Memorial hosts presentation of book on political prisoner Aleksei Pichugin

posted 29 May 2017, 08:58 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 29 May 2017, 09:07 ]
18 May 2017

By Vera Vasilieva


Pictured: Vera Vasilieva, Aleksei Kondaurov and Valery Shiryaev

On 16 May, a new edition of Aleksei Pichugin: Roads and Crossroads. A Biographical Sketch (originally published in 2012) was presented at the Moscow headquarters of the International Memorial Society. The book’s author, journalist Vera Vasilieva, is a contributor to the website, which reports on human rights issues. The new edition of her book has been published with the support of Novaya gazeta and its chief editor, Dmitry Muratov.

As well as Vasilieva herself, participants in the event included Novaya gazeta's deputy director general Valery Shiryaev; former head of the information and analysis department of Yukos oil company Aleksei Kondaurov; and former members of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission Zoya Svetova and Liudmila Al’pern, who visited Aleksei Pichugin during his nine-month stay in Moscow’s Lefortovo detention centre in 2016.

Vasilieva said she had not expected to update her book. She had hoped that the next book would be written by the political prisoner himself, once he was released from prison. But five years had passed since the first edition was published and much had happened in Pichugin’s life – much, that is, except his release. This has been despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which in 2012 called for a review of the unjust criminal case. At that point, Vasilieva explained, she realised that she needed to update her book.

Valery Shiryaev, who carried out a journalistic investigation, The Court of Vengeance, into the first criminal case against Pichugin, asserted that, contrary to the prevailing opinion that society is oblivious to his tragic story, “This case…is not going to go away. It really won’t, because everything will have to be answered for. Nothing in our history can be forgotten… And Aleksei’s case will always be a needle provoking maximum discomfort for our present regime. The system is changing. And, when it changes, this case will immediately come to the forefront.”

Aleksei Kondaurov—regardless of the third investigation opened against former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in which Kondaurov and Pichugin have both been questioned in their capacity as Khodorkovsky’s former colleagues—expressed hope that Pichugin’s situation will soon change for the better. He suggested that in 2018 President Vladimir Putin will pardon Pichugin, along the lines of American presidents who commonly issue pardons when leaving office. “I don’t rule out the possibility that this will happen with Pichugin,” Kondaurov said. He recalled that Khodorkovsky was pardoned and released by Putin in this way. “I think that Putin planned to put Khodorkovsky behind bars for a ten-year stretch, and Khodorkovsky did indeed serve ten years. I think Putin intends for Pichugin to serve fifteen. So I am hopeful that Aleksei will be freed in this manner. God grant that I am not mistaken!” Kondaurov said.

The journalist Zoya Svetova, who has also written about Pichugin, shared with the audience her conclusions about the first hearing of his case, which was dismissed by presiding judge Natalia Oikhver. "When I communicated with the jury from the first hearing, I realised that even these ordinary people, who had been selected at random, understood that Pichugin was innocent," Svetova said.

Svetova also spoke about her correspondence with Pichugin. “I was amazed how he writes. I was struck that he, imprisoned for life, always asked with concern how I am, how I am doing, how my family is. And this wasn’t just me. He always tells those to whom he writes to take care of themselves, and that they are in his prayers. His voice is heard.”

"All our visits were exactly the same—handcuffs, five guards between us... Pichugin was very friendly, he smiled, he was always glad to see us. That is because someone who is kept in isolation is isolated not only physically but also in human terms. For such a person, every visit, every new person is a gift of fortune," Liudmila A’lpern explained.

A recording of the book presentation can be found on the website The Case of Pichugin.

Aleksei Pichugin has already served fourteen years of his life sentence in the “Black Dolphin” colony in the town of Sol’-Iletsk in Orenburg region. He maintains his innocence. The Memorial Human Rights Centre has recognised Pichugin as a political prisoner. 

Translated by Elizabeth Teague