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Memorial publishes new lists of political prisoners in today’s Russia

posted 13 Nov 2017, 06:01 by Website Service   [ updated 13 Nov 2017, 06:07 ]

30 October 2017 


Traditionally, on 30 October, on the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions, Memorial Human Rights Centre publishes lists of political prisoners.

As of today, 117 names are on these lists (list 1 and list 2). These lists are known to be incomplete and are, in fact, merely the minimum reliable assessment of the extent of political repressions which involve imprisonment. 102 people were on the list last year. In today's Russia, the real number of political prisoners and people who are deprived of their liberty for political reasons is doubtless significantly higher.

28 political prisoners have been released over the last year. Fifteen of them (Marat Bazarbaev, Andrei Bubeev, Rushat Valiev, Airat Dilmukhametov, Rinat Idelbaev, Anton Izokaitis, Dmitrii Ishevskii, Bagir Kazikhanov, Vadim Nasyrov, Ivan Nepomnyashchikh, Sergei Nikiforov, Darya Polyudova, Leonid Razvozzhaev, Aleksei Sutuga and Sergei Udal'tsov) had served their full prison sentences; three of them (Aleksei Nikonorov, Taisiya Osipova and Leonid Tikhonov) were released on parole; another (Aleksei Moroshkin) was released after enforced medical treatment; four (Natalya Sharina, Ruslan Sokolovskii, Igor Zhitenev and Yurii Mukhin) had their prison sentences lifted; four (Oksana Sevastidi, Annik Kesyan, Marina Dzhandzhgava and Akhtem Chiigoz) were pardoned; and the convictions of two others (Ildar Dadin and Igor Stenin) were quashed.

45 people were added to the lists of political prisoners during the same period. Some of them – Dmitrii Borisov, Stanislav Zimovets, Dmitrii Krepkin, Yurii Kulii, Aleksei Politikov and Aleksandr Shpakov – were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment or held in pre-trial detention for alleged violence against the police during peaceful protests against corruption on 26 March 2017.

The criminal prosecution of Dmitrii Bogatov, who is under house arrest, infringes the right to freedom of information.

One activist, Danis Safargali, was sentenced, and another activist, Vladimir Egorov, is in custody, for posts on social media which contained criticism of Russia's leadership; they did not incite violence. A Ukrainian activist, Vladimir Balukh, was sentenced in Crimea on trumped-up charges.

Vladimir Lapygin, a 77-year-old academic, was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for legally sharing scholarly information with Chinese colleagues, and Inga Tutisani, an unemployed woman from Krasnodar region, was sentenced to six years in prison for sending two text messages to a Georgian citizen about seeing Russian military vessels through her bus window in Abkhazia. Both were victims of spy-mania intended to bolster state propaganda's position that "Russia is surrounded by enemies".

Human rights defender Yurii Dmitriev, head of the Karelia branch of Memorial, was detained on clearly trumped-up charges after having spent decades preserving the memory of victims of Stalinist repressions.

Sergei Reznikov, an activist, was sentenced to 3 years' imprisonment on the trumped-up charge of possessing drugs, in the interests of the local authorities; Aleksandr Eivazov, a critic of shortcomings in the legal system, was detained on unsubstantiated charges of obstruction of justice.

25 people were added to the number of people prosecuted for exercising their right to religious freedom. Most of these were Muslims, particularly those accused of membership of the Hizb ut-Tahrir party or of the non-existent ''Nurdzhalar'' organisation, but one of those detained was a representative of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Dane Dennis Kristensen.

We call for solidarity with political prisoners and for support for them. For as long as there are political prisoners in Russia, all forms of support remain important and necessary, whether letters, donations or spreading information.

But there should not be political prisoners in Russia. They should be released as soon as possible, and their cases should be examined by impartial courts.

List of people who are recognised as political prisoners by Memorial Human Rights Centre and who were prosecuted for exercising their rights to religious freedom and religious affiliation, as of 29 October 2017

List of people who are recognised as political prisoners by Memorial Human Rights Centre (excluding those prosecuted for exercising their right to religious freedom), as of 29 October 2017

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts

Aleksandr Cherkasov: The long shadow of 1937

posted 13 Nov 2017, 04:51 by Website Service   [ updated 13 Nov 2017, 05:45 ]

30 October 2017

Source: [original source: Vedomosti]
Photo: Aleksandr Cherkasov

"[…] Is the task set 30 years ago accomplished? The task of preserving the memory of the victims, so the totalitarian past would not be repeated? Hardly […]

Thirty years ago, in November 1987, a few young people – activists from the Memorial group – gathered on the Arbat to collect signatures for a petition to create a memorial complex for the victims of political repressions.

Their plan was for a research centre, which would have included an archive, museum and library. Then there was a popular mass movement, and an account was opened to receive donations to the monument.

On 30 October 2017, at the intersection of the Garden Ring and Academician Sakharov Prospekt in Moscow, a memorial to the victims of repression was opened: “the Wall of Sorrow”. One sixth of the monument was financed by private donations.

“We have been trying to get this monument built for thirty years. Now it’s being opened by state leaders and those acting on behalf of the state, The state is saying: ‘Terror is a crime, mass murder is a crime,’” says Elena Zhemkova, executive director of the International Memorial Society.

But is the task set 30 years ago accomplished? The task of preserving the memory of the victims, so the totalitarian past would not be repeated? Hardly.

Stalin, the symbol of the terror, is now the “name of Russia” and an “effective manager”. Soviet history and politics are the glorious past and a model for “what we can repeat.” The scope of freedom is shrinking: the last Soviet political camp, Perm-36, which became a museum, was raided, essentially captured, and many memorial organisations are being declared “foreign agents.”

Lists of political prisoners have become a common feature of the landscape, against which background the bronze Wall of Sorrow is opened by the man who has spent eighteen years building that landscape.

Yet a monument can become a significant symbol if there is something significant behind it.

A significant date: in 1974 political prisoners in the Mordovian camps decided to mark 30 October as Political Prisoner Day in the USSR, a day of solidarity and protest. From 1991 this was made the official memorial day for victims of political repression.

The Solovetsky stone on the Lubyanka Square – a modest sign set there by the Memorial activists and opened on 30 October, 1990 – has become significant. This is a place of people’s personal, direct contact with history.

For eleven years, on 29 October, the eve of the official date, the “Return of Names” has been taking place: all day people file by, name those shot in the years of the terror, and light candles. They stand for hours in the wind and cold, but from year to year there are more and more people. This action now takes place in forty-six towns – in Russia and beyond its borders.

Since December 2014, in Moscow and other Russian cities more than five hundred plaques bearing the “Final Address” have appeared on apartment blocks. Behind each plaque is not only a person who was taken to their death, but another who made efforts to preserve their memory.

Since 1999 a historical competition for schoolchildren called “Man in History: Russia, the Twentieth Century” has been running. Over the years it has collected more than 37,000 works, studies of family or local history, a significant proportion of them related to the history of Soviet repression. In 2016, the competition was attacked by “patriotic” hooligans and television propagandists, but this only increased people’s interest: the following year it received even more entries.

One could cite many examples of the growth not merely of interest but of active participation in the preservation of the memory of the victims of terror. In 2017, there was a great response to the investigation conducted by Denis Karagodin to restore the name of his grandfather and find his executioners.

Just a week ago a monument was opened in the town of Rublevo, near Moscow, where from 1922 to 1946 Chekists regularly “uncovered conspiracies” at the water plant: forty people were shot.

And these signs of mass interest and participation at “grass roots” level in preserving the memory of this aspect of the Soviet past are obviously connected with changes in thinking about the issue.

In March 1953, after Stalin's death, the chief editor of the weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta Konstantin Simonov wrote that the main task of Soviet literature henceforth would be to understand Stalin's role in Russian history. He had no idea how right he would be!

It was literature that fostered the growth of interest in history at the end of the 1980s: memoirs and fiction, from Shalamov and Solzhenitsyn to Iskander and Rybakov; works published internally as samizdat and as tamizdat abroad that later spilled onto the pages of the literary journals of the perestroika era. The time for historians would come later.

In 1976-1982, a series entitled Pamyat (Memory) appeared as samizdat within the Soviet Union. It was a worthy attempt at an academic level to restore the history of a country where all archives were closed, and something for which, Arseny Roginsky, now chairman of the Memorial board, was sent to a penal colony for four years in 1981.

A partial opening of the archives in the early 1990s led to the publication of hundreds of papers and books on the history of Soviet repression. Today, Books of Remembrance have been published in many parts of Russia [listing the local victims of those years]. Their contents have been assembled by Memorial into a single database [in Russian], containing about 2.7 million names, i.e., almost a quarter of the 12 million victims who are covered by the terms of the Russian Federal Law "On the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Political Repression" (18 October 1991)].

Even something as simple as this helps prevent a tragedy from being reduced to statistics. In any small town or village today, a schoolteacher can instruct his or her students to trace their immediate forbears: "Here -- these are your fellow countrymen and women."

Then …

Last year, Memorial published a different database [in Russian] containing the names of 40,000 people, who served from the mid-1930s onwards at the Main Department of State Security at the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (the NKVD). At such a pace it will require many more decades to complete this work.  Now, any scrawl in the cases of the Great Terror acquires an individual name. One may also call to mind other collections of documents that have been published: Stalinist execution lists [in Russian], materials concerning the mass killings at Katyn, and so on.

After all that evidence it would seem no longer possible to deny the obvious. But, as it turns out, it's possible. The facts are one thing, society's readiness to recognize and understand them are quite another.

In the late 1980s it seemed that political repression, which not only preserved the political and social systems in the USSR, but served as the very framework of its existence, would become a thing of the past. Sometimes, however, it returns.

… and Now

In Karelia, Memorial member Yury Dmitriev [in Russian] is being tried on fabricated charges.

Dozens of people have already been sentenced as part of the Bolotnaya Case [in Russian]. The most recent is the case of Dmitry Buchenkov, who wasn't even in Moscow on 6 May 2012. In the photographs used as evidence in the case against him, it's clear that the person they are trying to pass off as Buchenkov is someone else entirely. The defendant was barred from producing evidence, however, and now, according to the prosecutor, "we are able to cite only materials that confirm culpability."

On 25 October 2017, two political prisoners, Crimean Tatar activists Ilmi Umerov and Akhtem Chiygoz, were freed and released to the Turkish authorities. The news recalls the 1970s: the persecution of the Crimean-Tatar nation was a longstanding Soviet tradition.

There is no rush to free Ukrainians Nikolai Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh. The sentences they received are Stalinist in length -- twenty years and more. The charges also echo the Stalin era. In winter 1995, Russian soldiers were supposedly tortured and killed in the Chechen capital Grozny [with the involvement of the two men]. The soldiers did not actually die there or then, and met their end under different circumstances from those described in the case. Karpyuk and Klykh were not in Chechnya at that time. The key point is that they confessed during interrogations that were carried out using Stalinist methods.

30 October 2017

Today there are over one hundred prisoners of conscience in the Memorial lists [in Russian]. That’s not very many, you may say. Political repression, however, has again become a routine method of running the country. 30 October, the Day of Political Prisoners, is not a matter of history. The past is just outside the window, here and now.

You can’t miss the new Wall of Sorrow, a vast bronze structure, as you drive along Moscow’s Garden Ring. It reminds us not just of what has “been and gone," but what is “here and now."

Aleksandr Cherkasov,
Board member, International Memorial Society

Thanks to Anna Bowles for assistance with the translation of this article

Note: On Arseny Roginsky, see:  (The trial of Arseny Roginsky, pp. 22-28); (The trial of Arseny Roginsky); (news item 14, Roginsky sentence)

“A matter for our conscience, not just for remembrance” - The Wall of Sorrow monument in Moscow

posted 13 Nov 2017, 04:36 by Website Service   [ updated 13 Nov 2017, 04:44 ]

27 October 2017

Source: [original source: Novaya gazeta]
Pictured: Sculptor Georgy Frangulyan

A monument to the “Victims of Mass Repression” was opened on Sakharov Avenue, on 30 October 2017 at a ceremony in Moscow. The ‘Wall of Sorrow’, designed by sculptor Georgy Frangulyan, is a huge double-sided bronze relief with stylized outlines of human figures.

The monument to the “Victims of Mass Repression” was created eighteen months ago, after it won a competition for the best design.

At a press conference held a few days before the opening, reported Elena Racheva in Novaya gazeta, the deputy mayor of Moscow, Leonid Pechatnikov, stated that the cost of creating and installing the monument was 300 million roubles. This cost had been shouldered by the city’s administration. He added:

“There were those who were against the monument … and we are often asked – how do today’s authorities view what the country experienced from 1934 until the death of Stalin? This monument is the answer.”

Mikhail Fedotov chairs both the Presidential Council for Human Rights and the board of trustees of the “Foundation for the Preservation of the Memory of the Victims of Repression”. He reminded the audience that the idea of a national monument to the victims of Stalin-era repression was voiced back in Khrushchev’s time, during the “Thaw”. Now it would be opened as part of the State’s policy on commemorating those acts of political repression.

The monument has been partly financed through donations (a total of 45, 282,239 roubles), added Roman Romanov, a leading member of the Foundation and director of the State Museum of the History of the Gulag. Many, different types of people contributed. “One man said he could not give a donation, but brought a piece of bronze instead,” said Fedotov: “a woman brought a sack of copper coins.”

Elena Zhemkova, executive director of the International Memorial society, told the press conference: “We have been working for thirty years to see such a monument. Now it will be opened by the Head of State and in the name of the State. The State thereby proclaims that terror is a crime, mass murder is a crime.”

Members of the Foundation focused most of their attention on why it is important to open the monument today, so many years after the Great Terror.

Vladimir Lukin, a member of the upper house of the Federal Assembly, heads the Foundation for the Preservation of the Memory of the Victims of Repression. He called for the gaps in the nation’s memory to be filled. “There are those who think we should not stir up the bloody past,” he said. “Yet it is important that the younger generation knows what happened. As Spinoza said ‘Ignorance – is no defence.’ Ignorance gives rise to an impulse to act just as people have acted before.”

At the end of the press conference Vladimir Lukin again took the microphone. Very tense, literally weighing every word, he said that Yury Dmitriev had played a particularly important part in preserving the memory of the victims of terror. This was the Dmitriev, a person “with a very good reputation” who was now in preventative custody

“facing charges which the public finds very hard to believe. Our Foundation has authorized me to ask the media to convey our concern about this case. Of course, we do not intervene in cases now being heard in court. We consider, however, that the charges brought against Dmitriev must be re-examined. This page should be turned and it will be even better if it happens before 30 October.”

Despite the presence of journalists from most of Russia’s State-run TV stations and news agencies, not a single article or news item carried a mention of Yury Dmitriev.

Translated by Mary McAuley

Vera Vasilieva: Supreme Court of Russian Federation to return to case of political prisoner Aleksei Pichugin

posted 1 Nov 2017, 06:35 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 Nov 2017, 06:54 ]

24 October 2017

By Vera Vasilieva

Photo of Aleksei Pichugin

As reported in the media, on 8 November 2017 the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation will consider the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of a former employee of Yukos, political prisoner Aleksei Pichugin.

This has also been reported on the Supreme Court website. According to the portal, the Strasbourg court took its decision on 6 June 2017. 

It concerns the second criminal case of Aleksei Pichugin, who was accused of organising the murder of the mayor of Nefteyugansk, Vladimir Petukhov, and consequently sentenced to life imprisonment.

The ECtHR found that during the proceedings Moscow City Court violated the former Yukos employee’s right to fair trial (Article 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) in two ways.

First, the principle of the presumption of innocence was not observed. Secondly, Moscow City Court refused to take into account the opinion of the handwriting expert Volodina, who could testify to the innocence of the defendant.

According to Article 413, Section 4, Paragraph 2, and Article 415 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Federation, the violation of the provisions of the European Convention – as established by the European Court – by a criminal court of the Russian Federation is the basis for the resumption of proceedings in this case, in view of the new circumstances.

Therefore, the Chairperson of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, Vyacheslav Lebedev, made a submission on the matter to the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The question now is how the ECtHR decision will be dealt with in the Aleksei Pichugin case.

I am absolutely certain that if there is a fair trial, it will quash the unjust verdict. In addition to the fact that this implies an established violation of Article 6 of the European Convention, I think it can be seen that in this case the violation was blatant.

After all, the presumption of innocence is one of the fundamental principles of judicial procedure. Without its observance, in my opinion, the court is not much different from Stalin's “three-man courts” and “Special Sessions.” 

No one can be considered guilty until his guilt is proven in law and established by a court verdict.

And Vladimir Kolesnikov – who at the time (2005) was Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation – and Yury Burtovoi – then head of the investigation team in the Pichugin case, declared Aleksei Pichugin's guilt on the TV channels ORT and NTV even before the trial began.

Because of this, Aleksei Pichugin was forced to abandon trial by jury. Jurors watch television too, and can form their opinions on the basis of TV programmes.

In my opinion, the decision of the Presidium, which should follow in this situation is predetermined by law.

However, the problem is that the law now triumphs in our courts very rarely indeed. Sadly, this is not much of a surprise.

We already have an example of an ECtHR ruling on the first case of Aleksei, which was delivered on October 23, 2012 and has not been implemented – to date. Meanwhile, Russia, which signed the European Convention, was obliged to execute it.

In addition, the Pichugin case is a very unpleasant case for our authorities. It's about how a small man was crushed by a brutal system just because he worked for the oil company Yukos, whose former head, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, had decided to stand up to the president. Because he turned out to be too decent to do a dirty deal with his conscience and trade perjury for his release, though investigators promised it to him more than once. It’s unlikely the authorities will want to return to this matter, stir up old business and change the illegal sentence.

However, Vladimir Putin has a way to avoid all this and, at the same time, restore justice – as far as is possible after the fourteen and a half years that Pichugin has spent behind bars.

In May of this year, Pichugin asked President Putin for a pardon (without an admission of guilt). The Orenburg regional commission, through which this petition must necessarily pass on the way to the president, refused the request.

However, the president has the final word on the matter. The commission for pardons has the right only to recommend; he decides. To date, he has not responded.

The president still has time to pardon Aleksei Pichugin before 8 November and put an end to this rotten affair once and for all. And at the same time, demonstrate to the whole world, which already knows a lot about the case of Aleksei Pichugin, his best qualities.

Translated by Anna Bowles

Maksim Lapunov: "I was beaten because I was believed to be gay"

posted 26 Oct 2017, 02:33 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Oct 2017, 02:43 ]

17 October 2017                    By Zoya Svetova                    Source:                         Pictured below: Maksim Lapunov

At a Novaya Gazeta press conference, 30-year-old Maksim Lapunov recounted how he was tortured in Chechnya by people who believed he was gay. 

"[...] The main charge brought against me was that I am gay," Maksim says. "For some time the commanding officer would question me, trying by peaceful means to get information out of me about some well-known people in Grozny who are linked to homosexuality. I denied everything, naturally, as anyone would do. Then he gave the command to have me taken away and a testimony beaten out of me.

"[...] I was taken to a different room where, under the threat of torture by electric shock and with sticks, I was forced to testify against someone. Then this person was brought in, and he and I were brought to the basement. There, we were taken to different rooms. They put my face to the wall. They began beating him. They beat him for a fairly long time, with breaks for him to recover his breath. After they beat him, I was taken into the room. A quarter of this room, about two by two meters, was covered in blood. And though it was fairly fresh, it had already managed to sink into the floorboards.

"[...] Every 10 or 15 minutes or so while I was being beaten, all these people would run into the room and shout that I was gay and that people like me need to be killed. Because of their words, because of their actions, I assumed that they'd kill me in time anyway. It was very aggressive and cruel.

"Five or six hours or so after I was detained, the guard on duty at that time just burst into my room and, with unbelievable humiliations and insults, began preparing me to be killed. They began beating me with sticks. I don't know how long this went on for, but it was a very long time. They put my face to the wall and beat my legs, thighs, buttocks, and back. Whenever I began to fall, they would let me recover my breath and force me to stand, and then everything would begin again.

"[...] They forced us to fight. They did everything possible to humiliate us, offend us, and boost their own egos. This went on for quite a long time while I was there. I heard a lot of accusations that I'm gay. Day after day they would explain to me what methods they would use to kill me and how it would happen.

"[...] For twelve days I slept in the basement, literally on a piece of cardboard on the floor. Beneath the cardboard there was a giant puddle of blood. They beat my arms and my legs; I could hardly even crawl. To this day I still have health problems.

"[...] They forced me using threats to put my fingerprints on a weapon — perhaps they are going to start some sort of fake criminal case against me. They also recorded a video about how I, so-and-so, am detained for such-and-such a reason, and I'm gay, and that was the whole emphasis of it. All of the insults and humiliation were built around this.

"[...] During the 12 days that I spent in this prison, there were approximately 30 different people in the basement. Every evening, every night, new accused people were brought in. There were cries, moans, please for mercy. Many Chechens who were brought in were very cruelly beaten; they were beaten for several days in a row, confessions were beaten out of them. [...]"

Maksim was freed only because there were many witnesses to his detention. His relatives immediately issued a missing person alert, and a criminal case was opened in Perm, his home region, regarding his disappearance.

Read more about what became of Maksim Lapunov here

The case of Norwegian journalist Thomas Nilsen's ban on entering Russia

posted 26 Oct 2017, 02:12 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Oct 2017, 02:44 ]

17 October 2017


Pictured below: Thomas Nilsen

The 'Team 29' group of human rights lawyers has lodged an appeal against the non-admission into Russia of Norwegian journalist Thomas Nilsen, whom the Security Services have banned from travelling into the country for five years.

Thomas Nilsen is editor-in-chief of The Barents Observer, which regularly covers Russia, and the travel ban will significantly impair the work of the publication.

In March this year Thomas Nilsen was refused entry into Russia by guards at the Russia-Norway border, who informed him that he was banned from travelling into Russia. The border guards, it should be noted, broke the law: as a minimum, they had a duty to show Nilsen the travel ban decision and to provide him with the details of the decision, along with an interpreter. Strangely enough, none of that happened, reports the prominent lawyer Ivan Pavlov.

Thomas Nilsen had an accreditation and a five-year Russian visa, but this did not stop anyone. It later transpired that the relevant decision had been made by the FSB, but the reasons for it are anyone's guess. Entry was denied, "on grounds of national security," but of course no explanation as to exactly what threat the journalist posed to Russia was given.

The human rights defenders have since filed a complaint against the actions of the border guards with the Pechengsky district court, Murmansk region. The latter refused to recognise the actions of the border guard officials as unlawful but did provide the details of the FSB decision, which they had been refusing to hand over to Nilsen all this time. The lawyers have now brought a suit to Moscow's Meshchansky district court and are challenging the security services’ decision itself.

The FSB decision violates the journalist's rights to travel into Russia and the right to freedom of expression, including the right to practise as a journalist. Needless to say, the "threat to national security" allegedly posed by Nilsen is among the most elastic concepts in Russian legislation, and the authorities prefer not to explain to citizens what threat it is that they allegedly pose.

A preliminary hearing in the case will be held at midday on 18 October 2017 in the Meshchansky District Court, Moscow. Human rights defenders invite journalists to support their colleague. ‘Team 29’ lawyer Max Olenichev is working on the case.

Translated by Lindsay Munford

European Court of Human Rights rules in case of Nizhny Novgorod human rights defender Stanislav Dmitrievsky

posted 20 Oct 2017, 09:24 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Oct 2017, 09:25 ]

3 October 2017 

Source: [original source: Committee Against Torture

Photo: Stanislav Dmitrievsky holds the newspaper for which he was prosecuted in 2006

On 3 October 2017 the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in the case of Stanislav Dmitrievsky, who had complained about a violation by Russia of his rights under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (freedom of expression). The Court in Strasbourg ruled that the Russian Federation violated Dmitrievsky’s right to freedom of expression and awarded him 10,000 euros in moral compensation. Olga Sadovskaya, the lawyer from the Committee Against Torture acting for Dmitrievsky, said that today’s judgment may become the basis for a review of Dmitrievsky’s criminal conviction for extremism. 

The application by Stanislav Dmitrievsky concerned his conviction under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code (Incitement of hatred or enmity, including abasement of human dignity) for publishing in the newspaper Pravo-zashchita, of which he was editor, statements by Aslan Maskhadov and Akmed Zakaev. Both statements contained criticism of the Russian authorities in relation to the then on-going military conflict in the Chechen Republic. The texts were found to be extremist, and for their publication Dmitrievsky was given a two-year suspended prison sentence. 

Dmitrievsky and his lawyer insisted that his conviction violated his freedom of speech as laid down in Article 10 of the European Convention. Today the European Court of Huma Rights has completely concurred with this view. 

The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, that published Pravo-Zashchita and was also ruled by the Russian courts to be extremist, on more than one occasion assisted the Committee Against Torture in collecting information about human rights violations committed primarily by military personnel during the first and second Chechen conflicts. 

The decision to launch the criminal prosecution of Stanislav Dmitrievsky was taken by the prosecutor of Nizhny Novgorod region, Vladimir Demidov, on the basis of an expert opinion of the texts provided by Olga Khokhlysheva, the head of the department of world politics and international law at Nizhny Novgorod State University. Her expertise contained a description of Dmitrievsky that was, in his opinion, insulting and discriminatory. 

Moreover, an analysis of the case found that the record of the trial signed by Judge Bondarenko did not correspond to what had in reality taken place in the court room, and, therefore, the charges were based on statements that had been distorted. 

In today’s judgment, the European Court of Human Rights focused particular attention on the status of the applicant, the nature of the articles he published and the language used in them, the context in which they were published, and also the approach of the Russian courts in justifying intervention. 

As a result, the European Court concluded that the statements of opinion in the articles cannot be considered as incitement of violence, nor interpreted as incitement of hatred or intolerance that could provoke any kind of acts of violence. The Court found nothing in the texts in question except criticism of the Russian government and its actions in the Chechen Republic, criticism that did not exceed permitted limits. 

The Court also pointed out that the decisions of national courts in the Dmitrievsky case were not well-founded: the courts not only did not present corresponding and sufficient arguments for the conviction of the applicant, but also declined all the arguments in defence of the applicant as “inadmissible from a legal point of view,” stating that this was his “attempt to protect himself from punishment.” The European Court of Human Rights concluded that Dmitrievsky was deprived of his right to legal defence to which he had the right with respect to Article 10 of the Convention. 

Moreover, the Court pointed out that the conviction of the applicant and the use of severe sanctions against him could have a negative influence on the freedom of expression of journalists in Russia and prevent the press from openly discussing questions that are of public interest, including those related to the conflict in the Chechen Republic. 

“It is important that the conviction of Dmitrievsky was one of the first (and perhaps the very first) of this kind. And this marked the beginning of an attack on freedom of expression in Russia,” Olga Sadovskaya said. “I hope that the position taken by the European Court of Human Rights on the basis of a review of this case will be further developed in other decisions in cases concerning the wrongful use of Article 282 with regard to publications that are solely exercising the right to freedom of expression, and nothing else. Today’s decision of the Court may also serve as grounds for a reconsideration of the criminal prosecution of Dmitrievsky.”

Vera Vasilieva: Aleksei Pichugin's 14 Years Behind Bars without a Fair Trial. The latest ruling of the European Court of Human Rights

posted 2 Jul 2017, 06:21 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Jul 2017, 06:47 ]

18 June 2017 

19 June 2017 marks fourteen years that the unlawfully convicted Aleksei Pichugin has been behind bars. He has been recognised by the Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow) as a political prisoner. 

The fact that the former Yukos employee is serving life imprisonment without lawful grounds has now been shown by two judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. 

For 14 years Aleksei Pichugin has been behind bars without a fair court decision, eight of which have been spent in the strictest conditions at the Black Dolphin prison colony. In my opinion this is comparable to sentences from the Stalin era. 

The political prisoner was twice convicted in violation of the right to a fair trial enshrined in Article 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. 

This means that the sentence handed down on 6 August 2007 by Moscow City Court judge Petr Shtunder (as well as that of Judge Natalia Olikhver on 30 March 2005), about which has already written, should be quashed. 

This is the point of the ruling, and not the monetary compensation of 15,000 euros which was reported on by an overwhelming majority of the media, while they failed to mention what was most important. Why half-truths have been spread in the media is another issue. After all, the violations that have been revealed are so all-encompassing and blatant that in my opinion not to talk about them would be not to talk about the ECtHR ruling. 

So what exactly did the Strasbourg court establish in the Pichugin case? 

In the first place, the decision of the ECtHR, which has been translated into Russian, talks about the violation of the principle of the presumption of innocence. This is one of the fundamental principles of criminal justice. No one can be considered guilty until their guilt is proven by due legal process and established by a court verdict that has entered into force. 

According to the facts set out in the judgment of the ECtHR, on 5 June 2005 – that is, literally the day after charges were formally laid against Pichugin in his second prosecution – pronouncements of his guilt were broadcast on federal TV channels. 

These statements came from Vladimir Kolesnikov, then Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, and Yury Burtovoi, leader of the investigative group in Pichugin’s case. 

Note also that Aleksei had previously drawn attention to these statements a preliminary hearing at Moscow City Court on 9 July 2007: “Even at the preliminary stage of the investigation into this criminal case, on 5 June 2005 Deputy Prosecutor General V.V. Kolesnikov publicly stated on the ORT and NTV TV channels that I was guilty of the charges laid against me. Likewise at the stage of preliminary stage of the investigation, on 11 September 2005, Yu. A. Burtovoi, head of the group of investigators in the case, appearing on the TVTs channel’s “Moment of Truth” programme, stated that I was guilty of the charges laid against me. And because of this I had to abandon the prospect of a jury trial.” 

At that stage, before the trial proper at Moscow City Court had yet started, Aleksei planned to request that his case be heard by jury. But because of the nature of the TV broadcasts, he was forced to give up his right to a jury trial. After all, jurymen and women also watch TV and they can see declarations made by prosecutors that are broadcast. As a result, before the trial was held, public opinion was already being persuaded that Pichugin was guilty. 

Pichugin also sought to appeal against the actions of his accusers in Moscow’s Tver and Basmanny district courts. 

But Tver district court ruled that the information announced had been established by the investigation and confirmed by the materials of the criminal case, while the Deputy Prosecutor General had legal grounds for his actions and had not violated the rights of the applicant. 

Basmanny court also dismissed Pichugin’s application on the grounds that the statement by Burtovoi was his personal opinion. 

Secondly, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the refusal by Moscow City Court to take into account the opinion of graphologist Volodina was unlawful. At issue was the authorship of a note which contained the Vienna address of Еvgeny Rybin, a victim in the case and manager of the Austrian company East Petroleum Handels. The prosecution alleged that this note was written by Aleksei Pichugin and gave instructions to those who carried out the crime. 

Yet Volodin considered that the examples of Pichugin’s handwriting provided for comparative analysis were insufficient to draw any conclusion of the kind. During the 2007 trial Aleksei Pichugin had requested that a new evaluation be conducted, but the chair of the panel of judges, Petr Shtunder, refused his request, saying there was no need for additional analysis. 

The judgment in the case of Pichugin v Russia handed down by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is final and cannot be appealed. On the day of its publication, 6 June, the Ministry of Justice of Russia hurriedly issued a statement that the ruling of the Strasbourg Court does not automatically quash Pichugin’s conviction. 

That is certainly the case. The European Court never interferes in national judicial proceedings, does not consider criminal cases on their merits, neither hands down judgments nor quashes them. It merely pronounces on violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia is obliged to observe. 

In cases when a violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights is found, new legal proceedings are necessary. According to Articles 413 and 415 of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure, when violations of fair trial have been found, a person has the right to a review of their case on the grounds of new circumstances. 

Now the lawyers of Aleksei Pichugin can made the appropriate request to Vyacheslav Lededev. Moreover, according to the law, this is not even required. The chair of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation is bound to initiate legal proceedings on the basis of new circumstances. 

Meanwhile, Russia has yet to quash Pichugin’s first conviction, although the European Court of Human Rights indicated the necessity of doing this in its judgment back in 2012. 

How will the Supreme Court react on this occasion? 

Translated by Anna Bowles and Simon Cosgrove

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising, we rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to help keep Rights in Russia alive. To donate, see HERE

Sergei Davidis on the "March 26" case: A new “Bolotnaya” for Navalny’s supporters

posted 19 Jun 2017, 05:30 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Jun 2017, 05:37 ]

8 June 2017

By Sergei Davidis

Source: [original source: Дом свободной России

On March 26, 2017, Russia witnessed its largest demonstrations since the protest wave of 2011-12. Some aspects of the March 26 protests had no precedents in the past decade. The government reacted to the organization of such mass protests in a not atypical manner, with repression and threats.

It is possible that no fewer than 100,000 people hit the streets in around 100 Russian cities, issuing anti-corruption demands at the prompting of Alexei Navalny—despite the fact that in most of the cities, the protests were illegal, having not been approved by the authorities.

In central Moscow, where the mayor, in violation of the law, refused to approve the protest, between 15,000 and 30,000 people took to the streets. It was perhaps the largest demonstration to take place without the government’s permission in the capital since the early 1990s.

The March 26 demonstrations marked the end of the post-2012 decline in protests in Russia, giving rise to a sense of hope in society.

In the lead-up to March 26, the majority of protests failed to receive official permission. In various cities, there were many attempts to prevent the protests through pressure on organizers and participants.

Although all protests were peaceful, participants were detained in many cities.

In total, across Russia, more than 1,500 people were wrongfully detained, with no fewer than 1,043 of them in Moscow—far more than at any other protest in the past decade.

Unwarranted and unlawful detainment was frequently carried out in a crude way, with established procedure violated and physical force applied. Many of the demonstrators who were detained were also beaten.

According to the authorities, a police officer was injured at the protest in Moscow. It was asserted that he was kicked in the head by a person who then escaped. (As it turned out, the police officer had been involved in the Bolotnaya case as the alleged victim of Ivan Nepomnyashchy. Then, no specific harm had been done to him.)

A criminal case was already opened on March 26 in connection with the incident. The charge: violation of Article 317 of the Russian Criminal Code, or making an attempt on the life of an employee of a law enforcement agency, punishable by up to life in prison.

During the night of March 26-27, Investigative Committee detectives visited about half of the 50 Moscow police stations where demonstrators were being held, questioning them.

Two days later, it was announced that other criminal cases were being opened, over violations of Article 213 (hooliganism, punishable by up to 5 years in prison) and Article 318 (violence toward representatives of the authorities, punishable by up to 10 years in prison).

Soon thereafter, lawyers revealed that the unit investigating these charges numbered between 100 and 150 detectives.

Many of these detectives also belong to the unit responsible for the Bolotnaya case, and helped falsify evidence of the guilt of those charged and prosecuted in that affair.

The head of the new investigative group Major General Rustam Gabdulin also heads the investigative group on the “Bolotnaya case.”

Within the scope of the criminal cases opened at the end of March and in the first half of April, a 28-year-old sociologist and actor Yury Kuly, 40-year-old joiner Aleksandr Shpakov, 32-year-old builder Stanislav Zimovets, and 31-year-old goods transporter Andrei Kosykh were arrested and remanded in custody.

Later, on 14 May, 33-year-old engineer Dmitry Krepkin was also arrested and placed in pre-trial detention.

All, with the exception of Kosykh, were charged under Article 318 of the Russian Criminal Code, i.e. with the use of non-lethal and non-health-threatening force against police.

Kosykh is accused of striking two police officers, one of whom received as a consequence trauma to the head. The case was initiated because of this episode, a case under Article 317 (endangering the life of a police officer), but it is not known whether charges have already been brought against him in this regard.

Kuliy is accused of having grabbed an officer by the shoulder, thus causing him pain, Shpakov, of , having struck an officer twice, resulting in two lesions, Zimovets of hitting an officer in the buttock with a brick, and Krepkin of striking an officer in the thigh.

Shpakov and Krepkin were seriously beaten during their arrest on 26 March, as a result of which they sustained bodily injuries confirmed by doctors.

The first four of the detainees initially admitted guilt, in connection with which the courts continued under special proceedings without examining evidence.

Regardless, Kuly was sentenced to deprivation of freedom in an open prison, and Shpakov to 1.5 years in a correctional colony with an ordinary regime.

After the pronouncement of the sentences, Kuliy and Shpakov indicated that they had made a plea bargain and agreed to special proceedings, conceding to the persuasion of government-appointed lawyers (initially, all the accused had been fully isolated from the outside world and did not have access to private counsel) and of investigators in hopes of not getting a prison term.

Zimovets, whose case has been under consideration since the end of May in Moscow’s Tverskoi district court, refused a plea bargain, and Krepkin did not confess to striking a police officer from the very beginning.

The investigation of the cases of Krepkin and Kosykh continues.

In practice, the accusations against all defendants except Kosykh, about whom almost nothing is known, are based on injuries, unconfirmed by medical records, supposedly suffered by police officers who didn’t sustain any actual bodily harm, but merely experienced pain. It is also based on video recordings that are too unclear to allow one to make any conclusion as to whether the accused indeed used the violence imputed to them against police.

Related to the “26 March case” is that of the mathematics lecturer Dmitry Bogatov. Right after 26 March what were in fact anonymous calls began appearing on social media sites and internet forums calling for a protest on 2 April. A proportion of them had a relatively radical character (as a result, on 2 April several hundred peaceful protestors took to the streets and squares of Moscow, of whom more than 100 were detained).

In that connection a case was initiated on 1 April on the charge of incitement to riot, and on 6 April D. Bogatov was arrested with regard to that case.

As it later turned out later, Bogatov had on his computer a TOR network exit node, thanks to which one of the many re-posts of calls to participate in the 2 April protest, located on a professional forum for system administrators, was identified by its IP as coming from Bogatov’s computer.

Other, similar messages from the same forum user came from different IPs in different countries, but investigators decided that the owner of the only Moscow address among them was the author.

As the court refused to take Dmitry Bogatov into custody on charges of incitement to riot, he was charged under Article 30, Part 1; Article 212, Part 1, of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (“Preparation for the organisation of riots”); and Article 205.2, Part2 (“Public appeals via the internet to carry out terrorist activity”), and then placed in custody.

The prosecution of Bogatov, who has no connection with political protests, is obviously intended to scare internet users and prevent new public calls for protests that have not been given official sanction. Dmitry Bogatov has been recognised as a political prisoner by Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow branch).

It has been reported that criminal proceedings have been opened against people who participated in the 26 March action in towns other than Moscow. However, in these cases no one has been arrested, and only one case has come to the attention of the court: Volgograd student Maksim Beldinov was given a suspended sentence of one and a half year for violence against an official.

On 5 June it emerged that 33-year-old bankruptcy liquidator Evgeny Vladenkov from Petrozavodsk had been charged under Article 318, Part 1, of the Criminal Code. He was placed under house arrest.

Nevertheless, as the Moscow protest on 26 March was the largest, and as the authorities attach special significance to controlling protest activity in the capital, more repressions in connection with the “March 26 Affair” can be expected here.

The nature of the charges against those already indicted in this case, and the creation of such a large body of investigators to investigate a peaceful mass action, during which (after, in fact) there was only one incident of real violence against a police officer, leads us – especially considering the experience of many of the members of the group involved in the Bolotnaya Square case – to conclude that the aim is, in this case as in that, large-scale criminalisation of innocent people in order to intimidate civil society.

This interpretation is supported by the unprecedentedly rapid nature of the investigation.

If those accused in the Bolotnaya Square case were investigated over a period of months or even years, then the cases of three of the detainees in the new “March 26 case” went to court in less than two months.

This haste seems to be related to the necessity of bringing to bear against society the threat of criminal investigation for participation in peaceful protest before the next mass demonstration scheduled for 12 June. But it’s entirely likely that this criminal case will be investigated further, and more innocent participants in peaceful protests will be criminalised.

P.S. Human rights activist Sergei Davidis states: “While this report was being prepared for publication, a new suspect emerged in the case in Petrozavodsk.

Thanks to Anna Bowles and Lincoln Pigman for the translation

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising, we rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to help keep Rights in Russia alive. To donate, see HERE

Agora reports on increase of censorship in Russia following conflict with Ukraine

posted 15 Jun 2017, 03:33 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Jun 2017, 03:35 ]

9 June 2017


Russian authorities have used events in Ukraine as a pretext for the suppression of independent opinions and movements, according to a new report by the Agora International Human Rights Association on “Freedom of Speech as a Casualty. Censorship as a Consequence of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict.

“An active purge of the Internet and libraries has begun, while pressure on independent mass media and NGOs heightened significantly, the list of state secrets widened and the number of criminal cases involving high treason and espionage increased. The ongoing practice of direct acts of violence being committed with impunity toward political opponents and domestic activists, clearly encouraged by the authorities, has given rise to a wave of new political prisoners and refugees,” observes the study’s co-author, lawyer Damir Gainutdinov. According to the authors, all these measures are directly or indirectly linked with the complications of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Two months after the ‘annexation’ of the Crimea, a new article (280.1) was introduced into the Russian Criminal Code criminalizing calls to action “directed toward the violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.” The report states: “It was precisely this legal provision which became the main means to put pressure on those opposed to the ‘return of the Crimea.’

The report also focusses on the pressure placed on NGOs, the persecution of dissenters, through for example ‘movements’ such as ‘NOD’ (the National Liberation Movement), ‘Anti-Maidan’ and ‘SERB’, internet censorship and limiting freedom of expression in the media.

The report points out that the activity of these ‘movements’ has been reduced to the harassment of the opposition, the LGBT community and figures from the arts who criticize the authorities. Many of the attacks instigated by NOD and SERB, reported by Agora, occured at protests over events in Ukraine.

Translated by Nathalie Wilson

We are delighted you have been reading Rights in Russia. As you know, we are a non-for-profit organization that does not carry advertising. We rely on our readers and well-wishers to support our work. If you share our belief in the importance of our mission, in the need to publicize the human rights situation in Russia, please consider making a donation to enable us to continue our work. Help keep Rights in Russia alive. To donate, see HERE

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