The Institute of Modern Russia continues its series of articles dedicated to Russian political prisoners with a profile of Alexei Polikhovich, a student at the Russian State Social University (RSSU) and a defendant in the “first wave” of the Bolotnaya trials. He is currently being held in penal colony in the Ryazan region.

 

Photo: Dmitry Borko / Grani.ru

 

Full Name: Alexei Polikhovich
Date of Birth: August 29, 1990

Alexei Polikhovich was arrested on July 26, 2012, on charges of participation in mass riots and violent actions against a law-enforcement officer during the May 6 protest at Bolotnaya Square. On February 24, 2014, he was sentenced to three and a half years in a standard regime penal colony.

 

Alexei Polikhovich was a student at the Russian State Social University (RSSU) who also worked as a deliveryman at the insurance company Mega-Garant. He had served in the army and, upon finishing his military service and returning home, was offered a job with the Federal Protection Service. He declined the offer. Later, he developed an interest in civic activities, participated in the protests to defend Tsagovsky Forest, and volunteered to collect supplies for the victims of the Krymsk flood. Starting with a mass demonstration in December 2011, Polikhovich became engaged in protest activities.

On May 6, 2012, he attended the protest at Bolotnaya Square. And then, two and a half months later, on July 26, he was suddenly arrested, becoming the sixteenth defendant in the Bolotnaya case. He was charged with participation in mass riots (Part 2, Article 212 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) and violent actions against a representative of authority, not threatening life or health (Part 1, Article 318 of the Criminal Code). According to the investigation, he participated in the “mass riots” of May 6, 2012, obstructed police work during the detainment of other “aggressively behaving protesters,” and caused physical harm to a police officer.

Analysis of the details of the May 6 events and the charges, however, paints a different picture. According to the defense, the Bolotnaya protest does not qualify as “mass riots,” since, for instance, there was no arson or property destruction during the protest—two qualifying characteristics of a riot. Moreover, according to Olga Grigorenko, Polikhovich’s lawyer, Article 318 is applicable only to the cases where representatives of authority were on duty. And if they were, the lawfulness of their actions is always “subject to proof.” In Polikhovich’s case, no evidence to support the investigation’s claims was presented.

The defense also questioned whether “detainment” of the protesters actually took place. As Alexei’s father said in an interview with IMR, “Nobody was ‘detaining’ anyone. On the video, one can see that five or six riot police officers were beating a young man—who was bent over—with truncheons.”

“We are taken from the society and kept hostage by the authorities. We are being tried because the officials felt sickly due to [the] civic activities of 2011–2012...”

The key witness for the prosecution was a police officer named Igor Tarasovs. During the investigation, he stated several times that no illegal violent acts were committed against him and, consequently, he did not sustain any physical harm. Five months later, Tarasov changed his story and allegedly identified a young man who had been pulling another protester away from the police. At that time, “Nothing was said about any violence used by Polikhovich against a representative of authority,” Olga Grigorenko insisted. Three months after that, Tarasov transformed from a witness into a victim. According to his new testimony, Polikhovich “grabbed the officer’s arm and pulled it out from the hand of a protester who was being detained.” According to Tarasov, in that moment, he experienced physical pain. Thus, Polikhovich was charged with violent actions against a representative of authority.

According to Gazeta.Ru, the new charges emerged on the day after Vladimir Putin held a press-conference in which he said, “I do not think that people should be imprisoned for taking part in rallies, even if those rallies were held in violation of the law. But at the same time—and I want to draw your attention to this—it is absolutely unacceptable when representatives of the authorities are assaulted.” As Alexei’s father said in his conversation with IMR, the investigation was trying to please the Kremlin, especially investigation officer Sergei Kosterin, who was especially active in finding an appropiate culprit that could match the purpose. It was he who came up with charging Polikhovich with Article 318. According to Kosterin, Polikhovich committed a “serious crime against the state authority,” and he needed to confess. Trying to put pressure on the accused, Kosterin denied him family visits in the pre-trial detention center for six months.

Meanwhile, during the court hearings, Tarasov got so confused with his own testimony that he finally asked the court, “Let us just forget everything!” Alexei’s father notes that the defense had an audio recording from the court hearing in which Tarasov confirms, “No harm was done to me”; however, this statement was not included in the court case. As many observers pointed out during and after the case, the purpose of the “game” was quite clear from the start. Alexei’s father wrote in his blog, “I understand perfectly well that our guys will be put in prison, so that it would become a showcase for others. The judge knows it. It’s not her who puts them in prison—she only reads the verdict. It is the system.”

 

Photo: Alexander Baroshin / 6may.org

 

On January 22, 2014, the prosecutors demanded that Polikhovich be given a sentence of five and a half years in prison. On February 24, the verdict was announced and he was sentenced to three and a half years in a standard regime penal colony. On the same day, he was beaten unconscious in the courthouse—simply because he asked the escort guard for a copy of the verdict. Despite the efforts of Alexei’s family and the defense team, the guard was not brought to justice.

Polikhovich pled innocent, saying that he had not caused “physical suffering” to anyone and had no such intent. In his closing statement, Polikhovich said, “We are taken from the society and kept hostage by the authorities. We are being tried because the officials felt sickly due to [the] civic activities of 2011–2012 ... We’ve become part of the performance that aims at punishing society.” Alexei Miroshnichenko, Polikhovich’s other lawyer, made an even harsher comment: “Clearly, we are dealing with the policy of threatening society—[a policy] that has nothing to do with legal standards. This policy was implemented through unjustified repressions against randomly selected people.”

It’s worth noting that Polikhovich pursued civic activity despite his father’s words of caution: “I told my son, ‘Read [Anatoly Rybakov’s] Children of the Arbat. It has everything—what can happen to those who oppose the authorities.’”

Polikhovich is currently being held in penal colony No. 6, located in the Ryazan region. He is isolated from society—as an individual “posing a threat to state authority.”

If you are interested in getting a rare insight into what Russia is really about; what the Russian government and the Russian people are really thinking; what the Russian expert community is really discussing; subscribe to our newsletter below or by letting us know at info@imrussia.org.

Truly yours,

IMR team

Our newsletter delivers a digest of analytical articles and op-eds published on our website, along with the latest updates on the IMR activities on a monthly basis.