With fabricated criminal cases and tough sentences Kremlin attempts to stop the emergence of civil society
Two or three men in t-shirts and jeans walked into a prison cell in Penza, Russian town 600 km south-east of Moscow. They grabbed 24 years old prisoner, put a boot on his face holding him down. One of the men bounded prisoner's hands and legs to the bench and connected wires to his big toes. They forced a shoe into his mouth. Then they started to electrocute him. One squeezed his genitals hard. “I felt a pain as they would tear off my skin”, he recalled. “I choked with blood,” he recalled. He broke under the pain and after they threatened that they would rape his wife collectively. “I admitted to everything they wanted.”
This is not a report from the times of the Stalinist persecutions when the secret police NKVD and KGB tortured and murdered millions of innocents on the ground of fabricated charges. It is the testimony of Ilya Shakurkskiy, one of 12 men who were arrested in Penza and Sankt-Petersburg and charged with forming a terrorist group to disrupt Mr Putin's reelection and the football World Cup in 2018. On February 10th, seven of these men were sentenced to 86 years in prison collectively. They received between 8 and 18 years in the prison camp.
This is another fabricated case, as the earlier political trials. There was no act of terrorism, and no plan for one. The accusation rests on the confessions obtained under torture and later retracted in the court. According to the prosecutors, these men “in an unidentified place proposed to unidentified anarchists to take part in the inter-regional terrorist organisation “Network” with aim of forcibly changing Russia's constitutional order". The organisation charter which the prosecution cited in evidence, mysteriously appeared in the hard drives of “terrorists” after they had been arrested.
According to Memorial, Russia's most eminent human-rights organisation, there is no evidence that Network ever existed. In fact, some of the members of the fabricated network did not know each other until the arrests. What linked them were their anarchist views, their anti-fascist activism and their penchant for airgun combat games, which FSB, Russian secret services, a successor to NKVD and KGB of which operative was Vladimir Putin, said was training for terrorism. Living in a provincial city, unprotected by money and the Moscow-centred media, they were easy target.
The case (and the torture) were the work of the FSB notorious “service for the protection of constitutional order and the fight against terrorism”. Former KGB officers have criticised brutality of this department.
Russians are familiar with persecutions of the political opponents. Public opinion would normally be indifferent to injustice. This time there are signs of new involvement of the active part of the society. “For twenty years the system of repression and persecution has been developed in Russia”, says leader of Russia's oldest opposition party Yabloko Grigory Yavlinsky. “Extremely suspicious and very often fabricate court cases are for the government the instruments of terror against its citizen”, he concludes. The Network case is. It was launched after 80 thousands of youngsters took to the streets of some 80 cities Russian cities, protesting against corruption and Putin. The Kremlin took notice, and the FSB took what they call “preventive” measure to strike fear.
It is unclear who will win in that battle. On Thursday, more than 280 doctors from Russia, and their colleagues in exile in the United States, Israel and Australia protested against the sentences for the young men. “We are doctors. We have to save and heal people, we cannot reconcile ourselves to the fact that they are being tortured and humiliated,” the doctors stated. “It is especially bitter that in this arbitrariness, with the tacit consent of high government officials, those who are called upon to protect citizens and ensure order in the country deprive us of faith in a fair court, and in an honest investigation. They are depriving of a sense of security that makes it possible to live and work for the good of their country.” The doctors demanded the abolition of the court verdict and prosecution of torturers “responsible for crimes against humanity”.
The doctors joined scientists, educators, psychologists, creators of animated films, theatre critics and owners of independent bookstores who earlier expressed their support for the men in the Network case.
It may be that the fabricated political case will initiate the authentic network of civil society which FSB attempted to stop.