OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 225: The Russian State in Defence of its Security Services

24 October 2021

OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests and prosecutions in Russia. Each week OVD-Info publishes a bulletin with the latest news, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here.

The FSB building at Lubyanka in Moscow / Photo: Fraguando, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Hello! As is well known, the main task of the Russian state is to protect the security forces. A computer programmer who made public an archive about torture and abuse at Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) institutions is wanted by the authorities, a police officer who broke a journalist’s arm is not being charged, and the authorities do not want to pay the defendant in the AMTO case (Autonomous Military Terrorist Organisation). 

A computer programmer who made public information about torture in the Federal Penitentiary Service is wanted by the authorities. Sergei Savelyev, who handed over to Gulgu.net a videoarchive showing the torture and abuse that has been going on in various prison colonies, has been placed on the wanted list by the Saratov Interior Ministry.  Savelyev served a sentence specifically in the Saratov region. In an interview with the BBC he said that he worked in the colony as a programmer, thanks to which he had access to official videos. He collected some of this material, hid it, and took them with him on his release from the institution.

  • Why do I need to know this? Stirring stories of torture and violence against prisoners in various parts of the country periodically emerge, and they may indicate that the FSIN cannot cope with the problem. Or that they don’t want to. The FSIN still remains as closed as possible, and hostile to any criticism, and it is only through leaks like this that we understand what is really happening to people in colonies and pre-trial detention facilities. Attempts to prevent the publication of such videos and the prosecution of those involved in the publication process apparently fit the FSIN’s self-image of itself, as it obviously imagines itself heir to the most gruesome gulags.

A court had failed to prosecute a policeman who broke a journalist’s arm. The St Petersburg City Court has refused Mediazone journalist David Frenkel, who had sought a legal assessment of the actions of police officer Denis Dmitriev. On 30 June 2020, during the vote on constitutional amendments, Frenkel was detained at a polling station, breaking his arm in the process. Frenkel himself was found guilty under three articles of the Administrative Code because of those events.

  • Why is this important? More and more it’s becoming the norm for police violence to go unpunished. Also in St Petersburg there was the story of  woman kicked in the stomach by a policeman. Then there was video footage of him apologising in the hospital ward, but no criminal case was ever opened. Imagine if a woman had grabbed a police officer by the arm – she would have been accused of violence and no amount of apologising would have helped. Wanting to resist the actions of the police can only be called inadmissible when those actions are strictly controlled by law, and when the punishments are for crossing certain boundaries. When policemen are allowed to do anything, except perhaps commit murder, it increases the level of hatred in society towards security services, and the legal nihilism of citizens.

A defendant in the AMTO case is not being compensated by the ECHR. Ivan Astashin, who was released from prison a year ago, now cannot receive ECHR compensation. The European Court of Human Rights has ordered that Astashin by paid compensation for serving his sentence in a remote prison colony and unacceptable conditions of detemtion. But he is on the list of terrorists, which makes him unable to carry out banking transactions: that is, he cannot set up an account to which the state will then transfer money. Astashin proposed to the Prosecutor General’s office that he use his mother’s account, by writing a proxy for her, but the office refused.

  • Why do I need to know this? The ECHR remains the last hope of justice for Russian prisoners, and especially political prisoners. While compensation is clearly not going to fix the entirety of a traumatic experience, it’s better than nothing – especially for someone recently released.In Astashin’s case, it is as if the state is deliberately mocking him: first it banned him from having an account, and now it does not want to pay compensation on that basis.

In Samara, a defendant in the Artillery case has been sentenced to six years in a penal colony. The Central District Military Court found Sergei Ryzhov guilty under the articles regarding preparation of an act of terrorism and storage of explosives. According to the investigation, Ryzhov planned to commit an act of terrorism on the day of the “Maltsev” revolution on 5 November 2017. A search of the flat of an acquaintance of Ryzhov’s, where Ryzhov himself was living at the time, TNT and bottles with an explosive compound were found. The man claimed the had not been there before the police officers turned up. The prosecutor’s office asked the court to sentence Ryzhov to ten and a half years in prison.

  • Why is this important? After 5 November 2017 – the day Vyacheslav Maltsev and his supporters in the Artpodgotki movement were planning a revolution – there have been numerous cases filed against activists across Russia. Usually they have been charged with serious violent crimes like terrorist attacks or fomenting mass disorder, which corresponded strongly with the activists’ real actions and plans. The case of Sergei Ryzhov is also significant because he injured his leg in prison and the FSIN did not want to treat him. Vyacheslav Maltsev himself now lives in France.


On the army and “foreign agents”. At the end of September, the FSB approved a new list of information in the military-technical and space spheres for the collection of which a person can be recognised as a “foreign agent” or be criminally prosecuted. Karina Merkuryeva spoke to human rights activists and journalists who investigate problems in the Russian army. Read about how their work will change from now on in our text.

How delivering potatoes ended in a term in prison. On 23 January, at a rally in support of Navalny, Valery Lavrov, a resident of the Vladimir region, stood up for a young man who had been brutally detained by the police. Lavrov happened to be at the rally by chance [he was taking potatoes from the countryside to his son in the city – ed.]. He was detained, held in a temporary holding facility without access to drinking water for two days, and then received a year and a half in a penal colony on a charge of assaulting a police officer. We publish his monologue here.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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