No one shall be subjected to torture, violence or other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment
— Constitution of the Russian Federation. Article 21, paragraph 2
Violence against political opponents in Russia is becoming the norm, the norm which is permitted and allowed
— Report “Apology of Protest” by AGORA, September 2018
On September 10, 2018, at a press-conference in the Sakharov Center in Moscow organized by the movement “Za prava cheloveka” (“For Human Rights”), it was announced that the investigation of the FSB-falsified “Network” case has come to its end, at least in the city of Penza. The accusations of at least two arrestees, Dmitry Pchelintsev and Ilya Shakursky, are reminiscent of an Orwellian dystopia–organization of a terrorist group “in order to rock the masses during the World Cup [in 2018] by the detonation of [Vladimir Lenin’s] mausoleum.” Like in 1937, all arrestees were tortured until they “confessed.” But there is also a difference. In 1937, it was rare for defendants to disavow their “confessions” during their trials in front of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court, while all the “Network” arrestees disavowed their “confessions” almost immediately. Also, the “Network” arrestees were fortunately subjected to torture for only a short time, while in 1937, torture was applied for weeks and months. And one more difference, the parents of the arrestees have formed a support group, the “Parent Network”, and constantly inform the press about developments in the case.
Final charges were announced a week before that, on September 3, 2018. Pchelintsev and Shakursky were charged with part 1 of Article 205.4 of the Russian Criminal Code (organization of a terrorist group, a crime punishable by imprisonment from 15 years to life), while Sagynbaev was charged with part 2 of the same article (participation in a terrorist community, from 5 to 10 years of imprisonment in a labor camp).
All three refused to plead guilty. Pchelintsev’s mother reported that some time ago the FSB investigator, whose name she did not specify (but it is known that Valery Tokarev is in charge of the investigation team), in the presence of Pchelintsev’s lawyer Igor Vanin, offered Pchelintsev a choice. The first was to admit guilt and be punished under part 2 of Article 205.4 (participation in a terrorist group), and the second, to plead not guilty and be punished under part 1 of that article (organization of a terrorist group). Pchelintsev refused to plead guilty.
Initially Sagynbaev cooperated with the investigation. However, after FSB operatives charged him, he stated that he had “confessed” only after being tortured. After that, in the presence of Sagynbaev’s lawyer, FSB operatives threatened Sagynbaev for five hours, demanding he disavow his rejection of the first “confession”, which he refused to do.
Immediately after Sagynbaev was returned to SIZO-1 (pretrial detention center) in Penza, FSB operatives visited him again. They promised him that that if he refused to admit his guilt Sagynbaev would be sent “to the northern labor camp, to [Oleg] Sentsov”, and told him that he “still has the opportunity to change his testimony.” In 2015, Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director, was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment on false charges. Since October 2017, he has been kept under a strict regime in the northern Correction Colony no. 8, “White Bear”, located on the left bank of the Ob River in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. On May 14, 2018 Sentsov declared an indefinite hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners kept in Russia. September 15 was the 125th day of his hunger strike.
On September 6, the press reported that Sagynbaev submitted a complaint to the Russian Investigation Committee (SK) describing his torture by FSB operatives after he was detained on November 5, 2017:
After the search [in the apartment], I was put in a minibus and they put a fabric bag on my head. At some point I realized that I was being taken outside of St. Petersburg, but where, I could not figure out. During the entire trip I had a bag on my head and was handcuffed.
While we were driving, I saw through the fabric of the bag that a man with a tattoo “For the Airborne”, who had beaten me before, pulled out from under his seat a brown box. There were two switches on the box, which, possibly, were current regulators. Two wires were coming out of the box which they attached to the thumbs of my hands. I was told that now they will check if there is a current or not. After that I felt a terrible pain and realized that an electric discharge came through my body. Along with this, the people in the bus began to ask me various questions, including the names and surnames of people unknown to me, and if I said that I did not know them, I received a current discharge.
Also, I was hit hard on the head with a great force by something hard. After the operatives realized that I did not know the people they named, they started asking other questions, including how to make explosive devices and how chemical and technical components of such devices are called. If the operatives did not like my answer, they beat me on the head and applied electric current until I answered what they wanted. I was also told that if I didn’t cooperate, they can do anything to me and my loved ones, and they won’t be punished for that because I’m a terrorist. I was told that they can gang rape my girl […], cut off her and my hands and burn us with a soldering-iron.
The tortures lasted for about four hours. […]
Fearing for the lives of my close relatives, for my [girl’s] life and my own life, the state of my health which, due to a serious illness, worsened as a result of the tortures applied to me, I testified against [Dmitry] Pchelintsev and myself regarding the organization “Network”, which in fact is not true.
Later FSB operatives blackmailed Sagynbaev and his mother by depriving him of vital drugs, which he must constantly take. In February 2018, Sagynbaev’s mother Yelena explained at press-conference of the “Parent Network”:
I had an agreement with the lawyers that we would be silent for a while. But now it’s enough, […] I have to start talking […] He has a severe chronic illness, he is on the verge of death. When he was taken [by the FSB operatives], he had a high temperature near forty [104 ˚F], he was in a terrible condition. Plus, while he was being taken from St. Petersburg to Penza, he was tortured. He gave such a testimony because otherwise he would have died, he was not given medicine, not treated. When I saw him, he could barely stand […] He began to show me his hands, legs, tried to take off his shoes — to show me burns from something […] I wrote to the prosecutor’s office, and went to the head of the SIZO, brought all the documents confirming my son’s disease son. The investigator said: “He won’t live to see you!”. He was given pills, healed. Well, that is, they supported his life. It’s not even necessary to torture him, it’s just enough not to give medicine to him, and he will die.
The same September 10, the parents of those accused appealed to the Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova, asking her to investigate cases of torture against their children and prevent its use in future investigations.
On September 12, the Penza Garrison Military Court dismissed the complaint by Dmitry Pchelintsev. He challenged the refusal of the SK to initiate criminal proceedings against FSB officers. The accused repeatedly stated that they all gave their testimony in the case under torture. This was recorded in detail by their lawyers, as well as by members of the Public Monitoring Commission. The SK was forced to conduct an audit of these facts, but found no grounds for criminal prosecution of the FSB operatives.
Eldar Luzin, the lawyer of the Public Verdict Foundation, who represents Pchelintsev’s interests, told the newspaper Novaya Gazeta: “The [military] judge considered that the Investigative Committee had carried out a check in full, and the facts of torture were not confirmed. We categorically disagree with this decision.” Luzin also provided Novaya Gazeta with an audio recording of the conversation between the parents of the accused Shakursky, Pchelintsev, Chernov and Sagynbaev and the head of the Penza detention center SIZO-1, Oleg Iskhanov, in his office. Iskhanov did not actually deny the facts of torture:
“If our sons were not tortured by FSB officers, it turns out that they were tortured by the SIZO employees?” [the parents asked].
“No, my employees did not torture them. They [the accused] are assigned to the FSB, and the FSB visits them,” Iskhanov said. […] I have no right to prevent them [from coming], investigative actions are conducted by the FSB. I have a document that directly gives them the right to call here. And that’s it. I’m not a god here […] I’ve already explained to you that the officers of the investigative prison have nothing to do with this, that’s for sure. Do not ask me.”
On September 13, Penza’s Leninsky District Court in a closed session extended the detaining of Sagynbaev, Pchelintsev, Andrey Chernov, Ilya Shakursky and Vasiliy Kuksov until October 18. When the judge went to the advisory room to make a decision, the parents of the accused talked to their children. They managed to find out that on September 17 the investigation of the case will be completed, and the materials will be transferred to the court.
After the trial, Tatiyana Chernova, the mother of Andrei Chernov commented:
It’s difficult to say anything, it’s so revolting, it is astonishing that no argument, no proof is accepted. As for the appeal to [the Human Rights Commissioner] Moskalkova, of course, we have serious doubts. She did not give any concrete promises. But we believe that we have a good defense case in court. We hope, and this is all we have.
On September 14, a day after the court session on the extension of the arrest, guards “found” a blade during the search in Sagynbaev’s cell in Penza SIZO-1. On his reasonable statement that he had always been in his cell where he couldn’t get a blade, the SIZO officers answered that he brought it from the court. This is not possible because everyone at the court entrance is searched. As a result, the seriously ill Sagynbaev was placed in a punishment cell for three days. On September 17, he was transferred to “a cold cell, without hot water, knowing he is seriously ill” his mother told to the press.
Two days before the court session, parents of the accused wrote down statements of their children in the SIZO-1 and composed a joint statement:
My name is Vasiliy Kuksov. I’m 30-years-old, I work as a design engineer. I’m married, and we’ve been together for more than 10 years. In my spare time, I participated in volunteer projects to help nurseries for animals, went hiking, and sang in the philharmonic society. The court will give me from 5 to 10 years of strict regime imprisonment because FSB investigator Valery Tokarev was ordered to charge me as a terrorist. In order to force me to agree with the charge, they beat me up. I’m not a terrorist, so I do not agree with this charge. For this [rejection] they will give an even longer term. I will defend my honor and dignity in court, but I have no chance.
My name is Yuli Boyarshinov. I’m 27-years-old, I work as an industrial climber and study at ITMO [St. Petersburg University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics] as an engineer-physicist. I have a girlfriend. In my free time, I helped with organizing the fair for free clothes exchange. For refusal to admit guilt they will give me an even longer term. I will defend my honor and dignity in court, but I have no chance.
My name is Armen Sagynbaev. I’m 26-years-old. I’m an entrepreneur, I had my own restaurant in St. Petersburg. I had a girlfriend. In my free time, I was engaged in reading, traveling and medical treatment since I’m sick incurably. The court will give me from 5 to 10 years of strict regime imprisonment because the FSB investigator Valery Tokarev was ordered to charge me as a terrorist. My girlfriend was forced to become a refugee and leave the country the day before her planned arrest. To make me more compliant, the FSB promised to gang rape her and cut her hands off, and then burn them. In order to force me to agree with the charge, I was beaten, tortured with electric shocks. In fear for my life, for the life and health of my girlfriend, I was forced to confirm during the interrogations the version of the investigators and to incriminate myself and the others. They continued the torture by limiting my access to essential medicines. When I found out that my girlfriend is safe, I decided to make a statement about the torture that had been applied to me and to disavow my testimony given under duress. I’m not a terrorist, so I do not agree with this charge. For this I will be given an even longer term. I will defend my honor and dignity in court, but I have no chance. With a high probability I can say that due to the disease I have I will not live to the next meeting with my girlfriend.
My name is Viktor Filinkov. I’m 23 years old, working as a software developer. I’m married. In my spare time I was engaged in robotics, teaching and traveling. The court will give me from 5 to 10 years of strict regime imprisonment because the FSB investigator Gennady Belyaev was ordered to charge me as a terrorist. In order to force me to agree with the charge, I was beaten and electrocuted. In fear for my life, I was forced to confirm during the interrogation the FSB version of the investigation and to incriminate myself. Soon I realized that the operatives needed the torture so that I would testify. The court does not consider any other evidence than “confessions.” It’s impossible to prove torture. However, I am not a terrorist, so I do not agree with this charge. For this I will be given an even longer term. I will defend my honor and dignity in court, but I have no chance.
My name is Mikhail Kulikov. I’m 23-years-old. I graduated from college, training as a chef. Then I served in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. I wanted to open a small restaurant serving shawarma. The court will give me from 5 to 10 years of strict regime imprisonment because the FSB investigator Valery Tokarev has charged me as a terrorist. I’m not a terrorist, so I do not agree with this charge. For this I will be given an even longer term. I will defend my honor and dignity in court, but I have no chance.
My name is Andrey Chernov. I’m 29-years-old. I studied at the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics of the Penza Pedagogical Institute and worked as a fitter at a plant. In my spare time I was engaged in Muay Thai [martial art], participated in competitions and was fond of programming. The court will give me from 5 to 10 years of strict regime imprisonment because the FSB investigator Valery Tokarev was ordered to charge me a terrorist. In order to force me to agree with this accusation, they beat me up. I’m not a terrorist, so I do not agree with the charge. For this I will be given an even longer term. I will defend my honor and dignity in court, but I have no chance.
My name is Maxim Ivankin. I’m 25-years-old. I worked at construction sites of the city of Penza and wanted to open my own restaurant. In my spare time I was fond of traveling. The court will give me from 5 to 10 years of strict regime imprisonment because the FSB investigator Valery Tokarev was ordered to charge me a terrorist. In order to force me to agree with this accusation, they beat me up. Under the pressure of the investigation after the detention, I was forced to plead guilty, since all the “siloviks” urged me that this would be better for me and for others. Later, after having realized the deception, I disavowed my testimony. I’m not a terrorist, so I do not agree with this charge. For this I will be given an even longer term. I will defend my honor and dignity in court, but I have no chance.
My name is Dmitry Pchelintsev. I’m 26-years-old. I’ve served in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, after which I began to work as an instructor in sports shooting. I’m married. In my spare time I went in for sports, including those related to my profession, music, traveled and participated in the environmental initiatives of my city. The court will give me from 15 to 20 years of strict regime imprisonment because the FSB investigator Valery Tokarev was ordered to charge that I have organized a non-existent terrorist group “in order to rock the masses during the World Cup by an explosion at the [Vladimir Lenin’s] mausoleum.”
In order to force me to agree with their charge, I was beaten, hung upside down, tortured with electric shocks. I was forced to incriminate myself. Subsequently, the support of relatives and friends helped me to come to my senses. I described the torture applied to me and disavowed my testimony. After this, FSB officers led by the investigator Valery Tokarev came again to me and tortured me again with electric current. FSB employees promised to rape my wife and kill me. I again agreed with the charges, saying at the request of FSB officers that I had given the previous statement of torture in order to avoid criminal responsibility. As time went by, after the public campaign for our defense, I repeatedly disavowed my first testimony and did not admit my guilt. I’m not a terrorist, so I do not agree with this charge. For this I will be given an even longer term. I will defend my honor and dignity in court, but I have no chance.
My name is Ilya Shakursky. I’m 22-years-old. I’m a 4th-year-student of the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics and Natural Sciences of the Belinsky Pedagogical Institute at Penza State University. I’ve studied at the military department and planned to become an officer of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. I have a girlfriend. In my spare time I went in for sports, music and participated in the environmental initiatives of the city. The court will give me 15 to 20 years of strict regime imprisonment because the FSB investigator Valery Tokarev was ordered to charge that I have organized a non-existent terrorist group “in order to rock the masses during the World Cup by the explosion of the mausoleum.” In order to force me to agree with their accusation, they beat me up, tortured me with electric shocks and provided me with the lawyer Mikhail Grigoryan, who encouraged me to plead guilty of something I did not do, and made official statements without my permission that differed from my position. I was forced to incriminate myself to save my life and health. But the support of relatives and friends helped me to be strong.
I made a statement about the torture applied to me and rejected my testimony. In response, FSB officers together with the NTV channel staff put pressure on my mother and the mother of Armen Sagynbaev. I’m not a terrorist, so I do not agree with this charge. For this I will be given an even longer term. I will defend my honor and dignity in court, but I have no chance. I know it, but I’m ready to stand up for my honor, freedom and love of my loved ones. Someone should.
They call us a “Network.” They accuse us because we had the imprudence to adhere to have political views, which are not always consistent with the official line. Some of us were known by other participants in the process and that’s why they are singled out as organizers. Some were known not by everybody, so they are singled out as participants. . . . We are called terrorists, but we reject violence as a method of solving problems.
Unfortunately, life teaches us that the violence of the government institutions against persons who are not connected with these institutions is the only working mechanism of human relationships. They can turn any absurdity into reality, such as accuse a group of people who have families and loving wives, work and education, who have served in the army, as terrorists. They can call black as white, freedom — slavery, peace — war. Utopia will drown us. But we will not die in vain. 5-20 years in a Russian prison is akin to death without a chance of employment after that and a normal return to the society.
We will defend what we do not have, to achieve what cannot be achieved. We were tortured in peacetime in accordance with military standards for the fact that one of us called himself an anti-fascist, another, an environmentalist, and someone was just familiar with us. We became victims of the lack of responsibility in the echelons of power, our allegations of torture have not been investigated and will not be investigated until President [Putin] orders it.
But we are not [Yevgeniya] Vasilyeva, who stole millions from the Defense Ministry, and we will not be released [like her]. Because someone has to be imprisoned in this country. And definitely these won’t be bureaucrats-thieves, corrupt representatives of law enforcement agencies, and certainly not the authors of unpopular laws on raising the retirement age.
We will be imprisoned. And we will sit and fight for less use of torture in Russia. For Russia to have a system of democratic counterweights, both in power and in law enforcement agencies. To ensure that our mothers and fathers are not put on a par with mothers of scum who captured the “Nord-Ost” [a terrorist act in 2002 in Moscow], who blew up houses in Moscow and Volgodonsk [in 1999] and took over the school in the city of Beslan [in 2004].
We disavow testimonies given earlier due to the use of torture to obtain them. We are pleading not guilty.
On September 21, 2018, Aleksandr Smirnov, judge of the Lomonosov District Court of the Leningrad Region, dismissed the lawsuit filed by Yuly Boyarshinov, the defendant in the St. Petersburg “Network” case, regarding his placement in a torture cell of SIZO-6 in the St. Petersburg suburbs. After being detained, Boyarshinov was beaten, and a month later transferred from the new “Kresty-2” prison to a crowded detention center SIZO-6. Boyarshinov believes that this was because of his refusal to testify in accordance with Article 51 of the Russian Constitution. According to Boyarshinov, the FSB officers who visited him in the “Kresty-2” promised him that if he was silent, “it will be worse.” In the “torture conditions” of SIZO-6, according to his lawsuit, Boyarshinov spent almost six months. All that time his father, the painter Nikolai Boyarshinov, was standing as a single picket on Nevsky Prospekt (the main street of St. Petersburg) with a placard “My father Boyarshinov Nikolai S. fought against the [German] fascists, and my son, Boyarshinov Yuly N., an anti-fascist, was arrested by the FSB. Did we defeat the fascists [during WWII] or did we get infected by fascism?””
At the time of the court session, Boyarshinov was held in Penza SIZO-1, and in the St. Petersburg court, his lawyer Olga Krivonos represented him. The lawyer pointed out that her client was placed in a “critically overpopulated cell” with 150 prisoners under investigation, including those charged with rape, murder, and robbery, with only 116 double-bunk beds. Each prisoner had only 2 square meters of area, whereas according to law, there should be 4 square meters per person. The violation of the footage was recognized by the Prosecutor’s Office of the Leningrad Region. During the first week, Boyarshinov was sleeping on the floor, then he was sleeping together with two his cellmates on a double bunk bed and eventually got scabies. In addition, Boyarshinov clashed with his cellmates. One of the criminals called him a “terrorist” and tried to “demand explanations.” According to the lawyer, living with “psychologically incompatible” cellmates threatened the life and health of Boyarshinov. According to the law, suspects accused under “terrorist” articles of the Russian Criminal Code are required to be kept separate from the rest of the prisoners. The lawyer insisted that the conditions of detention of Boyarshinov in SIZO-6 violated the prohibition of inhuman treatment established by the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. Judge Smirnov ruled that the conditions in the SIZO-6 “corresponded to law” and the arguments of the suit were unfounded.
By September 26, 2018, it became known from the “Parent Network” and human rights activists that Yuly Boyarshinov, Igor Shishkin, and Viktor Filinkov had been transported from the Penza SIZO-1 to St. Petersburg. On October 10, Boyarshinov and Shishkin were put in the SIZO-4 of St. Petersburg.
On October 5, 2018, several parents of the “Parent Network” and parents of another group of young people arrested for supposedly being part of a group called “Novoe Velichie” (“New Greatness”) published a joint statement that on October 28, 2018 they are planning a joint action of protest:
We are parents of the arrested children in the frames of “Network” and “New Greatness” cases.
We are convinced that these cases, absolutely different at the first sight, are not simply an attempt to punish our children. This is a senseless and cruel war of the state machine against the new generation that today declares its right to influence the situation in the country.
Today the only opportunity we have is to stand together against our mutual trouble.
We worked and raised our children in a country full of injustice. Our children saw and felt this stronger than we did and let no one be surprised that they tried to find ways to resist it. Let no one be surprised either by their naivety or their ardor, because this is something that is characteristic of normal, living people, and this cannot be a crime.
But let everyone be surprised with how ferociously the security organs attacked our children, presenting them as a threat to state power, calling them terrorists and extremists. Let everyone not be horrified by the new methods of “law enforcement”, in one case they introduce their own provocateurs, so that they summed up the people under the article, and in the other they use torture, so that people slander themselves and their comrades. In both cases, the crime was invented where it was not originally and could not be.
In this state security war against young and brave men and women, dirty tools of the 20th century are used.
We will not accept this, we will not abandon our children and will not give them up.
We intend to notify the authorities about the holding of a mass protest on October 28, with the demand to stop the criminal cases of “New Greatness” and “Network”, to stop the emergence of new such cases.
We call upon people of all ages — both children and parents — to come forward with us in defense of the new generation. If we do not protect those who will replace us, then our country will not have a future.
The “New Greatness” movement was created through the Internet exchange with the participation of a provocateur “Ruslan D.” and then of a criminal investigation operative, who infiltrated the group in early February 2018, and a member of the Rosguard. On March 5, 2018 ten members of the group (including two girls, one of them was a minor) were detained. They were charged with the crime of organizing an extremist group (Article 282.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). Six of them were kept in a SIZO, and four were put under home arrest. In late August, because of public pressure the two girls, who became seriously ill, were also transferred under home arrest. On September 11, two of the young detainees declared a hunger strike, and on October 5, one of them was transferred to a hospital.
By October 23, the officials of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Penza refused to allow the “Parent Network” members to hold rallie in support of the defendants in the “New Greatness” and “Network” planned for October 28 in these cities.
On October 18, courts in Penza ruled to detain all “Network” members in the Penza SIZO-1 until January 18, 2019. The next day a court in St. Petersburg ruled to detain Filinkov, Boyarshinov and Shishkin in the SIZO-4 until January 22, 2019.
Taking into consideration the state of the Russian court system, there is no hope that the members of the concocted “Network” or “New Greatness” cases will be tried justly. According to Sergei Pashin, law professor and former Federal Judge, Russian judges, when considering criminal cases, pass approximately one acquittal per thousand cases (worldwide the average is 20%). Even in Stalin’s Soviet Union, criminal, not political, courts averaged from 7 -10% of acquittals. In Russian jury trials, however, the percent of acquittals ranges from 12 to 20. However, juries consider only 220 cases per year, while in the US, 165 thousand cases per year are decided by juries. And recently a ban was introduced on mentioning torture during investigation in the courtroom in the presence of jurors.
No doubt, the torture, especially by electricity, which the members of the “Network” have been subjected to, will affect their health. Vera Kotoyanets, the mother of the Ukrainian Yevgeny Panov, an alleged “Ukrainian saboteur”, visited her son on July 10, 2018 in the SIZO-1 of the city of Simferopol (Crimea), before his trial. After this, she told the Crimean human rights activists:
[My son] never complains about anything, he tolerates, even if it hurts. […] This time he said that there are problems with his gums. His teeth, black after application of the electric current, hurt and break off. There are no doctors, and no one gives medicine. […] Sometimes, when a certain number of prisoners complain, a dentist is brought in from the city who simply pulls out the sick teeth.
After his arrest in 2016, Panov was tortured by FSB operatives in Simferopol with great brutality. Later he testified that besides “usual” beatings and electric shocks, “they put a rope around my penis and tightened it up until my penis became blue.”
On July 13, 2018, the Russian “Supreme Court” of the Crimea in a closed session sentenced the Ukrainian citizen Panov to 8 years of imprisonment in a correction colony. Two months later Panov was still in the Simferopol SIZO-1 and no medical help had been provided to him.