30 May 2020
Hi. This is Natasha Korchenkova
The week started with some good news: our client the radio engineer Gennady Kravtsov was set free after six years in Mordovia’s IK-5 facility. Among other things, this prison camp is famous for the fact that last year, several prisoners there cut open their stomachs in protest against abuse by the prison authorities. Not long before Kravtsov’s release, they tried to destroy his life, too. He spent almost a month in solitary confinement, after which he was declared a ‘repeat offender’ and moved from normal to strict conditions of detention. The head of Team 29, lawyer Ivan Pavlov, suggested that Kravtsov was being, “placed in unbearable conditions in order to provoke him to commit a new crime and have his prison term extended… It’s not so much about payback as it is the policy of the system that he should be punished to breaking point’.
Fortunately, all ended well. Kravtsov was the first to be released among those convicted of treason following a spate of ‘spy’ cases in 2014. We chatted to the lawyer Ilya Novikov about how such cases work and why catching real spies is quite a tricky business. Novikov has defended two individuals charged with espionage: Norwegian Frode Berg and Ukrainian Valentina Vygovskaya.
The story of another former inmate, Sergey Mokhnatkin, had a very sad ending. On 28 May, he died in hospital. He was given his first prison term following a Strategy-31 protest at which he intervened on behalf of a woman who was being beaten up by a police officer. He was then tried again and again. In the prison camps, Mokhnatkin was battered mercilessly – sometimes literally. In 2016, in the Arkhangelsk prison camp, he suffered a fractured spine. Just recently, our editor, Tanya Torocheshnikova, wrote a big piece about it for ‘Proekt’, entitled ‘The story of a man being beaten into submission’. “In the autumn, we spent two days straight talking to him,” says Tanya. “Then he went in for an operation, came out for a short while, then ended up in hospital again, and never came out. But I think he kept it together right to the very end.”
Finally, I’m not going to draw any comparisons, just tell you about the new episode of our podcast Russia Shuts Down. It takes a behind-the-scenes look at the film Repentance by Tengiz Abuladze, which started a public discussion in the USSR about Stalin’s repressions. In this episode, we tell you about the fascinating true story behind the film: why it was filmed in 1984 but only released three years later, how everyone in Georgia got to see Repentance in that period, how the director managed to hide his screenplay from the censors, and why the film ended up having to be remade anyway (and also how a plane hijacking came into things). You can listen on Apple, Google Podcasts, Simplecast, Yandex.Music, Castbox, and YouTube.
Have a good weekend!
Natasha & Team 29
Translated by Lindsay Munford