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The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Vladislav Sinitsa

Dec 13 2019

The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Vladislav Sinitsa, a Moscow-based blogger, known under the pseudonym Max Steklov, a political prisoner. On August 3, 2019, Vladislav was detained on charges of inciting hatred and hostility with the threat of violence. On September 3, a court sentenced the blogger to five years in a penal colony under paragraph A of Part 2 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

The reason for the persecution was a message from Vladislav on Twitter. Human rights activists considered the tweet inappropriate and incorrect, but did not find in it arousal of hostility and hatred towards law enforcement officials.

The harsh and sometimes brutal actions of law enforcement agencies during protests in Moscow this summer sparked by a ban for independent candidates to run in the Moscow City Duma elections, caused public outrage. The response was spontaneous initiatives to deanonymize especially “distinguished” police officers. We believe that Vladislav Sinitsa has become an indicative victim of a struggle of special services with deanonymization, and his case is an indicative and most repressive one.
On July 31, 2019, in his posting Sinitsa wrote: “They could look at their happy family photos, study the geolocations and then the child of a brave law enforcement officer simply doesn’t come home from school. Instead of a child, the mail brings a CD with a snuff video.” The message on behalf of “Max Steklov” was intended for an anonymous user “Voice of Mordor”, who was interested in how <supporters of the deanonymization of police officers and riot police, who had used illegal violence against protest rallies>, were going to revenge them.

Most Internet users who discussed the brutal crackdown on protests in Moscow gave a negative moral assessment of the Sinitsa’s tweet. Memorial Human Rights Center also considers the blogger’s statements inappropriate and incorrect, even considering their emotional context. However, from a legal point of view, a Twitter post does not contain clear signs of inciting hostility and hatred towards law enforcement officials. Mention of the possibility of kidnapping and shooting a snuff video does not contain calls for such actions. The Twitter post was a comment on a tweet of an anonymous user which means it did not contain the intent to appeal to a potentially wide circle of users.

Having studied materials of the criminal case, as well as publications related to it, we came to a conclusion that a verdict to Vladislav Sinitsa is illegal and politically motivated:

  • A pro-government media has launched a large-scale information campaign against Vladislav Sinitsa;
  • The case experts prepared a report in just a few days. Previously, these experts have already consulted in politically motivated cases; also, they have extremely dubious qualifications;
  • Only one month has passed from a day of the detention to sentencing (which is unusual for Russian justice system where people wait for their trials for months and years);
  • The trial itself lasted for only one day;
  • Sinitsa was given the maximum possible prison sentence under this article of the Criminal Code.

All this confirms the coordinated nature of actions of law enforcement agencies and judicial system, not just supported, but inspired at a political level.

Given all of the above, the Memorial Human Rights Center, according to international guidelines for a definition of a “political prisoner,” finds this criminal case politically motivated and aimed at retaining the power by the authorities and forcibly terminating the public activities of Vladislav Sinitsa. We believe that a deprivation of liberty was used in violation of the right to a fair trial.

The Memorial Human Rights Center considers Vladislav Sinitsa a political prisoner and demands his immediate release. We also demand an investigation into the circumstances of the case, checking the possibility of coercion of RosGvardia employees to give false testimonies by their management, checking the activities of the Center for Sociocultural Expertise ANO and statements about the case of the head of the RosGvardia Viktor Zolotov.

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Activatica.org (Estonia)Activatica.org (Estonia) Article 20 (Russia)Article 20 (Russia) Euromaidan SOS (Ukraine)Euromaidan SOS (Ukraine) Free Russia Foundation (U.S., Russia, Ukraine, Georgia)Free Russia Foundation (U.S., Russia, Ukraine, Georgia) Human Rights Foundation (United States)Human Rights Foundation (United States) Action for Post-Soviet Jewry (United States)Action for Post-Soviet Jewry (United States) Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice (United States)Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice (United States) Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University (United States)McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University (United States) Solidarus (Germany)Solidarus (Germany) Union of Council for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (United States)Union of Council for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (United States) Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (Canada)Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (Canada) NEP Prague (Czech Republic)NEP Prague (Czech Republic)