The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Aleksandr Atamanov
In accordance with international guidelines defining the term, Memorial Human Rights Center considers Aleksandr Atamanov, a resident of Pyatigorsk, a political prisoner. Aleksandr was charged with recruiting people into the Ukrainian Right Sector and possessing drugs. The guilt of Aleksandr Atamanov has not been proved and key pieces of evidence in the case were fabricated. Aleksand repeatedly said that violence was used against him in pre-trial custody and threats were made against his relatives.
Aleksandr Atamanov, who worked as a freight handler in Pyatigorsk, has been charged under Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 of the Russian Criminal Code with recruiting others to take part in the activities of an extremist organization; and acquiring and possessing large amounts of drugs under Part 2 of Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code.
According to the investigators, on December 23, 2018 Atamanov allegedly shouted slogans of the Right Sector, an organization banned and designated as extremist in Russia, and also distributed leaflets and urged passers-by to join the organization.
On March 21, 2019 Atamanov was detained for petty hooliganism (Article 20.1 of the Code of Administrative Violations), allegedly because of using swear words, and at the same time, according to investigators, drugs were found on him. After he had served a jail term for the administrative offence, he was detained for a criminal offence, and since March 25, 2019 he has been held under arrest.
Pyatigorsk town court has been hearing the Atamanov’s case and will soon deliver its verdict.
Why does Memorial Human Right Center consider Atamanov a political prisoner?
We believe that the Atamanov’s prosecution is part of a Kremlin’s anti-Ukrainian campaign. The charges against Atamanov were based on events which simply did not take place; the evidence was falsified.
The political motivation for the prosecution is based on the position taken by Russia regarding the armed conflict in the east of Ukraine. Russia denies its involvement in the conflict, but in the meantime takes a clear anti-Ukrainian position. Kremlin’s assistance provided to anti-Ukrainian military groups in the east of Ukraine, statements by Russian officials, government propaganda, and the ban on Ukrainian nationalist organizations indicate active involvement of the Russian authorities in the armed conflict in Donbass. Since 2017, a campaign has been underway in Russia to prosecute supporters of the Right Sector. Atamanov has been among the victims of this campaign, although his links with the organization have not been proved.
It seems that the prosecution was the result of a number of factors: a personal conflict, slander, and the desire of law enforcement officers to improve their statistics for combating extremist organizations. The charges of hooliganism and drugs were probably used to isolate Atamanov and put pressure on him.
The case materials show signs of the falsification of evidence – for example, Atamanov’s arrest was made under very unusual circumstances where the key pieces of evidence were discovered immediately. Witnesses’ written testimonies match each other very closely, which leads to believe that they were directed by the law enforcement officers on the case. According to the case documents, Atamanov’s phone was under surveillance since November 2018, but the law enforcement wasn’t able to collect any evidence of his involvement with the Right Sector. There is no convincing evidence of guilt.
The charge of recruiting for Right Sector is unlawful itself, since the organization was designated extremist on the basis of very weak arguments and in gross violation of fundamental legal procedures.
Memorial Human Rights Center urges the Russian authorities to immediately drop the charges against Atamanov for an offence under Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 of the Russian Criminal Code; to conduct an impartial investigation in relation to charges under Part 2 of Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code, and to investigate reports of the use of violence and threats against Atamanov.