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In Altai, the Gorno-Altaisk City Court put columnist and founder of the weekly newspaper Listok, Sergei Mikhailov in pre-trial detention. A criminal case was opened against Mikhailov for spreading fake news about the Russian military after investigators received a complaint about his articles about the “special military operation” of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine. These articles had been published in Listok and on the mirror site of the newspaper’s website.
Who is Sergei Mikhailov?
Sergey Mikhailov was born on August 1, 1976. He has a young child and currently resides in the city of Gorno-Altaisk in the Altai Republic of Russia. Mikhailov is the founder and a columnist of the opposition weekly newspaper Listok and is a member of the federal political council of the democratic party Parnas. He is charged under Article 207.3(2)(e) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Public spreading of deliberately false information about the use of the Russian Armed Forces and containing data about the exercise of their authority by Russian government agencies outside the Russian Federation for reasons of political hatred” — up to 10 years in prison). He has been in custody since April 13, 2022.
Russian authorities have accused Sergei Mikhailov of publishing false information on the destruction of a maternity hospital and drama theater in Mariupol by Russian troops, which resulted in the death of civilians, in Listok’s Telegram channel from March 9 to April 4, 2022.
In addition, between March 20 and April 8, 2022, according to the case investigator, Mikhailov published false information on the killing of civilians by the Russian Army in the town of Bucha, Kyiv region, on the Telegram channel and newspaper website and in print issue No. 13(14)/1183 on April 6, 2022.
“By his actions, Sergei Mikhailov committed a crime under Article 207.3(e) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation — public dissemination under the guise of reliable reports of knowingly false information that contains data on the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation in order to protect the interests of Russia and its citizens, maintaining international peace and security, as well as containing data on the performance of their powers by state agencies of Russia outside the territory of Russia for such purposes, committed on grounds of political hatred and hostility,” concluded the above decision dated April 14, 2022 by V. Ageyev, the prosecutor for high-profile cases of the Department of Investigation,
The Arrest and the Criminal Case
On April 13, 2022, Sergei Mikhailov was detained in the town of Lyubertsy near Moscow where he had recently been living (hiding, according to prosecutors).
“On April 13, 22 at 6:00 a.m. I wake up to a sharp knock on the door of a room in a dormitory near Moscow. There is a shout from the door — open up, police! Immediately the flimsy plywood door flew open with a good kick. A crowd of people rushes into the room. A little later I counted 15 people, led by two SWAT officers in bulletproof vests, with assault rifles and faces covered with balaclavas. There was a cry of ‘Face down!’ I lay face down, handcuffs snapped on my hands. ‘Stand up, face the wall!’” Sergei Mikhailov describes his detention.
On the same day, law enforcement officers searched the Listokoffice in Gorno-Altaisk and confiscated documentation and office equipment. Searches were also conducted in the apartments of the news outlet’s employees.
On April 14, 2022, Mikhailov was taken under convoy to Gorno-Altaisk and placed in the temporary detention facility of the Department of Internal Affairs. Judge Elena Kuznetsova of the Gorno-Altaisk City Court placed him in the pre-trial detention center until June 7, 2022, on the recommendation of the investigation.
It should be noted that the criminal prosecution of Sergei Mikhailov was preceded by actions against him and his media outlet. At the end of March 2022, hackers tried to infiltrate Mikhailov’s Telegram channel, and in early April, VKontaktesocial media blocked Listok’s community group. On April 6, 2022, Olga Komarova, director of Publishing House Listok LLC, was summoned to the prosecutor’s office for drawing up a protocol under the administrative article on appeals to sanctions against Russia (Article 20.3.4 of the Administrative Code). In April 2022, the Gorno-Altaisk City Court fined Listok founder Mikhailov, director Komarova, and the media legal entity several times for publishing several articles allegedly discrediting the army, totaling over a million rubles.
On April 25, 2022, two criminal cases were opened against Mikhailov under the article on spreading “knowingly false information” about the Russian army (Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code). The first case was initiated due to reposts of entries about the war with Ukraine in the newspaper’s Telegram channel, and the second due to the publication of a summary of an article about the atrocities in Bucha from Wikipedia.
“S. Figulin, the head of the Republican Center “E” and his subordinates talked to me without any lawyer. They said — the investigator allowed it… The Telegram channel of Listok was insistently demanded to be eliminated. After hinting at some mitigation, Mr. Figulin demanded that I record a video of me apologizing… I refused … Figulin voiced aloud his desire to consider the criminal case “in a special order” …Figulin: “You are ruining Listok with your own hands.”
Sergei Mikhailov categorically refuses to admit to the charges and considers the criminal prosecution as obstruction of his professional journalistic activities.
Why Does the Memorial Center Recognize Sergei Mikhailov as a Political Prisoner?
After studying the documents of the case, the Human Rights Center Memorial came to the conclusion that Sergei Mikhailov is a victim of political persecution.
A week after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on March 4, 2022, the Russian State Duma adopted emergency laws (not as separate bills but by amending others that had already passed the first reading) to amend the Code of Administrative Offenses and the Criminal Code. These laws deal with calls for sanctions, “spreading fakes” about the Russian armed forces, and “discrediting” them, as well as calls to obstruct their use. The same day, the Federation Council approved the laws, and in the evening, they were signed by the president. The amendments took effect on March 5, 2022, the date of their official publication. Memorial attorneys strongly believe that these articles contradict both the Russian Constitution and Russia’s international obligations, as well as basic principles of law.
According to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference … shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” Similar guarantees are included in Article 29 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of thought and speech.
The restrictions on freedom of expression established by Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code clearly do not serve the purpose for which such restrictions might be established, Memorial emphasizes.
It is important to note that legitimate restrictions on freedom of expression cannot be justified by military censorship, as stipulated by paragraph 15 of Article 7 of the Federal Constitutional Law “On Martial Law.” Even under martial law, the law does not impose special restrictions on freedom of speech and opinion. Moreover, there are no grounds for them in a situation where martial law is not imposed.
The norms of Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code allow prosecution for expressing any opinions on the use of the Russian Armed Forces and the activities of its government agencies abroad.
The aforementioned defects of Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation determine its unlawful nature, which does not allow its application in good faith. The immediate introduction of this article into the Criminal Code after the beginning of the armed aggression against Ukraine, the rhetoric of officials that accompanied its consideration and adoption, and the context of its application — the ongoing military actions and accompanying state military propaganda — exclude such good faith. In a situation where the only accepted information and assessments are those of official Russian sources, which justify the war of aggression, deny Russian war crimes and accounts of civilian deaths, and prohibit the labeling of the events as “war,” the application of this article of the Criminal Code is extremely unconscientious and unlawful.
Based on the above, the Independent Human Rights Project “Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial” believes that Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code is anti-legal—that it was created to conduct political repressions against critics of the authorities and must be abolished. Any prosecutions under this article are unlawful and must be stopped.
When considering the prosecution of Sergei Mikhailov, it should be noted that he has been an opposition politician and journalist for many years, was elected deputy in Altai, and criticized the work of the authorities and law enforcement agencies both at the republic and federal levels. Thus, there is reason to believe that an additional motive for the unlawful criminal prosecution was the desire on the part of the Altai law enforcement to stop his outspoken criticism.
Memorial considers Sergei Mikhailov to be a political prisoner and calls for his release and for a review of his sentence with respect for the right to a fair trial.
This is the story of a St. Petersburg-based artist Aleksandra “Sasha” Skochilenko, who tried to help Russians cope with depression and is now arrested for “war fakes.”
Who is Aleksandra Skochilenko?
Sasha Skochilenko was born on September 13, 1990. She is a resident of St. Petersburg, a journalist, feminist, artist, and musician. When Sasha was diagnosed with cyclothymia, a form of bipolar affective disorder, she created The Book of Depression to support people with similar health problems. The book has been translated into English and Ukrainian.She was active socially and politically and has repeatedly participated in protests against the war in Ukraine.
She was charged under paragraph “e” of Part 2 of Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code:”Public dissemination under the guise of reliable reports of knowingly false information containing data about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, committed on grounds of political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred or enmity or on grounds of hatred or enmity toward a social group,” up to 10 years in prison.” She was charged for replacing price tags in a grocery store with anti-war placards. She has been in custody since April 11, 2022.
On the evening of March 31, 2022, anti-war flyers appeared in a Perekrestok supermarket on the first floor of Shkiperskii Mall on Vasilyevsky Island of St. Petersburg. Attention was drawn to these flyers by a customer — a 75-year-old retiree. The woman filed a police report.
As the Bumaga newspaper discovered, supposedly for more than 10 days the law enforcement officers questioned the employees of Perekrestok, and reviewed video surveillance cameras. Eventually, they established who had put the flyer in the price tag and where this person went.
The Arrest and the Criminal Case
On the morning of Monday, April 11, law enforcement officers conducted a special operation. They went to the apartment of the alleged suspect — his house was 900 meters away from Perekrestok. What exactly occurred in the apartment is unknown. The man living there turned out to be a friend of 31-year-old Sasha Skochilenko.
That morning, the Skochilenko received a message from the friend saying they were “looking for a body” in his apartment, asking her to come over. When she was on her way, the young man texted her that “everything was fine.” Skochilenko’s friends believe that the law enforcers could have texted Sasha from her friend’s phone.
When Skochilenko arrived at the apartment, she was detained. It was around 11 am. There was no news from Skochilenko for more than four hours, and law enforcement agencies did not comment on the situation.
During the search, the computer and the clothes on which Skochilenko allegedly replaced price tags with flyers were seized.
After the search, Skochilenko was taken for questioning to the Vasileostrovsky District Investigative Department of the Main Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for St. Petersburg, where her detention as a suspect was formalized.
According to the media outlet Setevye Svobodi, the interrogation continued until 3 a.m. During this time the charges against Skochilenko became more serious, with an added motive of political hatred or enmity: “d” part 2, article 207.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, providing for 5 to 10 years in prison. How the information on the anti-war leaflets could be “knowingly false” and where the “motive of political hatred” came from is not mentioned in the documents provided by the investigation.
On April 12, 2022, Mr. Proskuryakov, an investigator from the investigative department of the Vasileostrovsky district of St. Petersburg petitioned for the court to apply a measure of restraint in the form of detention to Skochilenko.
The following day, April 13, 2022, the judge of the Vasileostrovsky District Court of St. Petersburg E.V. Leonovagranted the petition for restraint, issuing an order for the detention of Aleksandra Skochilenko until May 31.
According to Dmitry Gerasimov, Skochilenko’s lawyer confirms that she posted anti-war leaflets with information about the Russian Federation’s use of military force in Ukraine and its consequences. However, she does not believe that the information in them was false, as follows from the article of the Criminal Code imputed to her.
The Judge Sent Skochilenko to the Detention Center. She Has a Critical Health Condition: Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease
Sasha Skochilenko spent the night of April 12, 2022 in jail. As she said later in court, she slept there, but was not given any of the water or food that her friends had brought to her. The first hearing on Skochilenko’s case was postponed to the next day — and shespent another day in the temporary detention center.
The hearing on Skochilenko’s restraint began at 9 a.m. on 13 April in the Vasileostrovsky District Court. More than 40 people gathered in the hall — friends, journalists, as well as human rights activists. Skochilenko was taken to the court hall in handcuffs and put in a caged cell. She looked exhausted and begged for water — but there was no water in court and visitors were screened for food or drink. Despite her depressed state, she thanked the crowd.
Judge Elena Leonova did not consider the fact that Skochilenkowas diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder and celiac disease — a genetic intolerance to gluten, which requires a strict diet — to be a legitimate reason to refuse to send her to the detention center.
The judge specifically noted that Skochilenko “has no serious illnesses diagnosed” and that “there is no data that [the girl] needs emergency medical care.” In response to the fact that Skochilenko’s lawyer gave her a medical report, the judge said that the document “is not taken into account, because the source of information is not mentioned.”
Later it became known that Skochilenko faced psychological pressure and bullying in the detention center by her cellmates. The inmates forced Sasha to wash all her clothes every day, including bulky sweaters and a robe. It took her half of the day, wastingtime she could have spent writing letters to friends and statements about her case.
On April 20, after her meeting with Skochilenko in jail, herlawyer Yana Nepovinnova said that she felt “very sick” and vomited because of the poor diet. By April 25 (by that time the artist was still transferred to the pre-trial detention center), according to Nepovinnova, Skochilenko’s health had further deteriorated.
Affidavit of guarantee for Skochilenko were signed by deputies of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg, Boris Vishnevsky and Mikhail Amosov; politician Lev Shlosberg; and municipal deputy Sergei Troshin. The court also received a positive reference from Kirill Artemenko, the general director of Bumaga media outlet. Hundreds of posts appeared in social networks about her case, calling it absurd. The case has been covered by the independent media. An action in support of Skochilenko was held in London.
Amnesty International and the American PEN Center issued statements in Skochilenko’s defense. Costume designer Ksenia Sorokina, who won this year’s Golden Mask Award for her work on the play Finist the Clear Falcon, decided to give Skochilenkoher award “in gratitude for all that she does.”
What’s more infuriating in its injustice is not only the prosecution for anti-war stance (that too), but rather the possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison, and the fact that she was sent to adetention center despite her illness.
“I remind you that none of the men who threatened to ‘cut off their heads’ ever got anything,” wrote Legislative Assembly deputy Boris Vishnevsky. “And nothing for the two attempts to kill my friend Vladimir Kara-Murza. But for the anti-war speeches — jail and then prison for 10 years. Notice the difference.”
At the same time, many of those in favor of Skochilenko’sfreedom are pessimistic. For example, Vishnevsky himself tells the Bumaga media outlet that he “would be glad to be wrong” if the outcome of the case is still positive. Journalist Arseniy Vesninrecalled how he knew they would send Skochilenko to jail, even though he didn’t believe it.
A petition demanding the artist’s release also appeared on Change.org. At the time of writing, it has already been signed by over 130 thousand people.
A separate petition in support of Skochilenko was created by mental health activists and journalists. “Aleksandra is a person who has made a tremendous contribution to the fight against prejudice about mental disorders. In her Book of Depression, she explained and showed in simple language where the disease, which affects millions of Russians, comes from and how it is treated. It was one of the first Russian-language works to draw attention to an illness that affects more than 300 million people worldwide,” they stated.
Why Does the Memorial Center Recognize Aleksandra Skochilenko as a Political Prisoner?
Having reviewed documents of the case, the Human Rights Center Memorial has concluded that Aleksandra Skochilenko is a victim of political persecution.
The center asserts that the article about spreading knowingly false information about the actions of the Russian army (Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code) contradicts the Constitution of Russia, Russia’s international obligations, and the basic principles of law.
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression,” and restrictions on the exercise of these rights “shall be provided by law and shall be necessary: for respect of the rights and reputations of others; for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals.” The restrictions on freedom of expression established by Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code do not serve any of the above purposes and are a manifestation of censorship.
This article criminalizes any statements about the use of the Russian Armed Forces and the activities of its government agencies abroad. During an armed conflict, it is impossible to establish the truthfulness of information disseminated by various sources. It is also impossible to establish whether or not the information is known to be false. These defects determine the unlawful nature of Art. 207.3 of the RF Criminal Code.
The timing and context of the appearance of Art. 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code — after the beginning of large-scale Russian military aggression against Ukraine — allow Memorial to argue that this article was specifically created as a tool for persecuting critics of the Russian authorities, of which Aleksandra Skochilenko is an example.
Finally, it is important to note the particularly cynical nature of the court’s decision to place Skochilenko in pretrial detention despite her vulnerable state of health. As a result, her friends and relatives are now trying to secure a special diet for her in the pretrial detention center. The denial of a gluten-free options directly threatens Skochilenko’s health, which could lead to serious complications for her, including cancer.
The independent human rights project Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial, which continues the work of the thematic Program of the liquidated by the state HRC Memorial, finds that the criminal case against Aleksandra Skochilenko is politically motivated, aimed at involuntary termination or change of character and intimidation of society as a whole. The government’s punitive efforts were carried out solely because of her non-violent exercise of freedom of expression and information, by which she intended to protect human rights and her beliefs.
Based on the above, Memorial considers Aleksandra Skochilenkoto be a political prisoner and calls for her release and for a review of her sentence with respect for the right to a fair trial.
Vladimir Kara-Murza has been illegally removed from political office, poisoned twice, and declared a “foreign agent” by the Russian state. Despite all of these dire threats, he’s remained in Russia and continued to fight for democracy. On April 22, Kara-Murza was charged under Criminal Code Article 207.3 for spreading discrediting information about the Russian military and sent to prison. This is his story.
Who is Vladimir Kara-Murza?
Vladimir Kara-Murza, 40, is a prominent Russian activist, political opposition leader, senior advisor for human rights accountability, journalist, and historian. He served as a member of the Federal Council of the Political Party Union of Right Forces, a member of the Political Council of the All-Russian Democratic Movement “Solidarnost,” a member of the Bureau of the Political Party People’s Freedom Party, and Chairman of the Board of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom. Kara-Murza is a longtime vocal critic of the Kremlin who held leadership roles in Open Russia and Free Russia Foundation, organizations that the Russian government has deemed “undesirable.” Kara-Murza also hosted a weekly program on the since-shuttered Echo of Moscow radio station and writes columns for The Washington Post.
Kara-Murza has directed three documentary films: They Chose Freedom, Nemtsov, and My Duty to Not Stay Silent. He is also the author of Reform or Revolution: The Quest for Responsible Government in the First Russian State Duma. He has received several awards, including the Sakharov Prize for Journalism as an Act of Conscience, the Magnitsky Human Rights Award, and the Geneva Summit Courage Award. He holds an M.A. (Cantab.) in History from Cambridge.
The effectiveness of Kara-Murza’s work can be clearly seen in his advocacy for the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. This crucial document, adopted in the United States in 2012, allows for the imposition of sanctions on those responsible for “extrajudicial killings and other gross human rights violations.” It now includes those who, according to the U.S., were involved in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who had uncovered a scheme to steal 5.4 billion rubles.
Kara-Murza was poisoned twice. In 2015, Kara-Murza suddenly felt unwell during a meeting with colleagues. Doctors diagnosed him with acute kidney failure due to poisoning. During an extended period of hospitalization, he was in an induced coma and on life support. Two years later, in February 2017, Kara-Murza was again hospitalized in a critical condition to a Moscow hospital with the same symptoms. Kara-Murza survived. As he later recounted, doctors estimated his chance of survival at about 5 percent.
After Alexei Navalny’s poisoning, Kara-Murza said in an interview that the symptoms described by Navalny were “exactly the same as the symptoms” that he himself experienced in both poisonings. An investigative effort published on February 11, 2021 by Bellingcat and The Insider teams discovered that FSB officers shadowed Kara-Murza on his travel. Their report found that a group of FSB officers implicated in the poisoning of politician Alexei Navalny and other prominent opposition leaders, made two attempts to poison Kara-Murza in 2015 and 2017.
He has pushed for a criminal investigation of his poisoning, but proceedings have not yet progressed.
It is believed that the two poisonings of Kara-Murza were revenge for the fact that he and Boris Nemtsov advocated in the U.S. (and later Canada and the European Union) to pass the Magnitsky Act.As a result of their work, sanctions were imposed throughout the Russian bureaucracy: on employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Investigative Committee of Russia (IC), and judges. Later, the sanctions list was expanded to include the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov; Andrei Lugovoi, a deputy who is suspected of poisoning Alexander Litvinenko in London; and other Russian politicians and officials.
On April 11, 2022, Vladimir Kara-Murza was detained in the courtyard of his home in Moscow. According to the police report, he “disobeyed the lawful demand” of police officers. After his arrest, Kara-Murza was held overnight at the Khamovniki police station, where a report was drawn up under Article 19.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation (“disobedience to legal demands of police officers”). The police officers stated that they had put him under a “Fortress” plan while he was in the police station, and that his lawyer was not allowed to see him on that basis.
The police claim that they were on patrol and noticed that Vladimir Kara-Murza “at the sight of police officers behaved inadequately, changed the trajectory of movement, accelerated his step and on their demand to stop tried to escape.” They claim that ”when arrested he showed active resistance, refused to provide identity documents and to follow into the police vehicle.”
Kara-Murza claims that he arrived at his house by car, where an unmarked white minibus was already waiting for him. The officers of the 2nd Special Police Regiment ran up to the car and detained Vladimir Kara-Murza as he parked near his house. His phone was taken away from him immediately, in violation of the law, and he was not allowed to call his wife and inform her about his arrest until several hours later. He was then taken to the police station in a white van.
According to Kara-Murza, his arrest was filmed by two persons in civilian clothes.
The Arrest and the Criminal Proceedings
On April 12, 2022, the Khamovniki District Court of Moscow found Kara-Murza guilty of disobedience to the lawful demands of the police and sentenced him to administrative arrest for 15 days.
On April 22, 2022, Vadim Prokhorov, Kara-Murza’s lawyer, announced that his client was facing charges under Art. 207.3 of the Criminal Code (“public dissemination of knowingly false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”) and had already been taken from the special reception center to the main investigation department of the Russian Investigative Committee. Later, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow specified that the investigation petitioned for a measure of restraint in the form of detention, and that Kara-Murza was charged with paragraph “e” of Part 2, 207.3 of the Criminal Code (“public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation for reasons of political hatred”).
According to Prokhorov, the basis for the criminal case against Kara-Murza was his March 15, 2022 address before the House of Representatives of the State of Arizona. Neither Kara-Murza’slawyers nor the defendant himself can explain why, out of a series of his public speeches in the United States, the IC has chosen to prosecute that particular one.
According to the ruling on the initiation of criminal proceedings, Kara-Murza “has knowingly spread false information under the guise of reliable reports, containing data on the use of the Russian Armed Forces to bomb residential areas, social infrastructure facilities, including maternity homes, hospitals and schools, as well as the use of other prohibited means and methods of warfare during a special military operation in Ukraine, thus causing substantial harm to the interests of the Russian Federation.”
The content of Kara-Murza’s March 15 speech is not much different from the Anti-War Committee’s first declarations`. It is, in fact, a brief critical analysis of the 23-year development of Vladimir Putin’s regime. The Basmanny Court emphasized the following statement made by Kara-Murza: “[…] today, the whole world sees what Putin’s regime is doing to Ukraine. It is dropping bombs on residential areas, on hospitals and schools […]. These are war crimes that were initiated by the dictatorial regime in the Kremlin.” Independent resources pointed out that the translation of the speech was not made by a professional interpreter, but by Danila Mikheev, who had done research as an expert on behalf of the IC in a number of other cases against opposition figures.
On the same day, April 22, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow remanded Kara-Murza in custody until June 12, 2022.The arrest has been now extended through August 2022.
The investigators justified the request for Kara-Murza’s placement in custody by the fact that he has “informal ties” with the leaders of “unfriendly” countries, cooperates with “undesirable” organizations such as Free Russia Foundation, and has accounts in foreign banks. The investigators argued that if a more lenient preventive measure were chosen, Kara-Murza might obstruct the investigation. They also claim that Kara-Murza is a British citizen,is the owner of real estate in Washington, DC, and has a residence permit in the US, so he may abscond.
The defense argued that there was no evidence pointing to the elements of a crime and that there were no other legitimate grounds for imposing detention on Kara-Murza. The lawyers drew the court’s attention to the fact that the politician had children, including minors, and was permanently registered in Moscow. They explained that there was no evidence that Kara-Murza had real estate in Washington, accounts in foreign banks, or had worked for an undesirable organization. They also argued that the report substantiating the criminal nature of Kara-Murza’s speech had been prepared by a biased specialist.
The defense drew the court’s attention to the un-investigated poisonings of Kara-Murza in 2015 and 2017, the consequences of which would pose health risks for the politician in the detention center.
The defense counsel insisted on the political nature of the case and asked the court to refuse to put the politician in custody. The court was also presented with guarantees from deputies of the Moscow City Duma: Mikhail Timonov, Maxim Kruglov and Vladimir Ryzhkov.
Despite all arguments of the defense, the court agreed with the arguments of the investigation and put Vladimir Kara-Murza in custody until June 12, 2022.
The International Reaction
The arrest of Vladimir Kara-Murza provoked a flood of statements from politicians and human rights organizations around the world, as well as a barrage of comments on social media. The hashtag #FreeKaraMurza was used to tweet messages of support and demand a fair trial and the immediate release of the politician.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted the U.S. is “troubled” by Kara-Murza’s detention. He called for his immediate release.
In a statement, The Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan said Kara-Murza has “repeatedly risked his safety to tell the truth about Vladimir Putin’s heinous violations of human rights” and said the charges against him were for a “sham offense.” He added, “Americans should be infuriated by Putin’s escalating campaign to silence Kara-Murza. […] And everyone who values press freedom and human rights should be enraged by this injustice and join in demanding Kara-Murza’s immediate release.”
Twenty-five international human rights organizations called on UN Secretary General António Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to condemn the arrest and detention of Russian opposition politician and demand his immediate release along with all others detained and arrested for protesting against the war in Ukraine. A statement from human rights activists, including representatives from major organizations such as the United Nations Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Foundation, declared that “[t]he accusations against Kara-Murza are false and aimed only at silencing dissent within Russia. They reflect the Putin regime’s fear of the truth.”
A number of leading advocates have condemned Kara-Murza’simprisonment. Among them is Michael Breen, President and CEO of Human Rights First: “We are deeply concerned for our friend Vladimir Kara-Murza’s personal safety, and we call on Russian authorities to release him immediately […]. Putin and his regime have shown themselves to be willing to break any law, domestic or international, to suppress political opposition at home and subjugate neighboring countries like Ukraine. We call on all of democracy’s allies to oppose criminal behavior like this to protect human rights in Russia, Ukraine, and around the world.”
A joint statement by Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin and co-chairman Rep. Steve Cohen, as well as ranking members Sen. Roger Wicker and Rep. Joe Wilson reads, ”Vladimir is not a criminal but a true patriot motivated by the potential of a democratic future for Russia and freedom for its people. He must be allowed access to his lawyer and should be released immediately.”
In a separate statement, Steve Cohen wrote that “Vladimir Kara-Murza is a political prisoner of Putin. He must be released immediately. Putin is afraid of Vladimir because he has a voice and speaks the truth to the Russian people about the kleptocrats who commit financial crime and their leader who is a murderer.”
“Vladimir has been taken hostage by the Putin regime for criticising the war. He’s a British citizen and the U.K. government should use all means to get him released,” writes Bill Browder, CEO Hermitage Capital, Head of Global Magnitsky Justice campaign.
On May 26, 2022, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and colleagues applauded the Senate’s passage of their bipartisan resolution honoring Vladimir Kara-Murza and condemning his unjust detention. The resolution pays tribute to Kara-Murza’sadvocacy for human rights in Russia and support for the anti-war movement. It urges the U.S. and allied states to secure his immediate release and calls for the U.S. government to support the cause of democracy and human rights in Russia.
After Kara-Murza’s arrest, his wife Yvgenia Kara-Murza led a campaign for his release. She regularly gives interviews to the press and meets with politicians on both sides of the Atlantic to encourage the speedy release of her husband, describing her husband’s long history of resistance to Putin’s regime. On May 232022, she gave a speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum. She quoted her husband: “The other day a fellow prisoner asked if I wish I’d stayed silent [on the war]. ‘No’ was the easiest answer I’ve ever given. To stay silent means to be complicit.”
A large number of international media outlets, including The Washington Post, The Guardian, and National Review have published materials about and interviews with Kara-Murza. In addition, dozens of international politicians, U.S. senators, and even hundreds of ordinary people published posts on social networks with words of support and demands for the immediate release of Kara-Murza.
Why Does the Memorial Center Recognize Vladimir Kara-Murza as a Political Prisoner?
After studying the documents of the case, the Memorial Human Rights Center (Memorial) came to the conclusion that Vladimir Kara-Murza is a victim of political persecution as a result of his political activism.
A week after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, on March 4, 2022, the Russian State Duma adopted emergency legislation to amend both the Code of Administrative Offences and the Criminal Code.
The corpus delicti of the crime under the new Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code is formulated as follows: “Public dissemination under the guise of reliable reports of knowingly false information containing data on the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to protect the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens, to maintain international peace and security, as well as containing data on the performance by state bodies of the Russian Federation of their powers outside the territory of the Russian Federation for the above purposes.”
Memorial believes that this article contradicts both the Russian Constitution, the international obligations of the Russian Federation, and the basic principles of law.
According to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference [… and] shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” Restrictions on the exercise of these rights “shall be established by law and be necessary: for respect of the rights and reputations of others; for the protection of national security, public order, public health or morals.”
Similar guarantees are contained in Article 29 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which protects freedom of thought and speech. Restrictions on these freedoms are related to the prohibition of propaganda or agitation that incites social, racial, national or religious hatred and enmity; propaganda of social, racial, national, religious or linguistic superiority; and state secrets.
The restrictions on freedom of expression set forth in Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code clearly do not serve the purpose for which such restrictions might be imposed.
In fact, the norms of Article 207.3 allow prosecution for expressing any opinions about the use of the Russian Armed Forces and the activities of its state bodies abroad. Judgments as to whether or not the actions mentioned in the article have the goals of “protecting the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens and maintaining international peace and security” are, by their very nature, evaluative expressions of opinion.
But even with regard to information itself, for example, statements of fact under conditions of military operations or contradictory information from various sources, it is extremely difficult to judge veracity. Moreover, it is impossible to establish the knowingness, i.e. the intent to disseminate false information.
The aforementioned organic defects of Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code determine its non-legal nature, which does not allow its application in good faith.
Based on available evidence, the Independent Human Rights Project “Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial” believes that Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code is anti-legal, was created to carry out political repression against critics of the authorities, and must be abolished. Any prosecutions under this article are unlawful and must be stopped.
The facts cited by Kara-Murza and his defense and the videofootage of his detention indicate falsification of evidence of an administrative offense under Article 19.3 of the CAO. Kara-Murza arrived at the house in a car, where police officers were already waiting for him. The story about the police patrol noticing Kara-Murza changing his trajectory was fabricated by law enforcement. These fabrications once again confirm his pre-planned political persecution, which began with imprisonment on an administrative charge.
The speed with which this criminal case has developed is an indirect indication of the political motivations involved in Kara-Murza’s persecution.
Following Russia’s attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Kara-Murza, along with other politicians and public figures, created the Russian Anti-War Committee. One of the committee’s primary objects is to hold Russia’s political leadership accountable for unleashing the war.
The political motive for the prosecution is additionally confirmed by the inclusion of Kara-Murza on the list of “foreign agents.”The Russian Ministry of Justice did so on the same day that hewas arrested.
The independent human rights project “Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial” continues the work of the Thematic Program of the RC, which had been liquidated by the state.Memorial, according to the international guidance on the definition of a political prisoner, finds that the criminal case against Vladimir Kara-Murza is politically motivated, aimed at involuntary termination or change of character of his public activities and intimidation of society as a whole. The consolidation and retention of power by subjects of authority wascarried out exclusively because of Kara-Murza’s non-violent activities aimed at protecting human rights and his convictions in connection with the non-violent exercise of freedom of expression and information.
Based on the above, Memorial considers Vladimir Kara-Murza to be a political prisoner and calls for his release and for a review of his sentence with respect for the right to a fair trial.
A journalist was sentenced to 6 years in prison and fined for “collecting information for the benefit of the Ukrainian intelligence services”, and during his arrest an explosive device was allegedly found in his car. The journalist himself does not admit guilt and asserts that law enforcement officers slipped a grenade into his car, and then tortured him with electricity and beat him. Here’s his story.
Who is Vladislav Esipenko?
Vladislav Esipenko was born on March 13, 1969, in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine. He is married and has a young child. Before his detention, he worked as a freelance journalist for Radio Svoboda (the “Crimea.Realities” project). While he is a citizen of Ukraine, he also has a Russian passport as result of forced passportization of residents of annexed Crimea where Esipenko and his family lived from 2013 to 2015.
According to the prosecution, Esipenko, who was planning a business trip to Crimea, agreed with an unknown person to purchase a hand grenade RGD-5. The grenade was placed in a hideout in the village of Pravda of Pervomaisky district of Crimea. On February 26, Esipenko supposedly took a grenade from the stash, and put it in his car. In Simferopol, he replaced the ring of the fuse and tied a nylon thread to it. The investigation claims that the explosive device was acquired by the journalist to ensure his personal safety while collecting information for “Crimea.Realities” media outlet.
On March 10, 2021, FSB officers stopped Esipenko’s car in Crimea and during search with a service dog “found” a grenade in his car. According to the FSB, Esipenko was questioned and then released under the obligation to come to the UFSB in the morning, which he did. Esipenko later said that on the night of 10-11 March he was forcefully held in a basement in Bakhchisarai and tortured.
The Arrest and the Criminal Case
On March 11, 2021, a criminal case was opened regarding the discovery of an explosive device. At the same time, Esipenko was officially detained. On that day, an interrigation was conducted in which the journalist supposedly told FSB officers about the location of the hideout. Witnesses from the FSB told the court that they brought the suspect to Pravda village from Simferopol; he himself says that he was brought directly from the basement in Bakhchisarai, and before the investigative action, they coached him on what place he should point to.
On March 12, 2021, the Kyiv District Court of Simferopol chaired by V.V. Krapko took Esipenko into custody.
On March 16, 2021, the decision to bring him as a defendant was made by the senior investigator of the investigative department of the FSS of Russia in the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Major of Justice V.O. Vlasov.
Initially, Esipenko pleaded guilty. The first testimony states that the journalist collected information in Crimea not only for his editorial office, but also for Viktor Kravchuk, “who introduced himself as an employee of the Ukrainian intelligence services (SBU).” It was Kravchuk, according to the testimony, who suggested that he acquires a grenade.
Esipenko was represented by an appointed lawyer, Violetta Sineglazova, who recommended that he plead guilty and, according to Esipenko, did not respond to claims of torture. As the Ukrainian newspaper “Grati” found out, on March 11, she was not a duty lawyer of the Crimean Bar Association and should not have been involved in the case.
On March 15 and 17, independent lawyers Emil Kurbedinov and Alexei Ladin were not allowed to meet with Esipenko. The staff of the pre-trial detention facility claimed that the journalist declined their services in writing.
On March 19, the TV channel “Krym.24” in its news program published an interview with the arrested journalist, entitled “Revelations of a spy: an exclusive interview of the TV channel “Krym 24” with the detained Ukrainian saboteur.” In the interview, Esipenko answers the interviewer’s questions in a monotonous voice, answering affirmatively to every question. According to his answers, he took the grenade from the stash, which was planted by the SBU. In addition, Esipenko said that as a freelancer for Radio Svoboda in Ukraine, he cooperated with the SBU, communicating with a certain Viktor Kravchuk there since 2017. His cooperation with the SBU included making copies to the SBU “via Google disk” of all the materials he filmed for Radio Svoboda. However, Yesipenko was never officially charged with espionage or sabotage. Esipenko was able to meet lawyer Mr. Ladin for the first time on April 6, 2021 in court as he appealed his arrest. At that time, he submitted a statement in which he said that FSB officers had planted a grenade in his car and then tortured and beaten him.
On March 23, outlet “Grati” published a report, citing a source in the pre-detention center of Simferopol, saying that Esipenko was tortured with electric shocks with connecting wires to his head. According to Esipenko, on April 12 and 13, an FSB officer approached him and threatened him with torture and death if he refused to confess. Esipenko claims that the officer was detective Denis Korovin, who was assigned to the criminal case. Subsequently, the Military Investigative Committee refused to initiate a criminal case in connection with Yesipenko’s statement about torture.
In July 2021, Judge Dilyaver Berberov of the Simferopol District Court commenced hearings on the case. On February 15, 2022, the representative of the state prosecution Elena Podolnaya asked to sentence Esipenko to 11 years in prison with a fine of 200 thousand rubles.
On February 16, the Simferopol district court sentenced the journalist to six years in a general regime penal colony and a fine of 110 thousand rubles. Judge Dilyaver Berberov found Esipenko guilty of possession (Article 222 of the Criminal Code) and manufacture of explosives (Part 1 Article 223.1 of the Criminal Code).
Why Does the Memorial Center Recognize Vladislav Esipenko as a Political Prisoner?
After studying the documents of the case, the Human Rights Center “Memorial” came to the conclusion that Vladislav Esipenko is a victim of political persecution, which is due to his professional activities.
The Center experts assert that possession of a grenade as a means of self-defense makes practically no sense: it can explode along with those from whom you are defending yourself. The likelihood that a journalist, who is aware of the specifics of repressions in annexed Crimea and drives a car with Ukrainian license plates, would risk carrying a prohibited item that cannot be used in almost any way, is extremely low.
Secondly, the testimonies of key witnesses during the trial contradict each other, and the grenade simply does not physically fit into the glove compartment of the car in which, according to the accusation, it was found. The trial gave serious grounds to believe that the testimony of the FSB operatives who searched Esipenko’s car and the witnesses who were present were false. Operative Grishchenko claimed that he himself found the grenade during the inspection of the car by opening the glove compartment, while dog handler Brodsky said that the smell of explosives was detected by the dog, after which he called the explosives expert.
Some witnesses claimed that the grenade was in the glove compartment, while others said that it was in a compartment under the steering wheel. The defense performed a forensic experiment, during which they showed that the grenade did not fit into the glove compartment of the model car Esipenko drove.
When the officers stopped Esipenko’s car, Elizaveta Pavlenko, in whose apartment Esipenko and his wife were staying in Crimea, was riding in the car with him. According to Pavlenko, FSB officers immediately put her in another car and took her home for a search, even before the grenade was discovered. This indirectly indicates that the operation to detain Esipenko was orchestrated. Had the operatives not known in advance what they would “find” in the car and how it would be presented in the case, they would have waited for the results of the car inspection and would have checked Pavlenko’s involvement in the storage, transportation and refinement of the grenade.
Thirdly, the officials’ claim that after the inspection of his car on March 10, 2022, Yesipenko was released on a pledge to appear, which he fulfilled, and that he was not detained until March 11, is considered by “Memorial” a cynical lie intended to cover up the evidence of torture: Yesipenko says he was tortured on the night of March 10-11. In Memorial’s view, the investigators barred the arrested journalist from meeting with independent lawyers for almost a month for the same purpose.
The political motivation of the persecution of Vladislav Esipenko is obvious. He is a journalist working for an independent media outlet that does not recognize the legitimacy of the annexation of Crimea. His arrest fits into the campaign against non-state journalism. Esipenko’s case is used to intimidate all those who disagree with the occupation and annexation of Crimea and discourage Ukrainian journalists from working on the peninsula.
The report on the “Krym.24” TV channel clearly shows the use of the case against Esipenko by propaganda. The viewers are told that the journalist is not really a professional reporter, but an accomplice of the Ukrainian intelligence services. Apparently, the official charge of carrying a grenade seemed petty to the propagandists, so initially Esipenko was forced to talk about himself as a spy. Later, the authorities simply “forgot” about “collecting information for the SBU,” because they had already achieved the desired effect by creating the image of a “spy and saboteur” in the pro-government media.
Based on the above, Memorial considers Vladislav Esipenko to be a political prisoner and calls for his release and for a review of his sentence with respect for the right to a fair trial.
Maxim Reznik is a well-known St. Petersburg opposition politician. After he launched his 2021 election campaign, he was placed under house arrest on charges of marijuana possession. Prosecutors charge Mr. Reznik with possession of 18.2 grams of marijuana “for personal consumption.” They claim that Maxim, present during the search of an apartment owned by his distant relative Ivan Dorofeev, put two packs of gum on the table from his bag, in which the drug substance was later allegedly found.
Here’s his story.
Who is Maxim Reznik?
Mr. Reznik was born on September 13, 1974, in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). He is a well-known non-partisan opposition deputy, a supporter of Alexei Navalny, and one of the harshest public critics of St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov, Vladimir Putin’s protégé. In his public addresses at sessions of the city’s parliament, he frequently criticized the Kremlin’s decisions.
Reznik has been a member of the opposition “Yabloko” party since the mid-1990s, and from 2003 was head of its St. Petersburg branch. In 2012 Reznik left “Yabloko.” He himself linked his departure to a conflict with the party’s federal leadership. According to the party’s official version, he was expelled along with dozens of other St. Petersburg “Yabloko” supporters for “actual consent with fraud” in the December 2011 elections to the St. Petersburg legislature — that is, for helping the city authorities to get their deputies into the parliament.
For some time Reznik was a supporter of Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civic Platform, but left the association after its founder announced that he was leaving the party.
In 2016, Reznik was re-elected as a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly from the “Party of Growth.”
In September 2021, Reznik was going to run again for the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly. In early June, he opened his campaign headquarters. The politician was planning to run in the 21st electoral district of the city.
On March 9, 2021, a criminal case was initiated against the relative of Maxim Reznik, artist Ivan Dorofeev, under part 3 of article 30, paragraph “b” and part 3 of article 228.1 of the Criminal Code (attempt to illegal production, sale or sending of drugs).
The search in Dorofeev’s workshop was in progress when Reznik arrived there. During the search operatives found a grow box with plants similar to raw materials for drugs and two cans of chewing candy with banned substances.
On the basis of this search, on March 11, 2021, Nevskiy district court arrested Dorofeyev for two months. The investigation accused him of purchasing a plant-based drug (cannabis) “weighing more than 6 grams but less than 100 grams.” The prosecutors allege that Dorofeev stored it not for personal use, but with the purpose of subsequent sale.
Reznik himself believes that this pressure was applied against Dorofeev to force a testimony. The deputy also claimed that law enforcement officers met with him and demanded that he publicly condemn the rallies in support of Alexei Navalny. Otherwise, they “promised to give the case a go.”
On April 2, 2021, Reznik was summoned for questioning in the drug case as a witness. The deputy said that the investigator “verbally explained” to him that the interrogation was connected with the fact that narcotic substances were found in the apartment where the deputy had been on March 9.
After that, the case began to develop rapidly.
The police detained Maxim Reznik on May 1, 2021, during a May Day march along the Nevsky Prospect, where he was leading a column carrying a banner reading “Petersburg vs. the “United Russia” Party.” The deputy was, however, almost immediately released.
On the same day, media outlets controlled by the St. Petersburg administration (including businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin’s media conglomerate, which is usually linked to the Kremlin’s many “dirty assignments”) reported on the May Day parade and concluded that the protesters themselves forced the police into detention. Similar posts appeared on several federal TV-channels. Every channel repeated the same thesis, almost verbatim: Maxim Reznik, “under cover of his deputy status,” framed his comrades-in-arms for the arrests.
An hour after the May Day procession ended, accusations of provocation were added to those of drug use. Yevgeny Prigozhin’s holding media outlets published a news story titled “Reznik was stoned at May Day parade in St. Petersburg” and spoke about the deputy’s “highly inadequate” behavior at the demonstration, again without specifying what it consisted of.
Overall, media outlets (both those belonging to Prigozhin’s holding and those not affiliated with him) published several hundred news items about the deputy. News items were taken out of thin air. The day after the May Day parade, the campaign to discredit the deputy went offline. On May 2, a picket was held in front of the St. Petersburg parliament with two people holding banners reading “Reznik, go smoke”. The editorial board of the Nevskie Novosti newspaper even devoted a round table to Reznik’s behavior under the title “Youth Drugs in Adult Politics.”
In the evening of May 11, 2021, Reznik’s wife, Ksenia Kazarina, said that her husband had had a heart attack and explained that it was “intense emotional pressure.” The deputy’s wife would not comment on the situation in more detail, citing the inviolability of private life. According to their publications, employees of the media outlets controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin were on nightly duty at the house of Maxim Reznik’s mother, following his wife everywhere — even to the dentist.
The Arrest and the Criminal Case
On June 17, 2021, the police searched the apartment of Maxim Reznik as well as that of his mother and his summer house. After the search, the politician was detained, and the next day the Oktyabrsky District Court sentenced him to house arrest. On August 13, the same court extended his house arrest for another three months, and on October 27, another five months, until April 20, 2022.
The searches were conducted in the case of the purchase of marijuana without intent to sell — the deputy of the City Council allegedly bought 18.2 grams of marijuana “for personal consumption.” According to the investigation, Reznik in front of witnesses (but before the formal start of the search) put the drug substance from his bag on the table, and then, referring to the fact that he is a member of the Legislative Assembly, left the premises.
Maxim Reznik was charged under part 1 of article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Illegal acquisition, storage without intent to sell drugs in a significant amount”). He is under house arrest from June 18, 2021, and faces up to 3 years in prison. The deputy pleads not guilty.
“We associate the criminal case against Maxim Reznik with his harsh criticism of the “United Russia” party and personally Governor Alexander Beglov, as well as a statement about his participation in the elections to the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg,” said the deputy’s team.
The authorities viewed Reznik as a popular politician with a high chance of winning in a single-mandate district — this is what ultimately led to his detention, Grigory Golosov, a professor at the European University in St. Petersburg, said in a conversation with the BBC. “Apparently, at some point it was decided that he should not be represented in the city parliament,” the professor suggested. In his opinion, Reznik’s detention isn’t so much due to his direct support for Navalny, but rather to the general trend of cleansing the political field of those politicians “whose presence in the government seems undesirable.”
Why Does the Memorial Center Recognize Maxim Reznik as a Political Prisoner?
The Human Rights Center “Memorial” considers the St. Petersburg politician Maxim Reznik to be a political prisoner according to the international criteria. The Center suggests that prosecution of Reznik is aimed at involuntary cessation of his social and political opposition activities, while house arrest is conditioned by the aspiration of the authorities to eliminate the politician from the public space.
Persecution of Maxim Reznik is a part of the repressive campaign which the Russian authorities are launching against the independent politicians who are able to compete with the pro-governmental candidates in the 2021 Russian elections.
Having studied the materials of the case, the Human Rights Center has come to the conclusion that Maxim Reznik is a victim of political persecution, which is caused by his social and political activities.
“First of all, we have doubts about the objectivity of the witnesses for the prosecution. One of the main witnesses in the case is a former employee of the Interior Ministry, the second is his fellow. The rest are security officers, who searched Dorofeev’s apartment.
Secondly, there are signs of fabrication of evidence in the case. Thus, it is known that the cans, allegedly left by Reznik, were not opened during the search, but the investigator pointed out in his testimonies that one of them contained a vegetable substance with a specific odor. How the investigator was able to establish that before the examination, he could not explain. It should be noted that there is no unequivocal evidence that the narcotic substance belonged to Reznik. When and from whom the deputy allegedly purchased it, the investigation has not established.
Third, Reznik remained as a witness in Dorofeev’s case for more than three months and was arrested only when the election campaign started. Being in pre-trial detention all that time Dorofeev was under pressure to testify against Reznik and on the eve of the meeting on April 21, 2021, unknown people stopped the deputy in the street and demanded to “denounce” the action and threatened that in case of refusal he will be charged on “case on drugs” and get real imprisonment term.
Fourthly, Reznik was put under house arrest as soon as he was arrested, which effectively made it impossible for him to take part in the new election campaign. It is noteworthy that the very next day after the election, the court ruled that it was illegal not to let Reznik see a notary, which previously prevented the deputy from filing documents to the election commission on time, and also allowed him a two-hour walk, which he had been denied many times before.
Considering the mass persecution of opposition politicians prior to the Russian elections of various levels in 2021, we believe that the initiation of the criminal case against Reznik was not accidental.
Finally, we believe that possession of marijuana for personal consumption poses very little public danger. Putting a popular opposition politician under house arrest on such a charge seems not only completely disproportionate, but also seems clearly aimed at preventing him from participating in the election race,” reads the resolution of the Human Rights Center. Based on the above, Memorial considers Maxim Reznik to be a political prisoner and calls for his release and for a review of his sentence with respect for the right to a fair trial.
Evgeny Yesenov, a resident of Moscow, was born on January 22, 1983. He is an entrepreneur and the general director of an LLC. He is married and has a young child. On May 20, 2021, he was sentenced to 4 years in a penal colony for hitting a riot policeman’s helmet at a rally in support of opposition politician Alexei Navalny by the Tverskoi Court in Moscow.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been in prison since January 2021. He was detained at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow after returning from Germany, where he had been treated after being poisoned with the Novichok chemical warfare. On February 2, 2021, the Simonovsky District Court commuted Navalny’s suspended sentence in the “Yves Rocher” case to a real one. Initially it was thought that taking into account the time previously served under house arrest, Navalny would spend 2 years and 8 months in a minimum-security penal colony. But on March 22, 2022, Navalny was sentenced to 9 years of imprisonment in a strict regime penal colony under part 4 of article 159 of the Criminal Code (large-scale fraud) and part 1.2 of article 297 (contempt of justice).
Nationwide protests broke out all over Russia on January 23, 2021, in support of the jailed opposition leader. The protests were met with police crackdowns, with thousands citizens detained. Since the time of the protests, more than 100 criminal cases have been opened against their participants and the number continuous to grow. Protesters are being charged with using violence, blocking roads, involving minors in illegal activities, and violating sanitary and epidemiological rules.
Mass actions occurred on January 23, January 31, February 2 and April 21, 2021. According to OVD-Info, over 4,000 people were detained on January 23, over 5,500 on January 31, over 1,400 on February 2, and over 1,974 on April 21.
On January 23, 2021, a 38-year-old businessman Evgeny Yesenov physically resisted law enforcement officers who detained participants of a rally in support of Alexei Navalny on Pushkin Square in central Moscow. Channel Mash on Russian social media platform Telegram later published a video, which allegedly captures the fight involving Yesenov, but the recording shows only the back of a man who takes a swing at law enforcement officers.
On January 24, 2021, the investigative department for the Central Administrative District (CAO) of the Main Investigative Directorate (MDI) of the Investigative Committee (IC) of Russia in Moscow initiated criminal proceedings against unidentified persons on grounds of a crime under part 1 of Article 318 of the RF Criminal Code.
On January 25, 2021, Judge of the Ostankino District Court of Moscow A. A. Terekhova found Yesenov guilty of committing an administrative offense under part 5, article 20.2 of the CAO (“Violation by a participant of a public event of the established order of holding meetings and rallies”). “Yesenov did not respond to repeated demands to stop his unlawful actions, thus disobeying police officers and resisting arrest,” reads the court decision. He was sentenced to a fine of 10 thousand rubles.
On January 25, 2021, police officer Zaraev went to the medical clinic (the record of the examination result: “visually no changes”), which referred him for examination to the departmental clinic of the Federal State Medical and Forensic Hospital of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. At the hospital, Zaraev was diagnosed with “bruising of the left frontal area” and a “concussion of the brain.” He was admitted as an in-patient and hospitalized there until February 16, 2021. The forensic medical examination, carried out subsequently by order of the investigator, considered that the specified injuries caused light damage to the health. In this regard, the investigator reclassified the charges from Part 1 to Part 2 of Article 318 of the Criminal Code.
At the same day, on January 25, 2021, Evgeny Yesenov was detained by the Investigative Committee as a suspect. On January 26, 2021, he was charged under Part 1 of Article 318 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation for intentionally striking police sergeant Zaraev with his right fist in the face “causing the latter physical pain and suffering, and also humiliating his honor, dignity and undermining his authority as a representative of authority”.
On January 26, 2021, the investigator petitioned the court for the selection of a preventive measure for Yesenov in the form of detention for the duration of the preliminary investigation. The Presnensky District Court of Moscow granted the petition for a period of two months until March 24, 2021. His arrest was then extended.
Evgeny Yesenov pleaded not guilty. The defense points out that the video recordings do not prove that the accused hit the victim’s head with his fist, and the testimony of police witnesses should not be trusted.
On May 20, 2021, Alexei Krivoruchko, judge of the Tverskoi District Court of Moscow, sentenced Evgeny Yesenov to 4 years in a penal colony under Part 2 of Article 318 of the Criminal Code. The prosecutor requested that he be sentenced to 5 years in a penal colony.
On October 14, 2021, a panel of the Moscow City Court chaired by Judge Yelena Ivanova rejected the appeal of the defense and upheld the sentence.
Why Does the Memorial Center Recognize Evgeny Yesenov As A Political Prisoner?
Despite the fact that formally the actions of Evgeny Yesenov contain signs of an offense, the important thing is the context of what happened, as well as the degree of reaction to his actions from the law enforcement and judicial systems.
1. Evgeny Yesenov’s confrontation with the police occurred during an urgent peaceful rally of many thousands of people that was expressing public outrage at the blatantly illegal arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny following an assassination attempt against him. The rally in Moscow (as at other venues across the country) was characterized by law-breaking, unwarranted violence and mass detentions. This created an atmosphere in which each demonstrator’s right to demonstrate peacefully had already been violated, and each was at risk of being beaten and detained by the security forces without a legal basis. The atmosphere of police violence during those hours suggests an element of necessary defense in Yesenov’s actions. This was confirmed by the police officers, who testified that they detained Yesenov for resisting the detention of other demonstrators.
2. There is an obvious asymmetrical assessment by law enforcement agencies of the actions of demonstrators and law enforcement officers. “OVD-Info” recorded numerous cases of violence by law enforcement agencies, at least 64 demonstrators in Russian cities were injured that day. Detainees reported bruises, broken fingers, dislocations, and smashed heads and noses. People were beaten on the head with truncheons and tasers, thrown onto the floor of the trolleys, and kicked. However there are no known criminal cases of violence by law enforcement officers, including the well-known case of Maria Yudina, a St. Petersburg resident, who was hospitalized in intensive care units after being hit by a Rosgvardiya officer. All criminal prosecutions, usually on questionable grounds, are conducted exclusively against demonstrators.
The video of the incident with Yesenov shows him being hit with batons by several policemen in bulletproof vests: at least one of them strikes Yesenov’s legs with the baton, while the other strikes his neck or head from above with the baton. However, neither the investigation nor the court investigated the adequacy and legality of the blows made by the law enforcement officers, nor whether Evgeny Yesenov was harmed by these blows.
3. The injured policeman, who was wearing a protective helmet, did not suffer any serious damage, even if we believe the materials of the investigation (the defense casts doubt on the diagnosis of the Interior Ministry clinic). After the blow to his helmet at about 2:40 p.m., which he allegedly received from Yesenov, the policeman continued working until late in the evening and did not see a doctor until two days later. In court, the enforcer stated that he had no claims against the accused and asked for a mitigation of punishment for him.
4. Memorial has repeatedly noted differences in the enforcement of Article 318 of the Criminal Code in “political” and other cases. In “non-political” cases, courts usually impose significantly less restrictive measures and more lenient sentences, limiting them to fines or suspended sentences.
5. A massive campaign has been waged in the pro-government media and social networks to vilify opposition protesters and create an image of any protests as actions of particular social danger, from potential mass unrest and violence to the danger of pandemic contagion.
Without in any way condoning the use of violence, Memorial considers the punishment handed down to Mr. Yesenov disproportionate to the danger to society of his actions, and sees in it a political motivation to suppress freedom of expression and assembly, as well as to preserve the authority of their subjects. The overall context of the situation of police violence in those hours on Pushkin Square in the Russian capital allows us to speak of an essential element of necessary defense of the victims of this violence on the part of Yesenov and self-defense on the other hand. The investigation and the court established that Evgeny Yesenov was arrested precisely because he resisted the obviously illegal, in our opinion, forceful detention of peaceful political manifestation participants. On the other hand, given the specific circumstances, the attempt to hit the helmet of a heavily equipped police fighter, regardless of whether it achieved the result, can hardly be regarded as intentionally aimed at causing real damage to his health.
Based on the above, Memorial considers Evgeny Yesenov to be a political prisoner and calls for his release and for a review of his sentence with respect for the right to a fair trial.
Vadim Duboisky was born on February 28, 1990. He is a citizen of Belarus who lived in Brest. Accused under part 2 of article 293 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (“Participation in mass riots accompanied by violence against persons, rioting and destruction of property”, up to 8 years’ imprisonment). He left for Russia in the fall of 2020. He has been held in Russian custody since April 11, 2021.
The presidential election in Belarus on August 9, 2020, which, was falsely claimed as victory by Alexander Lukashenko, caused a strong wave of peaceful civil protest in connection with the huge scale of electoral fraud. The opposition refused to recognize the election results, demanding a recount and a repeat of the election. The Belarusian security forces, led by Alexander Lukashenko, suppressed the protests in most brutal and violent ways. Many detainees were tortured, some were killed or disappeared. Not a single case of prosecution of law enforcement officers is known, although there are numerous reports of unlawful prosecution of citizens, including journalists, who were subjected to police violence.
The results of the elections in Belarus were not recognized by most European countries, as well as the U.S. and Canada. Violence against protesters by Belarusian security forces was condemned by key international organizations, and sanctions were imposed on the state authorities.
The Belarusian authorities use criminal prosecution as the main tool for suppressing any attempts to express opposition to the illegitimate government and intimidate the society in order to prevent its citizens from exercising their constitutional rights. Participants of protests against the falsified results of the presidential election were sentenced to significantly long sentences on various charges, including charges of participation in mass riots.
As of January 31, 2022, there were 1,004 political prisoners in Belarus, recognized as such according to the international Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners by a group of leading human rights organizations in the country. According to the Belarusian Human Rights Center “Vesna”, as of the end of January 2022, more than 2,200 people are known to have been criminally prosecuted for protesting against the fabricated results of the 2020 presidential election, and more than 5,500 criminal cases related to protests have been filed.
Full Description of the Case
On August 10, 2020, investigative authorities of Brest region initiated a criminal case under part 2 of article 293 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus against unidentified persons in connection with their participation in the “mass riots, accompanied by violence against persons, looting and destruction of property.” According to the reports announced in January 2021 by the Investigative Committee of the region, “the investigation has identified 66 participants in the mass riots” in Brest.
On August 11, 2020, Vadim Duboisky was detained by Belarusian security forces while dispersing a mass protest demonstration against the rigged presidential election held on August 9.
According to Duboisky, he and seven other detainees were held and beaten for three days in the basement of the House of Justice in Brest (the building houses several regional courts), and then forced to sign a statement saying they had no claims to the law enforcement agencies and released without any protocols.
A few days later, Vadim Duboisky went to the city hospital, where he was diagnosed with a contusion of the right hip and bruise of the left half of the chest.
On September 4, 2020, Duboisky was detained on suspicion of committing a crime under part 2 of article 293 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus on his way out of the house and taken to the Investigative Committee. He was kept in the temporary detention facility (IVS) of the Leninski district of Brest for a week, and then was released on his pledge not to leave.
In September 2020, Vadim Duboisky fled to Moscow.
After that, the Investigative Committee of Belarus declared him wanted as a defendant in the case of participation in the riots. It is known that Brest law enforcement officers questioned his mother and asked her to identify her son on videotape. The Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus sent a request to the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation for the extradition of Duboisky.
Upon his arrival to Russia, the young man planned to apply for temporary asylum, but after cases of detention of citizens of Belarus at the request of the authorities of this country, he decided to apply for asylum in Ukraine.
On April 11, 2021, Duboisky was detained by the Russian border guards while attempting to cross the Russian-Ukrainian border outside the checkpoint in the Belgorod region of the Russian Federation.
On April 16, 2021, a court arrested him and placed him in the detention center in Belgorod. Vadim Duboisky applied for refugee status and temporary asylum in Russia.
On August 4, 2021, it was reported that the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office granted the request of the Belarusian authorities and issued a decree on the extradition of the accused. The ruling states that Vadim Duboisky is accused of having “together with other persons moved at least three benches to the roadway, thus participating in the erection of barricades” during the protests in Brest. In addition, Duboisky, also together with other persons, allegedly broke the paving tiles. As a result of the actions of the protesters “one of the officers of Internal Affairs suffered light injuries and at least twenty-five officers were beaten.” The Belarusian authorities allegedly failed to identify the law enforcement officers who beat Vadim himself.
On September 9, 2021, the Belgorod Regional Court dismissed the complaint filed by the defense of Vadim Duboisky against the ruling of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office to extradite him at the request of Belarus. In court, the prosecutor read out the ruling of the Belarusian law enforcement authorities not to institute criminal proceedings because of the beating of Duboisky after his detention in August 2020. The ruling confirms that he was indeed detained. The medical expert confirmed that the injuries were and could have been caused during the detention. But, according to law enforcement officers, the police under the law can use violence in case of illegal actions, which Vadim allegedly committed and, thus, violence was used to him reasonably.
In October 2021, the lawyer filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against Russia’s decision to extradite Duboisky and his unjustified imprisonment. The complaint alleges that the extradition poses a threat to Vadim’s life, as well as a risk of torture, cruel and inhuman treatment. Thus, it substantiates a violation of Articles 2 (“Right to life”), 3 (“Prohibition of torture”) and 5 (“Right to liberty and security of person”) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in respect of him.
On October 20, 2021, the ECHR applied Rule 39 of its regulations and prohibited Russia from extraditing Vadim Duboisky until his case was heard in Strasbourg. The ECHR agreed with the arguments of the lawyer, who pointed to the unlawful political persecution and the possibility of torture of Duboisky in case of his extradition to the Belarusian authorities.
On October 21, 2021, Federal Judge of the First Appeal Court in Moscow Sergey Kurokhtin dismissed the defense complaint and upheld the decision of the Belgorod Regional Court regarding the competence of the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office to extradite Duboisky. However, he continues to be held in the Belgorod pre-trial detention center pending consideration of his case by the ECHR.
Why Does The Memorial Center Recognize Vadim Duboisky as a Political Prisoner?
In accordance with international guidelines, Memorial Human Rights Centre (MHRC) considers Vadim Duboisky, a Belarusian national who lives in Russia, a political prisoner.
Vadim Duboisky has not been charged with the use of violence but with a vaguely defined ‘participation’ in riots.
“In our opinion, the protests in Belarus, which began in August 2020, cannot be qualified as riots. The demonstrators did not commit arson or pogroms and did not use armed resistance against the authorities. It was not the protesters who used violence at the rallies, but the law enforcement agencies of Belarus. Moreover, there are no known cases of the prosecution of law enforcement officers, although there are numerous reports of unlawful prosecution of citizens who were victims of police violence.
According to Belarusian human rights defenders, there are approximately one thousand political prisoners in the country. Neither the grounds for the politically motivated charges that have become known, nor the procedures of criminal prosecution, meet the minimum standards for fair trial or for the protection of human rights in general. We concur with the European Court of Human Rights that there are no grounds to expect the Belarusian authorities will ensure the rights of Vadim Duboisky are respected in the event of his extradition. We therefore consider Russia must refuse his extradition and grant him temporary asylum. This position is based on both Russian and international legal norms.” — the statement published on the website of Memorial Human Rights Centre reads.
By Leah Silinsky, FRF Fellow
The violence unleashed by the government against Russians who came out to protest Navalny’s arrest in early 2021 demonstrates that Putin’s regime has no tolerance for any form of dissent or criticism of the political status quo. 24-year-old Pavel Grin-Romanov is yet another victim of the Kremlin’s assault on civil liberties in Russia.
Pavel was born on July 7, 1997, in Krasny Luch. Krasny Luch is a city in Luhansk Oblast, which is a region of Ukraine that has been occupied by Russia since 2014. Pavel is a citizen of both Ukraine and Russia. After graduating high school, he moved to Moscow where he lived with his wife Polina and worked as an MC, promoter, and as an administrator of an internet cafe. He is known by others for his love of computers and technology.
Pavel Grin-Romanov was arrested on January 31, 2021 for allegedly pepper-spraying a riot police officer during a street protest he attended with his wife on the Komsomolskaya Square by the Leningradsky railway station. Pavel has remained in police custody since February 2, 2021. On April 9, 2021, the Meshchansky District Court of Moscow sentenced him to a 3 year and 6 month prison sentence to be served in a penal colony.
Pavel was charged under Article 318, Part 2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, for “violently threatening the life of an official on duty”. Though Pavel did plead “partially guilty”, this sentence is disproportionate and is the symptom of a corrupt legal system designed to punish those who openly criticize the Russian government.
Despite his extremely difficult circumstances, Pavel has maintained an optimistic, positive attitude. His lawyer, Artem Nemov, confirmed that Pavel has remained in relatively high spirits given the situation. Unfortunately, it has been very difficult for Pavel’s wife, Polina, to visit him in detention.
Upon examination of the evidence in his case, it becomes clear that Pavel Grin-Romanov not only lacked the intent of carrying out a supposed “violent attack,” but that he also inflicted no physical or psychological harm on said OMON officer, Lieutenant Colonel-D.N. Terletsky.
OMON officers and riot police were attempting to disperse the protest on Komsomolskaya Square— attended by Pavel and his wife Polina. Videos provided as evidence by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation showed a chaotic crowd, with many confused individuals pushing against each other. Witnessing riot police officers acting violently, Pavel doused pepper spray in the air, to protect his wife and himself from riot police near him. Pavel stated that he sprayed pepper after seeing an officer beat a protester on the head with a truncheon.
On February 4, 2021, Pavel was taken to the Presnensky District Court of Moscow. Seven days later, he was officially charged under Article 318, Part 2, although his initial charges were under Article 318, Part 1. Part 2 of Article 318 provide for far harsher punishment and can result in a 5-to-10-year sentence. Analysts from MediaZona hypothesize that his sentence was increased because the OMON officer went to Botkin Hospital and received papers for sick leave from his departmental polyclinic despite suffering no injuries. Originally, the prosecution sought to sentence Pavel to 8 years, though this was reduced to 3 years and 6 months. On July 30, 2021, Pavel’s sentence of three years and six months was shortened to three years. Despite being reduced, Pavel’s sentence is still highly unjust.
Pavel’s lawyer Artem Nemov asserted that his client’s sentence is entirely unjust given that it is based on false evidence, and that the prosecution could not prove that Pavel had any intent to harm, despite the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation posting the video where Pavel uses his pepper-spray canister. Moreover, the OMON officer in question has accepted Pavel’s apology and was wearing a helmet and face shield when he was allegedly pepper-sprayed, meaning that he could not have suffered any harm.
Pavel’s lawyer has also pointed out that it was highly suspicious that officer Terletsky could not get a sick pass from a regular hospital and had to obtain one from his departmental polyclinic. The officer received his sick pass on February 2, but was registered as being on sick leave on February 1, 2021. Had the officer truly been injured, he would have received a sick pass from a regular hospital, the day that he came in. The judge reviewing Pavel’s case disregarded these arguments. He also chose not to wait for papers to come in from Ukraine, which attest to Pavel’s non-aggressive nature, to substantiate the assertion that Pavel showed no intent to aggressively assault officer Terletsky.
Pavel’s arrest is a politically-motivated punishment for his participation in the pro-Navalny protests which took place last year. There is undeniable evidence which points toward his innocence, and that he rendered no serious harm to the allegedly injured OMON officer. The unsubstantiated biased reporting in official Russian sources referring to Pavel as an aggressive individual, who was engaging in “unsanctioned activity” by simply attending the protest are highly suspicious.
Pavel’s arrest has received attention in both the U.S. and Russian media. Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty published an article about him on April 9, 2021—the day that Pavel received his sentence from the Moscow court. Several Russian news sources wrote about Pavel’s arrest including Memorial, OVD-Info, Delo212, MediaZona, and the Official Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. Additionally, several twitter users have also posted about Pavel’s arrest, including users “nesteliza_”, “DaniilKonon,” and “leonidragozin.” Memorial recognizes Pavel Sergeevich Grin-Romanov as a political prisoner because it is clear that he was arrested simply for taking part in a pro-Navalny protest; and that his arrest, trial and sentence have been politically motivated. Memorial asserts that Pavel acted in self-defense and inflicted no injuries on the OMON officer.
By Yury Krylov , Contributing Author, FRF
The criminal case against Lakeyev was filed for “abuse of a car” belonging to the FSB, a secret service, the successor of the KGB, whose officers literally formed a caste of untouchables in modern Russia.
Who is Konstantin Lakeyev and Why is His Case Important
On January 28, 2022, the Memorial Human Rights Center issued a press release, adding Konstantin Lakeyev, convicted of kicking a car owned by an FSB officer, to the list of Russian political prisoners. The 20-year-old man received two years and eight months in prison for kicking a car three times at a rally in support of the politician Alexey Navalny in Moscow. Even with all the absurdity and phantasmagoric nature of the political trials of Alexei Navalny’s sympathizers in Russia, this sentence is utterly disproportionate to his actions and violates judicial practice.
Konstantin Lakeyev was born on February 1, 2002. He is a resident of Moscow, a TikTok blogger known under the nickname “Kostya Kievsky”, he had over 800,000 subscribers in the social network. At the time of his arrest, he was barely 18 years old and a second-year college student.
On January 23, 2021, Konstantin Lakeyev attended a demonstration in Moscow as part of the international action “Freedom to Navalny!” About two thousand people were detained during its crackdown that day in the capital of Russia, according to the Moscow Human Rights Ombudsman. The defense notes that Konstantin Lakeyev arrived at the protest to shoot video content for his popular blog on TikTok.
“The protesters blocked a car moving along the Tsvetnoy Boulevard and, committing acts of hooliganism, damaged it and sprayed tear gas in the driver’s face,” the Russian Investigative Committee (ICR) said in a statement released on the day of the action. “The passenger vehicle with special license plate number belongs to the FSB Headquarters.” On the same day, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case.
Sources of the state news agency RIA Novosti assured at the time that the driver’s eye was “knocked out.” Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, repeated the same version. “Many people felt their [protesters’] direct impact, physical impact. Many of the law enforcement officers, felt it firsthand,” he said. “We all remember the driver who lost his eye thanks to these ‘peaceful’ protesters,” Putin’s representative said. However, the information about the driver’s eye was never confirmed.
On January 26, 2021, Konstantin Lakeyev was detained by riot police along with eleven other fellow bloggers in the territory of their rented house — a “TikTok House” in New Moscow district.
“You could have come and detained them quietly … God, they are children! I don’t think any of them would have resisted. But, apparently, this is the policy – be sure to drop in, drop them on the floor”, — says OVD-Info lawyer Tatiana Okushko, who represented the interests of Lakeyev. She was outraged by the ostentatious harshness of the detention.
The next day, January 27, the Investigative Committee published a video on YouTube with an apology from Tiktoker for the incident with the car. “I started throwing snow on it and kicked it several times, which I am very regretful and remorseful about. I apologize to everyone connected with it— to civil servants, to policemen —to everyone who is connected and not connected with it. And one hundred percent it won’t happen again,” said influencer in detention.
On January 28, the Presnensky District Court sentenced him to two months in jail. Konstantin Lakeyev was charged under the articles on hooliganism (Article 213 of the Criminal Code) and property damage (Article 167 of the Criminal Code); in a conversation with Mediazona outlet the lawyer noted then that her client hoped for a milder preventive measure and partially confessed.
On January 28, member of the Moscow PMC Marina Litvinovich, who visited him in the temporary detention facility on Petrovka Street, said that for two days after his arrest, Konstantin Lakeyev “slept on a chair” in the Investigative Committee, where he was questioned continuously. The human rights activist asserted: “They did not feed him for almost two days. He was beaten when detained, but there is no trace of the beating left. He was kept in a cell with a man who had previously served a prison sentence and is now charged with a serious crime under Article 161 of the Criminal Code. This violates Article 33 of the law ‘On detention’, and we demanded that they be seated and given slippers and a toothbrush.
On December 8, 2021 the Tverskoi Court in Moscow sentenced Konstantin to 2 years and 8 months in prison under part 2 of article 167 of the Criminal Code (“Intentional damage to property”). Also, the court issued a fine in the amount of 337, 000 rubles (about $4,000) for material damage to the FSB. The claim was filed by the military unit 44710 of the FSB, to which the damaged car was assigned. The court dismissed the case under the article on hooliganism.
“Although the court could have given a suspended sentence or confined the sentence to a fine for “defacement of property,” which in fact did not happen,” says Ivan Astashin, human rights activist of the Committee for Civil Rights. “The sentence has not yet come into effect, and Konstantin Lakyeyev was sent to Krasnoyarsk SIZO-1, notorious for regularly torturing prisoners. I am sure that this is revenge for the assault on the FSB property. And an attempt to intimidate other socially active people. I hope that the publicity and public support will prevent the cops from torturing Lakeyev, but I don’t exclude that right now he is being subjected to very hard conditions.”
According to Astashin, on December 16, 2021 Lakeyev’s defense filed an appeal against the sentence, but so far there has been no response.
Why does the Memorial Center recognize Konstantin Lakeyev as a political prisoner?
“Memorial”, an international historical and civil rights society, does not believe Lakeyev’s actions constitute a crime.
- The incident occurred during the unlawful dispersal of a protest rally. The authorities grossly violated the right of citizens to peaceful assembly, and each of the demonstrators risked being illegally detained and beaten. The leading Russian organization for monitoring freedom of assembly — OVD-info — stated at the time that it “considers the actions of the authorities in connection with the January 23 rallies to be the most massive and brutal violation of the right to freedom of assembly in the entire modern history of Russia.” Obviously, by hitting the FSB vehicle (accompanied by the crowd’s chanting of “Shame, shame”) with snowballs and feet, people expressed their indignation at the law enforcement officers’ illegal violence and the repressive policies of the authorities, which, from the human rights activists’ point of view, is a mitigating factor in their actions in the current situation.
- There is an obvious asymmetrical assessment by law enforcement agencies of the actions of demonstrators and law enforcement officers. OVD-info documented numerous incidents of violence by law enforcement agencies, and at least 64 demonstrators in Russian cities were injured that day. Detainees reported bruises, broken fingers, dislocations, and smashed heads and noses. People were beaten on the head with truncheons and tasers, thrown onto the floor of the police vans, and beaten with their feet. However, there are no known criminal cases of violence by law enforcement officers, including the widely publicized case of Margarita Yudina from St. Petersburg, who was put in intensive care unit after being hit by a member of the Rosgvardiya. All criminal cases, and as a rule on dubious grounds, are conducted exclusively against demonstrators.
- The video, studied by Memorial, shows that Lakeyev struck the headlight of the car three times, but it did not break and continued to run. The convict himself wrote in a post-conviction letter: “Everything I said on camera, they made me say… The car was going from north to south, and we were walking towards it along the boulevard (park) and then started going across the crosswalk. Accordingly other people were throwing snow on it… I hit 3 times (no more no less) the headlight of the car only because of my stupidity, because of which I was influenced by the crowd… Three years in prison for three strikes not against a person, but against a car…”.
- Differences in the enforcement of articles of the Criminal Code in “political” and other cases have been repeatedly noted. In “non-political” cases, courts usually impose considerably milder sentences, limiting them to fines or suspended sentences. The verdict against Konstantin Lakeyev belongs to the same category – usually under Part 2 of Article 167 of the Criminal Code courts hand down suspended sentences.
While not at all justifying the defacement of law enforcement property, human rights activists from Memorial consider the punishment imposed on Konstantin Lakeyev extremely disproportionate to the public danger of his actions, seeing in it a political motive to suppress freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as well as to preserve the powers of authority by their subjects. “We are convinced that the young man’s cruel sentence is aimed at intimidating potential critics of the Russian authorities, primarily in the youth community,” reads a statement on Memorial’s website.
“Memorial”, in accordance with the International Guidelines on the Definition of a Political Prisoner, considers Konstantin Lakeyev to be a political prisoner and calls for his release and a review of his sentence with respect for the right to a fair trial.
Belarusian authorities demand Russia to extradite Yana Pinchuk arrested in St. Petersburg. She is charged with running “extremist” Telegram social media channels.
Who is Yana Pinchuk?
Yana Pinchuk was born on June 28, 1997 in Belarus. Until 2018, she lived in Vitebsk, then moved to the Russian Federation, where she has lived for the past 4 years.
On November 1, 2021 Yana was detained in St. Petersburg at the request of the Belarusian authorities. She was charged with inciting hatred against Belarusian police officers, which carries a sentence of up to 12 years in prison, and with organizing an extremist entity, which carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
According to Belarusian prosecutors, Pinchuk was one of the administrators of the Telegram channel Vitebsk 97%, declared extremist by the Belarus authorities in March 2021.
On November 3, 2021 the Vasileostrovsky district court in St. Petersburg remanded Pinchuk in custody.
Subsequently, the Belarus authorities asked Russia to extradite her. Pinchuk herself requested a refugee status.
Full Description of the Case
According to the Belarusian investigative authorities, Yana Pinchuk, the administrator of the Telegram channel “Vitebsk 97%”, through the account Princess Leia, “acting jointly and in coordination with other unidentified persons by prior agreement in a group, with the intent of each covered actions of another member of the group”, from September 23, 2020 to December 7, 2020, “in order to incite other social hatred and discord on the basis of another social identity”, posted in the channel “text messages that contain negative information about a group of persons united on the basis of affiliation with law enforcement officers, public authorities and other groups of persons united on other social grounds, as well as incitement in the form of a proposal to actions aimed at causing harm to a group of persons united on the basis of affiliation with police officers.”
These actions were qualified by the Belarusian investigative authorities under part 3 of article 130 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, in connection with which a criminal case was brought on April 23, 2021.
Pinchuk is also charged for “posting texts relating to extremist materials on the same channel in order to carry out extremist activities” during the period from September 23, 2020 to May 3, 2021 and at the same time heading a Telegram channel “Vitebsk 97%”, which is an extremist formation” (the channel was declared extremist in March 2021 by a court decision). These actions were further qualified under part 1 of article 361.1 of the Criminal Code, in connection with which Vitebsk investigators opened another criminal case against Pinchuk on May 3, 2021.
On April 23, 2021 a joint criminal case under part 3 of article 130 and part 1 of article 361.1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus was opened. On May 5, 2021, Lieutenant Colonel Dashkevich, Officer of the Vitebsk City Department of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, ordered to bring Yana Pinchuk as an accused in the combined criminal case and put her on the wanted list.
On September 28, 2021, the investigating authorities of Belarus issued an arrest order for Pinchuk, which was approved by the prosecutor of Vitebsk A. Shklyarevskiy on October 6, 2021.
Following her detention on 1 November 2021, the Vasileostrovsky district prosecutor’s office petitioned the court for remand in custody as a preventive measure against her.
Judge E. Leonova of the Vasileostrovsky District Court of St. Petersburg granted the petition on November 3, 2021.
The court referred to the fact that the Belarusian legislation stipulated a punishment of more than a year’s imprisonment for the alleged crimes, while the corresponding article 280 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation— up to five years’ imprisonment, which, in accordance with Article 56 of the Convention on Legal Assistance and Legal Relations in Civil, Family and Criminal Cases and part 1 of Article 462 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation, gives grounds to consider possible the extradition of a foreign national to the country that requests his extradition.
In its ruling, the court agreed with the arguments of the prosecutor’s office that, being at large, Pinchuk could abscond from the law enforcement authorities, had no permanent residence on the territory of the Russian Federation, and the adoption of a non-custodial preventive measure would not ensure the implementation of the obligations assumed by the Russian Federation to enable the extradition of Pinchuk to the law enforcement authorities of Belarus.
The court rejected Pinchuk’s application for a preventive measure in the form of prohibition of certain actions in connection with the legality of her stay in Russia, her residence registration, stable social connections and chronic diseases, as well as the absence of an official request for her extradition to Belarus at that time.
Pinchuk herself testifed in court that she had not committed the alleged crimes, and that she had learned about the charges against her only after her detention. After her placement in the pre-trial detention facility, Yana Pinchuk applied for the status of refugee.
On December 8, 2021, the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus officially requested the Russian authorities to extradite Pinchuk.
Yana Pinchuk herself does not deny that she was a moderator of the Telegram channel, but claims that she withdrew her authority prior to the channel being recognized as extremist in the Republic of Belarus and emphasizes that she only posted in the chat room reposts about the place and time of meetings and about helping the detainees.
On December 10, 2021, the Vasileostrovsky District Court of St. Petersburg extended the term of Pinchuk’s detention until April 30, 2022.
The ruling to keep Pinchuk in detention was made by Judge Elena Leonova of the Vasileostrovsky District Court at the request of Acting Prosecutor of the Vasileostrovsky District V. Derevyanko.
What Punishment is Yana Pinchuk Facing in Her Homeland?
- Part 3 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus – incitement of racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord, committed by a group of persons, or resulting by negligence in human death or other severe consequences. The punishment is imprisonment for a term of 5 to 12 years.
- Article 188 of the Criminal Code – slander. is punished by a fine, correctional work for up to 2 years, arrest or restriction of freedom for up to 3 years, or imprisonment for the same term.
- Part 3 of Article 203-1 of the Criminal Code – unlawful acts in relation to personal data of another person. Punishable by restraint of liberty for up to 5 years or imprisonment for the same period with a fine.
- Part 3 of Article 361 of the Criminal Code – calls for seizure of state power, violent change of the constitutional system of the Republic of Belarus with the use of the Internet. Punishable by imprisonment for a term of two to seven years.
- Under article 361-1, paragraphs 1 and 2, of the Criminal Code, repeated establishment and leadership of an extremist group working to rehabilitate Nazism. Is punished by restriction of freedom for the term from 3 up to 5 years or imprisonment from 6 up to 10 years.
Why Does The Memorial Center Recognize Yana Pinchuk as a Political Prisoner?
In accordance with international guidelines, Memorial Human Rights Centre (MHRC) considers Yana Pinchuk, a Belarusian national who lives in Russia, a political prisoner. MHRC believes her prosecution is solely related to her political views and her exercise of the right to freedom of expression and consider the criminal case against her politically motivated.
«Having studied the available case materials, we have concluded that the prosecution of Yana Pinchuk is politically motivated and unlawful. After the presidential elections in Belarus in August 2020, the results of which were not recognized by most European countries, the United States and Canada, the Belarus authorities launched a massive crackdown on opposition in the country.
According to Belarus human rights activists, there are already more than 900 political prisoners in the country. Neither the known grounds for politically motivated charges nor the criminal prosecution procedures meet the minimum standards for fair trial or human rights in general.
We have no grounds to expect that the Belarus authorities will uphold the rights of Yana Pinchuk in the event of her extradition. Therefore, we believe that Russia should reject the request to extradite Pinchuk and should grant her refugee status.
We believe there are no grounds for holding Pinchuk in custody. The case materials available to us do not contain information about the specific reasons for the charges. They contain no evidence of incitement to illegal actions published on the Telegram channel. Pinchuk herself claims she stopped being an administrator of the channel before it was declared extremist.
We demand the immediate release of Yana Pinchuk. We demand that the Russian authorities comply with their international obligations under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The Russian authorities must reject the request to extradite Pinchuk to Belarus and she must be granted temporary asylum.», — the statement published on the website of Memorial Human Rights Centre reads.
By Leah Silinsky, FRF Fellow
Falling another victim of the Kremlin’s attack on religious freedom, 37 year-old Dmitriy Yarchak was arrested for his religious beliefs in 2020. His arrest was part of a raid carried out by the FSB against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Republic of Tatarstan. The criminal case against him was initiated on November 12, 2020. On August 24, 2021, Dmitriy was placed under house arrest facing charges of up to 10 years in prison. He was charged alongside fellow believers, Denis Filatov and Stanislav Klyuchnikov. As with nearly all other cases of religious persecution in the Russian Federation, Dmitriy was accused of belonging to an extremist group and participating in extremist activity. The truth is, Dmitriy is being denied his freedom simply for being Jehovah’s Witness.
Dmitriy was born in February 1984, in the city of Nizhnekamsk, in the Republic of Tatarstan, and has lived there ever since. He has a younger sister. His mother is currently retired, and his father passed away before his arrest. Dmitriy Yarchak was not raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. Rather, he came to his religious beliefs on his own. Dmitriy explored the questions of religion, God and morality, since he was a child. From an early age, he showed an interest in the Bible, and at 18 decided to become a Jehovah’s Witness and commit himself to living a life of a believer.
Upon completing his studies, Dmitriy worked as an accountant at a rehabilitation facility for children with disabilities. Living with a physical disability himself since childhood, Dmitriy Yarchak is no stranger to adversity. After working in this capacity, Dmitriy worked at a telecommunications company.
In 2010, Dmitriy married his wife Svetlana who shares his religious views and has remained loyal and supportive to her husband during such trying times. Dmitriy’s arrest has been very hard for his family— they are anxious and terrified. Svetlana, her parents, Dmitiry’s mother and sister are all at a complete loss of words regarding his arrest. Dmitriy confessed that , “Any knock on the door is a cause for anxiety.” His family members cannot wrap their minds around how peaceful, religious individuals who do no harm to others can be treated as criminals who deserve to be in prison.
Those who know him describe Dmitriy as warm, sociable and friendly person. He has many friends and gets along well with his colleagues. He enjoys spending time with his wife and his friends.
In November 2020, OMON (the Russian Purpose Police Unit) and FSB agents raided 12 apartments belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Nizhnekamsk. Russian authorities made arrests on charges of extremist activity, which included praying and singing religious songs. It should be noted that OMON refers to a national guard which dates to the Soviet Era. Under the current leadership of Putin, and Putin’s former bodyguard, Victor Zolotov, OMON functions as a counter-terrorism police force. Apparently, there can be no greater terrorist threat than a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses singing songs and praying. The case against Dmitriy Yarchak was initiated by the FSB on November 12, 2020. The arrests and interrogations took place on November 18, 2020.
On November 18, 2020, when OMON and FSB raided apartments in Nizhnekamsk, they arrested 7 Jehovah’s Witnesses, ranging in age from 36 to 47 years old. Three women were interrogated, and one woman was arrested. The level of brutality and disregard for human dignity during these arrests truly lived up to the Kremlin’s standards. The squads invaded apartments of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their family members. Several children were present when the violent arrests were made. In one instance a woman was brutally thrown to the floor, while her husband was taken away by the authorities. Authorities took electronics and passports, among other personal belongings. Investigations were conducted by FSB agents from Naberezhnye Chelny and Kazan, including Oleg Zorin —an investigator who works for the center for counterterrorism and extremism in Tatarstan.
Approximately nine months after the arrests and interrogations, on August 24, 2021, the senior investigator in charge of the case regarding the apartment raids in Tatarstan, sentenced Yarchak to house arrest on charges of membership in an extremist group and plotting extremist activity. On October 07, 2021, investigator A. A. Giniatullin officially charged Dmitriy and the two other defendants in this case, with partaking in “extremist activity.” As with all other charges against peaceful Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, the “evidence” used in Dmitriy’s arrest, trial and sentence, are ludicrous.
When making the case against Dmitriy Yarchak, officials used zoom conversations between him and other Jehovah’s Witnesses as supposed proof of him being a part of an extremist group. These conversations centered around a shared belief in God and prayer.
Dmitriy and nearly all other Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been tried and arrested, have been charged with violating article 282.1 of the criminal code of the Russian Federation, banning individuals from participating in extremist organizations. While reasonable in theory, the Kremlin simply labels any groups and organizations which challenge the status quo as extremist, even if the group is completely peaceful. It is a method used by Putin and Russian authorities to limit freedom and civil society in Russia. The persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is similar to the persecution of the Crimean Tatars, in which both groups are labeled as “extremist” despite posing no threat to others.
Aside from the official Jehovah’s Witness website of Russia, and Memorial, there have been no reactions to Dmitriy’s arrest. This is in large part because Dmitriy’s arrest was one of the many arrests carried out against Jehovah’s Witnesses. His name is completely absent from US news sources, or any Russian-dissident social media accounts.
OVD-Info, Memorial, Mediozona, Meduza, and the official Jehovah’s Website of Russia are among the few Russian sources which closely track and publicize the plight of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Various US news outlets have also covered this purge, though none have covered the arrest of Dmitriy Yarchak specifically.
Why Memorial Lists Dmitriy Yarchak as a Political Prisoner
Dmitriy Yarchak was charged with belonging to an extremist group and engaging in extremist activity, when, in fact, he was arrested for his religious beliefs. No evidence of his participation in extremist activity has been presented.
By Leah Silinsky, FRF Fellow
Who is Olga Bendas?
Olga Valerieyvna Bendas is a 35-year-old activist imprisoned for her participation in a pro-Navalny protest in 2021. Olga is a Russian citizen residing in Lyubertsy, a suburb of Moscow. Prior to her arrest, she worked as a furniture designer. Olga Bendas felt compelled to join the protest due to her dissatisfaction with the Kremlin’s pension reforms and vaccination policies. In a letter published by OVD-Info, she explained that she came out to protest because as a tax-paying citizen, she has every right to criticize the government’s policies as she sees fit. Olga is now imprisoned on exaggerated charges of assaulting a police officer, when in reality, she accidentally hit a police officer while defending herself from police assault.
On January 23, 2021, Olga Bendas attended the “Freedom to Navalny” protest at the Pushkin Square, one of the many pro-Navalny protests that took place throughout Russia last year. A video of Olga went viral, in which she was laying on the snow-covered ground, holding up a police baton and declaring that anyone who attacks citizens with the baton, will themselves be attacked by the baton.
The pro-Navalny protests of 2021 were marked by a massive police brutality unleashed on peaceful activists. On the day of Olga’s arrest, over 4,000 other people were taken into custody. In total, about 11,000 individuals have been arrested for participating in the protests. Despite reports showing that state authorities and national guards injured at least 64 protestors, there has yet to be any effective disciplinary action in response to police brutality. So far, none of the police officers involved in the abuse of 64 protestors have been tried or arrested.
On January 28, 2021, Olga was arrested and taken into police custody. She was charged with Part 1 of Article 318 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.
Olga Bendas was taken into custody on January 23 and officially arrested on January 28, 2021, several days after her participation in a pro-Navalny protest. She was charged with Part 1 of Article 318 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation— “use of non-lethal violence against a representative of the power.”
On January 29, 2021, Olga was put in a two-month pre-trial detention by the Presensky District Court. During Olga’s investigation, police officer Boldin claimed that Olga hit him multiple times, causing him “severe pain.” Mr. Boldin is employed by the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for Moscow. At the protest, he wore full protective gear and was armed, but apparently, an unarmed, young woman was able to inflict enough pain on this officer to warrant her arrest.
During the court proceedings, the viral video featuring Olga was repeatedly referenced as evidence. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation has even posted the video of Olga on its official YouTube channel. In the video, however, Olga is not engaging in any forms of violence. Moreover, the allegedly injured officer Boldin does not even appear in the video at all.
The court sentenced Olga to two years in prison. According to Memorial, Olga’s investigation, trial, and arrest, are all politically motivated, and her charges are disproportionate to the alleged “crimes”. Though charged with assaulting a police officer, in reality, Olga Bendas accidentally hit a police officer in self-defense, after she was severely beaten.
Officer Boldin watched the video of Olga during the investigation, and identified her as the one who “assaulted” him at the protest. His colleagues—officers A.S. Starshinin and A.V. Smirnov— claimed that they saw Olga hit Boldin on the torso and identified her from the video as well.
On June 22, 2021, judge A.A. Belyakov of the Tverskoy District Court sentenced Olga to two years in prison.
Though she publicly apologized for hitting the officer in a video publicized during the investigation; Olga pled not-guilty during her trial, as she hit him accidently, while defending herself. It is possible that she posted the apology due to intimidation. The video of her apology was also posted and circulated by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation.
At the trial, Olga Bendas was represented by lawyer Tatyana Okushko, who works for OVD-Info. OVD-Info is an online human rights hotline and advocacy group, which documents and supports arrested activists in Russia. This organization collects information about arrests conducted at protests, and provides legal aid and counsel to those unjustly arrested.
Olga conceded that she brushed against the police officer, though this was done accidentally. She was under extreme stress and abuse at the hands of police officers and in response, swung her hands, accidentally hitting police officer V.A. Boldin. This account is vastly different from the aggressive assault claimed by police officers.
Olga reported being hit by police officers on her head and stomach multiple times. Detention center exam documented numerous bruises over Olga’s body. While officials were conducting the investigation, Olga was kept in a colony 621 miles from her home. She reported having extreme back pain but was denied medical care. Originally, she was kept in SIZO-6, but on October 14, 2021, was moved to SIZO-5 in Perm.
Olga and her lawyer tried to get records of these bruises to present to court but were unable to do so. This is because after her arrest, Olga was immediately taken to a temporary detention facility before being sent to the pre-trial detention center. Olga speculates that this was done so that her bruises would fade before her trial, and that authorities could conceal the evidence of their brutality. Despite Olga’s complaints to the investigators on her beatings, there have been no investigations against the officers who attacked her. Olga’s lawyer, Tatyana Okushko, states that Olga told authorities at her trial that she was beaten. Okushko states that investigators are required to conduct a medical exam, and interview witnesses at the event, but refused to conduct the investigation.
At the trial, prosecution emphasized the fact that Olga, while a Russian citizen, was born in Ukraine— in an attempt to appeal to anti-Ukrainian sentiments in Russia, undermining her credibility and her claims of acting in self-defense. A malicious disinformation campaign has been conducted attacking Olga’s character. Government-controlled RIA news agency aired specials on Olga’s case depicting her as an “outsider” who cannot be a peaceful citizen due to her origin of birth. Other media outlets slandered her, falsely reporting that she was previously convicted for other offenses and was unemployed. This has been done to prevent ordinary Russian citizens from feeling sympathy for the young woman.
Aside from Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, Olga’s case has warranted no response from the Western media. In the Russian Federation, the reaction was different. Official news agencies ran smear campaigns defaming Olga’s character. They emphasized the fact that she was born in Odessa and exclusively referred to her as Ukrainian, despite her having a Moscow residency. All of this was done to play on anti-Ukrainian bigotry in Russia, to support her trial and arrest. She was portrayed as violent and hysterical. Government-associated news oulets purposely omitted the fact that she was badly beaten by police officers after defending an old man. Several pro-Kremlin twitter users cheered her arrest, referring to her as a violent, unhinged person.
Independent Russian news sources and social media influencers have voiced their support for Olga. Memorial, Radio Svoboda, and OVD-Info published information to shed truth on her case. Several twitter users with a large following posted statements showing their support and solidarity. User “XSoviet News” posted a video of Olga on the ground holding a baton, saying, “Olga Bendas and Alexander Glushkov, who fought back against riot police during the protest in Moscow on January 23, have been sentenced to two years in prison.” Another user, Kasablanka_03 quoted Olga, who said she was very hurt that she had received no letters of support from others. In response, this user expressed much sympathy for Olga. Other users, such as “Micr0ft” and “Ivan from Russia” expressed their support as well.
Why Memorial Recognizes Olga Bendas as a Political Prisoner
- Olga Bendas’s arrest and sentence are disproportionate to her actions. While she did hit a police officer, she did so accidentally, while defending herself from police brutality. She did not cause any physical damage to the police officer. Moreover, no legal actions were taken against the police officers who beat and physically attacked Olga.
- Olga Bendas’s lawyer stated that the video, which was used as evidence, does not sufficiently prove Olga’s guilt. Nowhere in the video does Olga even touch the lawyer. The police officer who was supposedly attacked could not provide any medical evidence to show that Olga harmed him in any way.
- There was police brutality at the pro-Navalny protests, yet none of the police officers have been held accountable. Olga’s arrest was done as a political statement by Russian authorities to discourage citizens from protesting, and from defending others against police violence.
Who is Valentina Ivanovna Baranovskaya?
Valentina Ivanovna Baranovskaya is a 70-year-old retiree,and a devout Jehovah’s Witness from the Russian city of Abakan. In the Spring of 2019, Valentina and her son Roman Baranovsky were arrested and charged under the Article 282.2, part two of Criminal Code of the Russian Federation—participating in an outlawed organization. In reality, they are persecuted simply for being Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their trial began on April 10, 2019, and they have been incarcerated since February 24, 2021.
The arrest and trial of Baranovskaya are outrageous in cruelty and senselessness. In the face of the Kremlin’s hostility toward the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baranovskaya has courageously remained an active member in her community and had not denounced her believes. Baranovskaya has maintained her innocence, and articulately defended her stance in court.
Though the Kremlin purports to support freedom of religion and expression, the arrest of Baranovskaya and her son, and the general attack on Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses prove otherwise. In 2017, the Kremlin labeled the Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremist, and banned them from organizing in the Russian Federation. Since then, hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been prosecuted and arrested for no other crime than professing their faith. Baranovskaya was 69 years-old at the time of her arrest, and was the first female Jehovah’s Witness to be arrested.
Valentina Baranovskaya was born in 1951, and was raised alongside her brother and sister in the village of Vannovka. She would become a Jehovah’s Witness only later in life, and as a child was raised in a communist home. By 1973, she graduated from university, and a year later, had her son, Roman Baranovsky. Before her retirement in 2006, Baranovskaya worked as an accountant.
Her religious transformation began in 1995, when she and her son started to read the Bible together. For her, the most important motif from her readings was the emphasis on eternal truth. These readings ultimately led the two to become Jehovah’s Witnesses. Valentina Baranovskaya is known for her creativity, warmth, and hospitality, making her trial and verdict even more difficult for her friends and family to comprehend.
On April 10, 2019, Investigator A. V. Pachuev opened a criminal case against Baranovskaya and her son. Armed authorities barged into Baranovskaya’s home to arrest her for being a member of a banned religious group. They demanded to search her home for “extremist” content. She obliged.
In February 2021, Judge Elena Scherbakova of the Abakan City Court, sentenced Baranovskaya to two years in prison for participating in religious activities as a Jehovah’s Witness, and sentenced her son, Roman, to six years in prison. He was charged for organizing group activities. Officially, she was found guilty of violating Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which charges an individual for being part of a banned organization. According to a document published on February 24, 2019, by the official Investigation Department of the Republic of Khakassia, Valentina Baranovskaya and Roman Baranovsky were later both found guilty under Part 1 and Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.
On February 20, 2020, Valentina Baranovskaya maintained her innocence, and refused to plead guilty to being a part of an extremist organization. Baranovskaya stated that she was simply practicing her religious beliefs without harming or imposing her beliefs on others, which is a protected right under the Russian Constitution. Moreover, she stated that the charges filed against her are themselves unlawful and invalid, as they deny the rights granted to her by the Russian Constitution.
Baranovskaya then made a public statement arguing that despite the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Abakan being a banned group, every individual has the right to practice their religion freely, as stipulated by Article 28 of the Russian Constitution. She added that there was nothing “extremist” about singing religious music, reading the Bible, and believing in God. In February, there were some efforts by prosecutors to increase her and her son’s sentences, by increasing Baranovskaya’s sentence to 5 years, and her son’s sentence to 8 years. In later court appearances, both Valentina and Roman argue that despite searching their home, authorities were unable to provide any evidence of the two owning prohibited literature or fundraising for the organization.
Valentina Baranovskaya and Roman Baranovsky tried to appeal their case. On May 24, 2021, the Supreme Court of Khakassia rejected their appeals, and maintained Baranovskaya’s two-year sentence, and Baranovsky’s six-year sentence. On September 9, 2021, Valentina’s lawyer visited her in prison. Despite her tragic situation, health problems, and fatigue, he noted her warm attitude and her attention to the other inmates. She helps them clean the facility and has a positive effect on the other inmates. He noted her intentions to apply for parole. Unfortunately, her application was denied this October.
The shock of the arrest and conditions of her incarceration have severely endangered Valentina Baranovskaya’s health. On July 8, 2020, Baranovskaya fell ill, and was examined by a medical team. An ER doctor ordered an ambulance to take Baranovskaya to the hospital for emergency care and prescribed medication. A few days later, on July 20, 2020, she had an ischemic stroke.
Baranovskaya often relies on her son Roman for help and emotional support, but the two have been separated and assigned to different prisons. She is currently located in colony no. 28 in Ust-Abakan, while her son is in colony no. 3 in Chita—1,500 miles away. Her appeal filed in October 2021, citing her medical problems, was rejected by courts who refused to relocate her or to shorten her sentence. Separating Valentina Baranovskaya from her primary caretaker in her ill health is especially sadistic, and shows a complete disregard for compassion and human rights at the hands of the Russian authorities
Aside from Jehovah’s’ Witness news sources, alternative Russian media sources, and Memorial, little is said about the unjust arrest and detention of Valentina Baranovskaya. There have been, however, several western sources covering this case. In large part, this is because it would go against the Kremlin’s interests to publicize illegal arrests, and most news sources have little freedom in reporting about the Kremlin’s arrests. Those who speak openly are often subject to heavy fines and harassment due to the Foreign Agents Law. This was a law passed in 2012, essentially created to limit dissent and civil society in Russia by labeling those who disagree with, and question, the current political status quo, as “foreign agents”—a known euphemism for calling someone a spy.
Western news sources, however, do not face such limitations, and can, therefore, write about and criticize unjust arrests in the Russian Federation. The official Jehovah’s Witness website, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, The State Department, Reuters, Washington Post, and the United States Commission on International Freedom have all issued reports and statements surrounding the arrest. USCIF Commissioner, Gary Bauer, personally issued a statement on twitter, saying, “Today Valentina Baranovskaya, an elderly woman in poor health, became the first female #JehovahsWitness sentenced to prison in #Russia. This marks a new low in Russia’s brutal campaign against religious freedom.”
Why the Memorial Human Rights Center Recognizes Baranovskaya as a Political Prisoner
- Article 28 of the Russian Constitution claims to support the freedom of religion. Arresting Baranovskaya and her son simply for being Jehovah’s Witnesses, violates the Russian Constitution.
- Article 282.2 bans citizens from being a part of, and taking part in activities led by banned, extremist organizations. Russian authorities often use this article as an excuse to arbitrarily arrest religious minorities, claiming that they are part of an extremist group, when in fact, they are not.
Many political prisoners in Russia are arrested for their religious beliefs. Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the most persecuted religious minorities in the Russian Federation, jailed for their religious beliefs alone. They pose no security threat to the Russian Federation and are cruelly targeted simply for following a form of Christianity which differs from Kremlin-approved Eastern Orthodoxy.
Sayd-Muhammad Dzhumaev (aka Markhiev Mikail Mikhailovich) was born on January 15, 2000. On August 19, 2021 Sayd-Muhammad, a resident of Moscow and a student of Moscow State University, was sentenced to five years in prison for confronting riot police at a rally in support of opposition politician Alexey Navalny by the Tverskoi Court in Moscow.
Russian politician Alexey Navalny has been in prison since January 2021. He was detained at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow after returning from Germany, where he had been treated after being poisoned with the Novichok chemical warfare agent. According to the verdict, the politician will remain incarcerated until mid-2024.
Nationwide protests in Russia broke out on January 23, 2021 in support of Navalny. The protests were met with brutal police crackdowns, with thousands citizens detained. More than 100 criminal cases were opened against those who participated in protests under accusations of violence, blocking roads, involving minors in illegal activities, and violating sanitary and epidemiological rules.
On January 23, 2021, Sayd-Muhamad Jumayev joined a demonstration in Moscow as part of the all-Russian “Freedom to Navalny!” rally.
A short video from the rally, which captures the moment of Dzhumaev’s confrontation with riot police, has been widely circulated on the Internet. The footage shows Dzhumaev emerging from the crowd of protesters and walking quickly towards the riot police, who in full protective gear with batons at the ready are advancing on the crowd of protesters. Dzhumayev falls back under the blows of the police batons but hits the riot police with hands and feet. One of the OMON riot police fighters grabbed Jumayev by the arm, he breaks free, but falls on the asphalt. The protesters drag Dzhumaev back into the crowd, shielding him from police.
Following this incident, Dzhumaev was put on the federal wanted list on charges of committing a crime under Article 318 of the Russian Criminal Code (“Violence against a representative of authority, in connection with the performance of his duties”). On January 28, 2021 he was detained in the Pskov region, and on the same day Moscow Presnensky District Court put him in jail for two months for the period of preliminary investigation. His time in the pre-trial detention facility had then been extended until the final verdict.
According to the investigation, on January 23, the young man who participated in an unauthorized rally near Pushkin square “repeatedly attacked members of riot police and law enforcement with his hands and feet.”
During the investigation, Sayd-Muhammad Dzhumaev apologized to the officers. According to his lawyer, officers said that they had no personal claims. Initially the young man pleaded guilty, so his case was considered in a special order without the examination of evidence, but on the day of the announcement of the verdict, the court decided to reopen the investigation and consider the case in the general order.
On August 19, 2021 Sayd-Muhammad Dzhumaev was sentenced to five years in prison
The day after the rally, Adam Delimkhanov, a Russian State Duma deputy from the Chechen Republic, published a video in which he urged Dzhumaev to get in touch with him and then the regional authorities would help him.
The position of the Chechen authorities was first based on the fact that Dzhumayev did not support Navalny and, most likely, was at the rally by accident.
After the meeting with the young man’s relatives, the Chechen authorities announced that “the destruction of the institution of the family” was to blame for Dzhumayev’s actions. “If he had reached out to his father’s relatives, maintained kinship with everyone, he would have known how to behave,” Magomed Daudov, the speaker of the Chechen Parliament explained Dzhumayev’s behavior.
Arrest of this young student has caused a resonance with the Russian society. Poems had been dedicated to him, thousands of people signed a petition in his support, created animated videos and merchandise with his image. Thousands of posts have been published on Instagram with the hashtag #свободуджумаеву (#freedzhumaev).
Why does the Memorial Center recognize Sayd-Muhammad Dzhumaev as a political prisoner?
Memorial, an international historical and civil rights society, does not believe Dzhumaev’s actions constitute a crime.
- There was no damage or injury from the actions of Said-Muhammad Dzhumaev. The allegedly injured law enforcers wore full protective equipment with helmets and did not receive any injuries. Moreover, in court, they denied all claims of injury. The video recording from the protest shows that Dzhumaev’s actions had not caused any of them to fall, lose their balance or even stop hitting him with batons.
- An unreasonably harsh sentence was imposed in Dzhumaev’s case: it clearly does not correspond to the practice of such charges. Even taking into account that the Russian courts apply Article 318 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation in “political” and other cases, Dzhumaev’s sentence stands out for its severity even against the background of other cases.
- The law enforcement agencies’ assessment of the actions of the parties is asymmetrical. According to the “OVD-Info” media, on January 23, at least 64 protesters across Russia were injured by the actions of law enforcement officers. At the same time, not a single criminal case has been initiated against law enforcement officials. Only the demonstrators have been prosecuted.
- Dzhumaev clashed with riot police during the illegal dispersal of a protest rally. The Russian authorities grossly violated the right of citizens to peaceful assembly, each of the protesters risked being illegally detained and beaten. The atmosphere of police violence during those hours suggests an element of necessary defense in Dzhumaev’s actions.
Based on the above, Memorial considers Sayd-Mukhamad Dzhumaev to be a political prisoner and calls for his release and for a review of his sentence with respect for the right to a fair trial.
In April 2021, Andrey Borovikov, former leader of Aleksei Navalny’s regional office in the northwestern city of Arkhangelsk, Russia, was sentenced to 2.4 years in prison for “distribution of pornography”. In 2014, Borovikov reposted the “Pussy” music video by the German band Rammstein on Vkontakte social media, and in 2020 he deleted it from his page. But it didn’t help — the court declared the video “pornography not containing artistic value”. Rammstein band members, meanwhile, continue visit Russia unrestricted and even perform at government-funded concerts.
Who is Andrey Borovikov?
Andrey Borovikov was born on May 15, 1988 and resided in Arkhangelsk, in North-Western Russia. He is an eco-activist, a member of the movement “Pomorie Is Not a Dump”, worked as coordinator of a regional office of the Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny. Borovikov has repeatedly participated in protest actions in his hometown and also took part in a large protest rally against a planned waste disposal project in the village of Shies in 2019. For his activism, Andrey Borovkov has become the target of government repressions.
In 2014, Andrey shared music video “Pussy” by German band Rammstein on the Russian social network Vkontakte. The song itself had been released with a controversial and sexually explicit music video back in 2009. However, there is no official ban on this music video in Russia.
Five years later, in 2019, the video was noticed by Alexander Durynin, a former volunteer and social media manager of Navalny’s Arkhangelsk regional office, who later “became disillusioned with Navalny and left the office,” according to reports by Russian independent outlet Mediazona. In December 2019, he reported Borovikov’s post to the police and claimed that he was distributing pornography.
The initiation of a criminal case against Andrey was announced in September 2020. At around the same time he left his position as coordinator of Navalny’s regional office.
As part of the investigation, a sexological and cultural examination of music video took place. The court experts found the video to be of “pornographic nature” and “not containing artistic value.” At the same time, no other criminal cases have been opened in Russia because of the clip, despite the version marked 18+ having been shared by more than 200 users in social media Vkontakte alone and more than 20,000 users shared the version with explicit scenes blurred.
The activist has pleaded not guilty, stressing that this clip in the social media Vkontakte had been published by hundreds of other people.
According to prosecutors, Borovikov violated Article 242 of the Russian criminal code —distribution, public display or announcement of pornographic materials with use of mass media—when he shared the video in 2014.
On April 29, 2021, a court in Arkhangelsk found Borovikov guilty of “distributing pornography” by sharing the video. The prosecution requested a three-year sentence in a high security penal colony. Borovikov has been sentenced to two and half years in prison.
On July 15, 2021, the court reduced the sentence to two years and three months in a medium-security prison.
Immediately after the announcement of the verdict, Rammstein guitarist Richard Kruspe criticized the decision of the Russian court. “I very much regret that Borovikov has been sentenced to imprisonment for this. The harshness of this sentence is shocking. Rammstein has always stood up for freedom as a guaranteed basic right of all people,” Kruspe’s Instagram statement said.
Rammstein leader, singer Till Lindemann, who is very popular in Russia, has never publicly condemned the arrest of Borovikov, nor is he prosecuted for producing the video. Moreover, on September 4, 2021 he performed on Red Square in Moscow — he was a special guest at the “Spasskaya Tower” Military Music Festival funded by the government. Lindemann sang Mark Bernes’ song “Beloved City” in Russian. He was accompanied by three bands: the Military Band of the 154th Separate Commandant Preobrazhensky Regiment, the Demonstration Band of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Russia and the Band of the Separate Division of the Operational Division of the National Guard.
Amnesty International said Borovikov was being “punished solely for his activism, not his musical taste.” “The case against Andrei Borovikov is utterly absurd,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.
In an address recorded few hours ahead of the arrest, Borovikov called on the residents of Arkhangelsk to keep up protests against the regime. “Dear brave people, real people, dear friends, we have long had to keep up with this regime, that has descended our country into Putin’s lawless abyss. We have been united by the spirit of protest, a spirit of protest for our home soil. And only during these protests it has become clear for us how hard it is for people to have one’s own opinion, to be proud, a proud citizen. Dear friends, whatever will happen to me, that must not affect your spirit of protest. Because loyalty and fear is exactly what Putin’s group of bandits desires. Don’t be afraid, and in all possible ways try to harm the regime of the dictator, even with the smallest of actions. Never, under no circumstances, vote for United Russia… We are risking our lives and freedom so that our motherland, our beloved Russia, can be free.”
Why does the Memorial Center recognize Andrey Borovikov as a political prisoner?
Memorial Center believes that criminal prosecution of Andrey Borovikov — a political, environmental and civic activist well-known in Arkhangelsk — has nothing to do with the declared aim of protecting public morals.
1. The investigation over many months of such a minor and even ridiculous criminal case seems absurd and can only be rationally explained by the political motives of the officers of the Russian Interior Ministry rather than any motivation related to the law.
2. Borovikov’s prosecution is clearly selective in nature.
3. It is difficult to classify the Rammstein music video for the song “Pussy” as purely pornographic in nature since this audiovisual work has artistic value and is a legitimate artefact of contemporary popular music culture. There are no grounds to suggest Borovikov perceived the video as some kind of prohibited ‘pornography’ or intended to distribute pornographic material. 4. Even if the investigative authority had concluded the video was pornographic, it should not have initiated criminal proceedings against Borovikov. Under Article 14, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code, “an act (or omission), even if it formally contains evidence of being an act that falls under this Code, does not constitute a crime if it presents a danger to the public of little significance.”
Who is Pavel Zelensky?
Pavel Zelensky was born on January 10, 1981. He was a camera operator for Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), which specializes in publishing high-impact investigations into what it says is official graft. Zelensky is married, with three minor children.
Case Background: Self-immolation of Journalist Irina Slavina’s
On October 2, 2020 “Koza.Press” editor-in-chief Irina Slavina self-immolated in front of the Interior Ministry’s regional offices in Nizhny Novgorod. Before she committed suicide, she posted on her Facebook page: “Please blame the Russian Federation for my death.” She was 47 years old.
The day before this tragedy, a law enforcement squad searched her home in connection with a criminal investigation into the activities of an “undesirable organization.” In 2019 and 2020, Slavina received several administrative sentences for her political position and journalistic activity.
Case Background: Pavel Zelensky
On the day of Slavina’s death, Pavel Zelensky, a cameraman who worked for the Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK, an organization the Russian authorities have unlawfully declared a foreign agent), published two posts on Twitter about the journalist’s self-immolation.
“Irina, forgive all of us, forgive that we have let this happen. It’s very hard for me to write this, it’s hard to think about it and feel, thank you for your life and deeds. With these words, I ask all of us to get up, wake up, stop tweeting and electronically worry. Let’s f*** with this unworthy government”.
These emotional tweets, expressing grief and rage toward Russian authorities (who he held responsible for the tragedy), were the reason for his criminal prosecution.
Zelensky was arrested on January 15, 2021. At the time of his arrest, he was beaten and forced to unlock his smartphone.
The state prosecution had reportedly requested a 2.5-year sentence for him.
Zelensky has pleaded guilty to the extremism charges in February 2021 and declined a lawyer offered by the human rights group Agora. FBK director Ivan Zhdanov suggested that Zelensky was subjected to intense pressure in pretrial detention. Zelensky’s wife has told the Russian outlet Mediazona that he had pleaded guilty in hopes of shortening his sentence after he learned his mother was sick with coronavirus.
On April 16, 2021 Moscow’s Tushinsky District Court found Zelensky guilty and sentenced him to two years in a penal colony. The activist was charged with the offence of inciting extremist activity (Article 280, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code).
On September 28, 2021, he was also accused under Part 2 of Article 282.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (“Participation in an extremist community”, up to 6 years in prison) in connection with participation in an allegedly extremist community created by Alexey Navalny.
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the Russian Journalists and Media Worker’s Union (JMWU) have demanded Zelensky’s release.
“The Journalists’ Union is outraged by Zelenski’s arrest and by the allegations against him. We understand his shock, dismay, and indignation after the death of Irina Slavina. We are confident that there is no incitement to extremist actions in what Zelenski has written, but rather only emotion. No one should be put behind bars for their words.”
“Pavel Zelenski’s arrest is a totally disproportionate measure which is in fact intended to intimidate journalists covering Navalny’s news,” said EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez. “It is clearly an intimidation tactic.”
Why does the Memorial Center recognize Pavel Zelensky as a political prisoner?
Memorial, an international historical and civil rights society, does not believe Zelensky’s actions constitute a crime. Moreover, even if the content of his tweets would formally fall within the purview of the article of the Criminal Code concerning incitement of extremism, investigators should nonetheless not have initiated criminal proceedings given the evident lack of importance of his actions.
Zelensky’s expressive statements were a spontaneous reaction to the unlawful actions of the security forces that led to the death of Irina Slavina. They contain no calls for specific extremist actions and one of the two posts contains no call of any kind but is merely an emotional expression of an attitude towards individual public officials.
Zelensky is a supporter of the Russian democratic opposition and one of Aleksei Navalny’s associates who have consistently demonstrated their commitment to exclusively peaceful methods of protest.
The self-evidently unlawful imposition of pre-trial custody in relation to a charge for a minor offence on someone with no criminal record, who has several children and who did not seek to hide from the investigators and has a permanent job and place of residence should be noted. Remanding Zelensky in custody was disproportionate with regard to the actions with which he has been charged and the degree of danger to the public they represent.
It is clear to us that Pavel Zelensky has been subject to criminal prosecution solely on account of his political views and his work for the Anti-Corruption Foundation. His prosecution is part of an ongoing crackdown against Aleksei Navalny and his supporters. It is significant that the criminal case against Zelensky was opened on January 12, 2021, the day the Federal Penitentiary Service threatened to replace Navalny’s suspended sentence in the trumped-up ‘Postal Case’ with a real term in prison. Zelensky was arrested on January 15, two days after Navalny announced his return to Moscow and two days before his arrival in Russia and wrongful arrest.
Karina Tsurkan, a former executive at an energy holding company, remains in prison on dubious charges of espionage. Originally from Moldova, Tsurkan began working in the Chisinau office of the state-owned company Inter RAO in 2005. She later moved to Moscow to work in the main office in 2007, and obtained Russian citizenship in 2016. In 2018, she was arrested under article 276 of the penal code of the Russian Federation. She was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison. After being released for less than a month in 2020, she was forced to return to prison, and has remained there ever since. Tsurkan maintains her innocence. The human rights organization Memorial has recognized her as a political prisoner.
Personal and Professional Background
Karina Valierevna Tsurkan was born in Chisinau, Moldovan SSR, in 1974. Her mother, Irina Aganesova, an energy engineer, describes Tsurkan as a curious person who always enjoyed a challenge. She was keenly interested in energy, law, and foreign languages. As a child, she took an interest in her mother’s work and began learning about the energy sector. After high school, she enrolled in a degree program that was conducted primarily in Romanian, despite not being fluent in the language at that time. She graduated from the International University of Moldova with a law degree in 1995. She subsequently obtained an MBA from a university in Spain. Due to her diverse educational background, Tsurkan is fluent in Russian, Romanian, and Spanish.
After completing her education, Tsurkan founded a law firm with her then-husband, Alexander. The couple, who have one son, divorced in 2002. Around this time, Tsurkan changed careers and took a job at Gas Natural Fenosa, the largest energy company in Moldova. In 2005, she took a job at the Chisinau offices of Inter RAO, the Russian state-owned energy company and the country’s fourth-largest producer of power, which has offices in multiple countries throughout the former Soviet Union. In 2007, she was promoted and moved to Moscow to work in the main office. At Inter RAO, she was employed as the head of the company’s trading division. In that capacity, she oversaw electrical power trade between Ukraine, Romania, and Moldova. This included the breakaway regions of Transnistria, in Moldova, and the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in Ukraine.
In 2016, Tsurkan became a Russian citizen. She maintains that she renounced her Moldovan citizenship at that time and holds no other passport.
Current Case: 2018—Present
In 2018, Tsurkan was arrested on ambiguous charges. Although the precise essence of these charges varies from source to source, she stands accused of having shared classified information with an unidentified business contact. This individual is said to be of either Moldovan or Romanian nationality, and to have ties to the intelligence community in one or both of those countries. Tsurkan is accused to have shared the classified information with this individual in 2015. Because she still had Moldovan citizenship at that time, she was charged under article 276 (espionage) of the penal code, where a Russian national would have been charged under article 275 (treason). The prosecution sought to have Tsurkan imprisoned for eighteen years; she was sentenced to fifteen.
In connection with this case, the Russian Embassy in Romania has asserted that Tsurkan took Romanian citizenship in 2014, a charge which she denies. There have also been unsubstantiated rumors about Tsurkan’s personal relationships and the relevance they might bear to the charges.
Tsurkan maintains her innocence. In a 2018 interview with Meduza, she stated that she “would comment on the charges, if [she] understood them.” She willingly surrendered her computer, phone, and passwords to investigators, saying that she had nothing to hide. She stated that no law enforcement official had told her the name of the individual to whom she supposedly supplied classified information. She believes that she may have become a target because she “oversaw the implementation of corporate assignments in several complicated regions.”
Boris Kovalchuk, the son of Yuri Kovalchuk, a friend of Vladimir Putin, and the chairman of the board of Inter RAO, testified in Tsurkan’s favor at her trial. He said that he believed she had been framed by associates of Evgeny Shevchuk, the former self-proclaimed president of Transnistria (he now lives in Russia), who had objected to the presence of an Inter RAO power plant in the breakaway republic, and who is believed to have ties to intelligence agencies.
Tsurkan has said that conditions in the prison are poor and that the rights of prisoners are not respected. For example, while prisoners are legally entitled to unlimited contact with their lawyers, there is not sufficient space in the prison to facilitate these meetings. During her initial stay in prison, Tsurkan filled her time by studying Latin, German, and iconography. She told Meduza that she was worried about her mother and son, who were present in her apartment on the morning that she was arrested, and whom she had not been able to see since.
On January 16, 2020, Tsurkan was briefly released from prison. Twenty-three days later, she was forced to return. She has remained there ever since.
Political Prisoner Status
The human rights organization Memorial has recognized Tsurkan as a political prisoner on the grounds that she was denied her constitutional right to a fair trial, and was subsequently convicted on dubious evidence.
Tsurkan is not a typical political prisoner: she worked for a state-owned company and was not involved with any opposition movement. Her case demonstrates that it can happen to someone who does not fit the usual profile.
“I am a devoted Muslim, and I profess traditional Islam. My mother was a victim of a terrorist attack. How could I ever support or promote terrorism? I only wanted to help Muslim African countries that have almost no drinking water. That was my only intention.”
-Georgy Guyev during his trial on Nov 20, 2020
Georgy Guyev, a Muslim native of North Ossetia, moved to Moscow when he was a teenager. After graduating from high school, Georgy was accepted to the Plekhanov University of Economics, one of Russia’s most prestigious universities. As he was finishing his degree, he started working for a major auditing company KPMG and then was recruited as lead economist in Promstroi construction company. Georgy is married and has two children.
Ever since Georgy was a student, he has been involved in charity work and devoted himself to helping people in struggling Muslim communities both in Russia and abroad. His family describes him as a man with a kind heart who always puts others first.
In May 2019, one of Georgy’s friends shared with him a donation link from the Living Hearts Charitable Fund website, that claimed it was collecting money to build schools, provide water, and food for vulnerable Muslim communities in Africa. Feeling moved to help the cause, Georgy transferred a small amount of money to the account provided on the website. Shortly thereafter, Guyev was arrested and charged with financing terrorism under Art. 205.1, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code. The police took Georgy to an unknown location and refused to disclose any information regarding his whereabouts or condition to his family.
Two days after the arrest Guyev’s family was able to find out that Georgy was held at detention center, charged with “[transferring] at least $680,000 to the ISIS terrorist organization, and specifically, to a convicted terrorist Abu Umar Sasitlinsky, to finance the preparation and commission of terrorist crimes as well as to support the armed struggle in Syria.”
As evidence, the state cited the testimony of Anna Papushina, who was an accountant in the foundation to which Georgy transferred money. Papushina claimed the foundation collected money to support the Jihad, and that Guyev knew about the foundation’s true intentions from Telegram chats of the fund of which he was a member. Guyev claimed he was never a member of such chats, and the investigation did not prove otherwise. Moreover, the Memorial Human Rights Center believes Papushina was coerced into providing this false testimony after being threatened by police to be jailed for decades if she refused to cooperate. Papushina was placed under house arrest, while Guyev, who has denied all accusations, has now been held in a detention center for over a year.
Guyev told the investigation that he looked into the background of the Living Heart Foundation, and that donations made by Ramzan Kadyrov (leader of Chechnya) and Yunus-Bek Yevkurov (former head of Ingushetia), instilled confidence into Georgy that he was donating his money to a good cause. Guyev added:
“The site indicated the number of accounts to which I could send the money, so I transferred a small amount. I have never supported terrorism, and I am very critical of violent forms of Islam. My mother was a victim of a terrorist attack. How could I possibly support it?”
Georgy’s wife Madina commented on the accusations in her interviews with journalists:
“There has never been any fundraising and financing of terrorism. Those are all far-fetched accusations that are easy to refute. At the beginning of Ramadan, my husband transferred a small amount to a publicly available bank account to help Muslim African countries. We know nothing about Abu Umar Sasitlinsky, especially that he is a convicted terrorist.”
Madina has also denied the police’s claim that they have confiscated extremist terrorist literature, a “large number” of bank cards, and phones with “instructions from ISIS”.
“This is all untrue. They only confiscated a laptop and our phones. We never had any literature of that kind in our home, or multiple bank cards, or terrorist instructions. This is ridiculous.”
After Guyev’s legal defense team submitted an appeal, which asserted that Georgy never was in possession nor had the means to donate the $680,000 USD the court accused him of donating, the prosecution changed the donation amount to just $94 USD.
Besides the testimony of Anna Papushina, the police used Guyev’s telegram chats as evidence of his supposed crimes. One such chat is Georgy’s conversation with a user named Alikhan Horanti, whom Georgy told about an acquaintance of his who converted to Islam. The chat with Horanti also discussed setting up financial assistance of $40-$70 to Imams, since “many of them are forced to work at gas stations and as taxi drivers to feed their families.” In the protocol of the examination of this correspondence, the leading police officer on the case claimed that this dialogue “was encrypted and talked about the recruitment of persons who converted to Islam for terrorist purposes and about financing terrorism.”
On November 20, 2020, the court sentenced Georgy to six years of prison.
Why does the Memorial Center recognize Georgy Guyev as a political prisoner?
The Center believes that Guyev’s guilt was not proven:
- Texting about providing financial assistance to Imams is not an indication of adherence to violent forms of Islam or support of terrorism.
- Guyev transferred money to the account of the Living Hearts Charitable Fund, an organization that seemed transparent regarding their activities and clearly stated that its purposes are to provide aid to vulnerable civilians. No proof was established as to whether the fund was using the donations to finance terrorism.
- The investigation could not prove that Guyev was part of Telegram chats that discussed donations being funneled to support terrorism.
- Anna Papushina, the fund’s accountant and pillar upon which the prosecution relied to convict Guyev, was forced to collaborate with the police to avoid cruel punishment and false imprisonment.
The Memorial Human Rights Center believes that Guyev’s imprisonment was politically motivated and carried out in order to artificially increase statistics in resolving terrorist crimes, as well as for the Russian police to demonstrate their success to their superiors. The Memorial Center Georgy Guyev to be released immediately, and all charges against him are dropped.
Everyone is guaranteed freedom of thought and speech; the right to freely seek, receive, produce and disseminate information in any legal way; freedom of the media is guaranteed; censorship is prohibited.
Article 29 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation
Darya Polyudova is a civic activist and a leader in the Left Resistance public movement.
Born in Uzbekistan, Darya moved with her family to Bashkiriya, Russia as a teenager.
Thinking back on their adjustment to Bashkiriya, Darya’s mother Tatyana recalls the city’s horrendous weather. “There were snowstorms in Bashkiriya in winter,” Tatyana remembers. “She [Darya] would come to the bus stop to go to her music classes, and I would say ‘Maybe you shouldn’t go, it’s freezing.’ She would say ‘No, I must go no matter what.’
She has been remarkably stubborn ever since she was a child. She always speaks her mind. Sometimes it is safer to remain silent, but she would spill everything out with no hesitation. She will fight for her truth until the end.”
After graduating from high school, Darya moved to the Krasnodar Krai in the south of Russia to attend the Ministry of Internal Affairs University. She wanted to become an investigator. During college, she joined the Communist Party of the Russian Federation during her third year of college, but soon realized how broken the system was, and that the party, in fact, did not care about the people, as it claimed.
Her strong sense of justice and urge to support those in need, especially in times of blatant injustice, brought Darya to the streets where she staged solitary pickets, holding home-made posters and voicing her criticism of Putin’s regime. These actions have resulted in numerous administrative arrests and even threats to expel her from the university.
Darya came out to the streets to support the Russian opposition during mass protests against falsified elections in 2011. In 2012, she came out to show solidarity with Pussy Riot activists imprisoned for their non-violent musical performance against Putin’s regime. Darya was vocal about her opposition to Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, most notably his illegal invasion of Crimea, and in her support for Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian political prisoners. Her criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and her public fight for human rights have made Darya a target of political persecution by government authorities.
In 2014, the police raided Darya’s house and arrested her on charges of inciting separatism and extremism. The official evidence cited for her arrest was her plan to organize a “March for the Federalization of Kuban” (a southern Russian region) and carrying of a poster at a protest shortly after Putin’s annexation of Crimea with words “Not a War in Ukraine but a Revolution in Russia!” Darya was sentenced to two years in prison. The Memorial Human Rights Center declared her a political prisoner in 2014. Tragically, six years later, she again was jailed by the Kremlin for her dissent, leading the Memorial Center to have to declare her a political prisoner again.
The Case of 2020
After her release from prison in 2017, Darya continued her peaceful civic activism, refusing to be bullied into silence by the Kremlin’s immoral and illegal repressions. In January 2019, Darya staged a one-person picket in Moscow holding a poster that read: ‘Hey, Kuril Islanders! Stop feeding Moscow! Long live the Far Eastern Republic!’ Her protests advanced the position that the residents of these islands should hold a legal referendum on withdrawing from the Russian Federation. On her page on the Vkontakte social network, she wrote that it could benefit Russia to be divided into several sovereign countries.
Based on her solitary pickets and online activity, the Russian government claimed that Polyudova was calling for armed separatism. However, the incident the government used as pretext for her arrest was a February 2017 repost of someone else’s’ publication on a Russian social media platform VKontakte. The content she reposted included a photo of the militant Shamil Basayev and the inscription ‘when we demanded a referendum, the Russians came and killed everyone who did not have time to hide.’ Darya did not accompany this repost with her own commentary, yet the authorities deemed this post enough to accuse Polyudova of publicly defending terrorism.
In January 2020, the FSB once again raided Darya’s house and initiated criminal proceedings against her under Part 1 of Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code for “public incitement of separatism,” and Part 2 of Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code for “public justification of terrorism.” In mid-January, Darya was arrested, brought to a detention center, and denied her right to see her mother. After already having spent a year and a half in detention, Darya was sentenced to six years of increased security prison on May 31, 2021.
Why does Memorial consider Polyudova a political prisoner?
1. Polyudova’s imprisonment violates her constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech.
The Memorial Center believes that Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code must be repealed. The Center asserts that the state only has the right to criminalize manifestations of separatism that are violent in nature or promote violent actions. It certainly does not have the right to arrest those who engage theoretical deliberations about the possibility of separation. Darya Polyudova did not in any way urge the residents of Kuril Islands to take part in an armed struggle for independence. In advocating a peaceful legal referendum, she merely expressed her point of view, which she has a lawful right to do according to the Russian Constitution—a document that guarantees freedom of speech. Additionally, the criminalization of calls for a public referendum, even one on a controversial question l, contradicts the basic principles of popular sovereignty, and Russian statehood enshrined in the Constitution.
2. Facebook repost is not adequate grounds for imprisonment
The charges that Darya faces under Part 2 of Article 205.2 (accusing her of justifying terrorism by reposting someone else’s publication) are far-fetched and unreasonable. Addendum 1 to Article 205.2 defines a public justification of terrorism as a ‘public statement recognizing the ideology and practice of terrorism as correct, and in need of support and emulation. Darya’s repost did not endorse terrorist practices or affirm the need to support terrorism. Indeed, to claim that it does necessitates an excessively broad misreading of the repost that is intentionally unfavorable to Darya. Polyudova’s defense lawyers stated: “These accusations are very convenient [for the government]. The investigation finds a linguist who will determine the hidden meaning of the message. That’s it. Now you can include the linguist’s conclusion in the case and cite their words. This is how the police artificially increases the statistics of the cases related to terrorism to prove their success to their bosses.”
Moreover, Darya’s actions pose no real danger to the public. In March 2020, her repost had 60 views, including views by the staff of Memorial Center and the FSB. Not a single like or comment was made on the post. The Center believes that despite the obvious ambiguity and controversy of the repost made by Polyudova, her actions are certainly not sufficient to accuse her of defending and promoting terrorism.
The Memorial Center concludes that Darya’s detention is politically motivated and directly connected to her social and political activities. Darya is a consistent critic of the Russian political leadership and actively opposes the war with Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea and political repression. Thus, the Center believes that these opposition beliefs and activities are the real reasons Darya is now serving her second sentence in prison. The Center demands that all charges against Polyudova are dropped immediately and she is released from prison without delay.
Emil Ziyadinov, a Muslim Crimean Tatar, led a modest life in his small hometown of Oktyabrskoye in Crimea. For years, he worked as a sports coach and just recently completed specialized education necessary to become a certified electrician. He is married and is a doting father to four little boys.
After Russia illegally invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, the Kremlin unleashed a massive wave of political repressions targeting Muslim Crimean Tatars, many of whom are members of the non-violent religious and political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). The Kremlin views the Crimean Tatars as a threat due to their vocal opposition and criticism of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Resultantly, they are continuously attacked by the Kremlin for their ethnicity and religious beliefs.
Emil Ziyadinov, like many Crimean Tatars and devout Muslims, was not willing to stand idly by while others were being unlawfully arrested, interrogated, and thrown in prison. He joined the Crimean Solidarity civic initiative and started attending political trials, providing care packages with basic necessities to the imprisoned, helping their families get crucial financial and psychological support, and staging solitary pickets to express his solidarity with those in prison.
Tragically, yet unsurprisingly, last year the Russian government came for Emil as well. On July 7, 2020, several masked men brandishing machine guns stormed Emil’s home and hauled him away as his four young children were watching.
Mr. Ziyadinov is accused of organizing and leading a cell of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been unlawfully designated a terrorist organization in Russia, Under Article 205.5, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code. Additionally, under Article 30, Part 1, in association with Article 278, Emil was charged with preparing a seizure of power. The Investigative Committee justified this charge based on the goal of Hizb ut-Tahrir to create a worldwide Islamic Caliphate, uniting all Muslims around the world. Emil Ziyadinov remains in illegal captivity hundreds of miles away from home to this day.
The Memorial Human Rights Center believes that the Kremlin’s designation of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization is illegal and baseless. HT’s members in Russia have never promoted violence or organized a single terrorist act. Nevertheless, because of their connection to this organization, Muslim Crimean Tatars are interrogated, their houses are bugged by the police, they face terrifying house raids and are thrown in prison with no corpus delicti.
In 2013, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled that its security officers were no longer required to prove that someone has participated in the organizing or plotting of terrorist acts to accuse them of committing a crime. Such a simplified investigation process allows the Russian police to artificially increase criminal case statistics to show their seemingly-efficient performance in preventing terrorism to the higher authorities.
In the case of Emil Ziyadinov, the police used secret audio recordings and the testimony of an anonymous witness to accuse Ziyadinov of terrorism. The Memorial Center has studied the ‘evidence’ in this case and found it seriously lacking in substance. The assessment of the audio recordings by the ‘experts,’ who remain unidentified by the investigation, claims that Ziyadinov was acting as ‘a mentor’ while someone in the recording, also unidentified, supposedly acted as ‘a student.’ The only supposed wrong doing that these tapes purport to demonstrate is that the two men read the “texts from the ideological sources of Hizb ut-Tahrir” and discussed them. Additionally, the investigation cites Emil’s solitary picket in 2018 as evidence of his ‘harmful activity.’ During this peaceful picket, Emil simply came out to the streets of his hometown holding a poster saying “Muslims are not terrorists.” According to investigators, everything mentioned above constitutes ‘terrorist activities.’
Why the Memorial Center recognizes Emil Ziyadinov as a political prisoner?
1. Emil Ziyadinov is being prosecuted with no corpus delicti.
The Investigative Committee accusing Emil tries to substantiate the accusations of terrorism, separatism, extremism, and the seizure of power by citing as evidence the meetings of believers, discussions of religious topics, and reading Islamic literature. Indeed, this is their sole evidence of ‘harmful’ actions. Such justifications include the description of dissemination of knowledge, the formation of “tendentious” thinking among believers, participation in meetings, reading relevant literature, and watching religion-themed films to prove terrorist intent. Yet, none of these actions are crimes. Moreover, every activity listed above, along with the right to freedom of religion, are declared in Article 28 of the Russian Constitution as basic human rights.
Thus, Emil’s non-violent activities, that demonstrate no signs of terrorism, must be perceived as completely legal under Russian law.
2. Given the conditions of annexed Crimea, any prosecution brought by the Russian State, let alone the unjustified persecution of the Crimean Tatars, is illegal.
According to Amnesty International, post-annexation Crimea is officially an occupied territory per international humanitarian law. In this case, Russia, as an occupier, has no right, under any circumstances, to eliminate the previously existing system of government and its criminal legislation. Under Ukrainian law, Hizb ut-Tahrir is a legal organization. Thus, the Russian government violates international law by illegally prosecuting Muslim Crimean Tatars.
The Memorial Human Rights Center demands that Emil Ziyadinov is released immediately, all charges against him are dropped, and the political persecution against Muslim Crimean Tatars is terminated once and for all.
On September 6, 2020, Salman Tepsurkaev, a 19-year-old Chechen native, was abducted from his workplace by two men who introduced themselves as Chechen law enforcement officers. When Salman’s family tried to report an abduction to the police, they were promised that their son would be back home in a week if they kept quiet. It’s been almost a year, and Salman is still being held hostage by the Chechen authorities.
Salman Tepsurkaev lived with his parents and brother in a small Chechen village before moving to Gelendzhik to work as a waiter at a resort hotel. Along with this, he was secretly moderating the 1ADAT Telegram channel. Created in March 2020 to connect Chechen immigrants abroad, the channel gained thousands of followers in just six months. 1ADAT positions itself as a “civil movement against Ramzan Kadyrov’s dictatorship”. 1ADAT exposes government torture and repressions, gross human rights violations, mass corruption, secret prisons, and other illegal actions of Chechen officials and sheds light on social inequality in Chechnya, documenting the incredible wealth and luxurious lifestyles of Chechen officials in contrast with the unemployment, corruption, and poverty that ordinary Chechens face daily.
In May of 2020, the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, appointed several journalists of the Grozny State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company to high level government jobs. Kadyrov was explicit about the mandate of these appointees— identifying and punishing his critics on the Internet. Seeing that the 1ADAT Telegram channel was one of the most influential outlets criticizing Kadyrov’s tyrant regime, the newly appointed officials immediately started the “hunt” on the channels’ activists. At their command, a few anonymous 1ADAT’s channel members sent $500 to Salman Tepsurkaev’s PayPal account under the pretext of donating. These transactions were made to identify Salman’s phone number and location. Obtaining such data would have been impossible without access to Tepsurkayev’s detailed phone billings, which are available only to law enforcement.
On September 6, 2020, two men dressed in black came to the Laguna resort hotel in Gelendzhik where Salman Tepsurkaev worked as a waiter. While one of the men guarded the front entrance, another went into the building and grabbed Salman. Salman tried to escape from the abductors, holding on to a column by the front desk and shouting “Call the police!” The hotel workers called security and tried to intervene, but one of the abductors showed them a law enforcement ID.
Salman was forced out of the hotel and his coworkers never saw him again.
For an entire day afterward, Salman’s phone was turned off and his location was unknown until it was turned back on briefly the next day. At that point, his family discovered that their son was kept at a police office in Grozny, Chechnya. That specific office is notorious for being the holding space for abducted Chechens and the location of many extrajudicial executions. Salman’s family quickly traveled to Grozny, but when they got to the location, they were told Salman was not there. The relatives tried to report the abduction to the police, but Grozny Investigative Department told the family to keep quiet and they would see their son in a week. A week later, Salman was not released.
Public Torture and Humiliation
On the day of the abduction, an anonymous member of the 1ADAT channel under the nickname “Hunter” published a video of a completely naked Chechen youth sitting on his knees with a glass bottle in front of him. In the video, a young man introduces himself as Salman Tepsurkayev, and states that he is 19 years old and is one of the administrators of 1ADAT. In a distraught and confused speech, he tries to explain what the channel is about, calling it a “dirty group”, in which the administrators “do disgusting things” that he is ashamed of. Salman also insults his mother and calls himself a bastard and a scum who was rejected by his father a long time ago. In the end, Tepsurkaev says he “punishes himself for a behavior inappropriate for a Chechen and passes the baton to other channel administrators and followers”. He then attempts to sit down on a glass bottle. His face contorts in pain and the video cuts off. In the next few days, more videos of Salman were released by anonymous users both on Telegram and Instagram. In the videos, Salman continues to criticize the Chechen opposition and keeps cursing himself. In addition, the Chechen state-controlled TV channel published a video message from Salman’s father. In which he states that he disowned his son years ago for “disobedience and terrible behavior”.
On September 8, 2020, the Memorial Human Rights Center (MHRC) filed a complaint with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation in the Chechen Republic, demanding an investigation of the abduction and torture of Salman Tepsurkaev.
The Chechen Republic refused to open the case citing the absence of a crime.
On September 11, 2020, lawyers of the Committee Against Torture filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the violation of Salman’s rights under Articles 3 and 5 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: “Prohibition of torture” and “The right to personal inviolability.” The ECHR lodged an inquiry with the Russian government on what measures to release Tepsurkaev are being implemented on the national level. The ECHR has not received any response from the Chechen officials.
On October 15, investigators from Gelendzhik, where Salman’s workplace is located, transferred the materials they had collected to the Chechen Investigation Department since the car of Tepsurkaev’s alleged abductors had crossed the Chechen border.
The Chechen police refused to initiate a criminal case, citing the absence of a crime.
At this time, it is unknown where Salman is located or whether he is alive.
Why the Memorial Human Rights Center Recognizes Salman Tepsurkaev as a Political Prisoner
Involvement of the Chechen Special Services
The MHRC believes there are serious grounds to believe that the Chechen Special Services were involved in the kidnapping of Salman Tepsurkaev. Discovering Salman’s location required access to information from telecommunication networks. This information is only available to law enforcement officials associated with the Chechen Special Services. Investigation has also revealed that at least one of the two vehicles involved in the abduction belonged to a current Chechen Interior Ministry employee.
Salman Tepsurkaev is a Victim of Kadyrov’s regime
As it has been documented by numerous sources, including Novaya Gazeta and Kavkaz Uzel, psychological pressure and torture are known methods of Chechen authorities. These methods are used to punish those who criticized Ramzan Kadyrov and whose political beliefs differ from the government’s. The facility in Grozny where Salman was kept has become a place of detention, torture, and extrajudicial executions of illegally arrested residents of Chechnya.
The open approval of torture by Chechen officials
Several representatives of the Chechen top leadership including Adam Delimkhanov and Salakh Mezhiev, indirectly confirmed that they knew the identities of those behind the abduction of Tepsurkaev and had approved such actions. At the same time, the investigative authorities of the Chechen Republic refuse to investigate the abduction.
Violation of the right of freedom of expression
The MHRC asserts that although the current location of Salam Tepsurkaev is unknown, and information is lacking on the circumstances of his abduction, the MHRC considers him alive and illegally detained by Chechen officials. The MHRC claims that the video recordings with Salman’s participation were made under extreme pressure and are the result of torture. Salman’s persecution seeks to silence all public criticism of the Chechen authorities and terrorize the opposition with cruelty and public humiliation. Salman’s persecution violates his right to freedom and security, as well as freedom of expression. The Memorial Human Rights Center along with the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and the Representative for Foreign and Security Policy of the EU demand that the Russian government takes immediate action to ensure the safety of Salman Tepsurkaev and investigate the illegal actions committed against him.
“I came out to the street to express my solidarity with Alexei Navalny and support the Russian people. I just wanted to help an innocent kid when I saw he was brutally mishandled by the police. I never wanted to cause any harm or humiliate anyone, especially the security officers.”
Valeriy Yevsin during his court hearing on April 7, 2021
On January 23, 2021, mass protests broke out in almost 100 cities across Russia and internationally. Thousands of peaceful protesters came out to support Alexei Navalny, a prominent ant-corruption politician and Putin’s top political rival, who was illegally arrested by the Russian government on January 17. People who have participated in these protests are now facing the most brutal repression in the history of modern Russia. Hundreds of people were assaulted on the streets by the police, and in the months since, more still have faced interrogations, house raids, psychological abuse, and illegal incarcerations at the hands of law enforcement– all because they peacefully exercised their legal right to protest.
Though the intensity of these repressions has certainly increased since the spring of 2020, the approach and schemes used by law enforcement to crack down on protestors, are not new. Indeed, after an earlier wave of mass protests in Russia took place in July of 2019, dozens of people faced criminal charges for allegedly “causing harm to the health of the police officers.” This particular criminal charge has emerged a frequently-used government method for prosecuting protestors. The most notorious example is the “Moscow case,” opened on July 27, 2019, in which 13 protesters received anywhere from two to four years in prison for merely “pushing a government official,” “touching the arm of a government official,” or “slapping a government official’s helmet.” Beyond the disproportionate punishment for such actions even theoretically-speaking, these charges were made without any supporting evidence (read more on the “Moscow case” in our report). No matter their validity, these cases have established a new avenue for the government to silence opposition: prosecuting the innocent for supposedly endangering police officers and making it clear that anything that is ever said or done against the police will result in a prison sentence.
The 2021 protests in support of Alexei Navalny have deployed this mechanism en masse, with dozens charged with “causing grievous bodily harm to the police.”In reality, these brave Russians exercised their constitutionally-guaranteed rights and stood up to the government oppression.
Valeriy Yevsin came to Moscow from the Pskov Oblast to work as a taxi driver. He is married and is a doting father to two small boys. His social media pages used to consists mainly of family photos and reposts of content from opposition politicians and activists. But now his account has been flooded with “pro-Kremlin” trolls barraging him for his criticism of the government and divulging personal information about his life: “Pal, are you not satisfied with your life? You have kids, a car, you go on vacations. What else do you need?”
On April 7, after two months in detention without seeing his wife and kids, Mr. Yevsin was found guilty by the court and sent to prison for two years. The supposed crime he committed: “pushing a metal street closure barricade in the direction of a police officer” during the protest on January 23. These charges fall under Part 1, Art. 318 of the Criminal Code of Russia – “The use of violence, not dangerous to life or health, against a government official on duty”.
Events preceding Mr. Yevsin’s arrest
According to Mr. Yevsin, on January 23, he was walking down the Sretenskiy Boulevard in Moscow with a group of protesters when he heard someone from the crowd scream that the police was assaulting a teenage boy. Valeriy said that he saw the police grabbing a skinny-looking teenager and dragging him away. Mr. Yevsin felt he simply could not just walk away and he felt the responsibility to help the boy. He confornted the police and asked them to release the innocent kid. The crowd supported Mr. Yevsin and started screaming “Let him go! Let him go!,” a plea which the police ignored, continuing to drag the boy away . Furious, Mr. Yevsin and a few other protesters pushed a metal barrier toward one of the police officers, which lightly brushed one of the officer’s chest. The officer wielded his baton to hit Mr. Yevsin, but Valeriy managed to duck the hit.
Later, during his interrogation, Mr. Yevsin said: “I saw that the police had finally released the boy, and I shouted to the crowd that we could leave and that the conflict was resolved. Everyone started applauding and we left.”
A few days later, the police found Mr. Yevsin by tracking his car’s license plate number, arrested him, and brought him to the detention center. The police officer brushed by the metal barrier against claimed that Mr. Yevsin was aggressive, that he tried to grab his baton, and that he deliberately lifted the metal barrier with the intent of hitting the officer in the chest and the stomach. The officer maintained that the incident caused him great physical pain.
According to the Memorial Human Rights Center, this claim was intentionally exaggerated to make it seem like Valeriy Yevsin had caused damage to the health of the police officer which in reality did not happen.
Speaking in his own defense, Mr. Yevsin said he never wanted to cause harm or humiliate a police officer and that all he wanted was to help a child in danger. He said he was sorry that this situation took place and he later admitted his guilt hoping that the court would reduce his punishment. Nevertheless, on April 7, the court sentenced him to two years in prison.
Why does the Memorial Human Rights Center consider Valery Yevsin a political prisoner?
The Memorial Human Rights Center asserts that to understand the nature of a person’s detention it is important to consider the context of the event, as well as the reactions of the law enforcement and judicial systems to it.
In this case, the important elemnt of the context is that Valeriy Yevsin was taking part in a peaceful protest that constituted a legitimate expression of public outrage at the Putin government’s repressive actions. Yet, in spite of the legal nature of this protest,, law enforcement agents used extreme violence towards protesters trying to silence them and end their completely legitimate activity.
Mr. Yevsin’s arrest is political in that it seeks to scare activists and silence voices of dissent. Furthermore, Russian law enforcement have already violated people’s right to protest, by brutally and illegally beating up protestors each time they take to the streets. The police officer identified as the victim in Yevsin’s case declared that he ‘experienced great pain’ from the push. Yet, at the time of the incident, he was wearing full body armor and could not have possibly suffered any physical injuries from such an insignificant push. In contrast, on the same day of the incident with Mr. Yevsin, the police seriously injured dozens of protesters and have gone unpunished for their violence. This is in spite of the fact that their actions were recorded in photos and videos and that the protesters’ injuries have been confirmed by medical records. The Memorial Center claims that such a selective use of criminal prosecution is evidence of a clear bias of the Russian authorities on who deserves punishment and who does not. Thus, Mr. Yevsin must be considered a political prisoner.
Common punishments based on Article 318.1 (the statute under which Mr. Yevsin was charged) imposed on people in non-political cases are far less severe than those imposed on protesters. For example, outside of the context of a protest, for punching a police officer in the jaw, one could get fined for 50 thousand rubles (approximately $680), and for swinging at a police officer with an ax one could get six months in a penal colony. Yet, while at a political protest, if one touches the helmet of a police officer, a person could receive a three-year prison sentence.
The Memorial Center believes that such blatant disparities prove the unjust selectivity of persecution of this particular law. Through prosecutions like that of Mr. Yevsin, the police and the National Guard are transmitting a clear message to the public: the police are allowed to commit any act of violence with impunity, while ordinary citizens who dare to disagree with the government will be punished as severely as possible.
The Memorial Human Rights Center considers Valeriy Yevsin a political prisoner and demands that he and other victims of the regime arrested and jailed during peaceful protests are released and the persecution against them is stopped immediately.
“Wow, what a situation. I did not expect that at all. I wanted to go on vacation, and then this happens: the police enter the plane and tell me: “You are on the federal wanted list.” What a crazy special operation, I was escorted from the plane minutes from take-off and arrested. What was the reason? I planned to run in the State Duma elections. That’s all. The case was fabricated in two days. Except for the immense desire of the Russian government to restrict political activity and silence the opposition, I see no other reasons.”
-Andrei Pivovarov in court on June 2, 2021
In 2015, the Russian government created a new law on “undesirable organizations”. According to this law, any organization that, in the view of the Kremlin, “undermines the safety, security, and the constitutional order” of the country can be declared undesirable. The law, however, is unconstitutional, as it encroaches on the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Russian constitution.
Organizations that have so far been targeted by this regulation, work in international education and cultural exchange, or advance political and economic development of Russia. All of them do so by peaceful, non-violent and legal means. Currently, there are 35 undesirable organizations both in Russia and abroad, and the list will likely keep growing. The law has unleashed a new wave of oppression against these groups, with their employees and even volunteers facing home raids, interrogation, and incarcerations.
Since 2018, Andrei Pivovarov, one of the most prominent leaders of the democratic opposition in Russia, has served as the Executive Director of the Open Russia.
The goals of this organization included “strengthening relations between the state and society in Russia, promoting free and fair elections, and ensuring rights and freedoms of the Russian citizens.” Such activities are lawful and common in any democratic society. Open Russia activities and methods have always been peaceful and never supported destructive methods of building democracy in the country. Nevertheless, for the past 5-6 years, Open Russia’s staff members, such as like Yana Antonova, Anastasia Shevchenko, and Mikhail Iosilevich, have been harassed by the officials, interrogated, and prosecuted on false charges.
Since 2015, Andrei Pivovarov has faced four administrative and criminal charges ostensibly due to his affiliation with Open Russia. The Memorial Human Rights Center has concluded that all of the charges against Mr. Pivovarov c are baseless, have no constructive evidence, and were imposed on him solely because Putin’s regime feels threatened by him. Charges against Mr. Pivovarov are nothing but the Kremlin’s attempt to silence this activist and stop his legal political and social activities. Pivovarov has already been recognized as a political prisoner by the Memorial Center in 2015, when he was falsely accused of bribery and abuse of authority. A few weeks ago, he was granted this status again.
On May 27, 2021, Andrei Pivovarov publicly announced the dissolution of Open Russia. He did so preemptively— as the organization had not yet been declared undesirable. However, Mr. Pivovarov anticipated that, in light of increased political repressions, it was forthcoming. He did not want to put his people at risk of being thrown in prison at Putin’s command for trying to restore democracy in Russia. In his video address publicized on May 27, as well as in his media interviews that followed the announcement, he explained the rationale behind this decision.
On May 31, Mr. Pivovarov was getting ready to fly to Poland for vacation. Minutes before his plane’s take off, the police stormed the plane, arrested Andrei and hauled him away. He was taken to the Investigation Committee where he learned he was being charged for cooperation with an undesirable organization (under Article 284.1 of the Criminal Code of Russia).
A few days later, the police raided Pivovarov’s house in St. Petersburg. Mr. Pivovarov was transported to Krasnodar for trial. This was when he was informed that he was facing six years of prison for a repost on Facebook from the “United Democrats” page made a year ago about supporting candidates on municipal elections.
According to Andrei Pivovarov’s lawyer, the post in question was not even published by him. Anna Kuznetsova, one of Mr. Pivovarov’s page administrators, admitted to publishing the post which was also certified by a notarized technical expertise. Andrei’s lawyer filed an appeal citing Ms. Kuznetsova and the conclusion of the expertise demanding the immediate release of Andrei Pivovarov, but the court ignored his petition. On June 2, after a court hearing, Mr. Pivovarov’s detention was extended to two months.
The Memorial Center believes the persecution of Andrei Pivovarov is directly related to Mr. Pivovarov’s announcement to run for the State Duma as an independent opposition candidate in September of this year. His arrest is a part of the Kremlin’s efforts to clear the political field before the elections, eliminating all independent candidates and viable competitors.
Why the Memorial Human Rights Center recognizes Andrei Pivovarov as a political prisoner?
- The law on undesirable organizations is unconstitutional — it contradicts the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution of the Russian Federation. The definition of an “undesirable” organization is vague and allows for arbitrary interpretation, and the fact that the organizations are recognized as undesirable without any trial and behind closed doors is outrageous. It assumes the absolute subjectivity and groundlessness of such decisions with the complete absence of evidence-based argumentation and transparency of the procedure. In the case of Open Russia, the organization does not in any way fall under these vague criteria, and there is no reason to assert that it poses a threat to the country.
- The law on undesirable organizations is unconstitutional — it contradicts the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution of the Russian Federation. The definition of an “undesirable” organization is vague and allows for arbitrary interpretation, and the fact that the organizations are recognized as undesirable without any trial and behind closed doors is outrageous. It assumes the absolute subjectivity and groundlessness of such decisions with the complete absence of evidence-based argumentation and transparency of the procedure. In the case of Open Russia, the organization does not in any way fall under these vague criteria, and there is no reason to assert that it poses a threat to the country.
Consequently, when the case against Pivovarov was opened, the charges against him included leading the undesirable organization registered in the UK rather than the one in Russia. Unsurprisingly, no objective evidence was presented to support this claim. Moreover, a study of public registry indicates that British organizations that were declared undesirable in 2017 never, in fact, existed. Therefore, it allows one to assume that all these manipulations were done to target Open Russia led by Pivovarov at some point in time.
- Andrei Pivovarov’s prosecution even contradicts the undesirable organizations law itself. Mr. Pivovarov was detained three days after he announced the dissolution of Open Russia. The law states that “a person who voluntarily stopped participating in the activities of an undesirable organization is exempt from criminal liability.”
- Andrei Pivovarov’s prosecution even contradicts the undesirable organizations law itself. Mr. Pivovarov was detained three days after he announced the dissolution of Open Russia. The law states that “a person who voluntarily stopped participating in the activities of an undesirable organization is exempt from criminal liability.”
The Memorial Center asserts that the criminal charges against Andrei Pivovarov are part of the massive campaign of political repressions, and demands that they are dropped immediately, and the persecution and pressuring of the independent candidates and their lawful activities are stopped at once.
Until 2020, Vadim Bektemirov led a quiet life in his native Crimea. He was a family man, a father of two young daughters, and a loving husband to his wife who was expecting their third child. He made his living as a translator, though his dream was to become an Imam.
In July of 2020, his life was brutally turned upside down when Russian security officials raided his house. He was arrested and charged under Part 2, Art. 205.5 of the Criminal Code of Russia —participating in a terrorist organization. He remains in illegal captivity to this day. Following the sudden arrest of his son, Vadim’s father suffered a heart attack and died. Vadim was not allowed to attend his father’s funeral and was denied the opportunity to say goodbye. Vadim has not been allowed to welcome his new baby boy or support his wife through her pregnancy and postpartum recovery. Rather, he is languishing in prison, and his family deprived of its breadwinner.
What was the crime committed by Vadim? At his first court hearing on May 26, 2021, Vadim Bektemirov stated: “I just followed my religion. This is a continuation of the genocide that began under Stalin. These are repressions against my people. I am facing charges only because I am a Muslim and a Crimean Tatar.” The Memorial Center which documents political prosecutions in Russia agrees with his assessment.
In 2014, Russia invaded and illegally annexed Crimea. Crimean Tatars, an ethnic group indigenous to the region were vocal in their opposition to the peninsula’s annexation and as a result, have faced Kremlin repression. Putin’s government views Crimean Tatars as a political threat because of their opposition to his aggressions in Ukraine, as well as their tightly-knit and well-organized communities. In fact, Putin has been so threatened by this group that the Russian government targeted their executive-representative body, the Mejlis, declaring it an extremist organization and banning it in 2016.
Recent Russian criminal cases against the Crimean Tatars are mainly based on their affiliation with Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), an international Islamist party which the Kremlin designated a terrorist organization in 2003. Yet, HT’s members in Russia have never promoted violence or organized terrorist acts. Nevertheless, Russian security forces regularly raid the Crimean Tatars’ homes, interrogate and torture them, and place them in detention, claiming to be defending against the supposed threat of HT. Furthermore, those community members who dare to come out and support neighbors during a raid are frequently detained by the police.
In 2013, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled that the government was no longer required to prove that someone accused of terrorism was plotting or committing terrorist acts for that person to be found guilty of the crime. As a result, the mere joining HT or participating in its activities is now sufficient for convicting a person of terrorism. The simplification of the investigation process has allowed Russian security forces to falsify the statistics, claiming an artificially inflated rate of terrorist plot prevention and misleadingly demonstrating high performance to their superiors.
According to the Memorial Center, as of June 15, 2021, 326 people have faced persecution for their affiliation with Hizb ut-Tahrir. Over 210 of them have been incarcerated, serving sentences of at least ten years.
The evidence of Bektemirov’s participation in terrorist activities is based on the testimony of two anonymous witnesses who claim that from 2015 to 2018 Bektemirov took them to secret HT meetings in Simferopol. According to their testimony, Bektemirov discussed the need to follow the HT’s ideas, attract new supporters to the organization, and publicize the facts of oppression of Muslims in Crimea. The case file also mentions a video recording in which Bektemirov allegedly defended the activities of HT “in front of other people present in the room.” Another piece of supposed evidence of Bektemirov’s guilt, according to the investigation, is the Islamist literature seized from his house during the raid. Finally, they cite as evidence the fact that Bektemirov constantly supported his coreligionists, attended their trials, helped those imprisoned, and advocated for the Crimean Tatars’ rights.
Why does the Memorial Human Right Center consider Vadim Bektemirov a political prisoner?
1. Bektemirov is facing charges without corpus delicti.
The “evidence” of his crime includes meetings of other HT followers, discussion of religious topics, and reading Islamic literature. These actions are absolutely legal in Russia. Indeed, Freedom of expression, conscience, and assembly are guaranteed by the Russian Constitution.
2. Bektemirov’s charges violate international law.
According to Amnesty International, post-annexation Crimea constitutes an occupied territory in international humanitarian law. In this situation, therefore, Russia has no right, under any circumstances, to eliminate the previously existing system of government and its criminal legislation. Under Ukrainian law, Hizb ut-Tahrir is a legal organization. Therefore, the persecution of HT’s members in Crimea is inherently illegal. The Memorial Human Rights Center demands Vadim Bektemirov’s immediate release and the complete termination of all criminal prosecution against Crimean Tatars and members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
On January 22, 2021, the day before mass protests in support of Alexei Navalny took place across hundreds of cities in Russia and around the world, young journalists from a student-run magazine DOXA published a short video. Entitled “They will not defeat youth – appeal of the DOXA editors to students and schoolkids,” the video featured four editors of the magazine expressing solidarity with students who had joined the opposition and demanding that the authorities stop threatening them with school expulsion for their political views.
On January 26, the authorities demanded that the editors delete the video. On April 14, all four were detained and put under strict house arrest. The journalists are facing three years in jail under Art. 152.2, Part 2 of the Criminal Code of Russia – “involvement of two or more minors in committing actions that pose a danger to the life of minors in information networks (including the Internet).” The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized the journalists as political prisoners.
Armen Aramyan, 23
Alla Gutnikova, 23
Vladimir Metyolkin, 26
Natalia Tyshkevich, 27
All four have been under house arrest since April 14, 2021 awaiting trial. They are not allowed to use the Internet or any other means of communication except when they need to contact their lawyers. The defendants are also not allowed to communicate with each other or leave the house except for 2 hours each day from 8 AM to 10 AM, without departing their immediate neighborhoods. In the first two weeks of their house arrest, the defendants were not allowed to leave the house at all.
Why the Memorial Human Rights Center recognizes them as political prisoners
The protests supporting Alexei Navalny and demanding the restoration of democracy and civil society in Russia prompted a wave of repression unprecedented since the collapse of the USSR. The DOXA Magazine case is just one of them. The Memorial Center holds that the accused are completely innocent, and believes they are being persecuted solely because of their political beliefs. After studying the video released by DOXA, the Memorial Center concluded that the DOXA editors did not call for the commission of any criminal act or potentially dangerous actions for minors. On the contrary, the editors simply encouraged them to be stalwart in the face of illegal pressure owing to their political views, to create student associations and student media, and to work on behalf of the universally recognized human rights, those which in fact are enshrined in the Constitution of the Russian Federation. In this video, there are no calls to participate in mass public events.
In support of its charge that the editors called upon minors to protest, the Investigative Committee cited the following quotations from the video:
“We appeal to the authorities and administrations of educational institutions: stop intimidating students and schoolchildren”;
“Do not be afraid and do not stand aside”;
“The authorities have declared war on youth, but youth is us and we will definitely win!”
“Do not resist the demands of the police”;
“Do not resist or insult the authorities, try not to touch them.”
The Memorial Center believes that these four young people have been subjected to an unnecessary and humiliating degree of legal restraint that only allows them a daily two-hour walk. They are victims of a propaganda campaign falsely accusing them of calling upon teenagers to take part in allegedly dangerous rallies. Having witnessed such opposition rallies, which are entirely peaceful and law-abiding, we can categorically state that any supposed danger arises only from unspeakable police brutality. Official suppression of opposition organizations is aimed at blocking any public activities of journalists and activists not controlled by the state. In so doing, the authorities aim to underline to the public that they will not tolerate any unapproved social and political activity and to bring home that participation carries grave risks. Therefore, relying on international guidelines defining “political prisoners,” the Memorial Center affirms that Armen Aramyan, Alla Gutnikova, Vladimir Metelkin and Natalia Tyshkevich are without question political prisoners. They are undergoing persecution solely for political reasons involving their beliefs. But their non-violent exercise of freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Memorial Center demands their immediate release and dropping of all charges.
“Everyone is guaranteed freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, including the right to profess, individually or jointly with others, any religion or not to profess any religion at all, to freely choose, have and disseminate religious and other beliefs and to act in accordance with them.”
Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation
On April 10, 2018, the police arrested Anatoly Vilitkevich, a member of Jehova’s Witnesses, recognized as an extremist religious group in Russia, for organizing the activities of the said organization (Art. 282.2, Section 2 of the Criminal Code of Russia). Vilitkevich now faces up to 10 years of deprivation of liberty. After spending two months in a detention facility and eight months under house arrest, Vilitkevich was asked to sign an undertaking not to leave town on February 28, 2019.
The hearings on the case were resumed in February 2021, when Vilitkevich discovered that in 2017, a year before his arrest, the police secretly installed wiretapping and cameras in his rented apartment to monitor his and his wife’s daily activities. The apartment’s landlord permitted to install the surveillance and signed the acknowledgment that he had no complaints against the police. By infringing the Vilitkevichs privacy, the police collected the alleged evidence that Anatoly Vilitkevich ran a branch of Jehova’s Witnesses in Ufa. By evidence, the police consider Anatoly and his wife Alyona inviting other Jehovah’s Witnesses to their apartment, dining with them, singing religious songs, watching movies on religious topics, and discussing the spread of their faith among other people. During hearings, the prosecutor was reading out the verbatim transcript of the recorded conversations for over an hour, including the following remarks: “Anatoly and Alyona are in the common room,” “Alyona is cleaning, then the music starts playing loudly,” “Alyona laughs,” “Baby, when we sing songs, the door needs to be closed.” The transcripts were also accompanied by an explanation of what styles and colors of clothes the couple were wearing at the time of the recording.
Why does the Memorial Human Rights Center consider him a political prisoner?
In Memorial’s view, the charges against Vilitkevich are based solely on the fact that he is a Jehovah’s Witness. The government’s actions are discriminatory and violate international law, particularly the right to freedom of religion. Moreover, it contradicts Article 28 of the Russian Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of conscience and religion. The case of Anatoly Vilitkevich is part of an extensive campaign of persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses that started in 2017 and took on fresh vigor in 2018. Each year, the Russian government arrests and prosecutes hundreds of Jehova’s Witnesses. Among those who have spoken out against this campaign of persecution of a whole religious group are the Delegation of the European Union to the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and Russian and foreign human rights defenders. Memorial Human Rights Center demands that charges against Anatoly Vilitkevich and other Jehovah’s Witnesses, prosecuted solely for their religious beliefs, are immediately dropped.
On 7 November 2019, 27-year-old Artyom Zagrebelny was detained by three Federal Security Service (FSB) officers in the entrance hall of this apartment building. The officers attempted to detain Zagrebelny using physical force to search his apartment, but he resisted and sprayed pepper spray in the officers’ direction. The spray got into the eyes of two of them, and after a brief struggle, the officers finally detained Zagrebelny.
According to the investigation, Artyom Zagrebelny knowingly used violence against the two FSB officers on duty and deliberately pepper-sprayed them, ‘being dissatisfied that he was being detained and wishing to flee.’ The two officers testified in court that they told Zagrebelny they were from the FSB, and one of them showed his official ID. Based on the conclusions of forensic expertise, the court charged Zagrebelny based on Article 318, Part 2 of the Criminal Code of Russia (“Use of violence dangerous to life or health of a government official”).
The Description of the Events
However, according to Zagrebelny, he did not know they were FSB officers because they wore civilian clothes, did not introduce themselves, and did not show any ID. The officers simply forced Zagrebelny out of the elevator of his apartment building, after which he used pepper spray against them as self-defense. As soon as one of the officers shouted he was from the FSB, Zagrebelny immediately stopped resisting and using the pepper spray.
According to the human rights center Otkrytki, Zagrebelny shared that after he was detained, the officers put him in a car and beat him up: “They started asking questions like ‘you, pravosek [member of the Right Sector, a far-right Ukrainian nationalist party], came from Khokhlyandiya [a derogatory name for Ukraine], right?’ Then someone burst into the car and started kicking me in the back with their legs. Then they grabbed me by the neck and lifted me.”
After that, the officers interrogated Zagrebelny and demanded that he confess to trying to kill a government employee (Article 317, Part 2 of the Criminal Code), all while beating Zagrebelny up and threatening to rape his wife, Margarita. On November 10, 2019, Zagrebelny went to the doctor and was found to have multiple bruises all over his body and a broken rib.
Also, according to Zagrebelny, one of the FSB officers Aleksandr Akhmetov, came up to his wife and started forcing her to commit an administrative crime. “He told her to find the Third Reich’s symbolism on the Internet, post it in some group on social media and send it to the officer on WhatsApp so he could charge her for an administrative offense, fine her for 1,000 rubles, and let her free. She asked him why she would do that, and he said it was revenge for the pepper spray. Another officer told her earlier they would keep taking revenge on her in many different ways, including the “not-so-legal” ones. Later in the day, Akhmatov messaged her on WhatsApp, saying, ‘Margarita, are you forgetting something?’ I told her not to post anything.”
Current State of the Case
Zagrebelny is currently in prison. The Prosecutor’s Office was initially asking to give Zagrebelny nine years in prison. The court of the original jurisdiction gave him five years, and after the appeal on April 22, 2021, the sentence was reduced to three years and ten months.
Why has the Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Zagrebelny as a political prisoner?
Based on the case materials, Memorial has concluded that Artyom Zagrebelny did not exceed the limits of reasonable self-defense while using pepper spray on his attackers. It was not apparent to him that the men belonged to law enforcement agencies or that their actions were lawful.
CCTV footage from the entrance hall and the elevator in Zagrebelny’s apartment building confirm his version of the events. The footage clearly shows that none of the officers showed any ID or introduced themselves. It is also doubtful that the officers suffered any injuries. The examinations carried out the day after the incident found no evidence of any injury. However, they were established during subsequent tests carried out three weeks later. The context of Zagrebelny’s case is also essential. The day Zagrebelny was detained, the FSB officers went to his home on the minor matter of checking his correspondence on the VKontakte social media site for extremism. No criminal case was opened regarding the correspondence. As described above, once in detention, Zagrebelny and his wife were subjected to extreme intimidation (forcing to confess to a nonexistent crime arrest under threat of his wife getting raped). The Memorial Human Rights Center believes that this case is strictly politically motivated, and Artyom Zagrebelny is being held in prison illegally. The Memorial demands his immediate release.
In March 2020, under the pretense of battling the coronavirus epidemic, federal and regional authorities of Russia adopted repressive legal norms and vague, potentially dangerous criminal articles that attack constitutional rights and freedoms. Unsurprisingly, in January 2021, the adoption of these repressive norms led to a political case.
On January 23, 2021, mass protests supporting Alexey Navalny, fueled by horrendous police brutality, were held in 198 Russian cities and 95 cities abroad. The next day, the Investigative Committee of Russia opened a criminal case against ten opposition activists and politicians for calling people to a peaceful protest on January 23. The criminal charge is based on Article 236 of Part 1 of the Criminal Code of Russia (envisaging a prison sentence of up to 2 years), indicating“the incitement to violate sanitary and epidemiological rules which, by negligence, entailed a mass illness or poisoning of people, or created a threat of the onset of such consequences.”
According to the Memorial Human Rights Center, this criminal case is politically motivated and is related to the defendants’ political beliefs violating their right to freedom of expression and the right to protest. The persecution is carried out in violation of the right to a fair trial and aims to forcibly end opposition activities and intimidate Alexey Navalny’s supporters.
Illegally prosecuted case defendants
While awaiting trial, the case defendants are either banned from performing specific actions or are held under house arrest. House arrest implies the inability to leave the house, communicate with certain people (often, the communication is limited to the relatives living in the same house), send and receive letters, and use the phone and the Internet.
Maria Alyokhina – activist and member of a feminist music band “Pussy Riot”. She was previously recognized by the Memorial Human Rights Center as a political prisoner and already spent two years in prison. Alyokhina is once again a victim of the repressive system and has been under strict house arrest since January 29, 2021, as part of the “Sanitary” case.
Nikolai Lyaskin – an oppositionist who was also recognized as a political prisoner by the Memorial Human Rights Center before. Just like Maria Alyokhina, he is once again a victim of the repressive system and has been under house arrest since January 29, 2021, as part of the “Sanitary” case. On April 26, the court allowed him to leave the house for 12 hours instead of the 2 hours permitted initially.
Oleg Navalny – Alexey Navalny’s brother, another previously recognized political prisoner who already served a sentence of almost 4 years. On April 7, 2021, as part of the “Sanitary” case, he was released from house arrest but is still banned from leaving the house at night, communicating with other case defendants, and using mail and the Internet.
Lyubov Sobol – opposition politician and the Anti-corruption Foundation’s lawyer who was put under house arrest on January 29, 2021. She was not allowed to go to church on Sundays or take her daughter to school. 40 NGOs appealed to the United Nations to release Lyubov Sobol, stating in a joint appeal that “Sobol has been condemned to total isolation under house arrest awaiting trial on two fake criminal charges. Her only crime was peacefully calling for a more fair, free, and democratic Russia. The arbitrary arrest and detention of Sobol are a blatant violation of human rights. She must be released immediately.” On April 7, 2021, she was released from house arrest but just like Oleg Navalny Sobol is still not allowed to leave the house after 8 PM, communicate with other defendants, write letters and use the Internet.
Konstantinas Yankauskas – municipal deputy of the Zyuzino district in Moscow. He has now been recognized by the Memorial Human Rights Center as a political prisoner twice. He has been under house arrest for two months and was released on April 7, 2021, with a ban on performing specific actions along with Lyubov Sobol.
Dmitriy Baranovskiy – municipal deputy of the Northern Izmailovo district in Moscow, was arrested on February 1, 2021, and has been under house arrest ever since.
Anastasiya Vasilyeva – an ophthalmologist, leader of the independent labor union “Alliance of Doctors,” has spent a month under house arrest and was released on April 7, 2021, but is still banned from leaving the house at night.
Lyudmila (Lyusya) Shtein – municipal deputy of the Basmanny district in Moscow. She has been under house arrest for two months and was released on April 7, 2021, but along with other case defendants, she is also not allowed to perform specific actions.
Oleg Stepanov – the former coordinator of Alexey Navalny’s Headquarters in Moscow, was arrested on January 29, 2021, and has been under house arrest ever since.
Kira Yarmysh – Alexey Navalny’s press secretary, has been under strict house arrest since January 29, 2021. As mentioned above, on April 7, 2021, the court released a few case defendants from house arrest but refused to release Kira Yarmysh.
Six reasons why the Memorial Human Rights Center considers 10 case defendants political prisoners
1. The restrictive measures taken to combat the spread of the coronavirus are not sufficient grounds to unconditionally ban public events and grossly violate the right to freedom of assembly, enshrined in Art. 31 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
2. Almost all restrictions on cultural and entertainment events in Moscow were lifted before the protests.
3. The case defendants did not know and could not know if people who were on self-isolation would respond to their calls to protest on social media.
4. The defendants’ actions do not constitute corpus delicti as they should not be held responsible for the irresponsible behavior of others.
5. There is no conclusive evidence that public events, carried out with the necessary precautions in the open air, can seriously increase the spread of coronavirus infection compared to attending cultural and recreational events or using public transport.
6. Prosecuting thousands of peaceful protesters based on the violation of sanitary and epidemiological restrictions is especially cynical given that the protesters were being transported in cramped police vans, held in police departments and special detention centers in conditions that are much more conducive to the further spread of the disease.
The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Ivan Lyubshin, a resident of Kaluga, as a political prisoner. The criminal case against him should be closed, he should be immediately released, and his allegations of torture should be objectively investigated.(more…)
Despite of the obvious political motivation of the criminal charges against Airat, on August 24, 2020, the Central District Military Court sentenced Airat Dilmukhametov to 9 years in a strict regime colony. He was found guilty on four counts: public calls for separatism, public justification of terrorism, public calls for extremism and its financing. (more…)
The Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines, recognized Oleksandr Marchenko as a political prisoner. (more…)
On June 06, 2020, Pskov City Court sentenced Gennady Shpakovsky, 61-year-old Jehovah’s Witness and a political prisoner from Pskov, western Russia, to six and a half years’ imprisonment for his faith. (more…)
The Memorial Human Right Center recognized Aitahadzhi Khalimov, a Kazakhstan citizen living in Russia, convicted to 3.5 years in prison for justifying terrorism by keeping video files on his social network page as a political prisoner. Aitahadzhi Khalimov saved three videos with archival footage from the first Chechen war on his VKontakte profile. (more…)
The Memorial Human Right Center has recognized Nikolai Platoshkin – a left-wing politician and video blogger – as a political prisoner. Platoshkin is unjustly accused of planning mass riots. This charge is politically motivated and related to his oppositional social and political activities. (more…)
On October 2, 2019, Nariman Memedeminov, a dual citizen of Ukraine and of the Russian Federation, a resident of Crimea, activist of the Crimean Solidarity movement, and a citizen journalist, was sentenced to two years and six months in a penal colony and banned from administering websites for two years in accordance with Part 1 of Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code (“Public calls for terrorist activities”).
In 2013, Mededeminov published videos of events hosted by the Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (an organization that was legally operating in Ukraine but banned in the Russian Federation) on his YouTube channel. (more…)
In accordance with international guidelines defining the term, Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Rakhmiddin Kamolov, a human rights activist and a Uzbekistan national serving a 16-year prison term in Russia, as a political prisoner. We believe that Kamolov was persecuted for political reasons in connection with a non-violent exercise of his rights such as freedom of conscience, religion, speech and association. Also, his right to a fair trial was violated. The purpose of the persecution was to force Kamolov to halt his public activities. Memorial Human Rights Center urges for the immediate release of Rakhmiddin Kamolov. (more…)
In accordance with international guidelines defining the term, Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Alexander Gabyshev, a shaman from a Siberian region of Yakutia, as a political prisoner. Deprivation of liberty was applied to him solely because of his political and religious beliefs, as well as a non-violent exercise of freedom of movement, expression, peaceful assembly, conscience, and religion. We urge for the immediate and unconditional release of Gabyshev and his full rehabilitation with redress. (more…)
In accordance with international guidelines defining the term, Memorial Human Rights Center considers Aleksandr Atamanov, a resident of Pyatigorsk, a political prisoner. Aleksandr was charged with recruiting people into the Ukrainian Right Sector and possessing drugs. The guilt of Aleksandr Atamanov has not been proved and key pieces of evidence in the case were fabricated. Aleksand repeatedly said that violence was used against him in pre-trial custody and threats were made against his relatives. (more…)
According with international guidelines and definitions, Memorial Human Rights Center considers two residents of Sevastopol, Crimea Aleksei Bessarabov and Vladimir Dudka political prisoners. (more…)
On May 28, 2020, Russian civil and human rights activist Sergei Mokhnatkin died at the age of 66. Mokhnatkin died in a hospital suffering from complications from a spinal injury received in prison.
The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula. They have been among the most vocal critics of the Russian occupation of Crimea, and as a result, the Russian authorities have relentlessly persecuted them.
Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Oleg Dmitriev, Oleg Ivanov, and Sergei Ozerov, supporters of a group called Artpodgotovka, convicted of preparing a terrorist act in the center of Moscow on November 5, 2017, as political prisoners.
Despite numerous initiatives to amnesty prisoners, including political prisoners, ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Victory Day, commemorating the victory of the Soviet Union and the Allies over Nazi Germany, the State Duma refused to give amnesty this year. (more…)
Earlier this week The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a new annual report on the state of religious freedoms across the globe. According to the report, religious freedom conditions in Russia deteriorated in 2019. (more…)
Gennady Kravtsov is a radio engineer who was sentenced to six years in prison in a maximum-security colony on charges of committing a crime under Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code (‘High Treason’). He has been in custody since May 27, 2014. Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized Gennady Kravtsov as a political prisoner because the actions he was accused of never took place and his right to a fair trial was violated. (more…)
The Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized another 130 Jehovah’s Witnesses as political prisoners and politically persecuted. (more…)
Azat Miftakhov, a graduate student at the engineering mathematics faculty at Moscow State University and a supporter of anarchist views, is under investigation on two counts. He has been charged under Article 213, Section 2, of the Russian Criminal Code (‘Hooliganism by a group of people by prior agreement,’ for which the penalty is up to seven years of prison) and is a suspect of an offence under Article 223.1, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (‘Illegal preparation of explosive substances and explosive devices,’ for which the penalty is up to six years of prison). (more…)
Maxim Smyshlyaev, a resident of the city of Rostov-on-Don of left persuasions. At the time of his arrest, he worked at a McDonald’s outlet and studied extramurally at the Institute of History and International Relations of the Southern Federal University. He was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in a strict-regime penal colony under Part 3 of Article 205.1 (‘Complicity in the preparation of a terrorist act’) of the Russian Criminal Code for having allegedly aided Artur Panov, a minor holding the citizenship of Ukraine, in the preparation of a terrorist act that did not take place. Smyshlyaev has been held in custody since April 22, 2016. The Memorial Human Rights Center recognizes Maxim Smyshlyaev as political prisoner. (more…)
The Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized a Russian citizen Vladimir Domnin as a political prisoner. He was accused of having fought in Donbass region on Ukrainian side. We believe that Vladimir was in the war zone for a short time, but did not directly participate in war actions and does not pose danger to the society. (more…)
77-year-old scientist sentenced to 7 years in a strict regime prison colony for passing software to China. (more…)
The Memorial Human Rights Centre has recognized four residents of Kaliningrad charged in the case of the Baltic Avant-garde of the Russian Resistance (BARS) as political prisoners. (more…)
On March 5, 2020, a Russian-controlled court in Ukraine’s Crimea sentenced Sergei Filatov, a Jehovah’s Witness from Dzhankoy, a town in the north of occupied Crimea, to six year in prison for organizing activities of an extremist organization, which, according to an investigation, consisted of “holding meetings, religious speeches, as well as promoting religious ideas.” (more…)
Feminist artist Yulia Tsvetkova from Komsomolsk-on-Amur was accused of illegally producing and distributing pornographic materials on the Internet (Paragraph “b”, Part 3 of Article 242 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, punishable by up to six years of prison). The charges were connected to her role as an administrator of a feminist body-positive online page ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ which has published abstract depictions of female sexual organs and items similar to those either drawn by Tsvetkova or posted earlier on the Internet with the aim of removing the taboo surrounding female physiology. Tsvetkova has been under house arrest since November 23, 2019.(more…)
Olexander Shumkov, a Ukrainian citizen from the city of Kherson who was serving in the Ukrainian armed forces at the time of his kidnapping, was kidnapped at the border between Ukraine and Russia in August 2017. After that he was relocated to Russia and charged with committing a crime under Article 282.2, Section 2 of the Russian Criminal Code (taking part in activities of an extremist organization) on the grounds that, allegedly, he is a member of Right Sector, an organization banned in Russia. On December 4, 2018 Olexander Shumkov was convicted to 4 years of prison by a judge Victor Ruhmakov of Sevsky regional court in Branskaya oblast. (more…)
The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Eduard Nizamov, who was accused of heading the Russian branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir, as a political prisoner. (more…)
Earlier this week new charges have been brought by Russian authorities against four leaders of the Ingush protest movement. A criminal case opened on December 27, 2019 implicated that eight activists and community organizers created and operated an extremist group against the republic’s authorities. In the near future, it’s expected that the others will be charged too.
Petr Parpulov was born in 1955. A resident of the city of Sochi. From the 1980s to his detention in 2014, he worked as an air traffic control officer at the airport in Sochi although he had already reached pensionable age. He was sentenced to 12 years in a strict-regime penal colony under Article 275 (‘High treason’) of the Russian Criminal Code for divulging unidentified classified information that was nonetheless published in the newspaper ‘Krasnaya Zvezda’ (‘Red Star’) and therefore available to the general public. Parpulov has been in custody since March 4, 2014. (more…)
A criminal case of violence against government officials and the riots in Moscow, which allegedly occurred on July 27, 2019 during the largest “unsanctioned” protest rally, was opened on July 30. More than 20 people were accused during this investigation.
The Memorial Human Rights Center, in accordance with international guidelines, recognizes the antifascists Maksim Ivankin, Vasily Kuksov, Mikhail Kulkov, Dmitry Pchelintsev, Arman Sagynbayev, Andrei Chernov, Ilya Shakursky, and Igor Shishkin as political prisoners. We demand their immediate release and that all charges against them for alleged involvement in a terrorist group be dropped.
Memorial Human Rights Center (HRC) included a well-known Russian opposition activist Mark Galperin in the list of political prisoners for the second time. Previously, Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Galperin as a political prisoner in 2018 when he was under a house arrest on charges for extremism.
The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Vladislav Sinitsa, a Moscow-based blogger, known under the pseudonym Max Steklov, a political prisoner. On August 3, 2019, Vladislav was detained on charges of inciting hatred and hostility with the threat of violence. On September 3, a court sentenced the blogger to five years in a penal colony under paragraph A of Part 2 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.
Today, on December 6, courts in Moscow sentenced 7 activists and participants of the summer protests against the denial of opposition candidates to run in the Moscow City parliament’s election. A few dozens of people have been charged in mass-rioting or police assault in connection with the Moscow protests.
We are presenting a summary of the most complete list of people prosecuted for their involvement in the Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami organization (hereinafter referred to as HT) in Russia and the annexed Crimea. Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami organization was recognized in Russia as a terrorist organization and banned on this basis.
The Crimean Tatars are “a Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula.” They have been among the most vocal critics of the Russian occupation of Crimea, and as a result, the Russian authorities have “relentlessly persecuted” them.
Ivan Matsitsky is the spiritual leader of the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg. He has been detained since June 2017, facing criminal charges relating to his involvement with Scientology.
Memorial Human Rights Center (HRC), in accordance with the international guidelines defining the term ‘political prisoner,’ has recognized Yuly Boyarshinov and Viktor Filinkov as political prisoners. We demand their immediate release and that the criminal charges against them for alleged involvement in a terrorist group be dropped.
The total number of Jehovah’s Witnesses currently being prosecuted for their faith in Russia has reached 206.
Today, we’d like to remind people who respect human rights once again about The Kremlin’s political prisoners. The very fact people are imprisoned in today’s Russia for their political and religious beliefs shouldn’t be tolerated by the world.
There is a bittersweet development we believe is important to write about today. Yesterday, Konstantin Kotov, 34, imprisoned under the “Moscow case,” married a 19-year-old suspected extremist, Anna Pavlikova, at Moscow’s infamous Matrosskaya Tishina jail.
Eduard Malyshevsky and Nikita Chirtsov were the last to be detained in the Moscow Case. They have been charged under Article 318, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (‘Using force against a public official without endangering life or health’).
On March 27, 2019, in Magas, Ingushetia, clashes occurred between participants of a protest rally and The National Guard (RosGvardiya) and police officers after they tried to disperse the rally. 10 police and RosGvardiya officers reportedly received various injuries. The Investigative Committee opened a criminal case on the use of violence against law enforcement officers.
On Thursday, September 12, 2019, a prosecutor asked the court to sentence Pavel Ustinov to six years in jail. According to investigators, the man was an active participant in an unauthorized rally in central Moscow on August 3, 2019. While under arrest, Ustinov resisted a National Guard officer causing the officer to suffer a dislocated shoulder. The defendant pleads not guilty. (more…)
Yulia Galyamina, a Municipal Deputy and unregistered candidate for the Moscow City Parliament, has been jailed for a third consecutive time this week on the same charge of “organizing an unsanctioned rally.” (more…)
Over the last weekend, as the Kremlin continued its crackdown on recent protests calling for free elections in the city, police in Moscow arrested 1,001 demonstrators, according to independent monitoring group OVD-info. (more…)
Fearful of independent voices even at local levels, Putin’s regime disqualified every single pro-democracy candidate from participating in the Moscow City Council elections. (more…)
Ten opposition-minded residents of Moscow and Moscow region have been charged with creating an extremist group, ‘New Greatness,’ (Novoe Velichie) in December 2017, allegedly for the purposes of the violent overthrow of the government and constitutional order of Russia (Article 282.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). (more…)
On November 5, 2017, Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov attempted to hold a protest demanding the resignation of the regional government. In preparation, they had made two posters and about 30 flyers and purchased a megaphone. However, soon before they began protesting, they were arrested. They were subsequently charged with attempting to organize and participate in mass riots – punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment – and have been detained ever since. (more…)
Svyatoslav Bobyshev is a professor and scientist at the D. F. Ustinov Baltic State Technical University (Voenmekh). He was arrested in March 2010 and charged with treason (Criminal Code Article 275) for allegedly selling information about the Bulava missile system to China during an academic collaboration with a Chinese polytechnic institute.
Yuri Dmitriev was born on January 28th, 1956 and lives in the city of Petrozavodsk. He is a historian, investigator and researcher of the burial places of victims of political repression, the chairman of the Karelian branch of the Russian civil rights society “Memorial,” and a member of the Commission for Restoring the Rights of Rehabilitated Victims of Political Repressions under the Government of the Republic of Karelia.
On June 4, 2020, the Orenburg Region Administration’s Commission on Pardon Issues denied pardon to former Yukos staffer Alexey Pichugin, who has been in jail since 2003. Memorial Human Rights Center has acknowledged him as a political prisoner. Pichugin is serving life in prison, and this is his third pardon denial.
Vladimir Balukh is a Ukrainian farmer who was convicted of illegal possession of ammunition (Criminal Code Article 222(1)) and disrupting the activities of a detention center (Article 321(2)). In reality, he is being punished for his outspoken pro-Ukraine activism. (more…)
Igor Rudnikov is a prominent opposition politician in the Kaliningrad region and was the editor of Noviye Kolyosa, a now-closed independent newspaper renowned for its investigative journalism, particularly on government corruption. Rudnikov has been in custody since November 1, 2017, awaiting trial on extortion charges (Criminal Code Article 163(3)). (more…)
Dennis Christensen is a Danish citizen and Jehovah’s Witness who was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment on extremism charges (Criminal Code Article 282.2) in February 2019. His case has come to represent the ongoing persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.
CASE UPDATE: Yesterday, September 10, 2020, was 600 days since Anastasia Shevchenko, an activist with the Open Russia movement, was placed under a house arrest. (more…)
MEDIA RELEASE (more…)