The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of the Network in Penza
The Memorial Human Rights Center, in accordance with international guidelines, recognizes the antifascists Maksim Ivankin, Vasily Kuksov, Mikhail Kulkov, Dmitry Pchelintsev, Arman Sagynbayev, Andrei Chernov, Ilya Shakursky, and Igor Shishkin as political prisoners. We demand their immediate release and that all charges against them for alleged involvement in a terrorist group be dropped.
Charges against the Penza antifascists
Dmitry Pchelintsev and Ilya Shakursky have been charged with setting up an organization called the Network (Set’), which according to the investigators is a terrorist and anarchist association and was later banned in Russia (part 1 of Article 205.4 of the Russian Criminal Code). Maksim Ivankin, Vasily Kuksov, Mikhail Kulkov, Arman Sagynbayev, and Andrei Chernov have been charged with membership of this organization (part 2 of Article 205.4 of the Russian Criminal Code).
In addition, Pchelintsev, Shakursky, and Kuksov have been charged with illegal possession of weapons and ammunition (part 1 of Article 222 of the Russian Criminal Code), while Ivankin, Kulkov, and Chernov have been charged with an attempt to sell a large amount of drugs (part 3 of Article 30, in conjunction with Point «g» of part 4 of Article 228.1 of the Russian Criminal Code).
Shakursky has also been charged with illegal possession of explosives (part 1 of Article 222.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). Pchelintsev has been accused of trying to destroy property motivated by hooliganism (part 3 of Article 30, in conjunction with part 2 of Article 167 of the Russian Criminal Code).
Maksim Ivankin and Mikhail Kulkov were arrested on 4 July 2018, the rest have been held on remand since the fall of 2017. None of the defendants has a previous criminal record.
Why we believe the charges related to the banned Network have been fabricated and politically motivated
- There are testimonies revealing that the defendants and at least four witnesses in this case were subjected to torture. The use of torture by the investigators of the case became one of the main instruments during the investigation on this criminal case. Torture of the St. Petersburg defendants Viktor Filinkov, Yuly Boyarshinov, and Igor Shishkin has also been documented by the Public Oversight Commission. The Network case in both Penza and St. Petersburg has been exclusively built on testimonies obtained under torture. All the ‘self-incriminatory statements’ obtained by this means should be inadmissible in court and cannot be used as evidence.
- This case is an example of facts being tweaked operational and investigative officers from the Penza FSB to fit their conspiracy theories. Their description of training, responsibilities and the structure of the Network, presented at the trials in Penza and St. Petersburg, looked much more like information about a group of strike ball players. The accusations that a small group of young people with left-wing views, living in Penza, were seriously deciding to violently overthrow the current political regime in Russia are extremely unrealistic.
- Evidence gathered by the investigation and presented during the trial that began on May 14, 2019 in the Volga District Military Court, is extremely unconvincing and consists of classified testimonies of witnesses who are either hostile to the defendants or who wish to avoid prison, two pistols planted during the initial arrest and search, one improvised explosive device, doctored telephone conversations recordings, and documents of the ‘terrorist group’ which were crudely fabricated from a correspondence of young women who had anarchist views.
- The defendants were in fact not accused of having committed any real terrorist actions or attempts to commit such actions. All the crimes they were allegedly going to commit according to the investigators did not have a concrete date or a timeframe. Moreover, initially the FSB asserted that the participants of the Network had prepared to carry out acts of terrorism during the FIFA World Cup in the summer of 2018. However, the final charges contained no mention of this. Even those defendants who pleaded guilty stated that the purpose of the training and joint activities of the Network was nothing other than self-defense in case of attack by radical nationalists during possible disturbances, and not preparation to seize some buildings or any other terrorist acts.
- Maksim Ivankin and Mikhail Kulkov have also been charged with drug trafficking. They pleaded guilty to these crimes in court. Yet, this cannot prevent them being recognized as political prisoners on groundless charges of terrorism. At the same time, we believe that these episodes must also be objectively investigated because of the violation of Ivankin’s and Kulkov’s rights during the preliminary investigation. There is a strong possibility that the charges against Chernov under Article 228.1 of the Russian Criminal Code were fabricated given that he was charged almost a year after his detention and the investigators gained access to the smart phone found on him at the time of arrest. Neither his fingerprints nor other biological traces were found on the packets containing drugs.
- It is obvious that the prosecution of the antifascist activists in Penza, is a part of ongoing repressive measures against anarchists and anti-fascists that sharply increased in 2017–2018 and politically motivated. The authorities cultivate the image of anarchists as people who are related to terrorism and seek to destabilize society and the political system. Moreover, the detained anarchists have been routinely and blatantly tortured. At the same time, all informal self-organizations that have not been sanctioned or launched by the government, especially organizations of young people, have been closed down.
Others prosecuted for participation in the banned Network organization are also political prisoners
- Earlier the Memorial Human Rights Centre recognised two of the three defendants in the St. Petersburg case of the Network – Yuly Boyarshinov and Viktor Filinkov – as political prisoners. We believe their charges to be trumped up. After studying their cases, we found no evidence that their actions constituted any danger to the public.
- The third defendant in the St. Petersburg case, Igor Shishkin, had pleaded guilty to all charges. As we believe that the Network case is a complete fabrication, we consider that Shishkin, convicted only of participating in the Network, must also be recognized as a political prisoner.