Russia: anti-fascists threatened by state torturers

Anti-fascists in Russia, who face a campaign of arrests, torture and “terrorism” prosecutions by the Federal Security Service (FSB), are appealing for support.

Their defence campaign is organised on the Project no. 117 facebook page – named after the clause in

Cartoon by Alexei Komarov, Novaya Gazeta

the Russian Criminal Code that outlaws the use of torture. Please post messages there in English or any other language. These people need our support.

Here is a summary of the cases by Yan Shenkman, published in Novaya Gazeta on 22 March and in English on the Russian Reader web site:

In October 2017, a group of young anti-fascists was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Penza [a city the size of Coventry, south-east of Moscow]. They were accused of organizing a terrorist community code-named The Network. They were allegedly tortured. Nearly all of them confessed to the charges, telling the FSB what the FSB wanted them to say.

Recently, for the first time in history, FSB officers admitted they used electric shockers when interrogating Petersburg anti-fascist Viktor Filinkov. In their telling, however, it was not torture, but a necessity: the detainee allegedly tried to escape.

The arrestees are kindred souls of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, murdered by neo-Nazis in downtown Moscow in January 2009. A march to honour their memory has been held on the Boulevard Ring [in central Moscow] every year since then.

Less than ten years have passed since their deaths and we are confronted by a relapse, an attack on anti-fascists by the Russian state.

The harsh language of the interrogation protocol is more expressive than any op-ed column. Dmitry Pchenlintsev was tortured day after day: he was hung upside down and different parts of his body were shocked with electrical current. Vasily Kuksov was badly beaten: his face was a bloody pulp, his clothes torn and blood stained. Doctors in Petersburg discovered a fracture to the lower wall of Igor Shiskin’s eye socket, as well as multiple abrasions and bruises. They noted numerous injuries, including burns from an electric shocker. FSB officers took Ilya Kapustin to the woods, tortured him with an electric shocker, and threatened to break his legs.

We heard similar reports from Chechnya and Donbass [in eastern Ukraine], but this is the first time something like this has occurred in the middle of Russia and on such a scale.

The young arrestees in Penza, none of whom is over 30 (the oldest is 29) played airsoft, listened to independent music, and read anarchist books, like thousands of other young people. Now, given the will, any of them can be arrested on terrorism charges.

Alexei Polikhovich, who spent three years in prison as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, and produced a performance [about the arrests] at Teatr.doc, did not have to make up anything, no monologues or dialogues.  [Teatr.doc is a Moscow theatre specialising in documentaries about current issues. On 18 March, when Vladimir Putin was re-elected as president, it staged a performance based on materials from the anti-fascists’ cases.]

What has happened in reality is not something you would make up.

“I was panicking,” leftist activist and former political prisoner Alexei Sutuga says, reading Viktor Filinkov’s statement aloud. “I said I didn’t understand anything, and that is when they shocked me the first time. It was unbearably painful. I screamed and my body went straight as a board. The man in the mask ordered me to shut up and stop twitching. He alternated shocks to my leg with shocks to my handcuffs. Sometimes, he shocked me in the back or the nape of the neck. It felt as if I was being slapped upside the head.

When I screamed, they would clamp my mouth shut or threaten to gag me. I didn’t want to be gagged, so I tried not to scream, which wasn’t always possible.”

Polikhovich told me after the performance: “It’s probably the worst thing happening now in Russia. But we have no means of putting pressure on them. Complaints filed against the FSB are redirected to the FSB, meaning they are supposed to keep tabs on themselves. Naturally, they are not about to do this. The only thing that can save the guys is public pressure.”

I asked: “But for several months there were no attempts to pressure the FSB. Why?”

Polikhovich replied: “Location is vital in this case. There are tried and tested support methods in Petersburg and Moscow. There are independent journalists and human rights activists. There is nothing of the sort in Penza. The environment also makes a difference.

Viktor Filinkov, anti-fascist and victim of torture

The Bolotnaya Square case, in which many leftists were sent to prison, meant something to the entire liberal democratic opposition. It was a story the average Moscow reporter could understand.

“In this case, however,” Polikhovich continued, “the accused have been charged with very serious crimes. They are not liberals. They are not Moscow activists. We have to break through the prejudice towards them.”

While Moscow was silent, brushing the case aside by mentioning it in a few lines of column inches, the case, which originated in Penza, had spread to Petersburg, then to Chelyabinsk, and finally, in March, to the capital itself. Several people were detained after a protest action in support of the Penza anti-fascists. (OVD Info reports that nine people were detained.)

Moscow anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, released on his own recognisance, told Novaya Gazeta: “They put a bag over my head. Then they shocked me, constantly increasing the intensity and duration of the electric charge, and demanding I make a confession,”

The protests against the FSB’s use of torture in this case have mainly followed ideological lines: anarchists and anti-fascists have been doing the protesting.

Solidarity protests have been held in Copenhagen, Toronto, Berlin, and New York. Finnish anarchists and anti-fascists held a demo outside the Russian embassy in Helsinki. In Stockholm, the way from the subway to the Russian embassy was hung with Filinkov’s diary and posters bearing the hashtag #stopFSBtorture.

A concert in support of the arrested anti-fascists was held at a small bar in Petersburg. The organizers were able to collect 42,500 rubles in donations. By way of comparison, a year ago, at a similar concert in support of Ildar Dadin, who was tortured in a Karelian penal colony, organizers collected 29,000 rubles in donations. But there no incidents at that event, while there was an incident at the Petersburg concert. Ultra-rightwing thugs burst into the bar and started a brawl.

In Moscow, the riot police or the security services would have telephoned the club’s owner and insisted he cancel the event, as happened with the anti-war Deserter Fest. In Petersburg, however, the rightists showed up.

“The situation has come to resemble the mid-noughties,” said Maxim Dinkevich, editor of the music website Sadwave, “when every other punk rock show was attacked.”

Pickets in support of the anti-fascists have been held both in Moscow and Petersburg, and there will probably be more pickets to come. But this story has not yet made a big splash. The public is more interested in discussing the falling out between [opposition candidates for president Ksenia] Sobchak and [Alexei] Navalny, while anarchists draw a blank.

This case is not about anarchism or anti-fascism, however. It is about the fact that tomorrow they could come for you for any reason. Electric shockers do not discriminate.

The regime has been testing us, probing the limits of what is possible and what is not. If we keep silent now, if we do not stand up for each other, it will mean they can continue in the same vein. It is clear already that the case of the anti-fascists will expand. The arrests will stop being local, becoming large scale. We have no methods for pressuring law enforcement agencies that torture people, no authorities that could slap them on the wrists. The only methods we have are maximum publicity and public pressure. They are the only ways to deter the security service from making more arrests and keeping up the torture.

International pressure makes a difference, too.

The historian Yuri Dmitriev, who was tried on trumped-up charges of possessing pornography and possessing a firearm, this month walked free from court, despite the state prosecutor demanding a nine-year jail sentence. He was cleared of the pornography charge and required to report regularly to the police station on the second charge.

Dmitriev’s supporters believe that his real “crime” was his persistent investigation of the victims of Stalin’s terror, and his project to map victims’ graves in Karelia in north-western Russia.

Dmitriev’s case was the subject of a big international campaign. His supporters in Russia – including Memorial, the NGO committed to preserving the memory of the victims of Stalinism, that Dmitriev represented in Karelia – believe that that was decisive.

The prosecution has now appealed Dmitriev’s sentence, so the battle is not over there either. But protests can work. GL, 17 April 2018

More information on the anti-fascists’ cases

The best source of information on the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case in English is the Russian Reader, which constantly updates its coverage. See these links:

Some other related stuff

A new defendant in the Russian anti-fascist case – Open Democracy Russia, 13 April 2018

Russia: trade unionists and anti-fascists unite – People & Nature, 16 January 2018

Alexei Gaskarov interview – People & Nature, 15 November 2016 

“Antifascism is not a crime.” Photo from the For Human Rights site

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: