OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 352: Aleksandr Demidenko dies in pre-trial detention

13 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.

Aleksandr Demidenko / A photo from his personal archive

Hello. A volunteer from Belgorod who assisted Ukrainian refugees has passed away while in a pre-trial detention centre; feminist Zalina Marshenkulova faces charges of justifying terrorism; and meanwhile, a schoolgirl from Chita is in custody in connection with the graffiti ‘Death to the regime.’

A volunteer from Belgorod who helped Ukrainian refugees has died in a pre-trial detention centre. 61-year-old volunteer, Alelsandr Demidenko, died on 5th April. The Federal Penitentiary Service reported that he committed suicide. In December 2023, Demidenko was denied release on bail and was facing prosecution for illegal trafficking of explosive devices. Law enforcement stated they had found a grenade, a fragmentation grenade fuse, and a mine fuse at his home. The circumstances of his death are under investigation.

  • Why is this important? Incarceration is no small ordeal: it involves deprivation of liberty, poor living conditions and cold, damp cells, restricted food and inadequate medical care. This can have a detrimental effect on a person’s well-being. Those facing political charges in pre-trial detention centres are often subjected to intense psychological and physical pressure. These conditions can result in severe consequences, such as deteriorating health, and even death.

Feminist Zalina Marshenkulova has been charged with justification of terrorism following publications on her Telegram channel regarding the murder of pro-government military correspondent Vladlen Tatarsky. Law enforcement officials conducted a search in connection with the case, though the location of the search has not been disclosed. Marshenkulova is currently not in Russia and commented on the charges; “Of course I am not surprised, although it’s concerning that they are now categorising those who disagree with the war as ‘justifying terrorism’.”

  • Why do I need to know this? In April 2023, an explosion at a café in St. Petersburg resulted in the death of pro-government military correspondent Vladlen Tatarsky and left 40 others injured. Daria Trepova from St. Petersburg was detained as a suspect, and in January 2024, she was sentenced to 27 years in prison. The incident has led to several criminal cases being initiated due to posts about the explosion. One of the defendants expressed disapproval of the murder but spoke negatively of Tatarsky. Similarly, Zalina Marshenkulova’s posts merely indicate that she does not sympathise with his death.

A tenth-grade schoolgirl from Chita has been placed in a pre-trial detention centre in connection with the graffiti ‘Death to the regime.’ Previously under house arrest, her detention was escalated due to a violation of her conditions when she arrived home two hours late. She and another defendant, Aleksander Snezhkov, face prosecution on three charges: incitement to terrorist activity and extremism, and vandalism motivated by political hatred. Additionally, they are accused of endorsing the arson of military recruitment centres.

  • Why is this important? The graffiti ‘Death to the regime’ is clearly a political statement rather than a call to action. However, security forces appear eager to label any who oppose the current authorities as terrorists. The schoolgirl responsible for this graffiti and a couple of posts on Telegram has been charged with three criminal offences, reflecting the authorities’ intent to impose lengthy sentences.

Crimean Tatar activist beaten by checkpoint officers at Vladimir Central prison. The incident occurred when Asan Yanikov requested his food from the food storage point. After being refused by prison staff, Yanikov approached them again, which displeased an inspector. The inspector then signalled to officers, who struck the activist’s head against the concrete twice. Although the prison doctor claimed Yanikov was fine, he had a visible cut on his face and complained of a headache. In March 2022, Yanikov was sentenced to 15 years in a strict regime penal colony, with the first five years to be served in connection with a Hizb ut-Tahrir case.

  • Why do I need to know this? Violence in pre-trial detention centres, penal colonies, and prisons is widespread. Asan Yanikov’s sister has revealed that since his arrival at Vladimir Central prison, he has faced prejudice due to his nationality and charges related to involvement with a terrorist organisation. This could have been a factor in the assault. Staff at the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) often act with a sense of impunity and show aggression towards inmates they dislike, most likely because the medical personnel who examine the victims and the law enforcement officers who decide whether to launch a criminal investigation relating to the abuse are often on the side of the attackers.

Translated by Marjolein Thickett