8 July 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
On 8 July Meshchansky district court in Moscow sentenced Aleksei Gorinov, a member of Krasnoselsky district municipal council, to seven years in prison. He was accused of distributing information known to be false about the use of the armed forces. This is the first time a prison term has been handed down for a conviction on this charge.
The ‘guilt’ of the defendant consisted in the fact that at a meeting of council members on 15 March this year the councillors, at the suggestion of Aleksei Gorinov, held a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of aggression in Ukraine. Gorinov also said that civil society in Russia should direct all its efforts towards stopping the war. He was given seven years in prison for this ‘crime.’
I am not inclined to dramatize events, to wring my hands in despair or bewail the unprecedented nature of what has happened. There have been enough of all kinds of horror in our homeland, and in other countries too. And, of course, it goes without saying there have been many things far worse. Nevertheless, the conviction of Aleksei Gorinov is significant.
In late Soviet times, sentences of seven years in prison were handed down for anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. And five years of exile were added after the term in the camps was up. Such were the usual sentences for those times. Today we have come closer to these norms.
RETURN TO STALINIST TIMES
Until very recently, political repression in Russia differed from that of the late Soviet Union in terms of the pettiness of the reasons for prosecution. The grounds for repression could be a passing opinion, a couple of lines on the Internet, a like under someone else’s post, a publication, or a speech in court. But the penalties in such cases were not too severe: fines, short terms in jail for administrative offences, suspended sentences or the imposition of certain restrictions on liberty.
Aleksei Gorinov’s sentence combines the insignificance of the charge, characteristic of post-Soviet Russia, with a Soviet severity of punishment. Such severe sentences were typical of Stalin’s times, when people were sentenced to long terms in prison, or even to the death penalty, for an innocent remark, the telling of a joke, or an ‘incorrect’ speech at a meeting.
Of course, in Stalin’s times state terror was massive and counted millions of people as its victims. For the time being, there is only one Gorinov. But any count begins with one. Today’s verdict shows that political repression in Russia has acquired a Stalinist quality. Before we know it, they shall catch up with the Bolshevik terror in terms of numbers as well.
In his ‘final speech’ at his trial, Aleksei Gorinov, recalling the defence of the White House in 1991, said: ‘If they had said then that in thirty years I would be tried in a criminal court for my words, for my opinions – I would not have believed it. The reasons for such a sad outcome, to which our society has come, will require thorough research and analysis by historians. It will require not only analysis, but also the drawing of conclusions. It will not be easy, but we shall have to recognize that war is war. We shall have to rehabilitate the victims and put the criminals on trial. We shall have to restore the good name of our people and of our country.’
A CRIME AGAINST JUSTICE
The future will indeed require us to analyse the events taking place today, to rehabilitate the victims, and to put the criminals on trial. So that the complacency, carelessness and permissiveness that prevailed in our country in the 1990s will not be repeated in the future. So that we do not forget the names, not only of such wonderful people as Aleksei Gorinov, but also the names of those scoundrels who have now become the executors of political repression: Major-General of Justice A. Strizhov who initiated the criminal case; the investigator for especially important cases, Captain of Justice K. A. Myagkov; and O. A. Mendeleeva, judge in the Meshchansky district court in Moscow.
In criminal justice it is considered that the force of the law lies not in the severity of the punishment but in its inevitability. This must be remembered and understood by those who have raised the flag of terror today and, in the name of the State, commit crimes against justice and human rights.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove