18 April 2020
Hi, this is Natasha Korchenkova
The pandemic has placed us in an absolutely new situation. Neither society nor the state knows yet what to do. The Russian authorities have behaved in their usual way and, just in case, they have let rip the usual repressive machinery. The newly imposed way of doing things – with imposition of passes and a system of fines for violation self-isolation – has resulted in total chaos. The police, checking the passes of those who have to go to work at the entrance to metro stations, caused enormous queues – and this at the very same time the authorities are demanding that people observe social distancing. People are being fined for walking their dogs and some people have been beaten by police.
Against this background yesterday’s news about Petr Verzilov, who was arrested wearing a police uniform – but who succeeded in dancing before he was arrested — was perceived in no other way than as the icing on a cake with layers consisting of chaos, alarm and uncertainty.
Chaos also reigns in the prison system. On 13 April Moscow City Court reduced the sentence handed down to Nikita Chirtsov, prosecuted in the so-called Moscow case, as a result of which he was released. Except that Nikita was not in the courtroom. He is in a remand centre in Kursk where he was taken in December, before the appeal. Today is the sixth day that Chirtsov should have been at liberty, but he will only be released when the remand centre receives the original of the appeal court’s decision, and only from the hands of an employee of the postal service. The court is in Moscow, the remand centre is in Kursk. And Nikita remains in detention. The other prisoners jailed as a result of the Moscow case and their families, in these strange times, also need help. Please help them.
Trials in other cases are being postponed and dragged out. Recently I asked my colleague Tanya Torocheshnikova whether she thinks new political cases will appear during the period of quarantine, or if they will let things by for the time being? It quickly became apparent that it hasn’t occurred to the system to take a break. Yesterday the anarchist Dmitry Tsibukovsky and his wife Anastasiya Safonova were arrested. They are charged with having hung out a banner on the building of the FSB in Chelyabinsk, two years ago, that read ‘The FSB are the main terrorists’, in an effort to ‘damage the reputation’ of that organisation.
There are also those who were able to escape from the system in time. For example, Anton Kolomitysn, whom our lawyers were representing. He succeeded in leaving Russia before the borders were closed. The FSB has charged Anton with illegally receiving state secrets because of his purchase of an old topographic map. This week a court left in force a decision to remand him in custody in his absence. We have spoken with him about how he is living in a Dutch refugee camp, how he is trying to obtain asylum in conditions of quarantine (also not without chaos), and why it is not necessary to explain in the Netherlands what the KGB is. The conversation was interesting and uplifting. We really do recommend that you read it.
Have a good weekend (despite everything)
Natasha and Team 29
Translated by Simon Cosgrove