17 November 2020
In a solidarity protest with political prisoners in Russia, on the 19th August 2020, Pavel Krisevich hung himself by a rope from Troitsky Bridge in St Petersburg, before cutting the rope with a knife and jumping into the Neva river. He later said in an interview that he had been especially inspired by the fate of Ruslan Kostilenkov, sentenced to serve seven years in a penal colony in connection with the Novoe Velichie (New Greatness)case and who was allegedly tortured and raped during his pre-trial detention. But what is Novoe Velichie, what are the defendants in the case accused of, and why does Memorial consider them political prisoners?
Novoe Velichie, a case in which ten defendants have been tried, is, according to the prosecutors, an extremist organisation set up for the purposes of the violent overthrow of the government and constitutional order of Russia. The defendants have maintained their innocence, asserting that whilst they were indeed members of Novoe Velichie, they were engaged in lawful activity and had no intention of overthrowing the government and constitutional order by violent means. Indeed, research into the case by Memorial Human Rights Centre Memorial has concluded that the organisation was set up by Russian security services – an individual known to the group’s other members as Ruslan D. and named in official records as Aleksandr Konstantinov, was, in addition to being a FSB agent, a member of the organisation’s board, head of its financial department, and its secretary. Memorial’s research indicates that the security services, with Ruslan’s help, drew up the charter and programme of Novoe Velichie in order to make it appear extremist – they also rented an office for the group that was bugged. Two other police officers infiltrated the group and there were one or two informers.
According to Sergei Davidis, head of the programme for the support of political prisoners at the Memorial Human Rights Centre, this group of opposition-minded young people was a victim of provocation by the authorities and did nothing illegal; the acts have been declared criminal only due to the fact that they took place in an ‘extremist’ organisation founded by a security service officer. Because of this, Memorial has declared those remanded in custody or subsequently imprisoned political prisoners and has demanded their immediate release and the punishment of those guilty of their criminal prosecution.
There is also the issue of the torture of the defendants Ruslan Kostilenkov and Anna Pavlikova. In a letter written to his friend Tatiana, co-ordinator of a campaign in support of Novoe Velichie, Ruslan Kostilenkov writes about how surveillance from security services led him to believe that he was being assessed as a threat, and not that his arrest was imminent or that the case against him had already been prepared. When security service officers came and arrested him on the 15th March 2018, he was handcuffed and beaten roughly, before being raped with the handle of a steel kitchen hammer by one of the men (which led to bleeding for days afterwards) and forced to record a video confession.
Furthermore, when Anna Pavlikova, under the age of eighteen, was arrested she was kept in a small, uncomfortable police transport vehicle in -11 temperatures for almost three hours, which caused problems to her health and which had been declared a violation of human rights by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). She was also refused food and water whilst in a cell (5th March 2018) and was interrogated for hours without having her rights explained to her or the presence of a lawyer. She subsequently spent several months under house arrest.
On 6 August 2020 the Liublino district court in Moscow found seven defendants of the Novoe Velichie group guilty of ‘creating an extremist group’ with the intent to ‘prepare or commit extremist crimes.’ All seven defendants pleaded not guilty.
Ruslan Kostylenkov – seven years in a prison colony
Pyotr Karamzin – six and a half years in a prison colony
Vyacheslav Kryukov – six years in a prison colony
Maxim Roschchin – six years and six months of probation
Maria Dubovik – six years of probation
Dmitry Poletaev – six years of probation
Anna Pavlikova – four years of probation