20 years under Putin: a timeline

The Institute of Modern Russia continues its series of articles dedicated to Russian political prisoners with a portrait of Ilya Gushchin, opposition activist, member of the National Democratic Party, and defendant in the “second wave” of the Bolotnaya trials.



Name: Ilya Vladimirovich Gushchin
Date of birth: August 22, 1988
Possible term of imprisonment: up to 13 years

Ilya Gushchin, opposition activist and member of the National Democratic Party, has been in custody since February 6, 2013. Gushchin was arrested during the so-called “second wave” of detentions resulting from the Bolotnaya Square protests, along with Alexey Gaskarov, Elena Kokhtareva, and Alexander Margolin. (This series of arrests was called the “second wave,” because it began almost a year after the May 6 events and the subsequent arrest of dozens of Bolotnaya prisoners. This year, a “third wave” of arrests began.) In March 2014, all four participants were charged with participation in mass riots and engagement in violent actions (not threatening life or health) against the authorities. According to the official statement of the Russian Investigative Committee, while participating in “mass riots” in Bolotnaya Square, Gushchin grabbed a police officer’s uniform and, in an attempt to throw him to the ground, tried to impede the officer’s efforts to detain another participant in the riot. Gushchin partially admitted his guilt but later recanted his testimony.

The RIC offered several reasons for Gushchin’s arrest that seemed odd to many legal experts. First, they claimed that since Gushchin has been a member of the National Democratic Party, which is “disloyal to the authorities,” he might have continued participating in rallies. Second, they said that the following facts had raised suspicion: the defendant had an international passport (which, in fact, had been already confiscated), had connections in Estonia and Lithuania (where he had never been), and had hitchhiked previously. According to Sergei Panchenko, Gushchin’s lawyer, throughout the process, the prosecutors have adopted an approach based on a thoughtless presentation of case materials and extensive use of administrative resources.

The main witness in the Gushchin case is the police officer Igor Davydov, who claimed that he had seen Gushchin grab his colleague’s bulletproof vest. The victim, Sergey Antonov, also recognized the defendant as his aggressor. In Antonov’s words, however, Gushchin did not grab his vest, but rather pulled him by the helmet. The helmet strap put pressure on his neck, his vision darkened, and he felt pain—experiences that he “suddenly remembered” in February 2013. Interestingly, in the earlier Bolotnaya trials, police officers maintained that because of security requirements, officers do not buckle their helmets in rally situations.

Some of the reasons for Gushchin’s arrest are: he is member of the National Democratic Party, which is “disloyal to the authorities;” he had an international passport (which, in fact, had been already confiscated), had connections in Estonia and Lithuania (where he had never been), and had hitchhiked previously.

As civic activist Daria Kostromina noted, there were other inconsistencies in the testimonies of the witness and the victim (such inconsistencies have become a predictable pattern of the Bolotnaya trials). For example, according to one testimony, the police officers were detaining the protesters, while according to the other, they were not. Also, Davydov provided incorrect information about the color of the jacket that Gushchin was wearing during the protests. The prosecutor, however, kindly reminded the witness of the correct answer.

After examining the materials of the Gushchin case, many commentators have concluded that it would have been impossible for the defendant to commit the actions of which he was accused. Dmitri Borko, a public defender in the Bolotnaya cases, analyzed video recordings and photographs of the events in Bolotnaya Square, particularly those featuring Gushchin. As Borko told IMR, the conflict started when a police detention squad charged on the protesters, who were facing a police picket and asking to negotiate with the head of the Moscow police, Vladimir Kolokoltsev. After the clash, some police officers and protesters fell down. At one point, “something happened…and Ilya extended his arms over people’s heads and apparently touched the police officer. It is not 100 percent clear, though, since it was just a passing movement.” The whole episode with Gushchin lasts three seconds. Borko believes that Gushchin could have touched the helmet or the shoulder of the police officer, but that he “would have been physically unable to reach and pull his helmet.”



Irrespective of these facts, Gushchin is being charged with violent actions against an authority. At the same time, all actions taken by the police officers are considered legal. For example, Turana Varzhabetyan, a pensioner who attended the May 6 rally and can be seen in the same footage as Gushchin, headed toward the police officers to rescue two young men being beaten by the police. She was struck on the head with a truncheon and later diagnosed with concussion. With the help of the Public Verdict Foundation, she filed a complaint with the RIC. The response was predictable: no illegal actions by the authorities had been detected in her case. According to journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, investigation of the Bolotnaya cases and the Gushchin case in particular “ha[ve] been biased. What we have witnessed is half-investigation. The investigators of the May 6 events are interested exclusively in the actions of those who participated in the rally. They are not interested in what happened on the [police] side.”

Gushchin’s friends describe him as a communicative and creative person who has always been civic-minded. According to the former development director of Moskva Football Club, where Gushchin worked as an analyst for three years, “it was not [Gushchin’s] fault that the authorities caused the provocation. And it was not his fault that he could not stay away when the police officers were beating a person.” Last fall, in a letter to Kostromina, Gushchin expressed his hope that by the summer of 2014, all of the Bolotnaya prisoners would be released. Unfortunately, his hope has not been realized. According to media reports, the Moscow City Court recently rejected an appeal of the extended detention of the second wave of Bolotnaya prisoners. Gushchin remains in custody and faces a possible punishment of up to 13 years in jail.