Svetlana Astrakhantseva: In Russia, the court is no temple of justice and the public space is no place for discussion
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30 August 2022

Svetlana Astrakhantseva, MKhG [Moscow Helsinki Group] member, MKhG acting director

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Facebook

Today a Tverskoi court judge, a fairly young man of 40, jailed 72-year-old Leonid Gozman for 15 days for a two-year-old Facebook post. Before this decision of his, the judge, in a weary voice, asked the formally necessary questions, rejected all the defense’s motions in the usual routine way, and stumbling, read out the text of his statement. From his statement we learned that Leonid Gozman had committed his administrative offense by an especially dangerous means, that is, by stating his opinion on the Internet. Then the judge, without any special interest or delving deeply, listened to Gozman himself and his defense, so formally all the points of a trial were observed basically. But did justice take place?

The answer is an unambiguous no. It did not. Not that anyone was particularly expecting it. The “offender,” and the defense, and the audience as usual hoped for better but prepared for worse. Leonid Gozman was given the maximum punishment provided for by Article 13.48 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offenses, under which he was convicted.

Article 13.48 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offenses provides for accountability for “the public equating of the goals, decisions, and actions of the USSR leadership, the USSR military command, and USSR servicemen with the goals, decisions, and actions of the leadership, military command, and servicemen of Nazi Germany and the European countries of the Axis, as established by the verdict of the International War Tribunal for the trial and punishment of the principal war criminals of the European countries of the Axis (the Nuremberg tribunal).” Basically too long and inarticulate, but upon careful reading it becomes obvious that Article 13.48 covers public statements concerning the Great Patriotic War and Second World War.

Let’s start with the fact that Gozman’s post, for which he was given 15 days, definitely did not talk about the armed forces, or the Second World War, or the actions of the USSR leadership, military command, and servicemen in that period of history. The post talked about the mass repressions against Soviet citizens that were carried out at the hands of the NKVD over the course of three decades on instruction from or with the approval of Stalin—those same repressions which in official state rhetoric are called Stalinist and to whose victims monuments have been put up all over the country. However, there was something wrong about the public statement by regime-inconvenient Gozman. A policeman, and an expert, and later even the judge unanimously saw in his post the equating of the actions of the USSR’s leadership and servicemen with the actions of Nazi Germany’s leaders and servicemen that was the subject of the Nuremberg tribunal’s hearings.

Here it should be noted that the wording of Article 13.48 does not include clarifications as to exactly which statements can be interpreted as “equating of actions” and “denial of a decisive role.” The question as to whether equation (denial) is or is not present is assigned to the full discretion of the police officer writing up the police record. As you recall, we were not able to hear where the police officer who wrote the police charge against Gozman and later the expert saw an equating of the actions of the USSR and Nazi Germany and/or the denial of the Soviet people’s decisive role in routing Nazi Germany because the motions were rejected. Thus, the room dispersed in ignorance but with the understanding that the Russian judge had once again issued an unjust decision.

Leonid Gozman was not trying to justify the crimes of Nazism and did not call for violence, hatred, or discrimination, but he did criticize the activities of the USSR leadership as a whole. His statement is an example of peaceful historical discussion, which in a rule-of-law state, such as the Russian Federation presents itself in the very first article of our Constitution, should not be restricted.

Like many prominent politicians and public figures, Gozman was punished not for any illegal actions but as a precautionary sign to anyone who does not agree with the actions of Russia’s political leadership: either keep silent or we’ll silence you ourselves. People are allowed to express themselves only in support and to watch and listen only to state broadcasting, and all those who consent will be fine (but not for long, after all, the Gozmans and other daredevils will soon come to an end), and you yourselves can see what can happen to dissidents. You like to discuss? The kitchen is always at your disposal.

I’d rather not mention Orwell again, he’s already said it all. Remember how all the inhabitants of the Emerald City wore green glasses night and day? That was the law of the city, the order of the Wise Gudvin. The glasses were locked on so that no one could take them off. It’s ideological “green glasses” like that that Russians are now wearing—some happily, some under compulsion, and some don’t even ask, they just pull them down over their eyes and lock them on. It’s painful and sad to observe this, since historical examples tell us just one thing: As soon as a regime starts to shut up critics and malcontents and limit freedom of expression, introducing censorship, the country starts slipping irrevocably into a period of stagnation. In our case, there’s the feeling that this is going to go on for a long time here, not just one decade.

Despair aside, though, let’s live here and now! The appeal against Leonid Gozman’s arrest will be tomorrow at 13:30 in the Moscow Municipal Court. Alla Frolova and I will be there to support Leonid Gozman. You come, too!

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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