Water Stunt May Earn 2 Years in Jail
01 November 2011
The Moscow Times
An opposition activist faces two years in jail for splashing water in the face of a prosecutor who jailed his comrades and allegedly threatened to kill him, the Agora rights group said Monday.
Dmitry Putenikhin, a member of The Other Russia, attacked Alexei Smirnov outside Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court on Friday shortly after it jailed five people, including three fellow activists, for participating in Manezh Square rioting last December.
The verdict has raised eyebrows because the riots were racially charged, while The Other Russia is not a nationalist group. Critics say the authorities chose the organization as a scapegoat.
Putenikhin, also known under the alias Matvei Krylov, did not flee after the attack, explaining to journalists that his actions were “improvised.” A video released by RIA-Novosti showed police brutally detaining him and three other people minutes after the attack.
Putenikhin, who remains in detention, was initially charged with petty hooliganism, but over the weekend, police reclassified the charge to threatening an official on duty.
Police acted on a complaint by Smirnov, who said Putenikhin shouted “death to prosecutors” when splashing the water on him, Interfax reported, citing an Other Russia spokesman.
Putenikhin’s lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina, said her client never threatened Smirnov, only telling him “we won’t forget, we won’t forgive,” which does not qualify as a death threat, Agora said in a statement.
The video of the incident shed no light on the matter because it included neither statement. No date for a court hearing had been set Monday.
Nationalists rallied on Manezh Square in December to protest an allegedly botched probe into the death of a football fan, killed in a brawl with Dagestani natives, six of whom were jailed last week.
The twin rulings in the Dagestani and Other Russia trials were widely seen as a means to placate nationalists ahead of their Russian March rally on Nov. 4. City authorities have sanctioned the event to take place in the suburb of Lyublino, but a co-organizer told Interfax on Monday that the maximum number of participants has now been ordered slashed from 10,000 to 3,000.
Matvei’s numerous comrades, friends, colleagues, and admirers have organized a vigorous public campaign for his release. The campaign’s virtual headquarters is the web site http://plennik.org/ru/.
There you’ll find information (in Russian) about Matvei’s case, his biography, and suggestions on how to help him gain release from police custody, fund his legal defense, and publicize his story.
If you would like to join the campaign by organizing solidarity actions in your own country or city, or want to know how best you can help Matvei and the campaign from outside Russia, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Campaigners have already help a number of events and protest rallies in Matvei’s defense and more are scheduled for the coming days, including a rally/concert at 2:00 p.m. on November 27 on Chistye Prudy in central Moscow:
and a group art show at 5:00 p.m. on November 26 at the Zverevsky Center in Moscow (Metro station Baumanskaya; ul. Novoryazanskaya, 29):
Matvei has played a key role in reviving and organizing the sixties tradition of open-air poetry readings at the Mayakovsky monument in central Moscow, as reflected in this article from last year:
Poets rediscover Moscow platform to oppose leaders
Fri, Sep 17, 2010
Matvei Krylov perched on a barricade in a central Moscow square and began reciting a poem by a Soviet-era dissident as a rag-tag audience, from goths to a headscarfed pensioner, gathered to listen.
Every month a group of left-wing activists and amateur poets gathers to riff on Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and problems such as the deadly August forest fires in a rare outlet for criticism of the Russian authorities.
The readings take place on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad, also the scene of regular attempts to hold unsanctioned protests on the 31st day of the month, to demand constitutional rights, which are roughly put down by riot police.
Police have also tried to stop the poetry readings and asked that they avoid swearing or mentioning politics, organizers said.
Under the shadow of an immense statue of the great Soviet poet of the 1920s, Vladimir Mayakovsky, famous for his explosive rhymes, the readings recall the dissident poetry of the 1960s that rattled the Communist authorities.
“The police have an order to put a stop to any politics. They warn us not to talk about Putin,” said poet and left-wing activist Vladimir Koverdyayev, a member of the banned National Bolshevik party.
“Last time they tried to detain us, we had to explain for a long time that it’s not political,” said Krylov, a member of the same party. “For them, any gathering of people is a meeting, a protest. It’s extremists, potential enemies.”
At the latest reading, around 50 people, most in their 20s, gathered on a drizzly evening. Some drank cognac and ate chocolate as poets stepped up with typed pages to an improvised oil drum rostrum.
Two curious policemen looked on grinning. One asked a journalist how long the readings would last, but both drifted off after listening to a few lines.
Despite the ban, references to Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev abounded.
Koverdyayev, 36, read a poem that ridiculed the police rules.
“It’s not allowed, but I don’t give a fuck/ I mean I don’t give a toss,” he read.
“It’s high time for Dima and Vova to be sent for a rest,” he said, using the nicknames for Medvedev and Putin.
Another poet, Vladislav Tushnin, mocked Putin’s televised appearances during last month’s forest fires.
“Putin takes a ride on a speed boat/ He and [emergency minister Sergei] Shoigu are raking in the dough/ We’re sick of this, Putin/ We have had enough of this television circus,” he read.
Arseny Molchanov read a protest poem called Country — and almost all the audience joined in with a word perfect recitation.
“Turn on rag-doll Channel One/ Turn it on for even a minute/ The premier says the conveyor lines are working great/ The minister says everything is cool in the army,” he said.
“And my country … she only hears the great songs of Dima Bilan/ She breathes through the scars of Kursk, Nord-Ost, Chechnya and Beslan,” he said, juxtaposing the Eurovision song winner with Russia’s worst modern tragedies.
Some of the poetry is doggerel, but some is powerful. Molchanov is the best known figure, a kind of rock ’n’ roll poet who regularly performs his poetry with musicians at Moscow clubs.
Last month the readings were visited by British poet Alan Brownjohn.
Koverdyayev and Krylov both have plenty of experience of political combat.
Boyish-looking with floppy hair, Krylov risks jail if he gets in trouble with the police since he is serving a suspended sentence for breaking into the foreign ministry’s lobby last year in an attempted protest.
Koverdyayev, dressed smartly and carrying a leather case, leads the National Bolsheviks in the Moscow region. He was briefly held in a psychiatric hospital in 2008 after he was detained on drugs charges. He was later pronounced sane and fined for drugs possession.
Krylov opened the latest reading with a poem by a Soviet dissident who died in a prison camp, Yury Galanskov.
“Beaten to the ground, I spit on your iron city, packed with money and dirt,” Krylov shouted on the square, which has been barricaded off by the Moscow city authorities in an apparent move to deter protests.
Titled the Human Manifesto, the poem became the unofficial anthem of poetry readings on the same spot during the Khrushchev-era thaw. Galanskov and other dissidents including Vladimir Bukovsky were the initiators.
Those readings came to an abrupt end in 1961 when the authorities cracked down on the poets and brought five of them to trial. The new generation of poetry readers sees parallels.
“I think it is approximately the same time,” Koverdyayev said. “People aren’t able to express their opinion openly. People are uniting.”
Watching the poetry reading was a 70-year-old math teacher, who gave her name as Lyubov Alexeyevna, who said she remembered the Soviet-era gatherings although she never went along herself.
But she traveled from a suburb for this event after hearing about it on the Echo of Moscow radio.
“I’m very worried about what is going on in our country,” she said, citing plans to build a highway through forest near Moscow and rising food prices.
“It’s really great. I see they have bright faces, not beaten down,” she said. “I did not expect that so many young people would come along. Now they have revived the readings, good for them.”
Finally, here is a short video about Matvei’s life and case (in Russian):