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Valentin Urusov Wins Arthur Svensson Prize for Trade Union Rights

The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights 2013 is awarded to the Russian Valentin Urusov  

Valentin Urusov 2

Falsely imprisoned for leading a strike in Russia

The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights for 2013 is awarded to Russian trade union leader Valentin Urusov. He was falsely imprisoned after leading a strike against dangerous working conditions in the diamond industry.

“Urusov has become symbolic of the struggle for workers’ rights and freedom of association in Russia,” says Leif Sande, committee chair and head of the LO trade union Industri Energi.

The Arthur Svensson prize is a prize from a broad Norwegian trade union movement. This year’s prize goes to fearless trade union leader Valentin Urusov, who has been falsely imprisoned for many years. As the leader of the trade union Profsvoboda at Alrosa, the world’s second largest diamond mining company, he led a hunger strike with more than one thousand workers against inhumane working conditions and low pay.

The prize committee:

Leif Sande, Committee Chair (Industri Energi), former LO presidents Gerd-Liv Valla and Yngve Hågensen, Randi Bjørgen (former President of the Confederation of Vocational Unions), Helga Hjetland (former President of the Union of Education Norway), Finn Erik Thoresen (Board Leader of Norwegian People’s Aid) and Liv Tørres (General Secretary of Norwegian People’s Aid).

A forced confession

After the strike, Urusov was arrested, beaten up and his life was threatened. He was forced to sign a confession admitting possession of drugs. The police had brought an executive from Alrosa along as a witness, an example of how the company controls courts and the police in the republic.

“He was imprisoned on what were clearly false accusations, and both the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Russian and international trade union organisations have been involved in trying to get him released,” says Leif Sande, committee chair and head of the LO trade union Industri Energi, which took the initiative for the prize.

Released, but not free

Urusov was released in March of this year after it became known that he had been nominated for the Svensson prize. The rest of his five year prison sentence has been converted into a fine demanding 15% of his income throughout the remainder of his sentence. In addition, he is not permitted to leave the country.

The imprisonment and harassment of Urusov has become symbolic of the struggle for workers’ rights and freedom of association in Russia.

The committee alludes to the fact that he has full support from all the Russian trade unions, and that he was nominated for the prize by a number of trade union organisations throughout Europe. The international trade union movement, led by the International Trade Union Confederation, has been highly involved in his case.

“The Arthur Svensson international prize is first and foremost a helping hand – and an acknowledgment – to union officials and trade unionists around the world fighting for workers’ rights under dangerous conditions,” says Sande. We thank this year’s recipient of the prize, Valentin Urusov, for his courage in the fight against poor working conditions in the Russian diamond industry.

The committee expresses concern

In their citation, the committee write that they are concerned about the workers’ rights situation in Russia. The right of free association, right to collective bargaining and right to strike have long been under pressure, and it may appear that conditions are deteriorating further under Putin’s current regime. Thus, the prize is also being awarded to bring these conditions into focus, and in support of Russian workers.

For more information about the prize: www.svenssonprize.com

The Arthur Svensson International Prize

The Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights is awarded to individuals who, or organisations which, have made noteworthy efforts to promote the work of trade unions and workers’ rights nationally and internationally. Last year’s prize went to the Cambodian trade union the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union, C.CAWDU. The prize is NOK 500,000 and is awarded annually. The prize is named for the former leader of the Norwegian Union of Chemical Industry Workers, Arthur Svensson, who was especially engaged in international solidarity.

This year, the prize will be awarded during a formal ceremony held at Folkets Hus on 19 June.

Photo by Aleskey Maishev

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Valentin Urusov Released from Prison!

www.ituc-csi.org

Russian Trade Union leader Valentin Urusov Released from Prison

15 March 2013. The ITUC has welcomed the release of Russian trade union leader Valentin Urusov from prison today. In early 2008 Urusov, a miner and trade union leader, was detained by the authorities, alleging narcotics possession. However, his arrest coincided suspiciously with preparations for a protest rally by workers at the state-owned Alrosa diamond mining company – a rally which Urusov helped organise. He was sentenced to six years in a penal colony.

Urusov’s case was reported in a complaint to the ILO by the Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR), supported by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, the ITUC, and global union federations IUF and IndustriAll. In a November 2012 report, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association explicitly requested his release. Earlier this month a district court decided to replace the rest of his prison term by an ongoing sequestration of 15% of his salary.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said “We welcome the release of Valentin Urusov, whom the international trade union movement has strongly supported during his time in prison. The release was result of the KTR campaign, supported by the combined efforts of the national and international trade union movement and the work of the ILO. It is a positive step that Russia has responded by implementing the ILO’s recommendations. We should not forget however the circumstances of his imprisonment, and the ITUC will continue supporting the KTR in demanding reconsideration of his case. All the charges against him must be withdrawn”.

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seansrussiablog.org

Good news from Russia is a rarity. But today is one of the those rare days. After four and a half years in prison on fabricated charges, the labor activist Valentin Urusov has been released. His release comes ten days after a Khangalssk district court decision. According to Andrei Demidov, the deputy director of Collective Action, Urusov plans to continue his work as a labor and human rights organizer.

Congratulations to Urusov, his family, and all those who tirelessly agitated for his freedom!

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Valentin Urusov: A Worker’s Struggle

In August 2012, the magazine Russian Reporter published a long, detailed article on Valentin Urusov, a diamond miner and trade union activist from Yakutia who was sentenced to six years in prison for drug possession in 2008. I hadn’t heard of Urusov before. Few in and outside Russia have. Despite efforts over the last four years to increase international pressure to have him freed, Urusov’s plight and that of Russian political prisoners like him get overshadowed by more capitalist friendly names like Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the late Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in Russian police custody in 2009, or the more sensational and repackageable Pussy Riot. It’s safe to say we won’t be hearing about the US Congress sponsoring a “Urusov Law,” nor will any of his tormentors find themselves on a US State Department persona non grata list.

Many regard Urusov’s conviction, based on what they allege is planted evidence, as a prime example of the frequent collusion between Russian capital (in this case, the state-owned diamond mining giant Alrosa) and state security organs to stamp out grassroots labor activism. This activism is any case severely handicapped by national trade union umbrella organizations like the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), a holdover from the Soviet era when trade unions were in fact an arm of the state, and its member organizations, such as Profalmaz, the company-approved local labor union that Urusov and his comrades attempted to bypass by creating their own union.  As Valery Sobol, a local Communist Party leader, says at the end of Veselov’s article, “In our country, the authorities and big business are intertwined in a ball. And anyone who gets in their way is crushed. Here in Yakutia, in the provinces, it’s just more clearly felt.  But it’s the same thing all over the country.”

This is why Andrei Veselov’s profile of Urusov is so important. It complements the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) recent effort to get Valentin Urusov released. (In a similar vein, the Russian Confederation of Labour, the Russian LabourStart group, and the IUF, with backing from IndustriALL Global Union, have just nominated Urusov for the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights.) But beyond the particulars of Urusov’s case, it illuminates what Russian labor activists struggling to establish independent trade unions endure in Putin’s Russia.

 Follow Free Valentin Urusov! on Facebook for updates.

Sean Guillory

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A Worker’s Struggle
How an attempt to create a real labor union lands you in a penal colony
By Andrei Veselov
Russian Reporter
No. 33 (262) • August 23, 2012
Originally published (in Russian) at: http://rusrep.ru/article/2012/08/22/borba

It is now acceptable to talk about political prisoners in Russia—it has become good form. But for some reason, bankers and financiers now and again end up on lists of “prisoners of conscience.” Their troubles are discussed in great detail, and there is sincere sympathy for them. Little is said about the fact that for the last four years Valentin Urusov, a rank-and-file worker, has been doing time at the penal colony in Verkhny Vestyak, Yakutia, for attempting to establish an independent labor union. Russian Reporter has decided to rectify this.

“When they drove off the road into the taiga, I hear, ‘Take out the plastic sheet so nothing gets splattered.’ That, as they say, is when I bid farewell to life, calmed down and resigned myself. I lay on the floor of the car and waited. Hands cuffed behind my back. They pulled me out, put me on my knees and fired three shots over my head. But they didn’t kill me.”

urusov

Valentin Urusov. Photo by Aleskey Maishev for Russian Reporter


The senior officer for education at the colony listens attentively to my conversation with Valentin Urusov, a prisoner at Penal Colony No. 3 in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and former leader of the independent labor union local in the town of Udachny. After the interview, the officer comes up to me and says, “You know, maybe he is really innocent. But if five percent are wrongly convicted in America, what can you expect from us?”

“What a terrific job!”

The idea that a full-fledged rather than puppet labor union could emerge in Udachny occurred to Valentin, a rank-and-file employee at Almazenergoremont, a subsidiary of the local mining and processing plant, after the scandalous “affair of the sandblasters.” Urusov himself is a local man, although he was born in Karachay-Cherkessia: he has lived in Yakutia since he was two years old and worked here since he was sixteen, mostly at facilities run by the state-owned diamond mining company Alrosa. There are few other options here.

Udachny is a town fourteen kilometers from the Arctic Circle, and one of the three main sites, along with Mirny and Aikhal, where diamonds are mined. Among the workers involved in the mining process are the so-called abrasive blasters or, more simply, sandblasters, whose job is to work solid surfaces with an abrasive, high-pressure stream of air pumped through a hose. It is not a job that is good for the health of the worker, to say the least: pulmonary silicosis is the occupational illness. Neither a safety helmet nor a [hazmat] suit, like cosmonauts wear, helps.

In 2007, a team of these sandblasters demanded overtime pay, which at that time went chronically unpaid. The workers filed a lawsuit and even managed to win their case: the Labor Code was clearly on their side.

“A special commission arrived in Udachny to arbitrate the dispute directly,” explains Andrei Polyakov, an Alrosa spokesman. “The company agreed with the validity of the claims, an agreement settling all grievances was signed, and compensation was paid out. The managers who were in direct dereliction of their duties were punished.”

This happened, it is true, but later. The main scandal occurred when the dispute was still being settled: the semi-official labor union at Alrosa, Profalmaz, negotiated not on the side of the workers, but on behalf of . . . management. This provoked astonishment and outrage in Udachny.

So, on the one hand, Profalmaz’s authority was undermined. On the other, the feeling arose that one’s labor rights could be protected—moreover, in a civilized manner, through the courts and arbitration, the European way, so to speak.

“I just found it interesting. I’m a generally curious person, and that is probably why I’m in prison,” jokes Valentin. “I went online and came across Sotsprof, a trade union association that is an alternative to the FNPR (the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia). I wrote an email to its leader, who was then Sergei Khramov. He replied by sending me documents on how to create a new union.”

“But why a new one?” I ask. “Was it really impossible to make things work within the existing union?”

“All [organizations] belonging to Mikhail Shmakov’s FNPR, including Profalmaz, are not labor unions but appendages of personnel departments. All they do is allocate vacation vouchers. They will never oppose management.”

“Was the only problem overtime and the fact it wasn’t being paid then?”

“Of course not. There were a lot of problems! And then, you understand, this is very difficult work: you have to work night and day, and on holidays, and take someone else’s shift, whatever management says. But you get paid for an eight-hour day. And then there are the working conditions and safety. In the department where I worked, the equipment should have been scrapped twenty years ago, at best. There are a lot of accidents as a result. The ones that were made public were like a speck in a big heap of sand. I got a big piece of flesh taken out of my hand, and that was nothing. Of course, it’s hard to hush up fatal incidents. But fractures and injuries are different. There are thousands of them and nobody cares. It was a shame that the company was so wealthy, that it built five-star hotels and all kinds of business centers, but scrimped on us.”

In Moscow I met with Sergei Khramov, to whom Valentin had sent the email and who had instructed him on creating a union local.

Udachnaya_pipe

The open pit of the Udachnaya Diamond Mine, Russia, from a helicopter,
July 17, 2004. Photo by Alexander Stepanov


“Add to this the aggressive water in the gully where they mine diamonds.” Khramov hands me a complaint from Udachny miners addressed to Vladimir Putin. “It’s nearly acid and it penetrates their rubber suits. Here they write, ‘We don’t know what it is we are breathing when the ventilation equipment is lubricated with used oil.’ Or there’s this one: ‘Cold, unheated air is pumped into the mine, even in winter.’ And it’s minus forty-fifty in winter there. What a terrific job!”

How to frighten a republic’s leadership

Right at this time, in August 2008, the so-called Siberian Social Forum was held in Irkutsk. “Free” trade unions were among the forum’s founders. Urusov’s new acquaintances invited him there, too. In fact, it was a small event, attended by no more than two hundred people, but it made a strong impression on Valentin.

“[Civil rights lawyer] Stanislav Markelov, who was later murdered in Moscow, lectured on legal issues. He was a very competent, energetic, lively man—it’s a shame [what happened] to him. He talked about how to act in this or that situation so as not to set oneself up and achieve [your goals] at the same time. And then the call came. Problems with pay had begun at the second motor depot, and the guys had decided to organize a strike.”

Events unfolded rapidly. In a small suburban home outside of Udachny, Urusov met with motor depot drivers and mechanics in an almost conspiratorial atmosphere and began persuading them to join the union. Armed with new knowledge, Urusov tried to prove to his comrades that if a strike began they would immediately be fired for trumped-up excuses, and there would be no one left to work on getting them reinstated. During the second “conspiratorial” meeting, sixty-two people joined Urusov’s union local.

There were two options as to how to proceed. First, a classic strike. But the Udachny miners had no experience with strikes, and therefore they could easily have been fired for “absenteeism.” And even if they had managed to get fired workers reinstated, they would have lost the initiative, and the remaining workers would have been demoralized. The second option was a hunger strike. Everyone goes to work; there is no downtime and, therefore, nothing for management to complain about. But demands are loudly declared and, basically, a scandal erupts. They chose the second option.

“At first, [management] demonstratively paid no attention to us. Then they see we aren’t going to back down. That is when they began dropping by,” Urusov laughs. “People came from the police, from plant security, from the company itself, trying to talk us out of it. In exchange for setting up a conciliation commission, we suspended the hunger strike.”

However, the commission was unable to achieve a compromise. Management made no concessions.

“We decided to hold an open union meeting right on the town’s central square. It wasn’t a [protest] rally, and by law we weren’t required to notify anyone. On the first day, all the motor depot workers came, plus another two hundred people. The director of the plant came and tried to say something. But he couldn’t answer a single question and left. And right there on the square, people began joining the union. By the end of the day something like three hundred people had joined. We decided to repeat the meeting. The second time, more than eight hundred people gathered. There was no rioting and no laws were broken. We didn’t even have a loudspeaker. By evening, I remember it even now, 1,012 people had joined the union.”

We have to remember that Udachny is a very small town with a population of slightly over ten thousand, and such developments outright scared both the local authorities and certain people in high places. The situation was headed towards a citywide strike and a potential stoppage of diamond mining in the Udachnaya kimberlite pipe—the largest in the world, by the way.

“We have enormous enterprises in our country. Often [they] monopolize their regions, and so a strike or simply a large [industrial] action could freeze an entire industry,” explains Alexander Zakharin, Urusov’s friend and colleague, and chair of the Sotsprof local in Surgut. “And if you organize such an action, you risk running into a brutal response. From the owners and from the authorities. But it happens that milder measures don’t work. Then you need to choose: take a risk or keep your mouth shut.”

At Alrosa itself, the union’s activities in Udachny are seen primarily as an attempt at self-promotion.

“A media effect—promoting awareness of Sotsprof and the number of times it got mentioned in the press—was probably the main objective for some of its executives,” argues company spokesman Polyakov.

As during the [dispute in 2007], Profalmaz adopted a peculiar position in the new confrontation. Its leader, Il Tumen (Sakha Republic State Assembly) deputy Pavel Tretyakov, not only failed to help the workers, but also asked the republic’s leaders to reason with the “rebels.” Profalmaz’s executive committee sent an appeal to the President of Yakutia, Vyacheslav Shtyrov, and FNPR head [Mikhail] Shmakov asking them to prevent “incitement of a conflict.”

Tretyakov later, in a similar vein, told Vasily Gabyshev, the Mirny town prosecutor, “It’s surprising that law enforcement authorities didn’t respond to attempts by various persons to artificially incite conflicts, to calls for illegal hunger strikes and [labor] strikes.”

The Yakutia presidential administration composed a panicked memo on the basis of Tretyakov’s appeals. The President instructed law enforcement agencies to figure out what was happening. (Russian Reporter has all these documents in its possession.) What exactly Shtyrov wanted from the security services is still unclear, but the local office of the FSKN (the Federal Drug Control Service) reacted to the situation, let’s say, in an extremely original way.

Udachny—Aikhal—Mirny

“Then what happened? Then the third of September came. I was leaving my place. I heard a car door open. I instinctively turned around.  It was a simple UAZ[-452], a “Pill” [i.e., a van] with tinted windows. Out came three guys in leather jackets and jeans with shaved heads. I didn’t know them. I immediately knew something was wrong and ran. They caught up to me and knocked me down.”

“Did they show you any identification?”

“Absolutely nothing. They restrained me and brought me to the van. First they handcuffed me with my hands in front. Later, in the van, they tried to cuff me with my hands behind my back. I clasped my hands and held on. They pulled and pulled, broke my finger, and finally handcuffed my hands behind my back. They threw me to the floor and one of them sat on top of me. We drove for a long time.”

It subsequently emerged that Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Rudov, the head of drug control in the Mirny District, had personally led this “operation.” In order to apprehend Urusov, he and his subordinates had driven six hundred kilometers [to Udachny]: [his] “Hunter” [i.e., jeep] was waiting for the “Pill” on the outskirts of the town. In court, Rudov claimed to have had “operational information” that Urusov was involved in selling drugs.

“We asked the court to confirm or refute Rudov’s testimony, and requested written confirmation that the ‘operational information’ had been registered in the police operational ledger,” says Urusov’s attorney Yevgeny Chernousov, a former police colonel who specializes in narcotics cases. “We didn’t demand that this information itself or its source be revealed. We just wanted to confirm that the information had existed. The court did not fulfill our request. There is thus no evidence of its existence. In light of this, Rudov’s unwarranted trip to Udachny and back seems more than suspicious.”

Valentin says that Rudov was on the phone with a certain Alexei Yurevich or Yuri Alexeyevich the whole time, reporting to him that they had “taken” Urusov and wanting to know what to do next. After one of these conversations, the van pulled off into the taiga. There the narcotics officers spread out plastic sheeting and fired a few shots over Urusov’s head, recounts Urusov.

“They were shooting the whole time,” says Valentin. “They shot at birds, and at trees. Apparently, they wanted to frighten me. We had already driven far from town, and basically they could have done whatever they wanted with me.”

At a fork in the Udachny-Aikhal-Mirny road, the car of Grigory Pustovetov, head of security at the Aikhal mining and processing plant, drove up to Rudov’s group “entirely by accident.” Only then did the police decide to search Urusov for drugs. Pustovetov and his driver acted as official witnesses. The search was a complete success: sixty-six grams of hashish oil were found in the union activist’s pocket.

“A number of questions arise,” says an outraged Chernousov. “First, when the arrest happens in one place, but the [official] search with witnesses happens dozens of kilometers away, it’s a clear sign that the drugs could have been planted. Second, if the head of one of a company’s security units serves as a witness when an employee in a labor dispute with that company is being searched, it also gives rise to the most unpleasant thoughts.”

Urusov himself claims the hashish was planted on him in the car after the fake execution. He says that hash oil was specially applied to his hands so that traces of the drug would later be detected when his hands were swabbed.

“When we were organizing the miners’ union in Neryungri (a major industrial center in Yakutia), I was reminded of this story,” says Valery Sobol, first secretary of the Neryungri Communist Party City Committee. “I won’t name the names [of the persons involved] because I live there. Employees of the so-called organs [i.e., the security services] invited me to a pub. We hung out there for a while. Then at another place, and then another. I myself didn’t drink, [but] they drank a lot. And, as if it was an afterthought, though they had summoned me there [to deliver just this message], one of them says, ‘You remember that thing with Urusov? You also better not be naughty. If anything happens, we’ll plant a gun [on you] or whatever.’ And then he laughed. Like it was a joke.”

Several months ago, Sobol nearly won the election for the head of the Neryungri District. He came in second by only a small margin. And if a potential district head can be threatened almost openly, then the kidnapping of a simple working stiff like Urusov, who has no political backing at all, does not seem farfetched.

Sobol and I sat in the kitchen of Sergei Yurkov, an engineer, businessman, and leader of [an organization called] the Russian Community of Yakutia. He met Urusov in a pre-trial detention facility. I ask him how he had ended up there.

“My story is simple. Transneft were building a pipeline here. They didn’t want to pay normal wages to the locals. So when the locals balked, they brought in rural Chinese willing to work for peanuts and live in barracks. When we organized a rally and put up flyers saying this wasn’t how things were done, I was arrested under Article 282 of the Criminal Code for ‘incitement of interethnic hatred.’ What does ‘incitement’ have to do with it? I was sentenced to two years in prison.”

Drugs via the Special Courier Service?

It must be said that the theme of drugs, with which they decided to shut Urusov up, did not arise by accident. Drug use is a local scourge. And this makes sense. There are few other ways to have fun in small towns and villages in the North. That is why on the surface Urusov’s prosecution under a drug statute was meant to have appeared more or less plausible.

“It’s a big problem here, as is drinking,” says Maxim Mestnikov, a Sotsprof spokesman in Yakutia. “When Friday comes, hang onto your head: there is a deluge of knife wounds [and] head injuries.”

But Urusov, in fact, never had the reputation of a mischievous drug addict. In his youth, at the beginning of the 2000s, he and a few friends created an organization called Youth for an Athletic Movement—North, whose activists patrolled the city monitoring places where drugs were sold. Eventually, the mayor of Udachny even suggested that they create a branch of City Without Drugs on the line of [Yevgeny] Roizman’s [controversial anti-drugs organization].

The relationship between certain local [Alrosa] subcontractors and drug dealers, however, may require a separate investigation. Russian Reporter has in its possession an official memo written by Sergei Denisov, predecessor of [Grigory] Pustovetov (the man who acted as a witness during the police search of Urusov) as head of security at the Aikhal mining and processing plant.

The memo is addressed to Yuri Ionov, former vice-president for security at Alrosa, and it deals with the overall crime situation in the area. Among many others, the memo contains the following passage: “It is impossible to ignore the fact that a drug trafficking network has developed in the village. According to operational information from the Mirny office of the FSB, the delivery of drugs is carried out by the [Federal] Special Courier Service, with which Alrosa has a contractual relationship for the transportation of diamonds.” Moreover, the memo shows that confidential and friendly relations exist between certain high-ranking Alrosa executives, law enforcement officers, and outright criminals.

“I’ll say this: the criminal world is generally in first place here,” [Sotsprof’s] Mestnikov says with conviction. “In this respect it is still the nineties here. Something needs to be done so you go to them and they handle it. And this could also have happened with Valentin. Perhaps it was better that they sicked the cops on him and not the wise guys.”

After he presented the memo to Ionov, Denisov was forced to resign and move to Novosibirsk.

“No decision was taken on my report. Ionov showed me the door and said he didn’t need any unnecessary problems. As for Urusov, I can say that it’s a pure frame-up,” [Denisov says].

In May 2010, Lieutenant Colonel Rudov was sentenced to three years probation for fraud and abuse of authority. According to [Urusov’s other] lawyer Inga Reitenbakh, “He was charged with receiving 2.5 million rubles from Alrosa for the purchase of an apartment in Mirny.” The investigators and Rudov himself categorically denied any connection between this case and the Urusov case. Nevertheless, the funds were allocated to Rudov shortly after Urusov’s arrest. According to Russian Reporter’s source, Rudov now works as a procurements specialist in the repair and construction office at the Mirny mining and processing plant.

“He shoots before he thinks”

Urusov was also unlucky in that he had set about creating a Sotsprof local in Udachny exactly when the union’s leadership had entered the complex process of building relations with the Kremlin.

“Beginning in 2007, people from the Russian Presidential Administration began to pressure us very actively,” says Sergei Khramov. “We were strongly recommended to name Sergei Vostretsov from the United Russia party as [our] new leader. I had good reason to believe that if we didn’t, we would simply be destroyed. And I figured, the heck with him, let Vostretsov be leader and do public relations, while I, as Sotsprof’s general labor inspector, will do the day-to-day work.”

The first outcome of this “castling” move was that the formerly oppositional Sotsprof supported Dmitry Medvedev in the 2008 presidential elections.

”And when they began pressuring Valentin, Vostretsov told me not to make any unnecessary noise, because he would fix everything anyway. I knew that the Vostretsov family—his younger brother was the youngest FSB colonel in the country—was very close to General Alexander Mikhailov, the then-director of the Federal Drug Control Service. I thought that Valentin’s case would be decided with a single phone call.”

For the sake of fairness, we should note that complicated events were underway at the Federal Drug Control Service at the time. Viktor Ivanov had replaced Viktor Cherkesov, who had famously publicized the existence of a war within the security services in an article [entitled “We Can’t Let Warriors Turn into Traders”]. In October, General Mikhailov left the FSKN as well. There was simply no one left to make that “single phone call.”

Subsequently, Vostretsov pushed Khramov out of Sotsprof altogether, and the organization became completely loyal to the Kremlin.

In December 2008, the Mirny District Court sentenced Valentin Urusov to six years in prison for drug possession. Vostretsov tried to fight it, but more from behind the scenes: he met with officials from the Yakutia administration and officials of the security services, and even, allegedly, raised the issue of Urusov with Medvedev. It was no use.

Khramov, in contrast, acted publicly. It was he who got the famous lawyer Chernousov to take the case. Chernousov convinced the Yakutia Supreme Court to overturn the verdict (on procedural grounds: the judge had not retired to chambers while considering a motion to dismiss), after which the case was retried.

“I had absolutely no illusions,” Valentin smiles. “After the Supreme Court decision, many people thought I would be exonerated.  I was certain of the opposite, that now I would be ‘shut down’ for sure. This was evident from the faces of those in the courtroom at the second trial. After the first hearing, I gathered my belongings, put on the track suit I’d been wearing while traveling between pre-trial detention facilities and prisons, and from then on I went to hearings in this outfit.”

In Udachny, there is a small newspaper with the humorous name of Gorodok [“The Burg”], edited by a local journalist named Alla Demidova. After Urusov was released, she published a short article. Immediately, the very same day, she got a call from Maxim Dobarkin, one of the police investigators who had participated in Urusov’s “arrest.”

“Dobarkin called me at home,” says Demidova. “Drunk. He told me how many bullets he would put in me, said that ‘he shoots before he thinks,’ that he knows where I live, and that he would ‘get’ me ‘whether in Udachny or in Sochi.’”

“What did you do?”

“I filed a complaint with the FSB.”

“Did they respond?”

“They responded by sending me a one-line answer: ‘There is no threat.’”

Dobarkin, however, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and together with Rudov took command of the Federal Drug Control Service’s interdistrict department in Mirny.

Another Yakutia journalist, Aitalina Nikiforova, was also threatened for covering Urusov’s case.

“I reported on every hearing during the trial from the courtroom. Rudov called me over during one of the hearings and said word for word, ‘Your oldest daughter is fifteen. It would be interesting to see how you’ll defend Urusov after some old drug dealers drug her up and pass her around.’ This definitely sounded like a threat. At the time I was working as editor-in-chief at the only independent newspaper in Mirny, Moya gazeta. The only printing plant in town refused to print us. Local Federal Drug Control Service agents began coming to my house, allegedly because of anonymous tips that I also used and dealt drugs. Some of [the agents] were insolent and rude; others were ashamed, because the last visits took place when I was six to seven months pregnant with my third child.”

After that Nikiforova decided it would be safer to leave her hometown and move to Yakutsk.

In June 2009, the Mirny District Court delivered a new verdict in the Urusov case that completely upheld the previous verdict, but in September the Yakutia Supreme Court lightened Urusov’s prison sentence by one year. The Sotsprof local in Udachny had been crushed. The second motor depot has been completely shut down. The company has had no more problems with the workforce in this town.

“Valentin, whom do you tend to blame for what happened to you?” I finally asked.

“Alrosa is a state-run company. It is owned by the government, by the state, so . . . you understand.”

1345633951216469_big_photo

Valentin Urusov. Photo by Aleskey Maishev for Russian Reporter


***

“Our government is fascist,” Yurkov, the leader of the Russian Community of Yakutia, suddenly declares, and it sounds quite equivocal.

Sobol, the man who missed becoming head of the Neryungri District by a heartbeat, turns and stops smoking next to the window.

“We have to be precise with our terms: neither Nazi nor nationalist, but precisely fascist as it is understood in Mussolini’s theory of the corporate state, as Franco, Salazar and even Pinochet understood it. In our country, the authorities and big business are intertwined in a ball. And anyone who gets in their way is crushed. Here in Yakutia, in the provinces, it’s just more clearly felt.  But it’s the same thing all over the country.”


Translated by Sean Guillory and
Chtodelat News. Slightly different versions of the same translation have been published by n+1 and Sean’s Russian Blog.

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The Osipova Verdict: “They Want to Murder Taisiya”

limonov-eduard.livejournal.com
Eduard Limonov
August 28, 2012
They Want to Murder Taisiya

I was running errands in the car when I heard about the Taisiya Osipova verdict. They gave her a savage sentence. Eight years behind bars for a women with diabetes is the death penalty.

They want to murder Taisiya.

Who among them is the chief sadist and flayer, I don’t know. Did Smolensk propose eight years, and Moscow said, “Well, we don’t mind”? That’s most likely how it was.

It is noticeable how the sentences given to National Bolsheviks are harsher than simple reprisals. Many times over.

We will not forgive.

_____

www.huffingtonpost.com

Taisiya Osipova Jailed: Wife Of Russian Opposition Sentenced To 8 Years In Prison
By NATALIYA VASILYEVA 08/28/12

MOSCOW — A Russian opposition activist was sentenced Tuesday to eight years in prison in a review of her drug-related case – twice as long as prosecutors had requested in a ruling that drew immediate opposition outrage.

Taisiya Osipova and her supporters have maintained that police planted four grams of heroin in her home in 2010 in revenge for her refusal to testify against her husband, Sergei Fomchenkov, also a senior figure in The Other Russia opposition movement. A witness for the defense testified at the trial that he saw a police officer put the drugs in Osipova’s apartment.

Osipova had originally been sentenced to 10 years, but a higher court ordered a review of her case.

Tuesday’s unexpectedly harsh verdict comes two weeks after three members of punk provocateur band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for a surprise anti-Vladimir Putin performance in Moscow’s main cathedral. The decision sparked criticism in Russia and abroad as disproportionate.

It’s also being viewed as an ominous sign ahead of the trial of 11 people who were arrested on suspicion of taking part in clashes with the police at a protest rally in May this year.

Eduard Limonov, the leader of The Other Russia party, told Interfax on Tuesday that “this verdict is not only a political one, it’s also terrifying revenge.”

Fomchenkov reported the verdict on his Twitter account. The court in Smolensk was not available to confirm the verdict.

Prosecutors had asked for four years in prison for Osipova.

Osipova, 28, has been in jail since her arrest in 2010 and was originally sentenced to 10 years in prison in December 2011. A higher court in February overturned that decision, ordering the review of her case, while Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview that the sentence was too harsh.

Left-wing opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov described the verdict in his Twitter as “a triumph of lawlessness and cynicism.”

Osipova was one of the most prominent names on a list of people activists described as political prisoners submitted to then-President Medvedev in February.

Mikhail Fedotov, head of the presidential council on human rights, in an interview with the Interfax news agency on Tuesday described the verdict as a “legal mistake.”

Like her husband Osipova is a member of The Other Russia, although she hasn’t been active since her daughter was born in 2006.

Opposition activists have staged regular protests against Osipova’s prosecution, arguing that charges against Osipova were aimed to pressure her for information on her husband, Limonov’s right hand man, who was trying to get the movement officially registered as a political party at the time of her arrest.

Osipova’s supporters also said that witnesses confirmed police discovering drugs at Osipova’s place were members of pro-Kremlin youth groups.

Police searched Fomchenkov’s Moscow apartment shortly before Osipova’s arrest in connection with “an economic case,” details of which were never communicated to the Other Russian functionary.

Osipova’s lawyers on Tuesday pledged to appeal the ruling. The Other Russia activists are planning one-man pickets across Moscow on Saturday to protest the verdict.

_____

politzeki.tumblr.com

16 August 2012
Dreaming of justice: The Taisiya Osipova case turns into an absurd and cruel farce
By Oksana Chelysheva
Translated by Jonathan Bridges

Roughly a year ago, in one of my articles on the fate of Taisiya Osipova, ‘the Smolensk hostage’, I wrote about the case’s media coverage. At that point in time there were few publications that even hinted at fact that the case had been fabricated.

At the time the situation was being covered on a site created in Taisiya’s defence. The site was maintained largely by Sergei Fomchenkov, Taisiya’s husband. The blog of the art group (‘War’) was still the only source of information about the case. One of the members of the group, Leonid Nikolaev, still managed to pay occasional visits to Smolensk, where Taisya’s absurd trial, presided over by Judge Dvoryanchikov, started to unfold like a scene from Homer. I would like to offer my thanks to the international network of human rights organisations – the World Organization Against Torture – who even at this early stage took up Taisiya Osipova’s case and began questioning the Russian authorities on a regular basis.

A lot has changed in the last year.

Taisiya Osipova’s case has been covered by practically all of the Russian media, with the exception of Rossiyskaya Gazeta (‘The Russian Newspaper’). Even foreign media has managed to keep up with the case. Over the last year, articles about Taisiya have appeared in respectable American, Italian, Spanish, Slovakian and Finnish publications.

A campaign started by Maksim Gromov to support political prisoners’ children played a crucial role in the matter. The story of Katrine, Taisiya and Sergei’s daughter, told in photographs by Vladmimir Telegin, found sympathy amongst many people. In the spring, Vladimir Telegin put on a photo exhibition of Katrine with members of the Voina group and Yuri Shevchuk in Helsinki.

A campaign emerged from the positive response to this modest exhibition. As part of the campaign, photographs were sent to the President of the Russian Federation in the form of postcards containing short demands on Katrine’s behalf, such as ‘Let my mummy go’. Influential human rights organisations were not responsible for the hundreds of photographs. The whole thing was started by one Finnish woman who heard Taisiya Osipova’s story at the exhibition.

Information concerning Taisiya’s case even reached Dmitry Medvedev, Russian president at the time. When Medvedev was asked about Osipova at a meeting with students from MGU (Moscow State University), it emerged that the president had heard this surname in context before: “Ah, yes, sometimes rather severe sentences are given”.

The presidential council on human rights, headed by Mikhail Fedotov, has put Osipova’s name on a list of persons eligible for pardoning. On Medvedev’s orders, the Prosecutor General’s office checked all thirty cases. But, given the way these checks are normally carried, our confidence in them has been reduced to zero. Nevertheless, in Osipova’s case, the procedure adopted by the prelimary investigation and that implemented by the lower court were both so odious that even the Prosecutor General’s office was obliged to acknowledge “the obvious flaws and violations in the conduct of the preliminary investigation”.

This was followed by a statement from Medvedev in which he said he was “prepared to consider the possibility of pardoning Osipova on the condition that she write the request for pardon herself and plead guilty”. Notice the president’s wording, himself being a law graduate and a campaigner against legal nihilism.

He deliberately stressed the necessity for Osipova to plead guilty, which is not a legal requirement.

Since the very first day of her detainment in November 2010, Taisaya has refused to plead guilty, insisting that she did not commit the crime she is charged with. Having refused such mercy, Taisiya’s decision has undoubtedly been an agonising one. Bargaining with her conscience was something that she could not do and living with this slanderous lie would have been practically impossible for her.

On 15 February 2012, the penal chamber of the Smolensk Regional Court, made up of chairman Bezykornov and Judges Rumyantseva and Elizarova, revoked Judge Dvoryanchikov’s decision to sentence Osipova to ten years’ imprisonment. The case was sent to the Zadneprovsky District Court (where Osipova had previously been sentenced to ten years) for re-examination by a different set of judges.

Roughly a month after Judge Dvoryanchikov‘s ridiculous sentence had been revoked, I received a letter from a colleague of mine. In response to a question on how to free Taisiya, he wrote: “The case has after all been won. Even the president spoke about her. The sentence has been revoked. Is there any point in making a fuss about it?”

Yes, there is. There is every reason to make a fuss about it. As long as Taisiya Osipova is behind bars, the case will not have been won. Can her defence campaign be called a success if a new judge shouts at the lawyers and at Osipova herself during the court sittings? Taisiya Osipova is still in Pre-trial Detention Centre (SIZO) no. 1, in Smolensk. The possibility of another ‘guilty’ verdict cannot be ruled out entirely.

Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find people to sit in on Osipova’s court case.

Summer 2012 was marked by disasters and violence. After the inauguration of President Vladimir Putin, the number of political prisoners has been increasing not by the day but by the hour. Some of those who used to go to Smolensk to sit in on the hearings at Zadneprovsky Court are now being investigated in connection with other criminal matters themselves.

Appeals made to EU embassies and international human rights organisations for assistance in monitoring the court proceedings in Smolensk have not yet been successful. Either the court hearings coincided with Christmas and Easter, which made immediate decision making impossible, or strange explanations were given in response to Fomchenkov’s appeals as to why this or that “organisation did not have the financial and human resources to send a diplomatic mission to Smolensk”.

Fine then, let’s put it another way. Having the available resources is difficult. But there are documents available: court rulings, appeal court rulings, publications by journalists who have managed to get far away from Moscow and Smolensk. Ultimately, it would be possible to meet with Taisiya Osipova’s lawyers and find out what is happening and why an increasing number of people, familiar with the evidence put forward, think that Taisiya Osipova is not only an innocent victim of arbitrary rule but also a prisoner of conscience.

On 31 December 2010, the public prosecutor of the Zadneprovsky district of Smolensk signed Taisiya Osipova’s bill of indictment: “In Smolensk, at some point before 21 October 2010, a precise date and time were not established during the preliminary investigation, Osipova intentionally and of her own accord sought out an individual, unidentified during the course of the investigation, from whom she unlawfully obtained a narcotic substance, namely heroin, on a regular basis in an unidentified location with intent to illegally sell. She subsequently kept the aforementioned substance at her place of residence out of mercenary interest in material gain by dealing in narcotics. . .”

In other words, Osipova was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment on the basis of this “drug dealer”. The time and place of the crime have not been established, nor has the identity of the drug dealer. Osipova received time not for drug dealing but for having “the specific intent to commit a crime”. Bearing in mind that proving intent is one of the most difficult tasks of any investigation, we can consider the employees of the Smolensk Centre “E”, who organised and handled Taisiya Osipova’s case, to be true investigatory champions.

They put this woman behind bars based solely on the fact that she had “the specific intent to commit a crime”.

The same people’s testimonies make up the evidential basis: the ‘anonymous’ witnesses Ludmila Timchenkova and Denis Zvyagin (their names were changed supposedly to protect their identity), Semenistova and Kazakova, members of the pro-Kremlin youth organisation Nashi, and Savchenkov, a police investigator from the Centre for Combating Extremism, otherwise known as Centre “E”.

At the very start of this cynical epic, Captain of Justice S. A. Ivanova, an investigator for the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Smolensk, compiled a list of people who needed to be brought in for questioning. And a separate comment reads: “There are no witnesses for the defence.”

It all seemed so simple for the staff at Centre “E”: no one will ever notice that the witnesses and court have been trained to perform like circus animals. They had every chance of pulling off ‘Action Revenge’ on Fomchenkov smoothly and swimmingly.

It was apparent, even at this point, that both the search protocol and list of ‘witnesses’ were nothing but a pure fabrication. For a start, the search protocol states that Taisiya was home alone when the search was carried out – yet the video footage clearly shows another person in handcuffs sitting next to Taisiya. This person is Anton Mandrik. But for Centre “E” he was just another superfluous detail, which is why police investigator Savchenkov asked him ‘to sit quietly if he [didn’t] want to end up behind bars as well.’ When the court asked about witness Mandrik, Savchenkov simply said that he had forgotten about him.

At the hearing on 11 July 2011, Taisiya Osipova said that while her property was being searched on 23 November 2010, she had asked Savchenkov: “When will this drama end?”, to which he had replied: “Get your husband to come here and then this drama will end.”

Savchenkov made sure that there was as much drama as possible. His statements are included in Taisiya’s indictment: “Since I had police information about the fact that there were three fighting dogs in the house and that Osipova possessed weapons which she could have used at any time without warning, we decided to arrest Osipova with the help of the special forces unit.”

Evidently, Savchenkov had done his homework on Osipova and had reason to be wary of entering her property, where he ran more than just the risk of being hit in the face with a bunch of carnations, as happened to the lucky governor of Smolensk. And that’s why this terrorist-fighting ‘hero’ went into Osipova’s house with the protection of the special forces unit, shielding himself from the threatening National Bolshevik ‘drug dealer’ who knows how to use a gun, how to throw a punch and who was surrounded by French bulldogs, almost as if she were surrounded by a stone wall.

As for the three fighting dogs, the dog experts from Centre “E” are clearly useless. Only a complete idiot would try to pass off a French bulldog as a security threat . . . to his trousers. They also forgot the potential danger posed by the bunny rabbits Taisiya was holding and the ferret in the kitchen with its sharp teeth.

A list of the following confiscated items figures in the search protocol of Osipova’s property: five bags of heroin, ten syringes, a bottle containing the residue of a dark-coloured liquid, mobile phones, a computer and also a marked 500-rouble note. It is significant that according to the case evidence, the search was a result of a routine test purchase, which included Timchenkova giving Osipova 3000 marked roubles.

Sergei Fomchenkov commented on this mysterious detail: “The notes weren’t even marked. According to police files, the police just wrote down the serial numbers beforehand. If they had really wanted to catch the dealer, the notes would have been covered in a special substance which leaves traces on the hands of whoever handles it. That would have been objective evidence, but this was not what was done, since no drugs were actually sold. A single note had been put in the same set of chest of drawers that the drugs had been put in. According to the records on the test purchase, Timchenkova supposedly gave 3000 roubles to Osipova, in the following denominations: ten 100-rouble bills, two 500-rouble bills and one 1000-rouble bill – 13 bills in total. The search protocol states that only one 500-rouble bill was found at Taisiya’s address. The police investigator and attesting witnesses testified that no one had entered or left the address in the interval between the drugs being purchased and the property being searched. At the previous hearing, police investigator Smolin was asked: ‘What happened to the remaining twelve banknotes?’, to which he responded: ‘I don’t know. Perhaps she ate them.’ It would be funny if the situation weren’t so tragic. A question occurred to me: if Taisiya ate twelve banknotes, then why did she put the thirteenth one in the chest of drawers. That’s black humour for you.”

The regional court of appeal decided that both the investigation and the lower court had failed to overcome the obvious contradictions. The forensic report from 24 November 2010 states that the confiscated substance was heroin. However, the five bags confiscated during the search and the bags of drugs, which Timchenkova and Zavyagin – the undisclosed witnesses – supposedly got from Osipova during ‘the test purchases’ organised by Centre “E” from October to November, contained different kinds of heroin – both natural as well as synthetically manufactured. There is no explination as to why the forensic examination of the substance only took place after Taisiya’s arrest and not immediately after Zvyagin and Timchenkova had supposedly obtained it from Osipova.

The anaylsis of this substance was conducted by forensic experts without any witnesses present and at a time when it was being transferred from bag to bag. This suggests that the evidence was tampered with.

The investigators asked the team of experts carrying out technical assessments on the confiscated computer a question, the relevance of which is not entirely obvious to a narcotics investigation: “Does the computer in question contain information regarding the activity of the National Bolshevik Party which might incite national and religious discord, and furthermore, are there any symbols on the computer which bear resemblance to the Nazi swatstika or any corruption of it (most frequently used words and phrases: illegal immigrants, Russians, illegal residents, ‘Strategy-31’, ‘The Dissenters’ March’, manifestation, protest) . . . ?”

There was no clarification as to why police investigator Savchenkov helped himself to some of Limonov’s books during the search, which he also subsequently ‘forgot’ about just as he had forgotten about the witness for the defence, Anton Mandrik.

On 12 January 2010, Judge Voitenko of Smolensk’s regional court signed a court order allowing Osipova’s phone calls to be monitored. The order says, among other things, that: “The information we have acquired tells us that Osipova is Sergei Fomchenkov’s wife, through whom he is passing on monetary funds in order to set up a National Bolshevik Party in Smolensk.”

On 31 August 2010 the same judge signed another court order allowing Ospiva’s phone to be tapped. This one is much more informative: “Osipova uses the illegal revenue she gains from dealing drugs to help fund demonstrations planned and carried out by former supporters of the National Bolshevik Party, including the opposition party The Other Russia.”

Nonetheless, no explanation was given as to why the judges refused the defence’s request to play the phone call recordings in court. Moreover, this was not the first time the defence had submitted similar requests but in fact the fifth time: 3 May 2011, 11 August 2011, 26 August 2011, and 21 October 2011. Evidently, the Zadneprovsky Court knows perfectly well that allowing Taisiya’s telephone conversations to be presented to the court in detail would cause quite some embarrassment.

At least then we would have proof that on 22 November 2010, the day before her arrest, Taisiya received a threatening phone call from her acquaintance Khovrenkova, whom Osipova suspects of later becoming ‘witness Timchenkova’, warning her of the impending incident involving the drugs.

The regional court of appeal did not pay particular attention to the ‘anonymous witnesses’ for three reasons. First, the panel of judges did not believe that the witnesses’ “life and safety would be endangered”, as Grani.ru reports. Second, Taisiya Osipova recognised in ‘Timchenkova’ the drug addict Khovrenkova. Third, Osipova saw ‘witness’ Zvyagin owing to an oversight on behalf of the staff at the Department of the Federal Drug Control Service and said that she had never seen the man in her life. The court seriously breached procedural measures by allowing the ‘witness’ to see Osipova in the dock before confirming the defendant’s identity in court. The panel of judges noted in their decision to revoke Osipova’s sentence that “under section 5, article 278 of the Russian Federation Code of Criminal Procedure, the court shall have the right to conduct its cross-examination without making public the identity of the witness to protect his or her safety under conditions, precluding a visual observation of the witness, but which do not, at the same time, exclude his or her immediate participation in the trial. The cross-examination of the anonymous witnesses was carried out in the absence of the accused and thus prevented her from exercising her right to defence.”

The panel noted that significant contradictions in the testimonies given by witnesses for the prosecution had not been resolved, in particular descrepancies in the description of the woman from whom Timchenkova obtained the drugs. The phone calls of those supposedly present at the police search at Osipova’s address have been traced. They prove that it would have been physically impossible for them to have been there at this time, since mobile phone tracking reveals that they were on the other side of town.

The crime and the search protocol were not the only things falsified in Osipova’s case. Documents were also completely falsified, for example the local police officer Pisarev’s character reference for Osipova. Pisarev himself testified in court that he could not possibly have signed the character reference because he had already resigned from the police force when it was issued.

What we have here now are grounds to take legal action against police investigator Savchenkov and his colleagues not only for planting drugs and for the theft of six of Limonov’s books but also for giving false evidence in court and forgery. But in Russia we can only keep dreaming of justice and this time, in Osipova’s case, these dreams are getting smaller and smaller.

Source: Kasparov.ru

Editor’s Note. This translation has been slightly edited for republication here.

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Backlash: Other Russia Activist Taisiya Osipova Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison

Taisiya Osipova

lenta.ru
December 30, 2011
Backlash: Other Russia Activist Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison
Ilya Azar

As 2011 came to a close, Other Russia activist Taisiya Osipova was sentenced in Smolensk to ten years in prison for the sale and possession of narcotics. Osipova, who suffers from several serious diseases and has a five-year-old daughter, was kept in detention for over a year before hearing the verdict. The opposition and human rights activists consider the Osipova case political and symbolic for Russia.

“After Taisiya Osipova’s verdict, the opposition’s struggle for power in Russia has turned into a struggle against pure evil, into a fight on the side of good,” wrote Sergei Aksenov, a former National Bolshevik and a leader of The Other Russia, on his Twitter account. And he’s not the only one: on the evening of December 29, the Runet seethed with indignation, and the word “bitches,” addressed to the authorities in general and the judiciary in particular, was one of the mildest epithets.

According to oppositionists, the main representative of evil in the Taisiya Osipova case is Yevgeny Dvoryanchikov, judge of Smolensk’s Zadneprovsky District Court. It was he who on December 29 sentenced Osipova to ten years in prison for possession and sale of drugs under Article 228.1, Paragraph 3 of the Criminal Code. The fact that Osipova has diabetes, pancreatitis and chronic pyelonephritis, and that she has a five-year-old daughter, Katrine, made no impression on him. (The World Organization Against Torture had twice appealed to Russian authorities to release Osipova.)

True, Dvoryanchikov still did not have not an easy time making the decision: he retired to chambers to write the verdict at twelve noon, returning to the courtroom at around midnight (he began reading out the verdict at 11:15 p.m.). It is not clear why Dvoryanchikov took so long to write the verdict and what was going in his chambers during this time. Other Russia leader and writer Eduard Limonov has already labeled the judge’s actions “vile” and an attempt to conceal the verdict from the public.

The general public does not know about the Osipova case, despite the fact this past summer (when the verdict was supposed to have been rendered), Other Russia activists staged a sit-down strike over several days at the Solovki Stone in downtown Moscow. The police confronted the strikers as best they could, surrounding the square and detaining the harmless activists as they made their way to the stone.

Osipova was arrested on November 23, 2010, when five packets containing an unknown substance and marked bills were found in her home. Osipova was charged with possession of narcotics possession under Article 228.1, Paragraph 3 of the Criminal Code.

According to police investigators, Osipova had sold four grams of heroin for three thousands rubles, and an additional nine grams were found in her home. Defense attorneys and journalists were alarmed by the fact that the witnesses during the controlled buys [staged by police] were three young women associated with pro-Kremlin youth movements. At the same time, the [packets containing the] seized substance were not fingerprinted: defense attorneys are thus certain that the heroin was planted in Taisiya’s home.

Other Russia activists have always maintained that the Osipova case is utterly political. Her husband, Sergei Fomchenkov, is a member of The Other Russia’s executive committee. Osipova claimed that the police investigators who detained her told her directly that they were not interested in her, but in her husband, who lives in Moscow. Fearing arrest, Fomchenkov never once traveled from the capital to Smolensk to visit his arrested wife.

Alexander Averin, a representative of The Other Russia and ex-press secretary of the banned National Bolshevik Party, told Lenta.Ru that police had immediately promised to give her ten years if she did not testify against Fomchenkov. The guilty verdict was not a surprise for the opposition, although few had expected such a harsh sentence (despite the fact that the prosecutor had asked the judge to sentence Osipova to twelve years and eight months in prison).

“I see Dvoryanchikov’s face: he knows there is nothing to the charges. He’s just carrying out orders. It’s not his decision, but he’s an ambitious careerist, and doesn’t want problems. So I just have to get to the appeals stage and keep working,” Osipova herself said in an interview with Grani.Ru in December.

Svetlana Sidorkina, an attorney with the human rights association Agora who, along with Smolensk lawyer Natalya Shaposhnikova, served as Osipova’s defense counsel, told Lenta.Ru that, in the wake of the verdict, defense attorneys intend both to file an appeal and petition the [European Court of Human Rights in] Strasbourg. Sidorkina has no illusions about the prospects of an appeal. “We definitely hoped for the best, but we also didn’t rule out such a [harsh] outcome. I assumed that the sentence would be six and a half years, while Shaposhnikova [thought it would be] eight, but unfortunately we both guessed wrong,” said the lawyer.

The Other Russia now intends to fight for Osipova, and is counting on public support. In December 2011, civil society in Russia, especially in Moscow, suddenly and powerfully made itself heard. Tens of thousands of people came out for the fair elections rallies on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Boulevard, and almost a thousand people came to a protest in defense of [arrested] Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov.

“This is a slap in the face of civil society. People came out and demanded honesty and justice from the authorities, and this was the response — Judge Borovkova, the arrests of Udaltsov and Nikitenko, and, to top it all off, a ten-year sentence for Osipova. The state has recovered its senses and delivered a counterblow. I wonder how society will react to this — will it go celebrate the New Year or will it defend the freedom of political prisoners?” Averin put it emotionally last night.

He added that the traditional Strategy 31 rally on Triumfalnaya Square on December 31 would be dedicated to Taisia and political prisoners in general. “Lots of people are indignant over this verdict. Different people have been calling me who weren’t planning to come out on December 31 but who have now decided to go,” said Averin. On the night of December 30, there in fact were appeals on the Internet to go to the unauthorized rally in support of Osipova on Triumfalnaya Square.

A year ago on December 31, Boris Nemtsov and Ilya Yashin, leaders of the Solidarity movement, were arrested at a Strategy 31 rally. They both rang in the New Year behind bars: Nemtsov was sentenced to fifteen days in jail, while Yashin was sentenced to five. In 2009, Sergei Mokhnatkin was arrested during a New Year’s Eve rally: he was later sentenced to two and a half years in prison for [allegedly] assaulting a police officer.

It is a big question whether “enraged city dwellers” will take to Triumfalnaya Square over the harsh verdict handed to ex-National Bolshevik Osipova. Or are rigged elections the only thing that, for the time being, can really enrage them?

Photo courtesy of Free Voina. See their coverage of the Osipova case here (in Russian) and here (in English).

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