18 August 2020
Lev Ponomarev, chair of the national civil society organisation For Human Rights, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
There’s someone I’d like to introduce to you.
His name is Ivan Liubshin, and he’s serving a five-year prison sentence because of comments he posted on the Russian social networking site Vkontakte.
Here are the comments he posted:
“Explosion at the Arkhangelsk FSB office caused by a 17-year-old boy. He died, he’s a hero!”
“Man of the hour, man of the week (at the very least)”
“I’m not defending terrorism as such, of course, but…”
The experts consulted by the FSB decided that these comments contained an “implicit” (i.e. hidden) justification of terrorism.
Many people responded to the shocking news of the suicide bombing by the 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky from Arkhangelsk, in many different ways. Some were horrified. Some sympathised with the lad. Some, such as Svetlana Prokopyeva, wondered how it could have been possible. Some recalled the FSB’s predilection for torturing prisoners and fabricating cases, for example the Network case. And some made fun of the FSB for missing the bus on on an act of terrorism that Zhlobitsky had publicly announced on social media networks. Yes, some people even did that.
Knowing the kind of country we live in, and knowing that the government of this country has adopted a Criminal Code whose Article 205.2 relates to the “public justification of terrorism”, all of these people should have stayed silent and refrained from expressing their opinion. They should have “exercised reasonable care”, irrespective of their constitutional right to express their opinion freely and disseminate information, and despite the note added at the end of Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code; “public justification of terrorism means a public statement on the recognition of the ideology or practices of terrorism as correct and in need of support and imitation.”
But people are people – they do not always plan what they do in advance, they respond emotionally to lots of things, and they learn information from different sources. As it happened, Ivan very quickly remembered which country he was living in and had second thoughts about what he had written. He removed the comments he had posted, just to be on the safe side.
It didn’t help. Around one year later, they apprehended him on the street and subjected him to a harsh beating. And then they put him behind bars for five years. Yes, five years in a standard regime penal colony for a couple of comments on Vkontakte a year ago. Just think for a second about all those FSB employees – whose salaries come out of our taxes – spending their days staring at computer screens searching for comments on social media networks, before spending months on end tracking down the unlucky souls who happened to make some of these comments and then attempting to imprison them. Do you still feel as safe as you did a few minutes ago?
The court of first instance spent only a few hours on the case, including its pronouncement of the sentence – as though this was not a criminal case at all, but merely a routine administrative fine for picketing. The court ignored the fact that Ivan Liubshin has two children and that he suffers from persistent allergy-induced asthma. No action was taken against FSB employees in connection with the beating he endured, although evidence of his injuries was recorded and an internal investigation was carried out.
An appeal was submitted to the Court of Military Appeals located in the closed military town of Vlasikh, after the start of the COVID-19 restrictions (since his “crime” falls under the terrorism-related provisions of the Criminal Code, Ivan Liubshin has been tried by military courts from the outset). Ivan’s mother was not allowed into the courtroom while the appeal was being heard, and journalists were not even allowed into the town.
On 20 August Ivan will submit a third-instance appeal to the Supreme Court, at 12 Maly Kharitonyevsky Pereulok. I will be there, and appeal above all to journalists. I don’t need to tell you how important the matter is. They also tried to imprison Svetlana Prokopyeva, and it was only thanks to public support and (most importantly) your work that she did not end up behind bars. But Ivan is in prison, and will remain there for five years, with his asthma. And his children will grow up without him.
The more publicity his case gets, the more likely that his prison term will be shortened.
We need as many people as possible to be present at the court on the day of his appeal, to take lots of photos and to write about the case of Ivan Liubshin.
Translated by Joanne Reynolds