Zoya Svetova: ‘The White Play.’ On Teatr.doc and the case of Konstantin Kotov

2 March 2020

By Zoya Svetova, journalist, human rights activist and winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group’s prize for work in defending human rights

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda]

On the 27th of February, a read-through of the play ‘The Trial: the Case of Konstantin Kotov’ took place at Teatr.doc, a theatre in Moscow. Writer Alisa Ganieva and journalist and photographer Victoria Ivleva wrote the documentary play, compiling material from the transcripts of the Moscow City Court meeting on October 14, 2019, where an appeal was made against the Tverskoy District Court’s verdict as part of the Kotov case. This play continues a dissident tradition begun by Alexander Ginzburg, who compiled and published ‘the White Book,’ which was based on the trial of Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel. Konstantin Kotov, a civil activist and software programmer who recently turned 35 years old, was Vedomosti’s Person of the Year 2019, and his case is one of the most high-profile cases of last autumn.

The read-through starts with the sentencing: ‘… Konstantin Aleksandrovich Kotov was convicted of repeated violation of the established procedures for holding a rally or protest under Article 212, as ruled by the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow. He was sentenced to 4 years in prison, including time to be served in a penal colony.’ 

The role of the judge is played by the play’s author: photographer and journalist Victoria Ivleva. She, together with Kotov, was part of an indefinite protest picket line, which campaigned for the release of Ukrainian political prisoners, and both spent nearly a year sending packages to Ukrainian soldiers who were serving time. Ivleva did not miss a single trial in the course of her friend’s case. She brought him parcels when he was in the pre-trial detention center, where he spent time together with other participants from the ‘unlimited picket’, or, as it is also called, the “exchanger” (because it is conducted on the terms of exchanging Ukrainian political prisoners for Russian citizens who are in Ukrainian prisons). She has taken letters to Kotov, who is serving his sentence in a colony in Pokrov. But, in the play itself, Victoria Ivleva is a cynical and ruthless arbiter of human destinies—well aware that Kotov is innocent, but convinced that he must, and will, serve time.

The story of the conviction of Konstantin Kotov, whose crime is that he went to a city square and protested against unfair arrests and trials, is an absolutely absurd story. But it differs from many other Kafkaesque court cases in that it is also a story of solidarity from lawyers.  At the first trial in the Tverskoy court, Kotov was defended by two lawyers: Maria Eismont and Eldar Garoz. Eismont is a journalist known for her articles on justice in Russia. Several years ago, she left her reporting career, studied law, passed the bar exam and started as a human rights lawyer. Entering the Kotov case, she was outraged at how quickly they conducted an investigation, examining the case for just two and a half days. The trial was held at the same lightning speed. Eismont likened the investigation and trial to “a rape of our law and rights.”  Outraged by the situation, unprecedented even for a Russian court, 12 lawyers joined Kotov’s defense. They spoke at the appeal process in the Moscow City Court.

The battling between the lawyers and the judge, Nina Sharapova, and the prosecutor, Alexei Radin, formed the basis of the play. It was the absurdity of the case, and the fact that the trial court ignored the decision of the Constitutional Court regarding article 212.1 of the Criminal Code (the so-called ‘Dada article’) on the violation of the right to hold a rally, that attracted the public’s attention to Kotov’s conviction. Professors of constitutional law spoke in his defense, addressing the Constitutional Court with an open letter, and priests of the Russian Orthodox Church wrote a letter in defense of Kotov. After the appeal, the lawyers appealed to the Constitutional Court, which decided to review the case. Finally, Vladimir Putin instructed the Prosecutor General to ‘sort it out.’ The Prosecutor General’s Office appealed to the Court of Cassation with a request to reduce Kotova’s term from four years of imprisonment to one year. […]

Translated by Alice Lee

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