17 September 2020
Lev Ponomarev, chairof the NGO For Human Rights and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Dear Friends, practically every day I am forced to write about the dirty tricks of the FSB: yesterday about the “Ufa Twenty,” and today about “Network” (an organization banned in Russia). Both have been declared terrorist organizations. History has already seen to that. The appeals of both cases are coming to a close almost simultaneously, and it’s better that I write something two days in a row, so that in the future I don’t have to write every day about similar prosecutions.
What these cases are about is that the security services, who in fact have Russian domestic policy in their hands, are increasing their appetite, replenishing their resources, and fabricating more and more cases against young people, thus impoverishing the country’s future. I would like to emphasize that both cases are being tried by military courts, although they have been brought against civilians.
On 16 September the appeal of the sentence in the Network case was concluded.
Not everyone followed the original trial, but it was truly dramatic. There were descriptions of torture, fiery speeches from the lawyers, and totally unexpected testimony from witnesses. And this trial repeated itself in miniature at the five hearings in the Penza Regional Court, where the defendants and their lawyers were located, and in the Military Appeals Court in Vlasikha where the judges and prosecutors were located. It came alive in the words of the defendants and their lawyers, in quotes from the testimony and the trial transcript.
Notwithstanding my human rights experience, I can draw only one conclusion from the results of the appeal hearings: this simply cannot happen. There was nothing except torture, falsification and conjecture in the Network case. Hikes in the forest, airsoft games, and quasi-political events were transformed into “terrorist activity” — with weapons and narcotics being planted, torture, “secret” witnesses, and made-to-order expert opinions. And they were transformed (presumably!) according to a scenario written ahead of time by the FSB. The majority of people in the case were given so-called witness statements, which had been prepared ahead of time, for them to sign under torture. The participants in this massive crime were not only the investigators and the operatives of the FSB, but the experts and the entire personnel of the trial court, including the secretary.
The investigators and operatives tortured, falsified, and lied in court.
The experts gave incompetent (read: false) opinions.
The court secretary falsified the minutes of the trial, altering and removing testimony to make it easier to give an unlawful sentence.
The judges deprived the defendants of the right to defend themselves: they did not accept evidence, refused to commission expert opinions, did not react to statements regarding torture, and, finally, wrote a judgment that was almost utterly and completely made up of unproven assertions and rested on the testimony of lying witnesses. What was the reason for all this? To show that young people with views not aligned with the state ideology would be jailed for 18, 16, and 14 years? Perhaps so that the Chekists who thought the whole thing up could report “to the party and the government” they had uncovered a “dangerous terrorist group” and prevented a terrorist act? And receive a promotion because of it?
But the situation is unique not only because of that. The defence at the original trial took apart the position of the prosecution and turned it into ashes and dust. This was even helped by the testimony of many of the prosecution’s witnesses. The defence literally proved that the “founding documents” of the Network organization were made up of files that had been created and opened after the accused had been arrested, and that one of the authors of several electronic document files was a certain “Shepelev” (note: in Latin letters) which suspiciously sounds like the last name of the FSB investigator. And this Shepelev was literally exposed as a perjurer before the court when he denied visiting the pre-trial detention center, even though there were protocols signed by him in that detention center.
You can’t find such a collection of violations documented in court sessions in just any Russian criminal court.
It is appropriate to cite the words of the lawyer Kartashov, who defended Maksim Ivankin:
“There is not one place in the sentence that was not disputed with solid arguments by the defence. We in fact proved the innocence of our clients, although we were not obligated to do that. The only clear terrorist act was the actual sentence in the Network case, which can be called a sentence only by misunderstanding.”
Can the judges really not be afraid to let such a sentence stand? We know one thing clearly: no matter how this case ends, it has already gone into the history books about Putin’s Russia.
* a forbidden organization in the RF
Translated by John Tokolish