Team 29: Worms, mussels and pre-trial detention

posted 2 Sep 2019, 04:46 by Translation Service   [ updated 9 Sep 2019, 12:05 ]

23 August 2019

Hi, Katya Arenina here

Last week, I gazed upon the backs of beluga whales in the White Sea, and felt generally pretty happy. But every now and then my mood faltered - I’m here enjoying my vacation alongside all kinds of wonderful animals, while people not dissimilar to myself are in prison.

Fifteen people have already been charged following the “riots” against the non-admission of opposition candidates in the Moscow City Duma elections. The accusations are absurd, with some being arrested for hand gestures, as well as incidences of mistaken identity which have not been dropped.

Worrying is meaningless, but helping is important. And while I may not have been there, our friends from the project ‘Prisoners of Case 212’ did some incredible work and launched a website where you can find out more about the criminal cases. We are helping people with fundraising in order to help prisoners and their families. Fortunately, everyone who has been arrested has access to a lawyer, but everyone needs to be transferred to the pre-trial detention centre, pay for transport expenses, additional legal services and financial assistance for their relatives, who may have been left without a substantial part of their income. I have just signed up for a monthly donation- and I advise you to do the same. If you can’t manage this, you can always find a different way to help: for example, just by spreading the word amongst your friends.

Those who were arrested are currently being held in various locations: Matroska, Medved, Presnya and Vodnik. But none of them are in the toughest pre-trial detention center in Moscow - Lefortovo. The accused are sent there when the investigation is carried out by the country's main intelligence service - the FSB. It is with cases such as this, that our lawyers most often work. Several of our clients can be tough to reach, however, and the lawyers in the pre-trial detention center are not even allowed to enter with telephones. Even taking a notebook can cause problems.

I have wondered for a long time how this terrible place operates and what its origin is. The FSB is trying to protect the tiniest bits of information about itself. The main word that defines Lefortovo is ‘secret’. Even the year of construction of the pre-trial detention centre is disputed (and the FSB refuses to transfer archival documents to even the Lefortovo District History Museum). But the city legends (which are, by the way, mostly true) reveal something: bodies buried in the courtyard, interrogations using psychotropics, and even a couple of mysterious deaths.

Over the past 150 years, Lefortovo has housed victims of the Great Terror and their executioners, members of the Soviet nomenclature who fell out of favour, the dissidents of the 1970s and now- those currently fighting the regime. The officials there are often delinquent. In the monstrous ensemble of administrative buildings, which were gradually built at the end of the 18th century, the past and the present are closely intertwined.

I’ve spent the last five months studying documents and talking with people who are, in one way or another, connected to Lefortovo. This resulted in a guidebook about the prison, made in conjunction with ‘Project’. In addition to the text and various visual pieces , there is also a podcast tour (you can listen on iTunes, Soundcloud, Yandex.Music, or VKontakte), where you can hear from former detainees, their relatives, lawyers, human rights activists and historians. Something to listen to over the weekend, perhaps.

Help detainees, read up on the situation, and listen to podcasts.

Katya, Team 29

Translated by James Lofthouse