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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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Konstantin Lakeyev, a 20-year-old TikTok-blogger from Moscow, “Threw a Snowball at the Car and Kicked it Several Times.” His Punishment is Three Years in Jail

Feb 01 2022

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.

Case Background

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.

The Sentence

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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…”.
  4. 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.

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12 Years in Prison for Running a Telegram Channel: The Case of 24-Year-Old Belarusian Yana Pinchuk

Jan 24 2022

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.

Case Background

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.