Undercover Agent Serves As Witness in Trial of 12
Published: May 30, 2012 (Issue # 1710)
The prosecution presented its most intriguing witness yet during the trial of the 12 Other Russia activists Tuesday. An undercover agent, who reported to counter-extremism Center E on the activists’ meetings and protests, took the stand at the trial’s latest session.
Identified in court as Mikhail Sazonov, the witness testified from another room, with his answers heard in the courtroom. His voice was electronically distorted to “ensure his safety” in compliance with a motion made by Prosecutor Nadezhda Filimonova during Friday’s hearing.
Vyborgsky District Court Judge Sergei Yakovlev rejected a motion made by defendant Andrei Dmitriyev, chair of The Other Russia’s local branch, to verify whether or not the witness was the real Sazonov and whether he was alone in the room— without a Center E officer with him to prompt him.
The prosecution hopes to prove that the activities of the defendants — meetings, rallies or other forms of protest — were in reality the activities of the banned National Bolshevik Party (NBP). Most of the defendants were members of the party before it was banned for being extremist in 2007.
Sazonov claimed that he filled in a membership form on the Nazbol.ru website in March 2009 because “he was interested in knowing what the opposition was like.” After two meetings he said he went to Center E, whose address he found using the Yandex search engine, and was invited to cooperate with Center E by Officer Dmitry Gryaznov.
On Tuesday, Sazonov said he went to Center E because he realized that the NBP organization was banned. According to him, he went to one rally — Strategy 31, a rally in defense of the constitutional right of assembly, in late 2009 (he said he didn’t remember what month it was) and saw banned NBP flags there.
However, Strategy 31 was launched in St. Petersburg on Jan. 31, 2010 by several opposition groups as a non-partisan campaign that insists it does not use party flags.
According to the indictment, Sazonov identified all of the 12 defendants in the 60 photographs shown to him during the investigation, but on Tuesday he managed to identify only four when the photographs were shown to him in his separate room.
The defense believe Sazonov — who introduced himself to the activists as “Ruben,” according to Dmitriyev — was an undercover police operative from the very start, planted by Center E to report on the activists. He also recommended an apartment that had been equipped with surveillance cameras and microphones to the group for their meetings.
According to Center E documentation featured among the criminal case materials, the officers deliberately planted an undercover agent identified as “Citizen R” in the group with the aim of bringing the activists together in one place to get them to “reveal their illegal activities.” But despite similarities between him and the planted police agent, Sazonov denied he was “Citizen R.”
Sazonov also claimed he was not paid for his service as an undercover agent, which lasted for about 18 months, and used his own money rather than Center E’s to pay his membership fees.
Judge Yakovlev upheld Sazonov’s refusal to answer when asked whether he had worked with the police in the past or if he was currently working with any law enforcement agency, on the grounds that it was “personal information” that could compromise Sazonov’s safety.
During Friday’s session, Lyudmila Pedorych, a neighbor of defendant Boikov, was required by the court to speak. During the investigation, Pedorych said that her and Boikov’s former neighbor, identified only as Ira, described Boikov as a [supporter of former NBP leader Eduard Limonov] “Limonovist.”
Speaking in court, Pedorych, who works as a cashier, said that the conversation took place in 2005 when she moved into a communal apartment on Gorokhovaya Ulitsa, where both she and Boikov live, and where Ira told her about the other neighbors.
Pedorych said she signed a document saying a search of Boikov’s room had been conducted without reading it, and then expressed doubts whether it was her signature on the paper. She said she never saw any of the buttons or leaflets allegedly found in Boikov’s room.
During the past two sessions, Judge Yakovlev repeatedly granted Prosecutor Filimonova’s motions and denied those of the defense.
The evidence in the criminal case filed by counter-extremism Center E includes items such as Strategy 31 buttons (the number “31” on a white background), an anti-fascist film festival poster and Limonov’s early novels, first published when he lived in New York and Paris in the early 1980s.
During the first four sessions, many prosecution witnesses failed to confirm the accusations they had allegedly made during the investigation.
Dmitriyev, who faces from two to four years in prison for being an “organizer,” said that there was little hope that the discrepancies in the prosecution’s case would lead to acquittal.
“It looks like the trial is moving to a conviction; let’s hope it will be a suspended sentence,” he said Tuesday.
“The whole case is a large-scale police provocation and should fall apart. The judge is trying to make the trial look objective, but it is clearly biased toward the prosecution, with the defense’s motions being denied,” said Dmitriyev.
“The lawyers say it could be won if it were not politically motivated, but as it is, there’s not much to be done about it. I’d like to be wrong about that, but so far I am not very optimistic based on how the judge has been acting and how the trial has been progressing.”
The next session will take place on June 1.