Activists Appeal Verdict Despite Revoked Penalty
Published: January 16, 2013 (Issue # 1742)
The activists who were on trial for allegedly belonging to a banned organization in the infamous Trial of 12 appealed last week the bizarre verdict, in which the court found them guilty and sentenced them to hefty fines but then lifted the punishment.
The defendants had pleaded not guilty and described the case as “fabricated.”
“They consider themselves innocent,” lawyer Olga Tseitlina, who is defending The Other Russia’s Alexei Pesotsky, said Tuesday. “Even if they couldn’t wish for a better verdict, [because acquittals are extremely rare in Russian legal cases].”
The verdict was announced in Vyborgsky District Court — unusually guarded by masked men armed with submachine-guns — on Dec. 28, shortly before the 10-day New Year holidays, amid fears of possible prison sentences, although the prosecutor had earlier asked the court to issue large fines.
According to the prosecution, the defendants resumed the “extremist activities” of the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), which was banned by the Moscow City Court as “extremist” in August 2007, and thus committed a crime under Article 282.2 of the Russian Criminal Code (“Organization of activities of an extremist organization.”) The offence is punishable by up to two years in prison.
In turn, the activists and defense claimed that the activists acted legally, first within The Other Russia coalition formed in 2006 by dissident author Eduard Limonov, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and from July 2010 as members of the Other Russia political party.
Judge Sergei Yakovlev read the verdict for more than three-and-a-half hours, countering every argument previously put forward by the defense, and sentenced the defendants to large fines.
In a jaw-dropping twist several minutes later, Yakovlev revoked the punishment on the grounds that the new Other Russia was established at its founding conference in July 2010 and the defendants had acted legally as its members since then.
Having excluded all the alleged offenses after July 2010, Yakovlev lifted the punishment on the grounds that the two-year limitation period for minor crimes had expired since that time.
The Other Russia’s local chair Andrei Dmitriyev and activists Andrei Pesotsky and Alexei Marochkin, who claimed he did not belong to The Other Russia at all, although he admitted being an NBP supporter before the party was banned, were charged with being organizers of extremist activities and were each issued with fines of 200,000 rubles ($6,625).
The Other Russia activists Andrei Milyuk, Roman Khrenov, Alexander Yashin and Ravil Bashirov were fined 150,000 rubles ($4,970) each. State prosecutor Nadezhda Filimonova had earlier asked the court to sentence the activists to 250,000- and 180,000-ruble ($8,285 and $5,965) fines.
Originally, charges were pressed against 13 activists, but the trial became known as the “Trial of 12,” after one of the accused, Sergei Porokhovoi, fled to Finland and applied for political asylum there in Nov. 2011 and his case was made separate.
The cases of five activists — Igor Boikov, Alexei Zentsov, Vladislav Ivakhnik, Vadim Mamedov and Oleg Petrov — were closed in September 2012 on the grounds that the two-year limitation period since their last detention at a public protest, seen by the prosecution as part of their “criminal activities,” had expired.
The prosecution’s case was based on audio and video recordings of activists’ meeting covertly made by anti-extremism Center E from July through December 2009 and presented on 27 DVDs, as well as on expert reports by Russian Institute of Cultural Studies employees Vitaly Batov and Nadezhda Kryukova, who defined the meetings as having been held by the banned NBP.
The accusations were backed by police officers and Center E officers as well as two “secret witnesses” presented as “Anatoly Sokolov” and “Mikhail Sazonov,” who had infiltrated the group. The two testified from another room via a PA system with their voices electronically altered.
The defense brought authors Limonov, Zakhar Prilepin and Nikolai Konyayev, as well as St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputies Maxim Reznik and Vyacheslav Notyag and a number of political and civic activists to testify in defense of the accused.
Later on the day of the verdict, the former defendants staged an unsanctioned protest against the anti-extremism law used against them at the trial by unfurling a banner, lighting flares and telling journalists and the public about their case near Gostiny Dvor, the site of Strategy 31 rallies in defense of the right of freedom of assembly.
Dmitriyev speculated on the amount of time and state budget funds spent by the state on the case, which lasted for about four years after the counter-extremism Center E planted a spy into the group in early 2009.
Later the same year, Center E spent six months secretly recording the activists’ meetings, after which the case went to the Investigative Committee, which launched an investigation in November 2010. According to Dmitriyev, 18 investigators worked on the case, ordering apartment searches, analyzing surveillance tapes and what they saw as evidence and summoning witnesses.
After the case went to court, the trial began in April 2012 and lasted nine months until Dec. 28, when the verdict was pronounced.
The defense said the verdict that left the activists unpunished was motivated by the fact that the evidence provided by the prosecution was dubious or fabricated, while the experts were shown to be incompetent, having been proven to be a psychologist and a math teacher who did not have degrees in political science, sociology, heraldry or any subjects that would have qualified them to issue an expert opinion on the case.
“We categorically disagree with the fact that the verdict is accusatorial,” lawyer Sergei Golubok said outside the court after the verdict was announced.
“Even if there are no negative consequences for the defendants, the verdict violates their rights enshrined by the European Convention on Human Rights.”
According to lawyer Tseitlina, the case was unique because no activist or group in Russia has yet been tried for the alleged continuation of activities of a banned organization.
She said Tuesday that the appeal hearing at the St. Petersburg City Court will be set no earlier than February or March, as not all the defendants have yet been issued their copies of the verdict by the court. The verdict will not come into force until then.