13 April 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
Once a political decision is taken to jail someone in our country, our national justice system has no hang-ups about it: it doesn’t bother to look for evidence, disregards procedural requirements, and experiences no existential agony over its own insignificance. As the saying goes, If you’ve got the man, we’ll find the crime!
Nonetheless, at various times and under various circumstances our national justice system’s degree of plausibility has varied. During the Stalinist terror, for example, the feeling was that the trial absolutely had to hear ironclad proof of the defendant’s guilt. At the time, this proof was considered the defendant’s admission of guilt. Without such admissions, they preferred not to hold a trial at all and simply executed people, by written consent of a judge. During the Brezhnev era, proof at political trials was falsified with a greater or lesser degree of care, depending on who produced it. But they always had to build a stage set for justice.
“THE FSB SAID HE MUST, THE JUDGE REPLIED I WILL”
In our rational era, everything has become simpler and crazier. No logic, or grounds, or simple common sense is required for the court to issue a guilty verdict. A decision was made to put Vladimir Kara-Murza, an oppositionist politician and critic of the Putin regime, in jail. Why, what for — that’s a separate question. The FSB said he must, the judge replied I will. On the evening of 11 April, Kara-Murza was driving home to Zamoskvorechie. Police detained him in his yard and took him to the Khamovniki police station. The next day, Vladimir was sentenced to 15 days in jail for “failure to obey a legitimate instruction from a police officer.”
They probably could have staged his “failure to obey” – arranged a provocation, found dummy witnesses. They did nothing of the kind! The police couldn’t be bothered with anything that didn’t get them a bribe. The maximum they’re capable of is writing reports. And they do!
“At the sight of police officers, he behaved erratically, altered his trajectory of movement, picked up his pace, and to their demand to stop tried to hide.”
At the trial, Vadim Prokhorov, the lawyer defending Kara-Murza, was bewildered. How can a pedestrian altering his trajectory of movement be grounds for his arrest? What was his exact violation? He was arrested for failing to obey what legitimate police demands?
Federal judge Diana Mishchenko, sitting in Khamovniki district court, then went out of her way to demonstrate her total indifference to the lawyer’s arguments and, sighing heavily, looked heavenward and shook her head, as if lamenting the defense’s naiveté. Naturally, everyone understands everything perfectly. Why ask such strange questions?!
Unlike the judge, the defendant and his lawyer retain their belief in justice. They ask to call as witnesses the policemen who wrote the reports — and the judge refuses. They petition to remove the judge for conducting the case with a guilty bias — and she finds no grounds for the removal. Judge Mishchenko reads her decisions on her refusal in a specific judgely patter, and to make it even harder to understand her rushed speech, she doesn’t remove her medical mask. Legal grounds: Covid to the aid of tyranny!
IN THE BEST ORWELLIAN TRADITIONS
“The Polish writer Jerzy Lec has this sentence: ‘A lie differs in no way from the truth except that it isn’t the truth,’” Vladimir Kara-Murza said, speaking at his trial. “These reports do not contain one word of truth except for my name and the time and address of the arrest. Everything else there bears no relation to reality at all.”
In fact, how could Kara-Murza alter the trajectory of his movement or pick up his pace if he was riding in a car, parked it in his yard, and five policemen swooped down on him before he could get out of the car?
Don’t imagine that the clumsy police falsification misled anyone. The judge, the audience in the courtroom, and even the bailiffs and police escort understood perfectly. You could tell by their eyes and their behaviour. They were simply doing their job — nothing more, nothing ideological. After all, in the machinery of repression the individual cog doesn’t decide anything and does not have to take responsibility.
Responsibility for what is going on in our country is being taken by people like Vladimir Kara-Murza, like his lawyer Vadim Prokhorov, like the people who came to the trial to support the defendant. And even people like the representative from the American embassy, who sat in the courtroom and listened in silence to all the raving of Russian justice. On the other hand, the representative of the British embassy in Moscow (Kara-Murza holds British as well as Russian citizenship) was strikingly absent. Evidently, the prosecution of a British citizen falls outside the sphere of Her Majesty’s interests.
RUSSIAN LIFE AS ANTI-UTOPIA
In the recesses during the trial, many people brought up Orwell. Indeed, the absurdity of this trial is worthy of the English writer’s pen. And not only the trial — all Russian life today is increasingly like an anti-utopia. If the system’s individual cogs didn’t work, the entire mechanism of state repressions would grind to a halt. But each little cog has its own little justification, and so the machine works, the judges rubberstamp verdicts, and political prisoners take their places on prison bunks.
Neither the police nor the judges are concerned about their own future. They’re sure they’ll get away with everything. After all, the Soviet judges who issued verdicts against dissidents got away with everything. Nor did the KGB investigators who fabricated political cases suffer. The warders who tortured political prisoners in prisons and prison camps are living out their days on their state pension. Why should revenge affect Judge Diana Mishchenko from Khamovniki district court? This false creature, who has sold her professional honour for a good salary and a judicial career, is confident of her impunity. When the present authoritarian regime collapses, we must not fail to remember those who helped it rebuild and who crippled the lives of innocent people.
But right now we must not forget about Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was sentenced to 15 days’ jail without any clear basis or grounds. This may speak to the authorities’ intention to fabricate a criminal case against him with a real prison sentence.
Translated by Marian Schwartz