‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’: Valeriya Zotova is a political prisoner

15 January 2024

Valeriya Zotova has been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for terrorism on charges of attempting to set fire to a local authority’s district offices

Source: Political Prisoners. Memorial

The human rights project ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ in accordance with international standards, considers Valeriya Zotova a political prisoner. She was convicted of attempted terrorism, on charges of attempting to set fire to the local authority’s district offices, an act which in the event she decided not to commit. The criminal prosecution of Valeriya Zotova violates her right to fair trial.

We demand that her sentence be quashed, that the criminal charges against her for a ‘terrorist’ offence be dropped, and that her case be retried in a fair hearing.

What were the charges against Valeriya Zotova?

After Russia’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine began in February 2022, 19-year-old Valeriya Zotova from Yaroslavl joined several online pro-Ukrainian and anti-war chat rooms. There she met a man who introduced himself as an officer of the Ukrainian Security Service and offered her money to set fire to the local authority building in her district where aid to the Russian military was being collected.

Zotova agreed at first, but then changed her mind and decided to simulate an attempted arson attack by buying petrol and taking pictures outside the building.

Zotova shared her plans with a friend, who was in reality an embedded FSB agent since, by this time, Zotova was already under surveillance by the security services.

On the night of 16 February 2023, Zotova drove with her friend to the local authority building where she was detained by law enforcement officers before she even got out of the car.

On 18 February Zotova was remanded in custody on charges of attempted terrorism (Article 30, Part 3, in conjunction with Article 205, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code).

On 28 June 2023, the 2nd Western District Military Court sentenced Zotova to six years in a penal colony.

Why do we consider Zotova a political prisoner?

We believe that Zotova has been a victim of entrapment by the security services, which is prohibited by law. It is likely that from the very beginning it was FSB officers who were in correspondence with her. Zotova’s ‘friend,’ who was also an FSB agent, did not limit herself to the role of an observer but actively helped Zotova plan the arson attack. When Zotova abandoned the idea, the ‘friend’ concealed this from the investigative authorities and the court. Zotova’s defence attorney provided the court with the correspondence between the two young women which confirms that Zotova had intended merely to simulate an arson attempt. However, the court did not consider this evidence at the trial.

In an impartial hearing of the case, the court should have considered acquitting Zotova on the grounds that she had voluntarily abandoned the idea of arson. In our view, the arson attempt should, in any case, not have been classified as an act of terrorism. It was not proved in court that Zotova’s motive was to intimidate the population. If classified under another article of the Russian Criminal Code, Zotova would have received a lesser sentence.

We believe the FSB fabricated the case against Valeriya Zotova because of her anti-war views and because her mother, Svetlana Zotova, had spoken out openly against the war on Ukraine and the policies of the Russian authorities.

A detailed description of the case of Valeriya Zotova and the position of the Human Rights Project are available on our website.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply the project, ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ agrees with, or approves, their views, statements, or actions.

How can you help?

You can write to Valeriya Zotova at the following address:

In Russian: 56511, Костромская обл., п. Прибрежный, ул. Мира, д. 1, ФКУ ИК-3 УФСИН России по Костромской области, отряд № 3, Зотовой Валерии Игоревне, 2003 г. р.

English translation: Valeriya Igorevna Zotova (born 2003), Penal Colony No. 3, Unit 3, Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for Kostroma region, 1 Mir Street, Pribrezhny Settlement, Kostroma region, 56511, Russia.

You can also send an electronic letter to Valeriya Zotova via the F-Pismo or Zonatelecom services.

Please note that letters in languages other than Russian are highly unlikely to reach the recipient.

You can donate to support all political prisoners via our website. 

Translated by Rights in Russia

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