when they’re serving a life sentence. The matter of what to do about such requests is something Aleksei and I discussed on multiple occasions, and he always answered: ‘You need to listen to people, show some understanding and leniency towards them, and be humane. Once a political prisoner sent me a card that said, "Live beautifully." I was perplexed (in my view, a ‘beautiful life’ has more connotations of glamour), and when I asked what he meant he replied: ‘Live according to the rules, as set out by the Christian doctrine.’ And of all the remarks I have heard him make about his persecutors, the harshest has to be — ‘God is their judge.’’

Corresponding with—and seeking the release of—political prisoners is necessary not only because it is a good cause, and because it could have been any one of us in their place. They’ve seen the dark side of our state system, and their thoughts and experiences can help society and, ultimately, improve life in Russia. It’s all possible; the main thing is to make sure their voices can be heard. We should, I believe, work towards the goal expressed in a pithy sentence from another political prisoner—Yury Dmitriev, chair of the Karelian Memorial Society and researcher into the history of repression under Stalin:

Living in aquariums is for fish, not for people, while astronauts work there where they’re supposed to - up in orbit.’

Translated by Alice Lee

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