Week-ending 23 October 2020
Human Rights in Ukraine reported on Wednesday, 21 October 2020: Russia’s Military Court of Appeal has upheld sentences of between 6 and 18 years against seven young left-wing activists from Penza. Although there is nothing unusual in today’s Russia about political trials on fabricated charges, this case did stand out since the men were all charged with involvement in a supposed ‘terrorist’ organization that never existed. The fictitious nature of the so-called ‘Network’ [«Сеть»] was just one of the eery echoes from the height of Stalin’s Terror in 1937 era in this case. Another was the timing, with the arrests of young anti-fascist activists in Penza in October 2017 and St. Petersburg in January 2018 coming in the run-up to the highly contentious ‘presidential elections’ for Vladimir Putin’s fourth official term in office and the FIFA World Cup which Russia was hosting. The arrests of young men with left-wing and anti-government views seemed a clear warning to other young people. A further echo, although here Putin’s FSB have long used the same techniques as Stalin’s NKVD, was the systematic use of torture to extract ‘confessions’. Most of the defendants retracted confessions as soon as they were given lawyers, and both they and witnesses gave harrowing and detailed accounts of the torture methods used. This and the scars from torture were consistently ignored, with no proper investigation into the allegations ever carried out.