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Ukrainian Journalist in Crimea Framed with a Grenade Plant, Arrested, Tortured and Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison. The Case of Vladislav Esipenko

May 09 2022

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.

Case Background

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.

25

Russia Jails Opposition on Fabricated Drug Charges: the Case of St. Petersburg Politician Maxim Reznik

Apr 05 2022

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.

Case Background

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.

4 Years in Prison for Hitting a Riot Policeman’s Helmet: the Case of Evgeny Yesenov

Mar 24 2022

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.

Case Background

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.

Activist is Jailed in Russia for Opposing Lukashenka regime. The case of Vadim Duboisky

Mar 07 2022

Who is Vadim Duboisky?

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.

Case Background

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.

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Three Years in Prison for Pepper-Spraying the Air: the Case of Pavel Grin-Romanov

Feb 16 2022

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.

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