20 years under Putin: a timeline

As political repressions expanded in July, the Russian authorities’ activities in August may appear less intense. Still, human rights violations continued. In early August, seven people were found guilty of extremism as part of the Novoye Velichiye case. In Bashkiria, environmental protests against mining at Mount Kushtau were brutally suppressed. Yakut shaman Alexander Gabyshev was forcibly placed in a neuropsychiatric dispensary for speaking out against Vladimir Putin.

 

Upper row: Ruslan Kostylenkov, Vyacheslav Kryukov, Anna Pavlikova (the Novoye Velichiye case). Lower row: Ruslan Nurtdinov, Fail Alchinov (Bashkir activists detained during the Kushtau protests), Yakut shaman Alexander Gabyshev. 

 

Verdicts in the Novoye Velichiye case: real and suspended sentences

  • On August 6, a Moscow court announced the verdicts in the case of the Novoye Velichiye (“New Greatness”) organization—an allegedly extremist entity created to provoke the Russian security forces (as IMR wrote in May).
  • The court found seven of the defendants guilty of creating an extremist organization (part 1, article 282.1 of the Criminal Code). Ruslan Kostylenkov, whom the investigation named as the Novoye Velichiye leader, received years in a general regime colony, Pyotr Karamzin 5 years, and Vyacheslav Kryukov 6 years.
  • Four more defendants were given suspended sentences: Maxim Roshchin 5 years, Dmitry Poletayev and Maria Dubovik 6 years, and Anna Pavlikova (who was 17 years old at the time of her arrest in March 2018) 4years.
  • According to the prosecution, the participants in the Novoye Velichiye case planned to overthrow the Russian government and change the country’s constitutional order. The prosecutors based their case on the testimony of a witness hiding under the pseudonym Ruslan D. (Danilov). But the defense argued that it was this very witness who had played the most active role in the movement by encouraging the defendants to create a political organization, writing its charter and program, keeping minutes, and renting premises for meetings. The defense is confident that the informant Ruslan D. is an embedded intelligence officer.
  • Lawyers and human rights activists noted that the indictment did not indicate either the motives of the crime or the purpose for which Novoye Velichiye—the so-called “extremist organization”—was allegedly created. It is also noteworthy that, according to a special ruling of the Supreme Court, the motives of extremist crimes are subject to mandatory proof, and absence thereof further undermines the prosecutors’ case.
  • Additionally, legal expertise did not reveal any direct calls to violence in the Novoye Velichiye documents. In fact, according to the Memorial human rights center, the defendants “are being persecuted for being critical of the current government and for trying to discuss the situation in the country.”
  • On July 24, 2020, a letter that Ruslan Kostylenkov had written to a friend was made In it, Kostylenkov intimated that during his arrest he had been severely beaten and raped.
  • In October 2019, Kostylenkov and Kryukov slashed their veins in the courtroom after a judge had rejected their petition to cease being kept in a detention center.
  • “The Novoye Velichiye case was fabricated by the investigation through procedural violations and direct abuse. <...> Law enforcement agencies imitate the upholding of public safety, use outright provocations and manipulation, create far-fetched threats to suppress freedom of expression, and declare a simple disagreement a crime,” Memorial stated on the eve of the verdict.
  • In total, ten people were involved in the Novoye Velichiye case. Pavel Rebrovsky and Rustam Rustamov struck a pre-trial deal with the investigation; their cases were considered in a special procedure. In March 2019, Rustamov received 2 years’ suspended sentence for complicity in an extremist community (part 5, article 33; part 2, article 282.1 of the Criminal Code). The Rebrovsky case was sent for a new trial after he had recanted his initial testimony. Another defendant, Sergei Gavrilov, escaped from house arrest and fled to Ukraine, where he received refugee status.

 

Crackdown on environmental protests in Bashkiria: detentions, administrative arrests, fines

  • The Russian authorities continue to use force to suppress lawful protests. In August, Bashkiria became the epicenter of regional protest activity, where environmental activists and local residents fought against the mining of the limestone mountain Kushtau—​​a unique natural object, whose geological exploration could result in its complete destruction.
  • The mountain was marked to be developed as a chalk quarry in 2018, and the Russian federal authorities supported the Bashkir Soda Company’s bid for licensing rights. This plan triggered a conflict with local environmental activists, which led to protests in early August.
  • On August 15, Bashkir security forces demolished the tent camp erected by the environmental activists and detained about 80 people on grounds of vigilantism (article 19.1 of the Administrative Code) and disobedience to the police (article 19.3). Forty-one people were placed under arrest for terms ranging from 1 to 15 days to be served in detention centers; another 20 people were fined 500 to 1000 rubles ($7 to $14). According to the defense, “for [residents of] rural areas, where a significant part of the activists live, even a thousand rubles is a significant fine.”
  • MediaZona reported that the protests saw “violent clashes with private security forces and security officials; protesters were beaten with truncheons as they were pushed away from the barrier blocking the way to the [Kushtau limestone] field.” It was also reported that the Bashkir Soda Company security officers used tear gas against protesters.
  • Addressing the conflict, Bashkir president Radiy Khabirov claimed that during the demolishment of the camp, law enforcement officers had been attacked by protesters, which would be the subject of a “serious criminal investigation.”
  • Still, the development of Mount Kushtau has been suspended; it might receive the status of a specially protected natural reservation.

 

Persecution of Shaman Gabyshev: forced hospitalization for oppositionist views

  • One of the tools that the Russian authorities employ to repress dissidents is mandatory hospitalization in a psychiatric facility.
  • In August, Yakutia’s Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of Yakut shaman Alexander Gabyshev against a lower court’s ruling to place him in a neuropsychiatric dispensary for mandatory treatment.
  • In March 2019, Gabyshev, a self-proclaimed “warrior shaman,” embarked on a lengthy hike from Yakutia to Moscow, where he intended to conduct a ritual to “exorcize” Vladimir Putin. On the way, he was joined by several supporters. Having reached the Siberian city of Chita, the shaman spoke at a rally under the slogan “Russia without Putin.”
  • In September 2019, Gabyshev was detained on the border of Buryatia and the Irkutsk region. A case was opened against him on grounds of public incitement to extremist activity (part 1, article 280 of the Criminal Code), but charges were never brought. Still, he was barred from leaving Russia.
  • On May 12, 2020, Gabyshev was again detained at his home, and on the following day placed in a neuropsychiatric dispensary for mandatory treatment. These actions were taken by the law enforcement agents without a corresponding court decision.
  • Gabyshev refused to stay in the dispensary. On May 28, his lawyers filed a complaint against the unlawful hospitalization. However, the court medical commission recognized the shaman as a danger to himself and the public. The medical evaluation stated that the shaman intended to “harm the government and overthrow Putin, [whom he considered] a demon and antichrist” and that the patient needed to “re-evaluate his own personality.”
  • In early June, the Yakutsk City Court upheld Gabyshev’s placement in the psychiatric facility due to his alleged severe mental disorder. In response, his defense filed a petition for a new psychological and psychiatric examination at a medical facility in a different region. The court granted this request. On July 22, Gabyshev was discharged from the Yakut hospital and transferred under an outpatient treatment regimen.
  • The shaman is outspoken in his oppositionist views. Explaining his reasons for the hike to Moscow, Gabyshev said: “Democracy should be without fear. Now people are afraid to speak, they are afraid that they will be fired, deprived of their wages. Our state power is boundless, demonic. People are being driven into an artificial depression. <...> The sorcerer [Putin] has caught up with his illusion of fear, people are being driven into depression throughout the country, but a white sorcerer—like me—will be able to dispel this obsession.”
  • The Memorial human rights center recognized Gabyshev as a political prisoner. According to the center’s statement, “Doctors and government officials speak about Gabyshev’s hospitalization in political terms, clearly linking it to the shaman’s growing popularity and social influence… None of the statutory grounds for involuntary hospitalization has been convincingly proven. <...> The inability of the investigation for nine months to bring charges against Gabyshev in a criminal case testifies to his innocence.”

 

Russia under Putin

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