OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 351: Put in a punishment cell for taking off a jacket

6 April 2024

OVD-Info is a Russian civil society organisation 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.


Ilya Yashin / Photo: SOTA

News

The defendants in the ‘What is to be done!’ Telegram channel case have been sentenced, human rights defender Oleg Orlov is losing his hearing, and politician Ilya Yashin has been put in a punishment cell.

The defendants in the trial concerning the ‘What is to be done!’ Telegram channel were sentenced to terms in prison. Eleven people were found guilty on charges of incitement to riots and incitement to hatred by an organised group. They were sentenced to terms from five years and two months to eight years, each of the defendants was also banned for two years from posting publications on the Internet. According to the prosecution, the young men were part of ‘a group of at least 11 persons from seven regions of Russia’ who ‘created a network of Telegram channels aimed at organising riots on the territory of the Russian Federation during the days of voting from 17 to 19 September 2021.’

  • Why is this important? The Telegram channel ‘What is to be done!’ was not a major opposition movement, although it contain statements that Russians opposed to the regime should unite and protest. In the end, the authorities sent eleven people to prison for these discussions alone. One of the defendants in the case, 22-year-old designer Maria Platonova, denied any involvement with the Telegram channel. Despite this, she was also sentenced to a term of imprisonment, but was given a deferment for the period of her pregnancy and until her child reaches the age of 14.

Convicted human rights defender Oleg Orlov has begun to lose his hearing. This happened after the co-chair of Memorial caught a cold because of his daily trips to the court to familiarise himself with the materials. He is unable to see a doctor in the remand centre: every weekday he is taken out of his cell early in the morning and returned late at night. In addition, Orlov is systematically deprived of hot food – during the day he can only eat dry rations. In February, the human rights defender was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment on charges of repeated discrediting of the army on the grounds of an article he published, entitled ‘They wanted fascism. They got it.’

  • Why do I need to know this? Many Russian prisoners experience deteriorating health. It is practically impossible to receive good medical care in prison, so even a simple cold can lead to the most serious complications. In this way people who have already been sentenced to a term of imprisonment receive an additional ‘punishment’ in the form of ill health.

The convicted politician Ilya Yashin has been sent to a punishment cell for 10 days. The reason was that Yashin took off his jacket when he sat down at the table for breakfast. Earlier in the penal colony he was classified as ‘prone to the study and dissemination of extremism.’ Before that he had been placed in a barracks with strict conditions of detention. In late 2022, Yashin was sentenced to eight and a half years in a penal colony and a four-year internet ban for spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army motivated by political hatred

  • Why is this important? Placement in a punishment cell on spurious grounds is a popular method of putting pressure on prisoners in penal colonies. ‘The real reason is the ongoing pressure on political prisoners, their deliberate isolation not only from the outside world, but also from other convicts, is intended to deprive them of their will, to put them under pressure, to break them,’ says Ilya Yashin’s support group. The maximum term for placement in a punishment cell is 15 days, but many are kept there for months, as the colony administration regularly finds new pretexts for imposing this punishment. Aleksei Navalny spent a total of 296 days in punishment cells, and on 16 February he died in the penal colony.

The blogger who ‘tickled’ the Motherland has been sentenced. Alena Agafonova was found guilty on charges of disseminating information disrespectful to the days of military glory or desecrating symbols of military glory on the Internet. She was sentenced to ten months’ compulsory labour and banned from publishing on the Internet for two years. The criminal case against her was initiated because of a video taken near the memorial complex to the heroes of the battle of Stalingrad. The blogger from Samara ‘tickled’ the breast of the statue, ‘The Motherland Calls,’ and hummed a joyful tune in her Instagram stories.

  • Why do I need to know this? Criminal prosecutions for rehabilitation of Nazism are brought on a variety of grounds: from drifting in his car too close to the monument to those who died in the Second World War to lighting a cigarette from the Eternal Flame. In the opinion of the Sova Research Centre, many cases on such charges are initiated unlawfully and should fall under other articles of the Criminal Code or be resolved through civil rather than criminal proceedings. It is hard to disagree with this – a harmless Instagram video should hardly be a reason for criminal prosecution.

Features

Torture, slashed veins and a year in a punishment cell. Ruslan Kostylenkov, one of the defendants in the New Greatness case, was released on 13 July last year. He was serving a sentence after having been convicted of creating an ‘extremist community group.’ The defendants in the case and their lawyers said that the ‘organisation’ appeared with the active participation of an officer of the security services who was infiltrated into the group. Ruslan was given the longest sentence and served five and a half years in detention. We talked to him about how these years went, how he came to be in a punishment cell on purpose and how they tried to recruit him for the war in Ukraine – read the new material on our website.


Translated by Simon Cosgrove