“You picked a fight with the state, we will grind you into dust”. How a Russian activist was tortured

The “network case” – an investigation into alleged terrorism by Russian anarchists and anti-fascists, during which security service officers have repeatedly tortured detainees – has gone to trial. Hearings are taking place in Penza and St Petersburg.

Dmitry Pchelintsev, one of the defendants, gave testimony in court about how he was tortured. An edited translation is published here.

The “network case” investigation began in 2017. Officers of the Federal Security Services (FSB) claim that twelve young men were part of an organisation called “the network” – a “terrorist group” that allegedly planned to “stir up the population in order to destabilise political conditions” in Russia via a series of terrorist attacks. The FSB claims that “the network” had cells operating in cities across Russia and Belarus.

Pchelintsev’s testimony about torture is not the first. Other defendants in the case have repeatedly stated that they were tortured (e.g. here and here) into confessing to charges.

Pchelintsev, 27, lives in Penza in central Russia. He is charged with creating “the network”; illegal possession of weapons; and an attempted arson attack against a local military office.

The article below is the second part of Pchelintsev’s testimony at Povolzhye Regional Military Court in Penza. MediaZona, a Russian web site focused on unjust imprisonment and prisoners’ rights, published an abridged account in Russian. It was translated by openDemocracy and is republished here with thanks to them.

For information on the international solidarity campaign in support of “the network” defendants, see the Rupression site.

Day one: “He stripped the wires and attached them to my toes”

I was arrested on 27 October, 2017. Naturally, I didn’t admit my guilt and refused to testify. My lawyer, who was not planning to represent me in the future, said: “If you get another lawyer, you will testify with him. Take your Article 51 rights [against self-incrimination] with me now.” So, I didn’t admit anything and I wasn’t particularly questioned that day. I was

Dmitry Pchelintsev and his wife Angelina. Photo from his family/Mediazona

brought to a temporary detention centre, and spent one night there, after which I was taken to court. The court chose arrest as a deterrence measure. I was arrested and sent to the city’s Investigative Detention Centre No.1 [SIZO 1].

SIZO 1 has three blocks: an old block, a new block and a block nicknamed “Titanic”. But they put me in the fourth block, which was completely empty. There was not a single person there. This is a two-storey block where no one is held and no one monitors. It stands apart from the rest of the detention centre. I was brought to Cell 5.1, where I dropped my mattress on the floor, and then I was told: “Let’s go.” It was my first time in investigative detention, so I had no idea what was supposed to happen. I thought I probably had to go through some procedures, fingerprinting, perhaps something else. I was told to enter a neighbouring cell, Cell 5.2. I entered, and the door was closed behind me.

This was on 28 October, my first day in investigative detention. In theory, I should have been placed in quarantine, in the “Titanic” block. But I was brought to the Cell 5.2, and left there. A couple of minutes later six or seven FSB agents entered. Two of them were in the MultiCam uniforms favoured by FSB agents. I recognised them as the men who had had me under guard earlier. There were also men in plain clothes, agents. I was told to undress. This was the first time I was in this kind of situation, I had no idea, perhaps, some additional searches or something, after all, I was clean. I undressed. I was told to sit down on a bench.  I sat on the bench, and when they started strapping me with tape to the bench, I realised that… well, all is lost.

They took a dynamo out of a bag and put it on the table. All the agents were wearing balaclavas and medical gloves.

They strapped my hands behind my back, I was only in my underpants, they strapped my legs to the bench with tape. One agent, Alexander, stripped the wires with craft knife and attached them to my toes. They didn’t ask any questions, they simply started spinning the dynamo.

I felt electric currents in my legs up to the knees – it feels like you are being skinned alive, but when it stops, it’s as if nothing happened at all. There’s no pain when the electricity stops.

Well, it’s impossible to endure this. They hit me [with electric shocks] maybe about five times without asking any questions, probably, to stun me or something like that. Then they told me: if you haven’t figured it out, you are in the hands of the FSB, we are not going to play games, you will have to answer our questions now. The answers “no”, “I don’t know”, “I don’t remember” are wrong answers.

They said the word “Network” to me. I replied: “What network?” Then they spin [the dynamo]. I was out of it for about 15 minutes. They put a gag into my mouth which completely dried it out. When they put a gag into my mouth yet another time, the gag was itself already dried out, and my tongue caught against it, the frenulum [small fold of tissue under the tongue] was torn, and the gag was soaked in blood. “Where is this blood from?” they asked. “I don’t know”. And you remember, right, that the answer “I don’t know” is wrong? So they shocked me for that. They were basically killing me in there.

I already had a bruise on my stomach, as if a meteorite had struck me there. In the end, they threw me on the ground, began to pull down my underpants in order to attach the wires to my genitals. I said: “OK, OK, I get it. What was the last question?” They said: “Did you organise the ‘Network’ terrorist group”? I said: “Well yes, I did.” They replied: “That’s it, well done, sit back down.”

I sat down, they took out a laptop and began to read some completely meaningless things from it. Right there in the cell from a black laptop. There was agent Shepelev, who later came with the laptop many times. Back then I was seeing all of them for the second or third time in my life, but, naturally, I was trying to remember their voices, when I met them, when I understood that these were them. There was, apart from [agent] Vyacheslav Gennadievich Shepelev, also Sergey Vasilievich Voronkov in the cell. I also thought that [FSB agent Valery] Tokarev was there, that he was observing how it was going. But he didn’t speak.

“Are you sure? Tokarev? You have never mentioned this before” asks lawyer Oleg Zaitsev.

“I did mention this from the very beginning, but he told me: ‘No, I definitely was not there’. Alright, fine, he was not there.” […]

“Who was in charge of all of that?” [Zaitsev asked.]

“Vycheslav Gennadievich [Shepelev], he was the boss. In fact, he discussed everything with me. From the laptop he read out everything that I would have to say later. In general, I simply did not have any choice – I didn’t believe it was possible for something like this to happen to anyone. But they did not even try to find out whether I knew something or not. They knew that I knew nothing. And therefore instead of asking questions about real circumstances, they asked questions in such a way that I would understand how I had to answer. I was telling them: “Do you understand that this does not make sense at all in relation to what we were doing?” They said: “OK, what would make sense?” I was trying to correct them: “This is how it would sound realistic” They said: “OK, well done, we are going to work in this way then.” […]

When they threw me on the ground, my knees were scratched against the floor, I was bleeding. They complained about my weak knees. When they were already leaving, Shepelev threw me the gag and told me to clean my knees so that no blood remained. I cleaned them, threw it back to him and he said: “If they ask you why you were shouting, you will say: I was singing.” I say, OK, I will say that I was singing. He says: “And if they ask why your knees are damaged?” I say: “I will tell them I was praying.” He said “Well, alright” and left.

I was taken back to Cell 5.1. I prepared the mattress, thought the situation over and decided that this should not be happening. What do prisoners usually do in this kind of situation? I wasn’t afraid that if I cut my veins, they wouldn’t have time to save me. I understood what was happening. During the whole interrogation they were saying: “We will take your wife to a forest, cut off her head in front of you, and then bury both of you together – do you want that?” Clearly, they may have been exaggerating slightly, but then I did not have any reason to doubt their words. I agreed with everything they said and understood that they would not leave me alone.

Day two: “Do you remember, I cut my veins?”

The next day, 29 October, I broke the cell toilet tank and [used the shards to] cut my arms, throat – this is what prisoners do to avoid torture. When physical violence is used against them, they cut their veins. I did the same. And even if I had not had an opportunity to make a complaint, I would have been able to say later: “Do you remember that I cut my veins? And that happened because, damn it, I was tortured with electric shocks.”

Next day or the day after, Nesterov, an investigator from the Investigative Committee, visited me and hinted that he came from the FSB agents who appointed him. He asked me to provide explanations without naming anyone or saying anything. I gave him an explanation – like, this is no one’s fault, I did it myself. He refused to open a criminal investigation and left.

Then on the morning of 1 November I thought that my lawyer was supposed to visit me. They told me – get ready, the lawyer is coming. I wrote a long note – the lawyer had told me that everything is recorded in the prison, you can’t talk out loud about anything that you don’t want them to know about. I wrote a note that I had been tortured with electric shock and forced to confess this and that. What should I do?

Get mass media involved, please, get The Committee against Torture involved, let us stop this, because otherwise they will kill me. I put this note in my pocket, I was called up, thinking, that I was going to the lawyer, but it turned out that they were taking me outside. And when one is taken outside the detention centre, there is a systematic search, so, naturally, they found this note, and gave it to the FSB agents, instead of adding it to the case folder. And they are supposed to add everything to the case dossier.

We drove to FSB, and I was brought into see the agents. I’d also written [in the note] that there was some blood left in the cell and I can show it, but, please, bring somebody to show it to. They asked me: where is the blood? I said: there and there. In fact, I just said the first thing that came to my mind, blood remained there. He called and told someone: “There are two drops next to the bench.” So the person on the other end knew what this was about. As I found out later, he was talking to another agent.

So we sat down. He continued to threaten me, saying that I would end up in a forest, they would take me there and kill me. There was a TV there, and they said: now you’re going to see your Angelina on there and the same thing that happened to you the day before yesterday is going to happen to her. Do you want that? I will make a call now and she will appear here in 10 mins. I say: OK, OK, I will do everything you want. They were just responding to the note I wrote, that I hadn’t obeyed them and had refused to cooperate with them.

I say: well, I will cooperate after all, give it to me, I will sign everything. And they say: good, now tell us what you were doing. You were saying that [our version of events] was “unrealistic”, OK, tell us everything so that it is realistic. I thought, alright, and simply began to tell the story of what had really happened. And they wrote down after every second word: terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism.

This was just questioning, I signed it, naturally, because I had no choice. And together with my lawyer, at that point [Alexey] Agafonov, we went to an interrogation by Valery Tokarev. During this interrogation Tokarev said: well, agents already prepared a draft, let us just print it out, sign it and go home?

But Agafonov said, well, I don’t agree, why have I come here, I am a lawyer, let us at least read it before we print it out. Tokarev said: “Well alright”. He read one paragraph and says: “So, Dmitry, do you confirm this?” I say: “No.” He looks at me directly: how are you not confirming this, did they not shock you enough? Well OK, if you don’t confirm it, what happened? And I began to edit everything – everything that the agents had written about terrorism and everything else. Of course, I understood that I could not change the text completely, I pleaded guilty, of course, but I said that I hadn’t been anywhere or see anything. Naturally, Tokarev didn’t like this. I was taken back to the detention centre.

November – December 2017. “You clowns, you are the ones who guarded me yesterday”

During this period, I was constantly visited [in investigative detention] by FSB agents Vyacheslav Shepelev and Sergey Voronkov. They don’t need permission to visit, they just call and visit without any restrictions. They also came directly to the empty block where I was held, where there’s no one else in the building. Formally, they are not allowed to move without permission even inside the investigation room, but they walked across the whole territory of the detention centre.

Then, on 8 November, during dinner, around 5pm, three FSB agents visited my cell. One had been there before, another had guarded me, and the third I’d seen somewhere before, but I didn’t remember where. But they were dressed as prisoners. They started beating me up and saying: we’re “the committee”, they are turning off oxygen for us because of you, if you don’t  cooperate with the cops, we will kill you, fuck you, we have people everywhere, we will get to your wife, and so on.

And I look at them and think: what are you doing, you clowns, you are the ones who guarded me yesterday, what kind of “committee” are you, what the hell are you on about? And I understood that this is just some kind of absolutely surreal situation. And they tell me: take this cloth and clean the toilet, we will film you. And I am just standing there and don’t even understand what to do next. They looked at me a little bit longer, around 5 minutes, and said: OK, you understood, you have a week, and left.

At that moment I couldn’t even dare to guess when I was going to be interrogated next, but the next interrogation happened the day after that episode. And at this interrogation, if one compares my testimony… During the first interrogation, I say, well, there was an airsoft gun, this and that, and the next testimony: the same word by word, but instead of airsoft gun

The accused in the “network” case in court in Penza, 14 May. Photo by Yevgeniya Malysheva, “7×7”

there was already a carbine. Instead of “preparing for a war with Islamists, Nazis and interventionists”, it also adds “the enemies of the revolution”. The phrases there are just wonderful: only a special cases investigator can think like this.

They didn’t summon me for some time after that. On 1 December, they took me out to announce the initial charges. It was beyond absurd. They were accusing us of the same things as before, but without any arguments whatsoever. Alright. They told me: sign this. At that point, I already had [Igor] Vanin as my lawyer. He said: we are not satisfied with this.

“Well, Dmitry, you understand that we have the means to force you to sign?” Valery Tokarev said this. I say: I understand, give me a meeting with my wife. They say: alright, of course, sign this now – we give you a meeting, you don’t sign – you go back to the detention centre.

Alright, I sign, I go to my wife and tell her: Angelina, immediately get mass media involved, tell everyone everything, but do not publish anything yet. I told her how I was tortured, told her a lot of stuff. At that moment, she went to the Public Verdict human rights organisation, which, among other things, deals with prisoners who were tortured, and they said: so, do we publish this? She said: “Not yet, Dmitry said that [it is to be published] only if something happens to him or the situation changes somehow.”

Then, for some time, nothing happened, but on 14 December we were taken to court to have our detention extended. They put me together with Arman [Sagynbayev] in the police van. He asked whether I had also been shocked and said that he had been tortured.

At some point on 3 November they closed the door of my cell, usually it was always open, I was living with an open door. I asked what was going on, why it was closed. They say: fine, fine, everything is fine. And then I heard some people walking down the hall. And I thought: OK, they’ve come to see me. I say: please, I beg you, do not allow the FSB agents in, why are you standing here, you are a prison officer. I say: do you understand in general what the law is? He tells me: nothing is going to happen to you, I promise. And five minutes later I hear someone shouting in the neighbouring cell or perhaps in another cell nearby, somebody is being tortured with electric shock in the same way I was.

And on 14 December, I met Arman Sagynbayev, who also told me that he was tortured. After that, I did not have any trips out for a long time.

January-February 2018. “I was tortured with electric shock again, but by other agents”

In January [2018], defendants from St Petersburg were arrested, but because the city has a functional Public Monitoring Commission [civic organisation empowered to monitor conditions in places of detention], they visited them and recorded their injuries. They found marks from the electric shocks, Igor Shishkin had a bone broken under his eye, and was suffering a strong concussion. Naturally, they all confessed, and then the members of the Public Monitoring Commission visited them, recorded everything, and they told them everything, or more precisely [Viktor] Filinkov stated that he was tortured. Igor Shishkin, unfortunately, did not say anything, but he told me what happened to him later, I will describe that in a moment.

When the information about [their detention and torture] came out, they also published information about me. I didn’t want it to be published, I was really scared, but it just happened that, without my permission – more precisely – without notifying me, this information was published and went online. A state prosecutor visited me, and took a statement. First he wrote: I cannot and do not want to talk about torture. I said: I want to, but I simply cannot. So he crossed out the phrase “do not want”. If you check this document, you will see the phrase “do not want” crossed out.

Then Shepelev and Voronkov, the FSB agents, visited me and said that they arrested the guys from St Petersburg and that I would have to identify them. I said that I would not identify anyone. They said: we will come and torture you again then. I say: I don’t care, do whatever you want. And I started shouting asking to be taken to my cell.

My next interrogation… After that my lawyer [Oleg] Zaitsev visited me, we signed an agreement. On 1 February, I was taken for interrogation by the FSB. That day, I refused to testify and took my rights under Article 51 [right to avoid self-incrimination]. This was because if I had told them how things had happened, they would have said: OK, that’s enough for now, let’s meet another time. And ahead of the next interrogation, they would beat new testimony out of me and I wouldn’t be able to give the testimony I wanted to give. This is why I took my rights under Article 51.

I returned to my cell and wrote a huge statement, in which I narrated everything as it happened, all the circumstances of the airsoft games and other events. I was summoned on 8 February and gave this document to an investigator, and began to testify, and just as I had expected, the investigator said: enough, enough, let us postpone this until next time. When is it convenient for you the next time, lawyers. And the lawyers said: well, it’d be convenient for us to meet… We agreed to meet 14 February. Everyone agreed. I was driven back, and thinking, OK, next time.

So I return to the detention centre, and the next day I’m moved back to that empty block where there’s no one, and I realise why I’m being moved there. I was moved to that empty block, to the same cell. And the next day FSB agents came to visit me,. They shocked me again. But these were different FSB agents. And they told me, in fact… If the investigator tells me that something is white, but I see that it is black, I still must say that it is white. If the investigator tells me to bite off a finger and eat it, I must bite off my own finger and eat it. And so on, lots of things like this.

They threatened my wife again, many other things happened. I said: alright, alright, I will return to my old programme. We agreed. My whole face was smashed up, because they were just dragging me around the floor, and the floor there is rough, made of concrete, painted over, I had my whole face torn apart.

I return to my cell, I’m waiting for an interrogation, I am brought to the interrogation and Valery Tokarev meets me and says: So, Dima, how are we going to work? I say: as before. He says: OK, now your lawyers are going to come, we are not going to allow [lawyer] Zaitsev in, and you will sign a letter refusing Zaitsev’s services, together with [lawyer] Vanin.

I say: Valery Vitalievich, I am in solitary, please, do not deprive me of communication, let me talk to Zaitsev, he will not defend me, I will persuade him, but let him stay, please.

Because I understood that Oleg Zaitsev was not simply a lawyer, he was a human rights lawyer, he really can help me. He would not simply watch how I am falsely testifying against myself, against others, but will help, make this interrogation public, give me an opportunity to say what I think I need to say, finally, to say the truth.

And Oleg Valerievich [Zaytsev] then attended my interrogation, together with Igor Alekseevich [Vanin]. And we simply copy my old interrogation to the top of the statement. The investigator writes that I gave false testimony in order to escape criminal responsibility, and now, after thinking it over, I decided to tell all truth about my criminal activities. Naturally, I never used this kind of vocabulary and it is evident that this was not written by me. So there is this paragraph, and after my old testimony follows, but I said: Valery Vitalievich, it is all correct, yes-yes-yes, but I want to make some corrections. And then I started making corrections that he didn’t like. For example, I did not call Arman Sagynbayev an anarchist anymore (as I did in my first testimony), because he is not an anarchist, and I changed that to transhumanist, because he is one. And many other moments like this.

They told me that I should also testify on camera. Yes, fine, I’ll do it. I am being filmed, I am sitting with my hands wounded, my face smashed, looking very down. And they ask me: “Were you tortured?” I say: “No, I was not tortured”. And I said that I lied because I wanted to avoid criminal charges and so on. Did you plan such and such things? No, we did not, but perhaps we did. In short, I was just telling them nonsense.

Oleg Valerievich [Zaitsev] starts asking questions. From these questions, it was possible to understand that I am falsely testifying against myself, that I was, in fact, tortured. He wanted to ask me: where are these marks on your face from? But investigator Tokarev started shouting, and stopped him from asking questions. Although he was obliged to take notes on the interrogation, he, naturally, did not do that.

After that they told me: now, Dima, Angelina will visit you and you must tell her to stop talking to human rights defenders, to journalists, she must stop helping you, she can write letters and we will give you meetings. Angelina came, she saw that my whole face was smashed, that my knuckles are smashed. I asked for some fresh clothes, so that I could change, because all my clothes were torn apart and in blood. She brought me clothes and I undressed in front of her, and she saw that my whole body was in bruises and cuts. She asked: who beat you up?

Investigator Tokarev is standing there next to us. I say: nobody beat me up, everything is fine. But, naturally, we’ve been married for more than four years, and of course she understood what I was silent about. I said, please, do not talk to journalists, human rights defenders, and so on, and so on. And since then she hasn’t given a single interview, she, I think, has not said a word to journalists, human rights defenders. But they still continued to pressure me through her.

Spring 2018. “FSB agents trust this investigator”

The next investigation procedures only took place on 23 May [2018]. But many interesting things happened in between, I would like to describe them. After 14 February, the day after I gave the testimony they wanted, I was moved back to the general detention block. And the next day I was visited by the human rights ombudsperson and a state prosecutor in charge of oversight.

And the investigator asked me to show my knees, legs, hands. I showed him, and he asked: “Where is all of this from?” I say: “I fell down”. He says: “Well, and why did you lie?” I say: “In order to avoid criminal charges.” He says: “Were you taught to talk like this so or are you saying the truth now?” I looked at him as if to say what is wrong with you, don’t you understand? And he said: “Well, if it’s a no – it’s a no.”

After that [Elena] Rogova, the human rights ombudsperson for the Penza region, entered. I was feeling so down that I simply could not talk, my head was hanging down, she only saw that my forehead was smashed. She asked me why I reported torture but was saying now that nobody tortured me. I said: “In order to avoid criminal charges.” She interrupted me, did not allow me to finish: “Why are doing this now… I see that something has happened to you. Why are you lying now? Tell me, please, trust me.”

But how can I trust anyone? I trusted someone. And then they came for me a second time. And they didn’t take me somewhere under their control, they came to the detention centre. There are lots of people there. And the state attorney knows, the FSIN department knows, the FSB knows, up to the very top, where they authorise these actions, because I do not think that agents are capable of doing anything on their own.

Here, Dmitry Pchelintsev describes how after the state attorney’s visit he was taken to see medical personnel who refused to record any injuries. “Although they undressed me and saw that my whole body was covered in bruises.” Then Pchelintsev remembers how investigator Merkushev asked him about his complaints about torture. “Merkushev asks me: ‘Were you tortured?’ I was simply silent, dropped my head down. He says: ‘OK, I understand you.’ And he simply wrote what he wanted.”

I simply did not want FSB agents to come and torture me again. I had already experienced that: I made a complaint and they came. And as for the fact that they did not check the CCTV from the beginning. The investigator said that all recordings are stored for one or two months, if he had checked the cameras then, he would have seen that I was taken from the cell, brought somewhere, where I was taken, there were also cameras, and he would have seen how I was tortured, and brought back with my face smashed.

I was sitting in front of him with a smashed-up face – and he did not ask any questions, he was not interested why my face was smashed up. And later, when we said that the illegal methods were used, he wrote that no video recordings had been preserved. How weren’t they preserved, if the tape from 29 October still exists, while tapes which were recorded just a month ago already don’t exist? How is that? And it’s a fact that the recording from 29 October exists, because [TV channel] NTV showed a film [about the Network Case] at the end of April, and that recording was used. And I understand why that was happening, because they did not even try to investigate [torture allegations]. […]

In fact, I made a statement about torture for the second time, I think, on 22 April [2018]. An investigator from the Investigative Committee visited me to ask about the conduct of prison service employees. And he said: “If you are going to mention now that there were FSB agents there, it will turn out that they have new information now and that they have to reverse the decision to refuse to open a criminal case.” I said: fine, and mentioned the FSB agents.

And then this investigator suddenly goes on unplanned leave and I was visited by the same investigator who came to me concerning my suicide attempt. And I understood that everything was very bad, because this investigator didn’t come for no reason, he came because the FSB agents trusted him and he was going to be on their side. Naturally, he also refused to open a criminal investigation, but I didn’t even plan to appeal against that, because it was totally pointless. There was so much crazy nonsense there, this document falls apart under the most superficial criticism. There were no less than 70 banal grammar mistakes in it.

So, in May, I attended some investigative procedures, I testified that I was tortured, and that I had backtracked earlier because of this and that. We added a statement recorded by my lawyer in May, where I described in detail how I was tortured on 10 February. And then I did not change my position for a long time. Then they transferred me to St Petersburg, despite Article 51.

I apologise for returning to the beginning, but because I chose Article 51, they should not have transferred me and interrogated me. However, there is in my case a document in which I ask to be interrogated on any further questions, and this request is dated to the

Graphic by Mediazona

same day when I was transferred. So I was driven away and they told me: write this request. And why did they drive me away, how did they know that I would write such a document? Because they were sure that I will write a request, if they had just tortured me.

I took my rights under Article 51 to avoid going to St Petersburg, because I was sure that they needed this trip to torture me somewhere on the road. In spite of Article 51, they transferred me to St Petersburg, fortunately, they did not torture me during the trip, but because they are not simple police, they are FSB, they are looking for different psychological approaches. So, instead of a stick they used a carrot: they treated me well, spoke to me kindly. They said: you are not our enemy, we understand everything. Agents communicated with me normally. And in the end we reached St Petersburg in a good condition.

There they took me to a house, which I was supposed to identify, but I had never been there, I couldn’t identify it… Investigator Tokarev wanted us to drive there. He said that he has some evidence from Yulian Boyarshinov [another defendant] that I had organised some events there. He didn’t bring me there in order for me to show him a place where that happened, but so that I recognise whether it was the correct place or not. But, taking into consideration that I had chosen Article 51, he did not have a right to summon me … Then they brought me to a cross-examination with Igor Shishkin and drove me back to Penza.

Summer 2018. “You went against the state, we will grind you to dust”

For a long time, I maintained the same position, but after all refusals to open a criminal investigation [into torture], seeing that nobody wanted to deal with this issue, nobody cared, of course, there was already some publicity, but this publicity was waning, so I was rather demoralised.

I was being taken to the FSB and they were saying: Dmitry, the situation is as follows, your torture has not been proven, so all your testimony will serve as the core of the charges against you. And then the conviction. So you have a chance to get the second section [of Article 205.4 of the Criminal Code – “participation” rather than “organising” a terrorist group]. You have to plead guilty, admit that you are a member.

I was thinking, and the question was put to me on 31 July [2018]. I didn’t have an opportunity to consult with my lawyers, I had to decide the next day. The next day I was driven to the FSB and Tokarev told me: “Did you understand me? I want things to go well for you.” But of course he did not wish me well, he was just threatening me. He said: “You know, I am bringing the first part [of Article 205.4] against you”. In fact, at that moment, I was accused according to the second part of that article. He says: “I will accuse you according to the first part if you do not sign a guilty plea, and then you go for 20 years. I can organise it, either this way, or that.” I say: “Then I thought, perhaps, it would be easier this way. Because how can I prove anything now?” We have passed through all the courts, there is no option, you have your people everywhere, I understand everything, OK, I will sign it. And then they brought me to a cross-examination with [defendant] Maxim Ivankin.

It was 1 August, the next day. I did not have an opportunity to talk to my lawyers. We had only five minutes. During these five minutes, I could only tell them that I was going to testify and added: “Please, ask questions in such a way that it becomes clear that what I am saying is nonsense.” They replied: “OK, we’ll do this.”

We came to the cross-examination and there I am simply talking nonsense about some things. I understand that investigator Tokarev is putting pressure on us, I understand that I should admit some things he insists on, I first say one thing, then make it worse, but realise that this is not enough for Tokarev, so I make it worse again. All of that is reflected in the cross examination. I still did not admit anything, apart from saying that I admit my guilt.

After Tokarev approached me and said: “Dima, so, you of course admit your guilt, but you were nowhere, know nothing, and do not admit this and that. Now [Ilya] Shakursky and [Andrey] Chernov will arrive tomorrow, you will have to persuade them to admit their guilt, and then I can make it the second part [of Article 205.4] for you”. And I say: “What kind of arguments, how will I persuade them?” “Say that if [Chernov] admits his guilt, I will not accuse him on the basis of [Article] 228”. If he does not admit it, I will. The same with Shakursky. I thought and said, well, alright.

And the next day there weren’t any investigation procedures. They brought me to the FSB for one reason, so that I was there, sitting the whole day in the cage in order to talk to the other guys. I did not say one word to them to persuade them to accept their guilt. I told them: guys, the situation is, Tokarev told me to do this and that, but I am not going to do that. But you should know that the situation is like this. And they say: “OK, we understand you.”

Then Tokarev entered, he threatened me multiple times in their presence. He was not embarrassed by anything. So, naturally, they went to their cross-examination, and at the cross-examination nobody admitted their guilt. Because why would they admit their guilt? After that, Tokarev approached me and said: “So you failed, but let us go on 17 [August] to verify your testimony on the ground and there you will say that your game was training for committing crimes.” I say: “It is unlikely that I will say that, it is very difficult for me to say that, I simply will not be able to force myself to say that.” He says: “You have to try, you have to try, Dima.”

So we went to verify my testimony at the airsoft site. I said everything as it was, I simply could not force myself and call what we were doing something that it wasn’t. And I called the game a game. After that, they told me that I had one last chance. You will have to admit that you guys had grenades and [were planning to attack] the military commissariat – then you get the second part [of Article 205.4]. I say: “I will definitely not admit to the military commissariat and the grenades. You are acting very low by accusing me of that, you planted the grenade, you forced me to plead guilty for things I never did, and now you are acting so badly, I definitely will not be able [to say what you want]”.

Then on 3 September, I arrived for the official accusation and on 3 September they told me: the first or the second part [of Article 205.4], choose. So I myself chose the second part. So do you understand how they are conducting this investigation?

[Tokarev] said: “Well, Dmitry, you picked a fight with the state, you went against the state, we don’t like that and we will simply grind you into dust. You are not going to win, the court is not going to sort anything out. The judges there, they don’t care about you, they will do what the FSB tells them, you are nothing here, a nobody.”

Tokarev told me that if I tried to prove something, he would make it worse for me, naturally. Why me? He says: “You know, we needed someone who would fit. You were a good fit because you were active.” I say: “Where is there any information that I am somehow dangerous to society?”

Then Tokarev says: “But if a revolution breaks out, you would definitely join it.” I say: “Where have you got this from?” He says: “I just know it.” And here, our arguments ended.

The Rupression site, for the international solidarity campaign to support “the network” defendants

The Russian Reader, for multiple reports on “the network” case

More on People & Nature about the solidarity campaign in London

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One Response to “You picked a fight with the state, we will grind you into dust”. How a Russian activist was tortured

  1. Jonas Nilsson says:

    “You picked a fight with the state, we will grind you into dust» is an horrific lecture, that has much in common with the state persecution of anarchist and anti-fascist youth here in Spain too. The difference we find in the physical torture, that still exists but it’s not as usual as before.
    The phrase, anyhow, is very describing and useful for understanding also the trial against the organizers of the referendum on national self-determination in Catalonia October 1st 2017, even if the imprisoned political and activist leaders weren’t tortured. They are accused of having organized a violent rebellion (where the only violence applied was by the state repressive forces) but the real «crime» committed was to challenge the existing constitution (41 year old). The trial is now arriving to its end, while the famous Transition (after Franco’s death) from fascism into democracy is slowly turning back to its origin. We are afraid that the sentences will be harsh.

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