Between October 2017 and February 2018, the Russian security services tortured several Russian anarchists and anti-fascists as part of an investigation into alleged terrorism offences. As a result, eleven people in St Petersburg and Penza have been arrested and charged in the “Network” case. They are being detained awaiting trial in 2019. [There will be demonstrations to support them on Saturday 19 January (details at the end of the article).] Those tortured have spoken out about their treatment – Viktor Filinkov did so here, and others did via the rupression web site. This article by Tatyana Likhanova explains the reaction by the Russian security services and other officials. It reports on investigations into the defendants’ claims of torture by the Russian Investigative Committee, the St Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission, and the defendants’ lawyers. It was published in Novaya Gazeta, the main liberal opposition newspaper, on 16 December 2018, and also published in English in Freedom News.
“Federal Security Service [FSB] officers don’t work in those minibuses. They aren’t there. Physically.” This is how Russian president Vladimir Putin reacted to a statement by Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, that defendants in the “Network” case claim they were
subjected to electric shock torture in state security service minibuses. But Putin admitted that what Fedotov had said was “really disturbing” and “that it’s absolutely impermissible”, and promised to “look into it”.
Let’s note straight away: only St Petersburg victims of the “Network” case — Viktor Filinkov; Ilya Kapustin, who was questioned about the case as a witness; and Arman Sagynbaev, who was transferred from St Petersburg to Penza after arrest — have reported that they were tortured by the FSB in minibuses. The men detained in Penza were tortured in an investigative detention centre.
The St Petersburg FSB officers do not deny that they “work in buses” and that they use electric shockers while doing so. Their explanations are in documents compiled during an inquiry into Viktor Filinkov’s and Ilya Kapustin’s statements by the Investigative Committee’s Western Military District division.
According to statements by FSB officers K.A. Bondarev and S.E. Kotin, they arrested Viktor Filinkov together with three other members of a special FSB unit — one of whom “twice applied to V.S. Filinkov special equipment — an electric shock baton (once in the area of the right thigh, once on the torso)”. This was done when Filinkov allegedly tried to escape from a service vehicle, a Volkswagen Transporter. Then, “the driver broke sharply, as a result of which V.S. Filinkov fell on the floor, cutting his face on protruding plastic elements of the seating, from which he received an abrasion on his chin.”
In his own statement, Viktor Filinkov said that while in the minibus he was subject to “no less than ten blows from the palm of a hand, to the back of the head; no less than 50 blows from an electric shocker in the areas of the right thigh, the groin, the wrists and the neck; and no less than 20 punches in the chest, back, back of the head and the left side of the face.”
The medical examination of Filinkov when he arrived at St Petersburg Investigative Detention Centre No. 3 mentioned bruising, abrasions and wounds to the top layer of skin, with a note reading “done with an electric shocker?”.
Yekaterina Kosarevskaya and Yana Teplitskaya, members of the St Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission (PMC), who visited Viktor Filinkov in the detention centre three days after the events that have been described, noted “a large number of traces of injuries caused by an electric shocker across the whole surface of the right thigh, bruising to the right ankle, and burns from an electric shocker around the rib cage”.
Kosarevskaya and Teplitskaya counted more than 30 pairs of bruise marks, characteristic of the shock batons. Filinkov said that he was tortured in a nine-seater blue Volkswagen Transporter, where he was placed by FSB officers who detained him at St Petersburg Pulkovo airport. He was ferried around and tortured for about five hours, during which he was forced to learn and recite a confession.
Kosarevskaya and Teplitskaya inspected and questioned Filinkov in the presence of a detention centre officer, in a cell equipped with a video camera (the video camera was turned on). Yana and Yekaterina, as well as Filinkov’s lawyer Vitaly Cherkasov, immediately lodged a statement requiring that the video recordings be kept and included in the case file. But they were destroyed — allegedly due to the expiry of the “specified storage period”, as the directors of Investigative Detention Centre No. 3 said in the inquiry materials. This is despite the fact that the detention centre supervisor confirmed in writing to PMC members that “there are no rules covering the period for which video recordings are stored”.
The same thing happened with other video recordings — from CCTV at Pulkovo airport and the police station where Filinkov was taken “to take fingerprints” — that could shed light on what happened from the moment Filinkov was detained up until his arrival at the St Petersburg FSB building on Shpalernaya Street. Filinkov’s bloodstained hat and trousers, which the defence had also demanded were included in the investigation materials, also disappeared.
Almost 30 hours “vanished”, too: the time between Filinkov’s actual arrest and the time given by the investigating officers.
A statement by Vitaly Cherkasov, legal counsel for Viktor Filinkov, said: “In a report by K.A. Bondarev, senior FSB criminal investigator for St Petersburg and Leningrad oblast [province], there is an incorrect statement that V.S. Filinkov was arrested on 24 January 2018 at 21.35 at 25 Shpalernaya Street. Neither this, nor the statement by senior investigator G.A. Belyayev in the arrest report that suspect Filinkov was detained on 25 January 2018 at 00.15, correspond to the actual time at which he was arrested.”
In addition, on Filinkov’s boarding pass, which is included in the investigation materials, it is indicated that he checked in on the 20.45 flight to Minsk from St Petersburg on 23 January 2018. The explanations of FSB officers also state that they arrived at Pulkovo airport on 23 January, where they suggested that Filinkov “delay his departure and participate in search procedures”.
Based on Bondarev’s account of Filinkov’s “escape attempt”, the inquiry by the military Investigative Committee established that “during the period from 03:30 to 07:00 on 24/01/2018, on being brought to the investigative service of St Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast [province] FSB Directorate for investigation, V.S. Filinkov, while in an official minibus, attempted to escape…”
Nonetheless, all these inconsistencies in the reported times did not disconcert the investigators: the request to open a criminal investigation based on Filinkov’s statement on being tortured was rejected.
An inspection based on Ilya Kapustin’s witness statement on torture proceeded in a similar manner and with the same result. Kapustin also apparently tried to escape from an official minibus and was also hurt when the driver suddenly braked. In order to stop Kapustin escaping and avoid “consequences related to a person falling out of a moving vehicle”, he was also shocked a couple of times with an electric shocker. This was described by FSB officers as an “operational necessity”.
Needless to say, there are no video recordings of these events: “On the corner of Seventh Sovetskaya [Street] and Grecheskiy Avenue [where the arrest took place], there are no CCTV cameras,” reads the official inquiry.
This begs the question: why did FSB investigator P.A. Prudnikov “working in a five-person operational group” travel to this destination “with the aim of establishing Kapustin’s location”? Why did they not wait closer to Kapustin’s house? Could it be because on the ground floor of Kapustin’s apartment block there is a cafe, and across the road there is a bank and an expensive electronics shop? There’s no shortage of CCTV cameras there.
The inquiry did not investigate what happened in the three-and-a-half hours after the moment of arrest (21:30) to the beginning of the interrogation at the FSB building (01:00 the next day). The inquiry did not question specialists at the Bureau of Forensic Medicine [a regulatory agency, part of the state health care system], who examined Kapustin and attested that he suffered bruising to the top eyelid of his right eye, and to the areas around both shoulders and knee joints, and also no less than 80 abrasions on the upper limbs, belly, around the right hip joint and right buttock, and the genitals.
The experts’ statement concluded that the abrasions “could have resulted from the usage of an electric shock device, which is confirmed by their morphological features: mainly rounded or oval shapes; their sizes; the presence of hyperaemia (redness) at the edges of the abrasions and reddish, swollen ‘undermined’ edges.
At the meeting with Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Fedotov recounted how he, together with Evgeny Myslovsky, a colleague from the Presidential Council on Human Rights, spoke to the management of the regional military Investigative Committee — but “they couldn’t answer a single question”. Myslovsky, who worked for 25 years as a senior major case investigator attached to the RSFSR Prosecutor’s Office, evaluated the quality of the inquiry into Filinkov and Kapustin’s account of torture in a blog post on the website of the Council on Human Rights:
…the inquiry was conducted with deliberate carelessness. The following remained outside the scope of the inquiry: the basis for conducting the FSB investigative actions; the identities of the special forces officers who used the special methods [of restraint]; the identities of the minibus drivers; and the routes that were used. The minibus itself was not examined to determine whether an ‘escape attempt’ was possible or the risk of injury whilst falling as a result of sudden braking. Even without examining the torture itself, it can be concluded that there were gross violations of the Russian Criminal Procedural Code during the initial operational search activities in both cases, which is indicative of either an extremely low level of legal preparation of the investigators in the St Petersburg FSB or of an intentional disregard for current legislation.
Evgeny Myslovsky also referred to information about other defendants in the “Network” case having been tortured. Arman Saginbayev was tortured during a search of his St Petersburg flat and in a car whilst being transported to Penza. In Penza, defendants Ilya Shakursky and Dmitry Pchelintsev made statements that they had been subject to torture.
After Vladimir Putin promised to “look into” what happened, the parents of the defendants in the “Network” case have made a new appeal to the Russian president. This appeal notes that existing forensic methods allow for it to be established whether or not torture by electric shock was used even after a very long time. In Penza, the defendants’ legal counsel applied for this kind of examination to be carried out, but Penza garrison court refused to approve this request.
■ On Saturday 19 January, we will be demonstrating in London in solidarity with Russian anti-fascists. That will be the tenth anniversary of the murder by fascists of two Russian anti-fascists, journalist Anastasia Baburova and lawyer Stanislav Markelov. Every year, Russian anti-fascists gather to remember them – this year, people in London, and other places around Europe and the world, will do too.
The London event starts at 2.0pm at the Cable Street mural, Cable Street, London E1 0BL. The anti-fascist, anarchist and socialist organisations supporting the event are calling on “everybody opposed to racism, xenophobia, fascism and the upsurge of far-right populism sweeping the world” to join it.