The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Maxim Smyshlyaev

Mar 27 2020

Maxim Smyshlyaev, a resident of the city of Rostov-on-Don of left persuasions. At the time of his arrest, he worked at a McDonald’s outlet and studied extramurally at the Institute of History and International Relations of the Southern Federal University. He was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in a strict-regime penal colony under Part 3 of Article 205.1 (‘Complicity in the preparation of a terrorist act’) of the Russian Criminal Code for having allegedly aided Artur Panov, a minor holding the citizenship of Ukraine, in the preparation of a terrorist act that did not take place. Smyshlyaev has been held in custody since April 22, 2016. The Memorial Human Rights Center recognizes Maxim Smyshlyaev as political prisoner.

The criminal case against Maxim Smyshlyaev took place amid an ongoing anti-Ukrainian campaign in the state-owned media and in the statements of senior Russian government officials started in the spring of 2014. One of the components of this campaign is the initiation of criminal cases against citizens who publicly express different from official views on what was happening in Ukraine, or in any way connected with Ukraine. From the Memorial Human Right Center’s point of view, the criminal case against the leftist resident of Rostov-on-Don should be considered in the light of the anti-Ukrainian campaign.

Smyshlyaev’s political views are explicitly mentioned in the case documents (“… by his ideological and political views, he is an adherent of communist ideas and an opponent of the current authorities in the Russian Federation …”). The fact that the accused is “a supporter of left-wing ideology and an active opponent of the policy of the current authorities of the Russian Federation” is indicated in the decision of the Leninsky District Court of the city of Rostov-on-Don of June 2, 2016 as an argument confirming the need to extend the period of detention of Smyshlyaev in custody. The above allows us to talk about the presence of an obvious political component in the criminal case. The investigation tried to connect Panov with left-wing activists in the South of Russia so that one can talk about the existence of a connection between Russian opposition leaders and Ukrainian radical groups. So, on December 7, 2015, Daria Polyudova, who was recognized as a political prisoner by Memorial, was interrogated only because Panov’s account “Arthur Romberg” was listed in her VKontakte friends.

The materials of the case demonstrate convincingly that Smyshlyaev is innocent of having prepared an act of terrorism. The criminal investigation has no evidence that Smyshlyaev perceived his communications with the seventeen-year-old teenager as a preparation for acts of terrorism, and searches revealed that Smyshlyaev didn’t possessed any banned objects (weapons, explosive substances or parts of a short-barrelled sniper’s rifle). In practice, the investigation has relied exclusively on the fact that Smyshlyaev and Panov had been in communication initiated by the latter when he proposed to Smyshlyaev to take part in illegal activity.

Based on the criteria of the Memorial Human Rights Center, Maxim Smyshlyaev is a political prisoner due to the fact that imprisonment was applied due to his political views in violation of the right to a fair trial, other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, in the absence of corpus delicti.

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