Team 29: Be realistic: demand the impossible!

26 December 2020

Hi. It’s Maksim Zagovor, Head of Media at Team 29

The final and 52nd full week of this altogether unfulfilling 2020 is coming to an end. It has, of course, been an historic week. Let’s take it one day at a time.

Monday was like taking a blow to the head – with a phone. Aleksei Navalny pulled off the ‘prank of the year’ by calling (let’s have a smattering of security terminology here) a ‘purported’ FSB official who ‘supposedly’ took part in an ‘alleged’ attempt on the politician’s life. In the conversation, Head of Team 29 Ivan Pavlov heard, ‘tacit admissions of involvement in the poisoning’, admissions that could be used in court. If things were different, there would be a trial. So, what else can we do? Be realists: demand the impossible! By which I mean an investigation.

Tuesday was an important day in the insane criminal trial of Ivan Safronov. Our lawyers, fed up with conflicting information about what on earth it is that Vanya is being accused of, set things straight with the publication of the official decision to indict their client. Of course, neither Roscosmos nor ‘service in government’, as emphasised by Putin, feature in the decision. You can read it for yourself. Again, Safronov is being accused of a crime that he supposedly committed in 2017. At the time, he worked as a journalist at the newspaper Kommersant, and nowhere else. Now it’s official, as they say. “The Kremlin has noted the publication”, noted Dmitry Peskov modestly, commenting on the decision.

While you’re at it, Dmitry Sergeevich, take a look at the ‘spy’ cases in Russia today, which are increasing in number every year. Just for you, we selected the most high-profile among them: here’s our first video, and here’s the follow-up.

Wednesday, and in its third (and final) reading, the State Duma passed a law recognising individuals as foreign agents. Simply put, if you engage in political activity (in the broadest possible sense of the term) and receive financial support/fees/donations from overseas, then that’s it, you’re a foreign agent and must apply for inclusion in the relevant list. Here’s a simple example: you organise a seminar on freedom of speech. One of the partners is a foreigner, and he transfers some cash to you to help organise it. Well, that’s done it – welcome to the spy network! Our lawyer Maksim Olenichev goes into it in more detail here.

Thursday was ‘fish day’ [Soviet work canteens served fish on Thursdays – ed.], and we were the fish, hitting against the ice of Russia’s Ministry of Justice. On 24 December, that department responded to a letter from 11 human rights organisations, including Team 29, which laid out proposed improvements surrounding freedom of assembly. But what amounts to an improvement for citizens poses a problem for officials, and so the response was predictably negative. Our suggestion was to organise a platform of experts and, together, at least make a start, at least begin to have a dialogue, but the Ministry put a stop to it with a single document. Oh well, in the meantime you can listen to the debate about freedom of assembly that came out it. In the new episode of our Little Terror podcast, we discuss with OVD-Info journalist Denis Shedov how to hold a protest rally in 2021.

The letter from the Ministry of Justice, though, turned out to be just a taste of things to come. Again, a main course was cooked up by deputies, requiring social media companies to monitor comments across all platforms exceeding 500,000 users and to remove any ‘insults directed at the government’ and other unprintable content. That’s in the purest sense of the term ‘unprintable’, because the new law amounts to no more than pure censorship.

The main verdict of the day was that imposed on Antonina Zimina and Konstantin Antonets. The married couple from Kaliningrad was found guilty of treason. She will spend 13 years in a general regime prison camp, and he 12 and a half years in a strict regime prison camp. The court found that in 2012, Zimina had been recruited by the Latvian intelligence services and that she had subsequently passed them top-secret information and had her husband come in on the operation. It’s actually a murky story. We first learned about the husband and wife on hearing that they had just sent their friends some photographs from their wedding, which had been attended by a man who worked for the FSB. But then, because of these pictures, his identity supposedly got out into the open. It sounds like the script from some absurdist play. And then, towards the end of the trial, Antonina’s father, Konstantin Zimin, argued that the prosecution should not insist on punishment for the ‘wedding’ incident but instead focus on the family’s communications with Latvian intelligence. Once again, the main challenge we have in cases such as this is the total secrecy, lack of transparency, and impossibility of public scrutiny. Both Zimina and Antonets have pleaded not guilty.

Finally, I’ll share our new guide about the anti-extremism police (‘Centre E’). 

I’d like to thank you for reading, watching and listening to us in 2020. There’s more to come!

Have a Happy New Year! My one wish is, of course, for you to be free! 


Translated by Lindsay Munford

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