Artem Loskutov: Convicted in a Frame-Up

We have written about the case of Novosibirsk artist Artem Loskutov and the international solidarity campaign it provoked on several occasions. On March 18, a court in Novosibirsk found Artem guilty of possession of narcotics and sentenced him to pay a fine of 20,000 rubles (approximately 500 euros). This might be construed as a victory of sorts because the prosecutor had asked for a one-year suspended sentence and one year of probation, and the judge threw out another charge (purchase of narcotics). On the other hand, it is not a victory in that the court rejected the substantial claims by Artem and his defenders that the local “anti-extremist” police had framed him in revenge for his role in the annual Monstrations in Novosibirsk. In fact, the judge got straight to the heart of what is wrong with the criminal justice system in Russia (and elsewhere, it has to be admitted) by declaring that Artem’s testimony was false because it didn’t gibe with the testimony given by the cops. No wonder that the conviction rate in Russia is way over ninety percent: the cops are never wrong (even as they continue to sow murder and mayhem with alarming frequency).

Artem and his lawyer intend to appeal the decision. As does, apparently, the prosecutor, who claimed to be unhappy with the sentence. (And since the principle of double jeopardy does not apply in Russian law, he can appeal for a harsher sentence.)

You can contribute to Artem’s defense fund through his WebMoney account: R371097971630. You can also help Artem by publicizing his case and sending protest letters to the Russian authorities. There is no doubt in our minds that the spirited campaign that erupted throughout Russia and around the world after his arrest in May 2009 made a huge difference in determining even last week’s (somewhat disappointing) outcome.

On March 15, Artem made a closing statement in his trial. He recorded and transcribed the statement, and posted it on the Kiss My Babushka website. We have translated excerpts from this remarkable text, below, along with excerpts from an interview Artem gave to Radio Svodoba the same day.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I will not touch on the legal aspects of the prosecution’s case because in his closing remarks my lawyer has already demonstrated the utter groundlessness of this case, and I am in agreement with all the points of his defense.

I will say something else: the reprisal against me was in the works long ago, and I knew about this. On May 1, 2008, officers of the UBOP (Anti-Organized Crime Directorate), which had not yet been renamed Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention), attempted to kidnap several participants of the Monstration, a peaceful holiday march that had been cleared with the municipal administration [of Novosibirsk]. For several years running, young and not-so-young politically conscious people had produced their own history during this march by making appropriate demands to our absurd reality. UPOB officers photographed and copied down the passport information of the Monstration participants they illegally transported to [the police station on] Oktyabrskaya, 86. According to Alexandra Popova, they promised to “find narcotics” on anyone who again participated in the Monstration. Despite the defense’s repeated appeals, the court declined to question this witness.

In April 2009, the UBOP (which was now already called Center “E” and was combating “extremism” — i.e., all criticism of the actions of the authorities, exposure of corruption on the part of bureaucrats, the struggle against police abuse, and even the use of Maxim Gorky’s line “Rights are taken, not given”) renewed its interest in Monstration participants. Under pretenses that were false, outrageous and had no connection to reality, [Center “E” officer] Oleg Trofimov, who was questioned by the court, made phone calls to my university and my mother, demanding that they persuade me to report for a “discussion.” He referred to statements, allegedly in his possession, that I was a member of a Satanic cult and that I set fire to cats and dogs. I recognized the illegality of these summonses, but the cup of my patience had run over, and so, in order to put an end to this madness, I went to Center “E” on May 1 [2009] for a “discussion” and presented myself  to Sergei Miller, who was questioned by the court. During our discussion, Miller indicated his own negative attitude to the Monstration and made it perfectly clear that the criminal code contained many articles that, given the will, could be applied to Monstration participants and, in particular, to its organizers, in whose number he included me. On this note we parted company.

At that moment the regional court had already authorized a wiretap of my phone. The reason given for the wiretap request was that I was the “leader of a criminal group, which plans to organize mass riots accompanied by violence, pogroms of stores and offices, arson and property destruction, as well as possible resistance to the authorities, and plans to block the movement of surface transport during the May holidays.” My actions were allegedly in possible violation of Article 212, Part 1, and Article 268, Part 1, of the Russian Federation Criminal Code.

On the morning of May 15, after the May holidays were already over and no mass riots had taken place, Miller suddenly telephoned me and once again attempted to summon me for a “discussion.” He refused to send me the written summons required by law in such cases, just as he refused to indicate the purpose of our meeting. I was juggling my job at the university with my studies, and that particular day a pre-defense of my thesis project had been scheduled; I did not intend to skip this without a good reason. I told this to Miller, and in response I  heard what appeared to be an absolutely real threat that I would be detained during the course of the day by Miller’s subordinates. “Y0u are cheeky. I’m going to send a car with dogs to get you,” he promised. Miller kept his word: on the evening of the same day I was kidnapped by officers of the Center for Extremism Prevention. I should note that Friday evening was a quite convenient time to kidnap me. No one would have missed me at work for at least two days, and it would have been practically impossible for me to collect the necessary character references for the custody hearing. Everything was supposed to happen as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.

In court, Miller testified that he had nothing to do with the kidnapping and the filing of criminal charges. It is obvious, however, that after the case had already been opened, his direct subordinate Trofimov collected personal information about me that was entered into the record at the custody hearings. This included copies of certain texts and photographs of unknown origin that bore his signature and surname. He also interrogated my neighbors and summoned the parents of defense witnesses for “discussions,” and he visited me in the temporary detention facility to have another such discussion. Moreover, in the report that served as the basis for the filing of criminal charges, it is stated that, according to intelligence, I had allegedly been distributing narcotic substances in a nonexistent university. It is clear that this information was cooked up that morning so quickly that there wasn’t even enough time to retype it. The threads that hold [the state’s case] together are apparent to the attentive observer, and they are there to see during the entire course of this fabrication.

[….]

In January, NTV broadcast Katerina Gordeeva’s documentary film “We Are Not Vegetables.” The film [inserted, below] is about people who cannot reconcile themselves to injustice, and it also talks about my trial. The prosecutor voiced the opinion that that the defense’s witnesses were shielding me, that they were aiding me in escaping responsibility. He has apparently forgotten, however, that among these witnesses were Antonina Proshkina, Danil Shatalin, and Ilya Egipko, who were absolute strangers to me and were only interested in seeing justice done.  They were not too lazy or afraid to appear in court and give honest testimony, and that is because they were outraged by the flagrant injustice they had witnessed. This injustice also outraged the hundreds of people who participated in support actions not only in Novosibirsk, but also in Barnaul, Tula, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Saint Petersburg, Berlin, Leipzig, and other cities. These people not only signed petitions, held pickets, wrote songs, and made films, but [some of them] also even went on hunger strike. If you think for a second, that meant they risked their lives. I was in jail, but I was happy because I knew how many worthy people supported me, from schoolchildren and university students to Nobel laureates.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

All of Russia (and not only Russia) knows that the attempts to pin any crimes whatsoever on me were a flagrant farce from the very beginning. Even the prosecution’s witnesses practically testified on my behalf.

What was the purpose of all these provocations and crude procedural violations, these slanders and false, baseless accusations? Why was this trial necessary? Was it all meant only to punish me? No, there is a “principle” at work here, a kind of “philosophy.” Behind the stated charge there is another charge that is unstated. By prosecuting me, the authorities are pursuing the goal of concealing their own crimes.

I have no doubt that the only correct and legal verdict [in this case] is an acquittal. I know the law. But I also know [current] legal practice, and so today, in my closing remarks, I ask nothing from the court.

Everyone knows that I am not guilty of the crime I am charged with committing. And therefore I do not intend to ask the court for mercy. It is a disgrace for me and for my country that the prosecutor’s direct and flagrant deception of the court is essentially deigned legal. It is a misfortune that the entire country is convinced that the courts act at the behest of bureaucrats and the powers that be.

You can give me a suspended sentence or send me to a prison colony, but I am confident that no honest person will condemn me.

The sentence and the trial itself are tacit admissions of the significance of the things I have done and said. And my future rehabilitation [i.e., the overturning of the conviction] is as inevitable as today’s conviction.

As many times as merchants and tyrants murder prophets, so many times Socrates will die on this earth. He will be born again in a new genius or prophet, who will discern the merits and vices in his own world, and tell people about them with his living speech, whether as a sermon or a poem.

_______________

Here are some excerpts from an interview with Artem published (in Russian) on the Radio Svoboda website. The interview was given before the verdict in his case was announced.

[Artem Loskutov:] The prosecuting attorney asked for a one-year suspended sentence and one year of probation. The prosecutor believes my guilt is proven, that the police detectives corroborate each other in their testimonies. He had no problems with what they said. During closing arguments I objected to this, and my lawyer objected even more strongly. In my closing remarks, I catalogued the obvious falsifications the police officers made in their testimonies, and I recounted my long relationship, beginning on May 1, 2008, with the UBOP, which later became Center “E”.

[…]

I talked about my interactions with a certain Mr. Miller, the head of some kind of division within Center “E”, who told me: “Well, Artem, if you continue organizing demonstrations, then there are very many articles in the Criminal Code that we can charge you with. Someone will show up to [your demonstration] and start a fight, and then you will have a riot on your hands. And you as the organizer will be responsible for the whole mess. Or something else could happen: a pogrom could be incited, someone could begin breaking shop windows…”

[Radio Svoboda:] Did you write down your conversation with Mr. Miller?

[Artem Loskutov:] Yes, but I didn’t even bother to make the transcript public. We talked for an hour. He didn’t refer to narcotics directly; he talked about certain articles [of the Criminal Code, as was just mentioned].

In his remarks, the prosecutor said that the drugs were planted [on me] incorrectly somehow: “If they wanted to frame you, then why did they shadow you? They could have just planted the drugs in the morning. Why did they bring the [state] witnesses [required by Russian law in police searches] and wait for hour and a half? They could have simply planted the drugs just like that. And, generally speaking, it is not that easy to plant marijuana. It is much easier to plant heroin. It weighs less.”

According to the prosecutor, it turns out that planting drugs is an everyday fact of life. In my case, the planting of the drugs didn’t appear so obvious: attempts were made to give the case the appearance of authenticity. And so the prosecutor said in court that, if the planting of the drugs didn’t appear so simple and brazen, that meant they hadn’t been planted.

I know the working methods of the Novosibirsk UBO. There is this guy in Novosibirsk named Vadim Ivanov; he was the leader of the Avant-Garde of Red Youth (AKM). In 2006, when the G8 summit was taking place in Petersburg, a large number of activists from various regions headed there, and the authorities removed them from trains. One of these people was Vadim Ivanov from Novosibirsk. Surprise, surprise: it was the very same Captain Lazarev, who detained me, who removed him from the train and discovered 26 grams of hashish on him. He was charged with possession and given a two-year suspended sentence.

[…]

Getting back to my closing remarks, I said that it was not so much me who was being sentenced, that this was an attempt on the part of several Center “E” officers to escape responsibility. Because if you acquit me, then that automatically means they fabricated a criminal case. And that is why this court will probably prove incapable of handing down a verdict of not guilty.

The judge has turned down all our requests to question the witnesses to my arrest. And the prosecutor paid no mind to certain facts:  that my fingerprints were not discovered on “my” packet of drugs; that I am not a drug addict (as a narcological test showed), that I am an outstanding student (how is that compatible with drug use?), etc.

[…]

[Radio Svoboda:] What kind of public reaction does the Loskutov Affair provoke today?

[Artem Loskutov:] Public reaction is already fading, of course. Ten months have gone by: I am already sick of the case myself, and everyone else must be even more tired of it. Nevertheless, on February 23, we carried out a street action, entitled “Drug Planting Championship,” in memory of Alexei Lazarev, the Center “E” officer who supervised my arrest. [See the video, above.] Contestants threw little bags filled with medicinal herbs from the drugstore into my bag, which I held while standing at some distance from them. Then we increased the distance because everyone was hitting the target. We were trying to find the most accurate drugs tosser, and the prize was captain’s stripes. Around eighty people came out in minus 25 weather to join us. I think that indicates that people still care about the case.

2 Comments

Filed under activism, contemporary art, film and video, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

2 responses to “Artem Loskutov: Convicted in a Frame-Up

  1. Pingback: David Riff: Notes on Voina | chtodelat news

  2. Pingback: Lena Hades - Lega Nerd

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