Protests in support of Aleksei Pichugin have taken place in various cities around the world and online

posted 22 Jun 2016, 12:02 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 Jun 2016, 12:07 ]
20 June 2016

By Vera Vasilieva

Source: (info)
On 19 June 2016 it was 13 years since the arrest of political prisoner Aleksei Pichugin.

As Radio Svoboda (RFE/RL) reported, a protest took place in Munich on 15 June in support of the convicted former member of Yukos staff who is serving a life sentence in the 'Black Dolphin' penal colony. The protest was organised by civic activist Madina Magomedova who has protested in support of Russian political prisoners several times previously, particularly in support of Aleksei Pichugin and Ildar Dadin.

The protesters held placards with Pichugin's photograph on them, as well as calls written in several languages for Pichugin, the former head of Yukos' department for internal economic security, to be released.

Madina Magomedova, who lives in Germany, considers Aleksei Pichugin to be a brave and honest person. She calls on all her fellow Russians who live abroad to show solidarity with Pichugin, who was the first person to be arrested and sentenced in the case of the oil company owned by Mikhail Khodorovsky. Pichugin is still in the prison colony, having been convicted of crimes although no Russian court ever proved that he was involved.

On 17 June a protest was held in Frankfurt-am-Main outside the Consulate General of the Russian Federation to demand the release of Aleksei Pichugin, who, the protesters believe, was sentenced on the basis of a fabricated criminal case. This event too was timed to commemorate the 13th anniversary of Pichugin’s arrest. As the protesters emphasised, despite the European Court of Human Rights' decision, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has not initiated a retrial and Aleksei is still being held in one of the harshest prisons for life prisoners.

"Of course, the fact that we have been asked to move to the courtyard behind the Russian consulate didn't please us at all. The courtyard behind adjoins a street which cars go down and very few passers-by walk along, unlike the street where the consulate entrance is located," organiser Maria Kosova commented on her Facebook page.

She said that the police officers who were on duty at the start of the event were very friendly. After they had carried out the necessary formalities and given protesters a telephone number to call if any problems arose, they wished the civic activists well and left.

The member of Russian consulate staff who came out of the building, on the other hand, showed a different kind of interest in the protesters. He asked whether the protesters had official permission to gather, then took a photograph of the authorisation document in question as well as photographing the protesters themselves. The young man also took away one of the civic activists' flyers.

Maria Kosova commented, "This is the third year running that we have held a picket here. In the past, consulate staff showed no interest in our demonstration, so we were pleased to have been noticed.

"Unfortunately, nothing much has changed in Aleksei's situation and the demands we have been making since our first protest are as relevant as ever. All that has changed is the number of years which Aleksei Pichugin has spent behind bars. When you put these dates on [to banners], it’s always a weird feeling", she admitted.

On 19 June Facebook users organised a flashmob in support of Pichugin. On their own Facebook pages they published selfies of themselves holding placards in support of Pichugin, giving them the hashtag #FreePichugin. According to the event's organisers, anyone can join in and all the photos will be sent to Pichugin in the 'Black Dolphin' prison.

Meanwhile, regarding Pichugin's first trial, the European Court of Human Rights' decision, which specified that the trial must be reviewed, has still not been implemented. Regarding his second trial, the application has so far only been communicated, and it is not known when the hearing will take place.

On 9 June it was announced that Aleksei Pichugin’s appeal for pardon has been refused. The rejection letter was signed by Yury Berg, governor of Orenburg region.

Aleksei Pichugin informed his lawyer, Kseniya Kostromina, that his request for pardon had been rejected during their meeting on 7 June. As Kseniya Kostromina told Kommersant newspaper, "Aleksei has no illusions about his possible release and reacted to this refusal in his usual stoical way".

However, Yury Berg himself denied having rejected Pichugin's appeal for pardon and stressed that only the President of the Russian Federation has the right to decide such questions. But the President's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, had previously announced that Pichugin's request for clemency did not reach Putin.

Aleksei Pichugin has maintained his innocence of all charges against him.

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts