23 May 2020
Hi! Tanya Torocheshnikova here.
I’m not going to say anything about the weather – you can see that for yourselves. It’s what’s off limits that I’ll tell you about now.
For one, you can’t disseminate religious books, like those by William Branham, the American preacher and missionary. In the 1960s, Branham founded a religious organisation called The Church of the Living God. He wrote several works, his teaching based on the ideas of the Protestant Pentecostal movement. Branham has many followers around the world, and his texts are distributed in 180 countries… but not in Russia.
This week, St Petersburg Municipal Court declared Branham’s texts extremist. The experts assembled by the Prosecutor’s Office concluded that, in his texts, Branham promoted exclusivity and superiority, and offended other faiths. So now his pamphlets, which the charity Vecherny Svet [Evening Light] has been distributing, must go on the list of extremist materials, and the organisation itself may be shut down.
“Evening Light isn’t calling on anyone to change society by force. It’s inviting people who share its values to join it – or not. People always have a choice. These texts aren’t in any way extremist,” says our lawyer Maksim Olenichev, who is defending Evening Light.
You can’t, “have particular morals” if you work in a state organisation. So said the head of the St Petersburg centre Kontakt to Aleksandr Kirpichev, an activist who worked in the centre for troubled teens and supported Navalny’s Petersburg campaign office. The parents of the teenagers were happy with Aleksandr’s work. He was good at connecting with the children. At first, the director didn’t have any issues, until Kirpichev decided to take part in the municipal elections last summer. After that, he was hit by a barrage of rebukes and internal memos about misconduct, and then, in October, he was fired. Aleksandr went to court to argue his case. We’ll tell you what happened there.
Also, upholding your right to work can also be off limits sometimes. That’s especially true if you work in law enforcement. Vladimir Vorontsov, the founder of the community organisation Police Ombudsman, who essentially organised an independent trade union and demanded the protection of labour rights, was arrested on 6 July, allegedly, for extorting money from a former colleague of his. His arrest could easily be called political, as law enforcement agencies really don’t like it when someone reveals details of what’s going on inside the system.
Before Vorontsov, this is exactly what former district police officer Roman Khabarov had done. He wasn’t the first ‘whistleblower’ (a term used for people who reveal a system’s shortcomings from the inside), but surely one of the most notable.
I remember Khabarov’s case well. In 2011, an interview came out in the paper Russky Reporter, which I read avidly back then. In it, he spoke about how policemen enforce the rules on narcotics, for example. He spoke really eloquently, and his photo showed that he had wise eyes – you empathised with Khabarov.
Khabarov was promptly dismissed from the police. A criminal case followed and, in 2018, he was locked up. This week, we remembered Khabarov’s story and put out the latest episode of the podcast, ‘Russia shuts down’. In it, we spoke with his friend and with his son, and we talk about how the system responds to attempts to uncover the truth. You can listen to the podcast on most easily accessible platforms: Apple, Google Podcasts, Yandex.Music, Castbox, YouTube, and Simplecast.
Subscribe to our channel, too! There are lots of good stories there about how our country has been slowly, but surely, shutting down.
I stole the title of this circular from the artist Danny Berkovsky, for which I hope he’ll forgive me.
Stick with us and hang tight – it has to warm up soon!
Tanya & Team 29
Translated by Lindsay Munford