Team 29: Look out for yourself and roll with the punches

28 November 2020

Hi. I’m Ksyusha Ufimtseva, Editor of the Team 29 website.

Team 29 has some good news for you this week, and some not so good. The good news is that the Prosecutor’s Office will no longer be the authority making unilateral decisions to refuse to rehabilitate victims of repression. How was it done before? Well, the relatives of people convicted in the 1930s by ‘troikas’ (effectively without charge or trial) would apply to the Prosecutor’s Office for them to be rehabilitated. If that office decided against, then the courts would refuse to review the given decision. Here they would cite an article from the law On the rehabilitation of victims of political repression. This surprising interpretation deprived victims of repression of their civil rights to judicial protection, which is contrary to the Constitution. Lawyers from International Memorial and Team 29 appealed such a refusal in the case of the actor Georgy Shakhet. His great-grandfather Pavel Zabotin was arrested on 28 December 1932 and, by 15 January 1933, a ‘troika’ had made the order for him to be shot. Zabotin became a victim of the so-called Law of Three Ears of Wheat [the 1932 Stalinist decree that severely punished theft of kolkhoz property], but the Public Prosecutor’s Office refused to rehabilitate him. In four different instances, the courts found that they could not reconsider the refusal. But the Constitutional Court recently published a clarification which addresses the lawyers’ appeal in Shakhet’s case. The Constitutional Court affirmed that individuals convicted by a decision of the ‘troikas’ could also be rehabilitated, and that the refusal by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was not the final judgment and may be reviewed by the court.

The next piece of news isn’t so great. St Petersburg Pre-trial Detention Centre No. 3 refused to provide the lawyer Leonid Krikun with information concerning meetings that had taken place between the FSB and his clients. In the detention facility, they asserted that this information was marked “For Official Use Only” (FOUO). The lawyer took legal action, but the court refused to disclose information about the FSB’s visits. It’s worth noting here that the pre-trial detention centre assigns the FOUO marking based on an order from the Ministry of Justice. But this document itself has the said marking, and for that reason we’ll  never know the reason for the refusal. The whole thing is like a Matryoshka doll. Team 29 will be party to an appeal against the decision of the court.

Also this week, proceedings continued in the case of Karina Tsurkan, who faces a charge of espionage. She is being defended by Team 29 lawyers Ivan Pavlov and Evgeny Smirnov. The trial has just reached a new stage: the court has finished examining the evidence of the prosecution, and the defence has begun to present its own. And it was at this moment that Public Prosecutor Amaliya Ustaeva, who was engaged in prosecuting Tsurkan, stepped down. According to Team 29 lawyer Ivan Pavlov, this is a rare occurrence. He didn’t rule out the possibility that the action could have been Ustaeva electing to protect her reputation. T29, meanwhile, put out a guide on espionage and treason. The State never stops searching for ‘spies’ in all of us. Anyone could turn out to be one – you don’t necessarily have to have access to state secrets or work for a foreign intelligence service. Sometimes, all it takes is to text your friend.

Not long ago, the police and Public Prosecutor’s Office arrived at the Team 29 office. It was no big deal, just a routine check. But, just to be safe, on Friday, the lawyers held a roundtable for Team 29 staff members all about surprise raids. You can read about what you really shouldn’t do in such situations on our Telegram channel.

Look out for yourself and roll with the punches!


Translated by Lindsay Munford

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