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Free Voina!

FREE VOINA!

When, during the course of an act of civil disobedience in September of this year, the art group Voina (“War”) overturned several police cars in Saint Petersburg, the Russian people’s unhappiness with the actions of law enforcement agencies acquired not only a verbal but also a visible expression.

Approximately two months later, on November 15, Voina activists Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev were seized by police in Moscow, transported to Petersburg, and tossed into a pre-trial detention facility. They have now been charged under Paragraph b, Part 1, Article 213 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (“criminal mischief motivated by hatred or hostility toward a social group”).

The authorities are attempting to pin the motives of hatred or hostility towards a nonexistent social group (in this case, the police) on the two activists in order to increase the potential term of imprisonment to five years. The activists have been subjected to physical coercion while in detention. We thus see that the power of the law enforcement system is being used outside the limits and aims of the law; it is being used arbitrarily and in order to squash protest. Vorotnikov and Nikolyaev are charged with “criminal mischief” only because several of the Russian police’s innumerable cars were lightly damaged. The people who took part in the riot on Manege Square in Moscow on December 11, who fought with the OMON and beat up dozens of people in the Moscow subway, were released from police custody the very same day. Why, then, it is the two Voina activists, who caused no physical harm to any human being with their action, who have been charged with “criminal mischief”?

Today, the Russian state does not try to convince anyone that its laws apply equally to everyone. Notorious “cases” like the one against Voina should in fact prove that the reverse is true: they are meant to show everyone else not WHAT actions are unacceptable, but rather WHO is not permitted to commit such actions. To have the right to overturn cars or beat people, for example, one has to be a member of the group that Voina has now been charged with inciting hatred towards. Each case like the criminal case brought against Voina has nothing to do with obeying the laws: no one has given a damn about these laws for a long while, especially the people who draft them.  The case against Voina is a battlefield where our freedoms are being fought over. If Voina is convicted and sent to prison, the space of THEIR freedom will become a little bit larger, while the space of OUR freedom will shrink. If this “case” falls apart, then it will be the other way round.

We appeal for solidarity with all those who have suffered in this battle: Seva Ostapov, who was given a one-year suspended sentence for being beaten up by police at the Sokolniki precinct station in Moscow; passerby Sergei Makhnatkin, who was sentenced to two and half years in prison because he defended a 72-year-old woman who was being roughed up by the police at a demonstration in Moscow; Left Front activist Grigory Torbeev, who is now threatened with ten years in prison for lighting a flare at the last Day of Rage protest in Moscow; artist Artem Loskutov, who “insulted” police officers in Novosibirsk by making critical remarks about their methods when they attempted to drag him and two female friends into a police truck; Belarusian anarchists, one of whom was practically kidnapped in Moscow and delivered to the Belarusian KGB, in violation of all extradition procedures; and the victims of police major Denis Yevsyukov and their loved ones.

1. We demand the immediate release of the Voina activists from pre-trial detention.

2. We demand that the court regard the act they committed not as criminal mischief, but as a public statement meant to draw society’s attention to the situation that has arisen around the country’s law enforcement agencies, as a desperate attempt to remind society of the police lawlessness that has become a fact of everyday life, lawlessness against which no one is safe.

3.  We call for an open trial in this case and demand that it and all other cases involving lawlessness and violence committed by police officers be tried before juries.

By securing the freedom of the Voina activists, we secure our own freedom from this lawlessness!

At the demonstration anyone who wishes can join Voina!

We likewise invite everyone to bring along their own artworks on the theme of War – that very same War in which everyone is involved, even if everyone doesn’t admit it. In addition, we will be collecting money at the demonstration o support the arrested activists.

The officially permitted demonstration in support of Voina will take place at 3:00 p.m., December 18, on Pushkinskaya Square in Moscow.

Free Voina! Initiative Group

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In this video, various well-known Russian cultural figures express their support for Voina. Here is a very concise summary of their remarks.

  • Artemy Troitsky (music critic, journalist). If the majority of young people in Russia joined Voina, then the most peaceful cultural revolution in human history would ensue. Even if you don’t join Voina, you can support them virtually, via the Internet, or by going to the demonstration in Moscow on December 18.

  • Andrei Erofeev (curator). Voina allowed themselves to commit minor acts of vandalism, but in fact society is filled with useful professions that involve “vandalism” as well: firefighter, policeman, forester, surgeon. All these professions involve a certain amount of destruction, but this destruction is useful to society, nature or the life of the individual. The profession of public artist also involves this sort of positive destruction, and the trial against the Voina activists should take this into account.

  • Alexander Ivanov (publisher). Voina should be released and reunited with their families. Only then can a discussion of the group’s artistic and other merits begin. Voina is reminiscent of the Belgrade students who brought down the regime of Slobodan Milošević in the nineties: an attempt to carnivalize political history in order to deal with painful social issues and show that the “king” (certain politicians and institutions) is naked. We live in a shell of words, and Voina’s carnivalization is a way of breaking through this verbal shell. The attempt made by many cultural commentators and art world figures to discuss whether what Voina does is contemporary art is quite unproductive because most of these people do not ask whether what they do themselves is art.

  • Boris Kuprianov (bookseller). When we talk about Voina, this discussion should not involve our own aesthetic preferences. The case of Voina is an important test for society: will it stand for such things (as the arrest of the group)? Everyone should go to the demonstration on December 18 because everyone is vulnerable to such persecution.

  • Andrei Kovalyov (art critic). Voina is one of the most progressive phenomena in contemporary Russian art, which to a large extent has given itself over to pseudo-formalist experiments. Voina, which has nothing to do with the market and art institutions, is thus a positive example. Most of the great art projects of the past also had nothing to do with commercial considerations.

  • Alexander Kosolapov (artist). Voina’s work is reminiscent of the work of American artist Chris Burden, who (despite obvious differences owing to geography and period) also used the artistic means at his disposal to protest social ills, in his case, the US war in Vietnam.

  • Andrei Loshak (journalist). Voina is not simply an art group; it is a civic resistance society. They are not the ones who declared war; it was the regime that declared war on us. It is not Voina who race down the roads in cars with flashing lights, killed peaceful, law-abiding citizens. It is not Voina who accepts bribes and protects criminals, like the Russian police do. Voina is simply an emotional reaction to injustice, but this emotionalism only speaks to the level of injustice in Russian society. Voina expresses the public’s indignation, as shown by the popularity enjoyed by videos of their recent actions on the Internet.

  • Sergei Pakhomov (artist). Remarks of a humorous nature that cannot be summarized, much less translated.

  • Oleg Kulik (artist). Real art is always a matter of individual responsibility, and Voina consciously bears full responsibility for their actions. These actions might seem infantile, but it is precisely this creative “infantilism” – this desire to match words with deeds, even in the most extreme and egoistic way – that Russian society lacks. In this sense, Voina might be the only honest people left in Russia. If the authorities want to make Voina famous, they should sentence them. If they want to make trouble for the rest of the art world, they should let them go.

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To find out more about the work and history of the Voina group, the story of their arrest and updates in this case, and how you can help the arrested activists with their legal defense and in spreading the word, go to Free Voina.

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It’s a War on War (The Persecution of Voina)

To find out more about the work and history of the Voina group, the story of their arrest and updates in this case, and how you can help the arrested activists with their legal defense and in spreading the word about this case, go to Free Voina.

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http://vpered.org.ru/index.php?id=690&category=2

Free Voina!

At 3:00 p.m. on December 18, a demonstration entitled “Free Voina!” will take place on Pushkinskaya Square in central Moscow.

On November 15, Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev, activists of the Voina group, were captured in Moscow, transported to Petersburg, and thrown into prison. At present, they have been charged under Paragraph b, Part 1, Article 213 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (“criminal mischief motivated by hatred or hostility toward a social group” – in this case, that “social group” is the police). The police continue to apply pressure on Vorotnikov and Nikolayev, including physical coercion.

Over the past two years, the actions of the Voina group have sparked a wide variety of public reactions. Some have admired their audacity and wit; others have doubted whether they what to do rightfully belongs to the realm of art; still others have condemned them for disturbing the peace. One thing cannot be denied: Voina has confronted society with the problem of its own powerlessness in the face of state tyranny and done this in a maximally poignant fashion.

Vorotnikov and Nikolayev are accused of “criminal mischief,” which consisted in causing minor damage to one of the Russian police’s numerous patrol cars. The reaction on their part was not long in coming: an assault team from Petersburg carried out a genuine special-forces operation in Moscow.

Today, the Russian state does not try to convince anyone that its laws apply equally to everyone. Notorious “cases” like the one against Voina should in fact prove that the reverse is true: they are meant to show everyone else not WHAT actions are unacceptable, but rather WHO is not permitted to commit such actions. It is no accident that such an important role in Russian repressive practice is played by various emergency “anti-extremist” laws and “aggravating circumstances” in ordinary cases of disorderly conduct: the exclusivity of such legal practice manifests our society’s formal inequality and stratification.

Law in this case forfeits all signs of universality and becomes the subjective right of a particular group to commit certain acts. To have the right to overturn cars or beat people, for example, one has to be a member of the group that Voina has now been charged with inciting hatred towards.

The legal defense of Voina should thus begin with self-determination on the part of each person: what group, community and class you belong to, and what rights you want to receive as a member of that group. Rich people, bureaucrats, and the police have special rights: they have the means to defend these rights and get the message out to everyone else that their rights must be respected. The activists of Voina, the farmers of Kushchevskaya, and the residents of Khimki are part of the huge majority, a majority deprived of any rights whatsoever, even the most elementary. Each of these rights – the right to strike, the right to a clean environment, the right to assemble freely – has to be fought and won. These rights even include the right to offend the police, if there are grounds for giving such offense: in Russia, there is more than sufficient cause to want to do this.

Each case like the criminal case brought against Voina has nothing to do with obeying the laws: no one has given a damn about these laws for a long while, especially the people who draft them.  The case against Voina is a battlefield where our rights are being fought over. At the end of the day, one of these rights is the right to speak ever more openly and loudly about our rights without fear of punishment. If Voina is convicted and sent to prison, the space of THEIR rights will become a little bit larger, while the space of OUR rights will shrink by the same amount. If this case falls apart, then it will be the other way round.

The case against Voina concerns each and every one of us.

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The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1634 (95), Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Banksy, Human Rights Activists Back Voina
By Sergey Chernov, The St. Petersburg Times

Human rights activists have criticized the imprisonment of two members of the radical art group Voina [“War”] as illegal, while British graffiti artist Banksy has joined the international campaign demanding the release of the artists.

Banksy pledged to donate the proceeds from the sale of a limited series of his prints to Voina. The 175 prints in the “Choose Your Weapon” series were sold Monday via the web site Picturesonwalls.com, reportedly generating 4.5 million rubles ($147,000) for the artists and their families.

Artists Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov were arrested in Moscow last month and taken to St. Petersburg, where they were placed in a pretrial detention center.

Nikolayev and Vorotnikov reportedly took part in a stunt that involved overturning several police cars at night — some of which had police officers inside — and have been charged with criminal mischief motivated by political, racial, national or religious hatred or hostility, or motivated by hatred or hostility toward a particular social group. The offence is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Called “Palace Revolution,” the stunt was meant to demand, “metaphorically, the reform of the Interior Ministry and an end to police arbitrariness,” art critic and philologist Alexei Plutser-Sarno, described as Voina’s “ideologist,” told The St. Petersburg Times late last month. Within days, he fled to Tallinn, Estonia for fear of arrest.

The artists’ lawyer, Anastasia Yekimovskaya, said at a press conference Monday that the charges cannot be proven because the police lack credible sources of information, with the charges mainly based on a video that Voina uploaded onto the Internet.

The imprisoned artists, who have been in custody for more than three weeks, are refusing to speak to investigators, citing the constitutional right of suspects not to give evidence against themselves, Yekimovskaya said.

Analysis presented by the Moscow-based watchdog group Sova Center at the press conference argued that the law being used against Nikolayev and Vorotnikov is poorly formulated and being incorrectly applied, a fact that poses a threat to society.

According to Sova, Voina’s members did not commit a crime that could be qualified as criminal mischief or anything for which they could be persecuted under anti-extremist laws. It also argued that the imprisonment of the artists is not proportionate to their danger to society, pointing out that a suspect in the beating of a Cameroon citizen in St. Petersburg was released earlier this year after pledging not to leave the city before the court hearing.

Stefania Kulayeva of the Memorial rights group described Voina’s case as “political.”

“They expressed their protest — whether artistically or not — and they have been accused of committing a crime for this protest,” Kulayeva said. “It’s a political case. If they are sentenced to prison terms, we will all be guilty and pay with not only their freedom, but with ours too.”

Voina also hit the headlines earlier this year when they painted a giant penis on Liteiny bridge opposite the FSB headquarters in St. Petersburg back in June.

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December 2, 2010
The Art of War
Rose Griffin
Russia Profile
The Arrest of Two St. Petersburg-based Artists Raises Fresh Concerns about Freedom of Expression in Russia

Russian guerilla art group Voina (War) have caused controversy over the last two years with a number of shocking and often grotesque actions aimed at the Russian establishment. But the group suffered a setback this month, when two members were charged over a protest against the police that took place in St. Petersburg in September. Another member of the group is now reportedly hiding in Estonia. With little support from their fellow artists in Russia, does this spell the end for the anarchic collective?

On November 15 Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolaev, both members of Voina, were arrested in connection with the “Palace Revolution” action staged by the group two months earlier. The project involved turning seven police cars upside down in the center of St. Petersburg as a protest against malpractice in the police force.

On November 26 the Web portal Russian News Service reported that Alexei Plucer-Sarno, one of Voina’s ideologists, had fled Russia for Estonia, quoting Plucer-Sarno as saying that he was under threat of investigation by the authorities. “Yes I’m in Tallinn, practically without documents. Some influential Estonian friends got me across the border,” Plucer-Sarno said.

This is a major blow to the coalition, which was founded in 2007 around a core group of philosophy students from Moscow State University. Their sometimes explicit actions have targeted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, as well as institutions such as the police and the Orthodox Church. It is, therefore, perhaps surprising that members of the group were not arrested earlier. Voina’s anti-Medvedev protest “F**k for the heir, Puppy Bear!” took place on the eve of President Dmitry Medvedev’s election and featured couples, including a heavily pregnant woman, having sex publicly in the Timiryazev Biology Museum in Moscow. “In Memory of the Decembrists – A Present to Yuri Luzhkov,” featured a staged hanging of two homosexuals and three central Asian guest workers, attacking the mayor for his homophobic stance and the dangerous living conditions for migrant workers in the capital.

“Palace Revolution” was not the first time the group attacked the police. In their “Cop in a Priest’s Robe” project, Vorotnikov, dressed in a priest’s cassock and a police hat, went into up-market grocery chain Sedmoy Kontinent, helped himself to food and alcohol, and left without paying, thus protesting against the church and police being above the law.

But although the group has built up a strong reputation and some support for exposing flaws in contemporary Russian society, it has received little help from the artistic community in the last two weeks. This is something which another Russian artist, Lena Hades, is familiar with. “It is rare for artists to support each other in such cases, although there are a few exceptions,” Hades said. “Since the arrests, we have seen nothing like the show of support that Oleg Kashin, for example, received from the journalistic community.” She puts this down to competitiveness and a lack of solidarity. “Each artist sees a rival, a competitor for attention, not a fellow artist,” Hades said.

Hades was convicted in summer of inciting hatred with two of her works, “The Chimera of the Mysterious Russian Soul,” which mocked several Russian institutions, and “Our Russia,” which featured an Orthodox prayer alongside obscenities.

There is a degree of solidarity between Hades and Plucer, however, and she said that when she was on trial, Plucer supported her by writing about her case. Hades is hopeful that the group will continue to operate, but stressed that the arrests and Plucer’s exile will take a huge toll. “At the moment, the group is really without a head, maybe they’ll get a new leader. I hope they’ll be able to continue,” she said.

[Article continued at link above.]

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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.

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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.

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

Artem Loskutov Released!

3613769186_277609293e_o-500x333As the Institute for Collective Action reports, yesterday, June 10, the Novosibirsk Regional Court ordered Novosibirsk artist Artem Loskutov released on his own recognizance. A panel of judges ruled that there was no basis for the Dzerzhinsky District Court’s conclusion that Loskutov would continue to engage in criminal activity were he released pending trial. The lower court had also failed to take into account other mitigating circumstances—Loskutov’s lack of a criminal record, his student status, and the fact that his thesis defense had been scheduled for June.

Upon his release from a temporary detention facility, Artem headed straight to the Novosibirsk State Technical University for his thesis defense, where he was awarded a “B.” He talked about this, his time in custody, and his plans for the near future in an interview with Radio Svoboda:

—My major is cinematography, and my area of concentration is TV camera work. My diploma defense went off without a hitch. When I was released from the detention facility, I managed only to say hello to everyone before getting into a car and heading to my defense. My teachers were aware of my situation. They had already seen my work—that is, my thesis film. I submitted the documentation and got a “B.”

—What were conditions like in the detention facility?

—They were fine: I got fed three times a day and they didn’t beat me once. I was constantly getting news from the outside. It really cheered me up.

—How do you respond to the drugs possession charges?

—The charges are fabricated. The drugs were planted. The inquest showed that I’m not an addict and that my fingerprints weren’t on the drugs. A swab of my hands showed no traces of drugs. Aside from the testimony of the arresting officers, there is no evidence.

—What are your plans for the immediate future? Will you be organizing actions on the order of the Monstrations?

—My problems with school were unexpectedly solved today: they passed my thesis. I have to find out what’s going on at work, whether they still want me there. As for public activism, it’s clear that this is dangerous for me while the investigation is ongoing. On the other hand, all my recent art actions were totally legal. All the actions were legal in fact! At the max, they violated the administrative code, but not the criminal code. I’m prepared to take responsibility for my art actions, but I’m not prepared to take responsibility for the drugs they planted on me.

I don’t know what my plans are. I want to see how this case ends. If it ends with my acquittal, that means these actions, civil society, still function in some form. If the case ends with my return to jail, then it will be obvious that these methods don’t work in our country. And that will mean that either that it’s time to move or that we have to change the law enforcement authorities.

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Filed under contemporary art, interviews, political repression, Russian society