The Institute of Modern Russia continues its series of articles dedicated to Russian political prisoners with a portrait of Daniil Konstantinov, a civil activist and leader of the nationalist League for the Defense of Moscow movement. New court hearings on his case started on May 27.

 

 

Name: Daniil Ilyich Konstantinov
Date of Birth: February 5, 1984

Konstantinov was arrested in March 2012 on murder charges. The prosecutors demanded a sentence of ten years, to be served at a high-security penal colony. However, the case was sent back for further investigation. New court hearings on the case started on May 27.

 

Daniil Konstantinov, leader of the nationalist League for the Defense of Moscow movement and an active participant in the mass protests of the past several years, was arrested on March 22, 2012. According to investigators, because of a “sudden aversion,” Konstantinov stabbed and killed Alexei Temnikov, 23, on December 3, 2011, near the Ulitsa Akademika Yangelya metro station in Moscow.

According to the investigation, the evidence against Konstantinov is primarily based on the testimony of one witness, Alexey Sofronov, who was with Temnikov at the time the crime happened. According to Sofronov, the two men were approached by a group of six young people, and “one of them [presumably, Konstantinov]” spit on Temnikov’s jacket, and then a fight began that resulted in the murder. It is noteworthy, though, that Sofronov originally did not identify Konstantinov and said that he did not remember the moment of the stabbing.

In the following months, however, Sofronov allegedly “remembered” new details of the December 3 events. During the summer of 2012, he offered new information about the appearance of the murderer. As well, he suddenly provided a detailed description of the knife that was used to murder Temnikov, as well as a drawing of the knife that perfectly matched the description of the lethal wound. For some reason, this drawing was later sent by the investigator to be assessed by experts. Many questions have arisen regarding the character of the witness, since Sofronov is a “professional criminal” who in March 2012 alone committed 10 robberies and burglaries (although he received only conditional sentences for these crimes).

As for Konstantinov, he has not admitted guilt, claiming that the case against him has been fabricated. His defense and numerous commentators argue that all testimonies have been falsified by law enforcement and that criminal prosecution has been pursued exclusively for political reasons. Konstantinov is the only member of the opposition with nationalist views whose name was included on Russia’s Memorial Human Rights Center’s list of political prisoners.

Konstantinov has expressed the belief that Sofronov worked closely with investigators and was rewarded for this “cooperation.” According to Konstantinov’s defense, Sofronov was necessary for the prosecution’s case, because the defendant has an alibi. On December 3, Konstantinov’s mother celebrated her birthday with her family (including Konstantinov) and friends in the Daikon Restaurant, which is located in a different section of Moscow that is far from the crime scene. Konstantinov did not leave the restaurant at any point during the celebration. Furthermore, as he himself pointed out, “the investigators do not have any concrete evidence demonstrating that I was at the Yangelya metro station: no phone bills indicating calls, no surveillance camera recordings, no photographs or videos of my car within proximity to the crime scene.” However, neither these arguments nor those offered by his defense that Konstantinov was “a moderate nationalist” and was not aggressive (a conclusion supported by three court-ordered psychological evaluations) had any effect on the investigators.

“This is a very odious case. Anyone who reviews the materials, even just skims through them, will understand that the case was fabricated and that the intelligence services have been involved in it. It is impossible to talk about the independence of judges."

IMR spoke to Ilya Konstantinov, the defendant’s father and a well-known politician who formerly served as the People’s Deputy of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, who offered several reasons for why his son has been prosecuted. Konstantinov, who like his father chose a political path, proved a bright and charismatic politician whose stance was appealing to many young people. He organized a number of large-scale public protests, including the March Against Ethnic Crimes, and participated in the mass protests of winter 2011. He also served as a coordinator of the nationalist faction in the so-called Civic Council, an entity that sought to manage the collaborative efforts of various opposition groups, guided by the idea of consolidating opposition forces to fight the encroaching dictatorship.

Konstantinov’s active position, his effectiveness as a politician, and his willingness to consolidate opposition forces (qualities that were on display in his involvement with the mass protests of May 1 and 6, 2012) are among other reasons for his prosecution. Additionally, according to Ilya Konstantinov, “some representatives of the intelligence services thought of another threat: that I would work with Daniil. They did not want to see a new political brand—the Konstantiovs—emerge.”

Yet another reason might explain why the young politician was prosecuted. In December 2011, Konstantinov refused to head a group that planned to storm the State Duma: “Some of Daniil’s friends urged him to carry out an operation to storm the Duma, but he strongly refused. In fact, not only did he refuse to be involved himself, but he also said he would not let others do so, since he viewed it as a provocation,” Konstantinov-Sr said.

Konstantinov’s lawyers believe that starting with the March Against Ethnic Crimes held on October 1, 2011, Konstantinov was placed under the surveillance of the intelligence services. On December 5, at the mass protest against the rigging of parliamentary elections, Konstantinov and other opposition leaders were detained and placed in custody under administrative arrest. As Konstantinov has recollected, while he was being held in the Department of Internal Affairs of Moscow’s Tverskoy District, he was visited by an unknown representative of the General Administration for Combating Extremism (Center E), who tried to recruit him. Konstantinov rejected his offer, and the unknown Center E officer promised that as a result, Konstantinov would soon find himself behind bars again, but this time under serious criminal charges.

The threats continued after Konstantinov was arrested in March 2012. In one case, Konstaninov was told that he would stay in jail “[as an example] for the others.” Threats were also followed by actions: on December 26, 2013, the day that the court decided to send his case back for further investigation, Konstantinov was beaten and tortured in the police escort area of the Chertanovsky District Court.

 

As a result of the efforts of Konstantinov’s supporters, the initial trial sparked a public outcry. According to Konstantinov’s father, “the public has realized that the case was falsified.” Most likely, this public response was the main reason why, at the very last moment, the decision was made somewhere near the top of the power vertical to send the case back for further investigation. Previously, few observers had doubted that despite the absurdity of the case, Konstantinov would be found guilty.

This “further investigation” took an additional two and a half months. According to Ilya Konstantinov, during that time, only two investigative activities were performed, which together took about an hour and a half of the investigator’s time. The remainder of the investigator’s time was spent preparing formal rejections of the defense’s requests to continue the investigation. On May 5, Konstantinov and his lawyers started reviewing the case materials, which filled 17 volumes of 250 to 300 pages each and several hundred hours of video and audio recordings. On May 7, the investigator requested that the time period allowed for the review of the case materials end on May 12 (no investigative activities were allowed on May 9, 10, and 11). At the most recent court session, the decision was made to set the end of the time period for review as May 14. At the same session, all Konstantinov’s supporters and the press were forcefully removed from the court building before the decision was announced. They were told that the court building closed at 6 p.m. According to one of Konstantinov’s lawyers, that decision was unprecedented for the Moscow courts.

As many commentators have noted, Konstantinov’s case is unique. The well-known Moscow writer Yuliya Latynina has said that “this is the first case where the authorities decided to attack a political opponent with a violent criminal case on completely fabricated charges.” Ilya Konstantinov has stated that “this is a very odious case. Anyone who reviews the materials, even just skims through them, will understand that the case was fabricated and that the intelligence services have been involved in it.” He has further argued that “it is impossible to talk about the independence of judges. . . . Today’s court is a decorative mechanism, a pretty screen that shows men and women looking serious, wearing robes, but behind that screen there is abuse of discretion, lawlessness, immediate violence and corruption.”

A new hearing on Konstantinov’s case started on May 27.

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