Lev Shlosberg: On the Navalny case and Putin’s police state

19 January 2021

By Lev Shlosberg, civil society activist, member of the Pskov Regional Assembly of Deputies, journalist, and laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Эхо Москвы]

Aleksei Navalny returned to Russia [on 17 January 2020] after receiving emergency treatment [in Germany] and was arrested when going through passport control at the airport in accordance with a demand by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN).  The decision was made one day before the suspended sentence that had been handed to Navalny in connection with the so-called Yves Rocher affair was due to expire.  Perhaps it was just written in hindsight.  However, all the Russian court decisions in the Yves Rocher case were declared unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights, and Russia paid Navalny a large fine for those decisions.

Navalny was accused of spending too long in Germany undergoing treatment following a failed attempt to assassinate him by the Russian secret services.  His failure to show up personally during his probation was declared to have violated the terms of his sentence.  Navalny’s lawyers had however informed the FSIN about his location.

An emergency “trial” concerning Navalny’s arrest was staged in the Khimki police station [in the north of Moscow], violating every possible norm of criminal procedure, with his lawyers given ten minutes warning that the trial was about to begin.  The judge meekly obeyed the police demand to remand Navalny in custody for 30 days, until 15 February.  The judge’s decision made not a single reference to the law in accordance with which the decision was made.  That is to say, the court decision bore no relation to the law – it is literally lawless. 

Navalny was taken to the Matrosskaya Tishina detention centre.  On 2 February, the court is due to replace his suspended sentence in the fabricated case with a real term in prison.  The authorities fear Navalny.  Someone who is not afraid and who says that he is not afraid is a danger for them.  So far, they have not succeeded in killing him, they have not been able to intimidate him, and they have failed to force him into exile.  All that remains for them is to lock him up in prison and deprive him of freedom.

Azat Miftakhov, a postgraduate student at Moscow State University, was sentenced [on 18 January 2021] to six years in a penal colony by Moscow’s Golovinsky court on charges of arson and breaking windows at the reception office of the United Russia party in Moscow’s Khovrino district.  The charges against him were based on the testimony of two unidentified witnesses, one of whom had died a year previously.  Those who actually carried out the arson attack pleaded guilty and declared Miftakhov innocent of the charges; they received two and four years’ probation.  Miftakhov is a political activist and a scholar.  He denied his guilt even under torture and his punishment came in the form of the court’s decision, which merely repeated word for word the indictment originally brought against him by the prosecutor.  Azat was punished because he refused to incriminate himself under the violence of the investigation or to renounce his beliefs.

The year 2021 opens with trials confirming the final destruction of justice in Russia. This is the direct result of the adoption of Putin’s constitution. This is Putin’s real constitutional reform. The police state has been built in Russia. Legislators and the courts, as independent authorities, have been destroyed. There are no courts, only a police state. All his accomplices are essentially policemen.

The only goal of this police state is to preserve Putin’s power at any cost and maintain Putinism as a social order in the country. The chief police officer is Putin himself, and his wishes become law. The courts even feature individuals eschewing proper uniform and procedure.The authorities do not care about legal formality and laws are passed with little consideration. The concept of human rights and the law have become incompatible with one another.

Putin and his circle are focussed on one thing – protecting their power at any cost. They can jail Navalny, they can make multiple attempts on his life, they can initiate ten more criminal cases. Both Putin and those around him do not care what is said about them in the West, and even more so inside the country. They simply do not care. They are unperturbed by the idea that their actions might worsen Russian-European relations, or give grounds for new sanctions.

Nobody is safe. Navalny is certainly not safe. Anything can happen, including accidental murder. And the number of political assassinations may rise.

It is quite obvious that the state and Putin personally have made all major political decisions. Political opposition to the authorities and to Putin himself has been declared a state crime. Anyone who disagrees with the authorities can be slandered, imprisoned on fabricated charges, beaten or killed. Freedom of speech, opinion and conscience are Putin’s main enemies and people are constantly declared “foreign agents”. Dissent is prosecuted. There is no domestic policy except law enforcement policy.

The authorities do not have any understanding of the country’s prospects, and they do not need it. They act here and now, solving only practical tactical tasks. If another day passes, then all is well. The price of this passing does not matter.

The country is divided into friends and enemies. This is a direct movement towards civil war. In fact, this war has already been started by the power structures and courts, which have become part of the power structures.

Like the imprisonment of Aleksei Navalny, Azat Miftakhov, those jailed in the Moscow case in 2019 and many other political and civil activists, the upcoming trial of Yulia Galyamina is a direct continuation of Stalin’s repressions, this is state terror.

Does our country still have a chance at freedom and democracy? What can we all do to bring it closer? I mean, we all want to live to see it.

The authorities are afraid of public protest. Any increase in protest makes them instinctively bitter; it makes them brutal, to put it bluntly. They have crossed the line of what is acceptable. There is no room for negotiation because the authorities have no intention of negotiating. But the fear of public protest felt by Putin and his subordinates is growing stronger.

Could a public protest stop the authorities now? A protest of millions maybe, yes, but no longer a protest of thousands. All the key political decisions have been made. Putin is here to stay. The constitution has been destroyed. Political power belongs to the security forces. There is no system of justice.

What can, if not stop them, then at least force them to reverse their decisions? Fear for their own lives. Fear of personal retribution. Fear of loss of power. International criminal investigations, including the creation of an international criminal tribunal for Russia.

What can we do? Expose everything the authorities do, show their lies and dirty tricks, make them pariahs in the eyes of the people. Increase the weight of public opinion. Get people involved in politics. The most important thing is to have a legitimate foothold in politics at the highest possible level, first and foremost at the federal parliament level.

Changing the government requires both a representative parliamentary opposition and public protest. If the former is achieved in 2021, then public protests will feel their own strength and they’ll grow.

The political and indeed cultural struggle in Russia is with the monstrous tradition of state misanthropy. The attitude towards people is the dividing line; it is the key to understanding what is happening in our country.

All those personally involved in misanthropic politics – the authorities’ partners in crime, the informers, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and propagandists of lies and violence – should know that history will do its job and their hour of reckoning will come.

We must not be afraid. The authorities are relying on widespread fear as a result of constant violence. Terrorists always rely on fear. Fear is the Russian authorities’ greatest ally in their fight against society. Those who aren’t afraid can win. Those who are afraid will never win.

I really sympathise with all of Aleksei Navalny’s loved ones – his parents, Yulia Navalnaya, his daughter Dasha, his son Zakhar, and his brother Oleg. I sympathise with Azat Miftakhov’s mother, who raised a wonderful son, and his whole family. I hope they stay strong and don’t become embittered, that they preserve the human in themselves. In the beautiful Russia of the Future, the most essential public resource will be humanity.

Today, just like decades ago in those dark Soviet times, citizens’ main slogans are: “For our freedom and yours!” “Freedom for political prisoners!”, and, of course, “Russia will be free”.

Translated by Elizabeth Teague, James Fieldhouse and Nicky Brown

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