1 July 2022
The human rights lawyer Ivan Pavlov, a laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize for human rights, in conversation with Irina Pomaliiskaya of Present Tense about the death of Professor Kolker after he was remanded in custody
In Novosibirsk’s Akademgorodok, the police have removed the spontaneous memorial to scientist Dmitry Kolker, who died on 3 July in Moscow’s Lefortovo remand centre three days after he was remanded in custody on charges of state treason. By decision of the court on 30 June, the scientist was taken to the Moscow remand centre directly from a private clinic in Novosobirsk—having previously been diagnosed with end-stage pancreatic cancer. Searches were made of the family’s apartment during which his electronic devices were confiscated. On 3 July, Kolker’s relatives were sent a telegram informing them of his death.
Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer who has defended many political prisoners in Russia and worked on cases of state treason, believes that it is the lawyer or doctors who will end up being blamed, while the investigators completed their assignment so the leadership will make no claims against them. Ivan Pavlov notes that, in principle, scientists in Russia are an at-risk group. He talked about this on air with Present Tense.
— Do you understand the logic of law enforcement officials and judges who arrest a man with terminal cancer and immediately put him on a plane from Novosibirsk to Moscow?
— I do.
— Tell me about it.
— I understand it all. Here, after all, state security is superior to everything. Not only did they put state security itself above everything but they put their notion of state security above human life and closed their case. I understand the investigator. His assignment was to bring him in at any price, to complete specific investigative acts, to conduct searches, to detain the suspect and take him to Moscow to the investigative office of the FSB [Federal Security Service]. He completed his assignment. In principle, the investigation’s supervisors should have no claims against the investigator. More than likely, they’ll find fall guys to pin it on. They’ll say it’s the doctors who discharged the suspect from the hospital who are to blame—specifically, for allowing the investigation to take certain investigative actions with him and transport him to where the preliminary investigation was being done, to Moscow, to the investigative office of the FSB. How the hospital, especially a private one, is going to wiggle out of this, I don’t know. I think it will be said that they’re the ones to blame for his death. That is, not the FSB investigator, not the prosecutor who in the judicial hearing also asked for Kolker to be remanded in custody, and not even the judge who made the final decision. Here he has a sick man in his court who says, “Listen, they’ve taken me from my hospital bed, and I have end-stage cancer.” Russian legislation provides, as it were, for a definite ban on choosing custody in these instances. But here, you understand, there’s also state security.
The investigation will talk about “what we do,” “what we are,” “but we thought.” The court can sort it out, and it did, so to speak, it made its decision. It’s not even the investigation, it’s not even the FSB making the decision. The judge is going to say: “The defendant is to blame for not presenting the court with a document saying he was in very bad shape.” And the last to be charged will be either the lawyer or the doctor who approved poor Dmitry Kolker’s discharge.
— Kolker was charged with revealing some state secret in 2018, when he was giving a lecture in China. Based on your experience, are we going to be seeing more cases like this? Is the FSB simply following all foreign lectures given by all Russian scientists?
— Under Article 275, “State Treason,” the at-risk group includes individuals who meet two criteria. First, they must be working with some kind of sensitive information, and in our time of war, as you realize, the limits of this sensitivity have been expanded to the extreme. For Russia these days, anything at all might be considered sensitive.
The second criterion is interaction with foreigners. Here you have scientists who participate in certain international projects, who travel to give lectures, or who speak at an international conference, or participate in some international project—so that one way or another their scientific institute is compelled to interact with other foreign institutes. Now both criteria have been met. And hunting for prey in the scientific academic environment is a favorite form of recreation for our special services, for the Chekists. Simply every year they have a new scientist, sometimes even several.
Even before, we saw cases against scientists, but now there are an especially large number of them. Chekists have clearly acquired quite a taste for human flesh. After all, who is a scientist? He is someone who has served this regime in faith and truth his whole life in a scientific research institute—a state institute. He trusts this regime. And now this regime goes and turns on him unexpectedly, and the person winds up utterly helpless in this leviathan’s hands. He thought he was a part of all this. But it turns out that his system, which he trusted, has started to feed on him.
This is why scientists are easy, vulnerable prey for our special services, which take advantage of this, in this way acquiring new positions and promotions in rank for themselves. You understand this. Career advancement is what motivates them. But today we have an incident that ended in death.
We have another defendant, too, whose name is Valery Golubkin. He’s a scientist, too, he’s not 54, he’s over 70, he, too, is in Lefortovo, and he, too, has cancer. Let’s try to rescue at least one person. Let the system release at least one scientist from its paws, from its jaws. If society would start to react to these instances in some way, I think there would be one more person saved.
Translated by Marian Schwartz